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Dragon Dojo offers socially distant instruction

Dragon Dojo offers socially distant instruction

Stanardsville mother of two Christine Kaiser had been looking for a fun and safe physical activity to keep the girls active while helping relieve some of the stress of 2020. Thanks to one local teacher, Nathanael Greene Elementary School second-grader Maren, 7, who struggles with ADHD, has found a new passion this fall: karate.

“I used to do martial arts when I was younger and I figured maybe we would try it out because it’s especially good for her ADHD and she also has sensory issues,” Kaiser said. “The weights, punching things and kicking things feels good to her—it helps her—so I decided to enroll her and she’s been loving it. She has her own little karate gi that she wears and she gets all excited putting it on.”

Greene Dragon Dojo was started as an official Greene County Parks and Recreation activity in late August by William Monroe High School special education teacher and martial artist Shannon Frye.

“Shannon is very understanding; he’s very patient,” Kaiser said. “He clearly knows how to teach and work with kids; he knows when they need a break and they need to run around the field. He’s very good with coming up with alternative methods to get their feet in the right place, because my daughter is kind of challenged sometimes to (understand) … he brought out circles so she knew where to put her feet.”

Shannon Frye teaches special education and works with autistic children at William Monroe High School, and his wife Alicia Frye is a special education teacher at Nathanael Greene Primary School. Shannon has been studying various forms of martial arts since he was 12.

“I’ve been in various martial arts for about 38 years now,” Frye said. “Before moving to Greene, I ran a community outreach martial arts program in Chesapeake for 15 years. When I moved here, I propositioned Parks and Rec with doing the martial arts program … and they kind of shot it down because they didn’t have a location (indoors) so it would have to be at the park and if it rained you’d get rained on. That didn’t sound good under normal conditions.”

While the idea of a rain-or-shine outdoor class wasn’t terribly appealing in 2018, things are looking very different in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing restrictions on all group gatherings.

“Here we are two years later—there’s nothing going on, everybody’s crazy, and COVID … and I decided that we had to try to do something,” Frye said. “I thought, there has to be something that you could just go to the park and for either free or very cheap, be involved in it, look forward to it each week and get some physical activity involved as well. Parks and Rec thought it was a great idea so we got together and created the Karate in the Park program.”

As for what happened when it rained, Frye says they still held classes.

“In the park, if it rains … you go out in the mud and you learn karate,” he said. “It’s kind of what they did in Japan in olden times. Yes, you’re getting dirty. Yes, you get wet. And yes, you will learn karate. And that’s a good lesson that goes outside of the dojo and you can generalize to your life—I didn’t feel like showing up for work today, but I’m going to.”

Frye, who holds black belts in several different arts, says they’ve chosen to focus on karate because of the potential to teach it in a contactless format.

“Other arts—judo, aikido, jiu jitsu—they all involve somebody grabbing and somebody twisting or throwing, which we can’t have under the current COVID restrictions,” Frye said. “So karate seems to be, of all the arts I’ve trained in, the easiest one that we can teach without actually touching. We can teach you the blocks and the strikes and the kicks and then put them together in combinations, and we can do that as a group without actually having the physical contact prohibited by COVID.”

While some other martial arts schools focus on churning out accolades to students, Frye says his main focus is on mental focus, discipline and Japanese culture.

“We’re not a belt factory—we don’t guarantee your child will have a black belt in six months … they’re going to earn it,” he said. “We do offer the different color belts, but it’s based on ability, not based on how long you’ve been with the program. What you don’t get is a long contract; what you do get is rain or shine karate, or deer running across the field sometimes; that’s pretty cool too.”

With a current group of regulars spanning ages 6 to 15, Greene Dragon Dojo is open to kids of all ages. Frye says he would be open to adding an adult class if enough people were interested.

“We teach aspects of Japanese culture with readings or basic language,” he said. “Some of my kids are greeting each other in Japanese now, or simple things like saying good morning or the names of the techniques. Besides the martial arts aspect, there’s also increasing your focus, increasing your self-control as well as … Japanese culture and language awareness.”

New students are welcome to arrange a time to watch a class if they are not yet sure about signing up. Dress code is anything comfortable such as sweat pants and a T-shirt, though they do have plain white uniforms (gi) available for sale.

“Maren looks forward to it and she loves her uniform,” said Kaiser, who added that her daughter begs to go to Karate in the Park even when the weather is chilly or raining. “The kids have a lot of fun; they’re all making new friends. There are different age categories but they all are getting along very well together and all seem to be really enjoying it. He’s been teaching them some Japanese, so it’s not just the martial arts aspect—he’s giving them a little bit of the culture, too.”

The Karate in the Park program is not limited to Greene County residents but does require a release form through the Parks and Recreation office. Cost is $15 for three months and classes take place every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. depending on the number of attendees. For more information about the winter location or to register, contact greenedragondojo@gmail.com or call Frye at (757) 424-0808. More information about the instructor’s background and frequently asked questions about the dojo can be found on greenedragondojo.com.

Once the current health crisis subsides, Frye hopes to once again take up plans for an aikido program at the middle and high schools in addition to continuing to volunteer his weekend time for Karate in the Park.

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