22 July 2011
Dear Sensei Wayne,
This is a letter of gratitude that has been a long time in coming. In late June, James graduated from high school. He is a happy and confident young man who will be attending the university of his choice in September.
James has come a long way, and John and I know he didn’t get there all by himself. Karate For All played an important part.
I remember the first time I spoke to you. I was writing a newsletter article about your karate class for CHOC patients. I remember you telling me how children with special needs are often bullied. I commented on how awful it must be for a child to survive a serious medical condition, like cancer, a congenital heart disorder a serious illness or accident — only to be bulled upon returning to school and what should be a normal childhood.
Then you told me how children with any difference or special needs are often bullied. You pointed out this program was also for kids with asthma, autism, ADHD, vision problems, developmental disorders, speech disorders, coordination — Karate for All was really for all kids. I also remember the passion in your voice as you talked about teaching children to defend themselves.
I tucked those words away in my heart.
We’d been dealing with periodic bullying since kindergarten. During elementary school, talking to the bully’s parents, teachers and, as needed, the principal had gotten satisfactory results.
But junior high was different. One weekend, about six months after I’d interviewed you for the article, we discovered bruises on James’ body. He reluctantly told us what had happened. We immediately contacted the school. The result: The principal assured us that the bully was really “a nice boy who was very good at sports.”
Needless to say, this was not at all satisfactory. We told James to do whatever he needed to do in order to defend himself. This was tough. James has always been a gentle, kind-hearted, sensitive person. He was also reluctant to defend himself because he’d been taught about “zero tolerance” ever since kindergarten. He was concerned that if he tried to fight back, he’d be expelled. (I told him if that happened, I’d take him to Disneyland. I don’t think he believed me, but I absolutely would have.)
Having lost faith in that school to help at all, my next call was to you, Sensei Wayne. You immediately invited James to attend the next karate class.
I remember on the drive up to Orange, James was reluctant about the idea. However, during the very first class you demonstrated self-defense moves and techniques, including how to get out of a neck hold. Imagine how John and I felt during the drive home that evening when we heard his voice pipe up from the backseat: “That so would have helped with D_____”
As James continued with the classes over the years and worked for his black belt, we saw him grow more confident. My friends noticed that he was carrying himself differently. The karate helped him build focus, concentration and physical strength.
The bullying became a thing of the past. As far as we know, James has not been bullied since starting the classes and learning how to defend himself.
I also remember how delighted I was that James was learning karate under the watchful eye of a licensed pediatric occupational therapist. Having had James professionally evaluated for just about everything else, this was like icing on the cake.
James met several wonderful new friends at Karate For All. These are truly nice kids forced to learn at a young age how to cope with some of life’s greatest challenges. It was wonderful to watch James develop his social skills within such a nurturing and positive environment.
You, Sensei Wayne, and your staff are wonderful role models, particularly for boys and young men.
As James transitions into adulthood and independence, I have to say it really does take a village to raise a child. John and I could not have taught James these essential skills on our own. As one parent to another, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you, Sensei Wayne, for teaching James how to defend himself. He will have these skills for life.
I want to share with you what blessing you’ve been to our family over the past year and a half. I’ll never forget receiving the CHOC’s Kid’s Health Magazine and reading the article on Karate For All. I immediately picked up the phone and called the telephone number printed in the article to get additional information on the program. I remember being so excited to see something offered that Ronnie would be able to participate in, regardless of physical ability. I also thought he might have some fun and learn a little self-defense.
After a couple months of teaching and observing Ronnie in class, you shared some recurrent themes you were noticing with him. You asked if these were being addressed through his school-based therapy, they were not, although these were the same concerns his teacher was having! You provided resources for me to become better informed, which allowed me to be a better advocate for my son. When I needed a referral for an independent occupational therapy evaluation you were able to provide me with the name and number of a very well respected occupational therapist. You’ve lent me books as well as you ear. You’ve taken time to assist me in understanding the language and theories of karate, as well as occupational therapy. You’ve even called just to see how Ronnie’s evaluations and appointments were going.
As you can see, my original purpose for signing Ronnie up with Karate For All was mainly to provide a recreational activity for Ronnie. Little did I know then, that you would become such an important resource for our family, that we would become part of the Karate For All family and that Ronnie would benefit in so many ways from your program.
Ronnie is so proud to wear his karate uniform and even prouder when he earns a new belt color or belt stripe, Karate For All provides him a sense of success and belonging. He works at learning new kicks, punches and kata’s. In fact, he now performs these moves with more precision than I imagined he would be capable of a year and a half ago. Ronnie also enjoys the other children in the program. In fact, Ronnie went on his first play date with a friend from Karate For All and was invited to his first non-family birthday party by another friend from his Karate For All class.
I’m very appreciative and grateful for all of the effort, hard work and dedication you put into the Karate For All program. You not only benefit the children who attend your classes, but also their families. Ronnie has benefited tremendously from having you in his life and he would not be the same child today if it were not for you. As you say in class arigato (thank you).
Dear: Karate for All
As April comes to a close, Jeff and I are reminded of the fact that it was just a year ago that Brandon became a member of the Karate for All program, and I felt that this would be a most appropriate time to put a testimonial together for you, Wayne. Use all or part, but accept it with our most sincere thanks - we don't know how you do what you do with so many special needs children, but we are so very grateful that you do!
When Brandon first visited Karate for All for the very first time in April 2007, none of us was quite sure what to expect or whether or not he would want to join the program. All we knew, at the time, was that we were fed up with the constant taunting and teasing, public humiliation and personal frustration, and regular physical attacks against our son. We were, in fact, on the verge of signing him up to take some sort of physical defense class so that, at the very least, he could defend himself to some degree against his peers who regularly used physical violence as a way of hurting and humiliating Brandon, simply because he was "different."
At the time, we were just a year into the official diagnosis that confirmed that Brandon had Aspeger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. While my husband had, for nearly a year, suspected that was the case, only after the diagnosis did I begin to learn about the disability that Brandon will live with every day of his life. Over the course of the year following the diagnosis, I sought and received support and guidance from Brandon's elementary school principal and his teachers. While they held my hand nearly step of the way, what they couldn't do was counter the clear culture that most children are raised in at home: people that are "different" in a way that you can't see are to be ridiculed, ostracized, and picked on - no holds barred. Even my own sister-in-law announced one night that "we've always known there was something "wrong" with Brandon!"
The total benefit depends on each child. Brandon has realized more than I can specifically define, but for starters, he has gained a better sense of inner discipline, which is different than self discipline. He experiences a sense of calm every day that he goes to Karate for All; he isn't as loud or susceptible to peer behavior as he is in other social settings. He controls his responses much better for the most part, and doesn't express himself or spin out of control with frustration as he used to just a year ago. Wayne very clearly, gently, but definitively explains to all children that they are to treat each other with courtesy and respect, likewise with their families and the program volunteers. I'd say that Wayne also makes it clear that there are no exceptions in this regard, except that he doesn't have to say that - the children simply "get it."
Brandon has also experienced a level of confidence in himself that he's never had before. He's always known that he's scholastically above most of his school peers, but has never bragged or boasted about it, for fear of being called a "nerd." At Karate for All, there are no nerds, or weird kids, or fat kids, or goofy kids, ugly kids, etc. They're all accepted for who they are, for what they are, and they are all mutually respectful of each other, of Wayne, and the volunteers - always. Again, Wayne's never told them specifically to treat each other this way - what he does teach them simply leads them down this path. So for Brandon, this confidence comes from the true feeling of being accepted and fitting in, just the way he is.
One of the other things we've learned that Brandon has within himself that we never knew until he joined the program is that he has leadership skills and abilities that his peers recognize and respond to - without being told to. So much so that, on his report cards this year in middle school, one of his teachers has identified these skills as well. Who knew? I'll tell you who knew: Wayne Centra!
Given all of these things, Brandon has handled himself much better away from the program over the last year, which has resulted in a much less stressful life for him. He responds differently to overt unkind or violent behavior - sure, he still gets his feelings hurt once and a while, and a couple of instances of violence against Brandon have occurred this year, but he's responded to them differently, managed his behavior better, and overall, has moved on. The best way to describe how Karate for All has affected Brandon in these instances, and in every day of his life is that he always leaves the session holding his head a little higher, walking a little taller, and more at peace with his life than I every thought would be possible.
He feels liked, respected, loved, accepted, and ohmygosh-I-can't-even-believe-I'm-saying-this: Popular!! for the first time in his life. And, really, what more could a parent ask for?!!? Karate for All has even been responsible for a "trimming down" and growing up (maturity) in Brandon - just one more benefit of the program he enjoys every day! With all the other benefits I've mentioned above, I feel that Karate for All has truly given Brandon a second shot at happiness in his life - and me, my husband, and Brandon's older sister are very grateful to Wayne and proud of Brandon for that. 'Nuff said.
Both our boys(5 and 4) attend Karate for All and this has helped my 5 year old’s motor planning and co-ordination tremendously. The mix of Occupational Therapy and Karate ensures that the kids have fun while working out their bodies. My 4 year old loves to go to Karate. The volunteers are very helpful and keep the kids energy up. Sensei Wayne treats each kid with respect and ensures that the activities fulfill the kids needs. Greatly appreciate the class and would recommend it to any one with special needs kids.
- Mother of 2
Dear: Karate for All
My 12 year old son, Zack, suffers from a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy called Pompe Disease. An inherited muscle wasting disease caused by a defective gene which results in an enzyme deficiency. Fortunately, he is getting enzyme replacement therapy but his muscle strength in his legs, trunk and diaphragm are considerably less than other boys his age.
Zack wanted to learn Karate. I took him to a regular Karate class which unfortunately served as a painful reminder to him of what he couldn’t do given his muscle disease. Finding ‘Karate For All’ has been such a blessing for my son. This class teaches him the techniques of Karate but it does it with tough love, patience and ongoing encouragement. Sensei Wayne is committed to our children learning and growing with confidence, high self-esteem and respect for the art.
There is a noticeable difference in Zack’s confidence & social graces both in and outside of class. He fits in well with the other students and the fact that he is differently-abled is a non-issue. He gives this class 100% of his effort and has just started taking the course 2 days a week. He proudly wears his yellow belt with one stripe.
As a parent of a special needs child, I feel this course does an amazing job between balancing the challenge of exercise/conditioning with the same amount of weight dedicated to teaching our children a practical skill. This is all done in an environment that is loving, fun, encouraging and disciplined.