Kick it up a notch! – Oct. 2017

Kick it up a notch! CA’s martial arts classes teach skills to families, adults and children

By Tripp Laino, October 2017

Their belt colors matched their skill level and experience — yellow, green, brown, red and black — a group of martial arts students kicking, punching and participating in other exercises.

Owen Ikenberry didn’t have a belt just yet, but this was only his first class with Columbia Association. On this evening in Columbia Gym, an instructor gave the 7-year-old some one-on-one guidance while Owen’s father, Brian, watched.

“He tried karate somewhere else, but it was a different situation — one instructor and many students,” Brian said. “The student-to-teacher ratio is way better here.”

When class ended, Owen happily joined his father, laughing and smiling about his favorite part of the session — practicing kicks.

CA offers six class options, with specific disciplines like Aikido, Judo and Tae Kwon Do, as well as age- appropriate classes for kids. The classes at Columbia Athletic Club and Columbia Gym do more for the students than teaching self-defense.

“There are so many benefits, especially to children,” said John Bannon, CA’s martial arts director. “Beyond physical fitness, martial arts helps them build confidence and learn discipline and respect, and it can help children in school, too.”

Children as young as 2 can join the fun with the 30-minute Tiny Dragons class, which focuses on balance, coordination, basic listening and motor skills through fun drills, games and activities. Skills progress as children age, with the Lil’ Dragon program for children ages 4 to 6 focusing on discipline, cooperation and respect.

Twin sisters Nauzli and Nikki Tajaddini, 14, are first-degree black belts and have been taking martial arts classes at CA since they were 5. As black belts, both teach younger students — reinforcing their own knowledge of techniques by helping others master them.

“They’re really enthusiastic about learning, which makes me even more excited to teach them,” Nauzli said. “When I see them at their tests getting their new belt, it makes me really happy.”

Though they’re not allowed to spar at home, the pair often match up in class for sparring sessions. Nauzli is quick to add that she wins most of those matchups.

“We try to find each other’s weak spots, but we get a lot out of sparring — she usually ends up crying and we talk about it at home,” Nauzli said, giggling.

Nikki offered a rebuttal.

“I am the more sensitive one, so I do usually get kind of sad because I get hurt in the shins or something, but I think she aims there because she knows I get sad,” Nikki said, laughing. “I think I usually win though — I think I’m better than her. Everyone knows it.”

Martial arts aren’t just for children. There are several class options for adults, and CA also offers a family class that allows parents to learn alongside their children (ages 7 and older). The family class features Tae Kwon Do, a popular form of martial arts known for its flying and spinning kicks.

“There are not too many activities a parent and child can participate in together like this,” Bannon said. “I’ve had a number of families that have started together, trained together and actually get black belts together.”

Try martial arts for free!

Anyone can try a class at no cost — you don’t have to be a CA member either. And if you decide to join, there’s no long-term commitment. Many other martial arts schools require a yearlong contract; CA’s classes are offered on a month-to-month basis.

For more information, pricing and to register, call John Bannon at 410-531- 8927 or visit