Back to school means back to sports, but what if your child doesn’t enjoy playing team sports? A year ago, we were looking for an activity that would hold the interest of my 8 year-old son. One Saturday, after his tenth viewing of The Karate Kid, Ryan announced that he wanted to learn Kung Fu. After a trial lesson at Steve DeMasco’s Shaolin Studios (SDSS), Ryan was hooked! Flash to a year later and he is more fit, attentive, and sometimes even cleans his room without being asked, because, as he proclaims, “Mom, it’s self-discipline—it’s the way of the dragon.”
I recently interviewed SDSS Darien’s chief instructor, James Hitchcock, to find out more about Shaolin Kung Fu, its origins and why it’s so popular.
What makes SDSS Kung Fu different from other martial arts programs? Two things. First, our kids’ program was designed by Grandmaster Steve DeMasco in cooperation with the Yale Child Study Center. At a young age, it’s not about who’s going to be the next Jet Li; it’s about the discipline, the focus, the respect.
As instructors, we attend the Instructor’s Academy and learn, in classroom sessions, how to teach children with different issues, needs and personalities, then we intern at the schools with the senior instructors. It’s an amazing program that gives you a practical application of how to deal with kids.
Secondly, our lineage differentiates us. The Grandmaster is actually a disciple of the Abbott at the Shaolin Temple in Deng Feng. Our teaching system, forms and techniques, all come directly from the Shaolin Temple. The Grandmaster goes there once a year and trains with the senior monks up in the mountains. He’s been studying martial arts for forty years and he is an amazing teacher.
What do you enjoy about instructing people in the martial arts? To be a martial arts instructor, you really have to love the martial arts. It has to be something you enjoy doing. It’s great to be able to see the progression in kids. Maybe there’s a kid with an attention issue. You can see as he earns more and more belts, he’s getting more focused and becoming more disciplined…that’s something that will carry on for the rest of his life.
Tell me about SDSS’s approach to Kung Fu for kids and adults. Kung Fu is an individual sport within a community. Everyone’s on his/her own individual path. Obviously, you’re working with others, but it’s about your inner development. Our program is tailored around the private lessons, which allow us to focus on each kid or adult individually. Everyone’s looking for something different: some are looking for discipline, some for physical fitness.
The group lessons are great for socializing and getting a good workout. With the teenagers and adults we focus on a more intense workout.
What are the health benefits of Kung Fu? When I got involved with Kung Fu, I was incredibly out of shape. From the time I joined as a white belt to when I earned my black belt, I lost 105 pounds. I stepped up my conditioning immensely.
Our adult workouts are a lot of sit-ups, push-ups, a lot of core work: you’re gonna sweat it out! It’s great for weight loss, cardio, coordination and strength. The cool thing about martial arts is that you’re going to work a lot of muscles that you wouldn’t necessarily use at the gym. When you’re drawing a punch, for example, we show you how to use your entire body, so you’re twisting your hips, you’re tightening your core, you’re sinking your weight and you’re snapping your arm. It’s actually a chain reaction from your heel all the way to your fist.
It’s a full range of body motion. We also do a lot of bag work; if you’re stressed out, you can just come in, pound it out and you walk out of here sweating with a great workout—and you’re instantly less stressed.
Tell us about Saturday’s Back to School Party. We’re hosting free trial classes so people can come in and learn some basic moves. Outside, kids will be able to try board breaking and the bounce house—it’s going to be a really good time. We hold these events to build community within the school, so it’s more than just going to your class and going home—it becomes more of a family.
Steve DeMasco’s Shaolin Studios (SDSS) in Goodwives Shopping Center, Darien, is hosting this Saturday, September 8 from 12-2pm. Bring a friend and come join the fun! Check out SDSS on the web: www.sdsskungfu.com, or click here to see their listing on Patch.