Everyone is here is for Kellan.

He’s a tiny Asah Shark, thin, a few strands of blonde hair left on his head. No eyebrows. 

He’s wearing an oversized uniform, a blue gi top embroidered with his name, and white pants with the cuffs rolled up. He has a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. 

This day is for Kellan.

The date: April 17, 2021

The place: A parking lot in North Wales, Action Karate, a place he has been many times as a martial artist in training

The occasion: A wish 

The time: There’s not much left

The request: Kellan wants to be on the demo team one day. His diagnosis is dire. Calling all Action Karate demo teams to show up and perform.

The response: I’m in. We’ll be there. We’re in. I’ll do it. 

The overwhelming response: Every Action Karate demo team from the inexperienced younger junior demo teams to the nationally ranked Team Action to the revered head instructors all agreed to show up and perform for Kellan. They came from around the state and the “retired” ones dusted off their best tricks.

In all, 15 teams and over 150 people. Consider the context of this. There were serious restrictions: masked the entire time, socially distant. No one could get within 15 feet of Kellan. Performers had to wait in their cars, bring all their gear and music, coordinate their moves and leave as soon as they’re done to avoid any semblance of a crowd.

It was like a Make-A-Wish event where a kid throws a first-pitch or gets the royal treatment at Disney. Except this one was filled with tornado kicks and spinning staffs. There has never been an event like this in 26 years of Action Karate, and it came at a time in the pandemic when performing publicly felt like an experience of the past. None of the demo teams had seen another demo team in over a year. 

The call for Kellan’s wish hit a nerve. The instructors and demo team members hadn’t been asked to do anything like this before.

At this stage of life, Kellan should be playing, learning, growing, and instead, he is at the stage of reflecting and finding wisdom in each moment. This stage should be saved for the elderly. 

The team at North Wales prepared for this special event. They borrowed nearby parking lots and put up a rainbow of balloons for Kellan’s front row folding chair with his family. Kellan’s instructors at Action Karate introduced him to the crowd and he beamed. He held his mom’s hand or his dad’s hand and leaned forward, gripped by every outside crescent kick. After each team performed, North Wales Head instructor Mr. Shawn Nichols billowed, “What do we think of that?” The spread-out spectators roared and Kellan gave his vote: two thumbs up.  

“Let’s hear it for Team FEASTERVILLE! Kellan how did they do?”

A huge smile. Two thumbs up. And so it went, team after team, moment after moment.

Instructor McKenzie Fagans brought a shirt from Action Newtown with signatures from the whole demo team. Her team cried on and off all day. This one hurt. Newtown has an 8-year-old Kellan who is now cancer-free. “This hits close to home. It is really emotional for us,” she said. 

Instructor Jess Bennett found out in advance what was Kellan’s favorite weapon. On behalf of Action Quakertown, Kellan got performance nunchucks. Kellan asked for them throughout the event and cradled them along with his stuffed animal.

“It puts everything in perspective,” said Mt. Airy Demo Coach Kelly Champagne. “You never know what people are going through.” 

We’re all going through pandemic pains. Here’s Kellan’s, from kellanford.com: “August 31, 2020 Kellan Ford was diagnosed with a brain tumor, metastatic Medulloblastoma in the brain and spine. 48 hours later he had surgery, then 30 days of full brain and spine proton radiation. Kellan started his 7 month chemotherapy journey in December 2020. He stopped responding to treatment in March 2021 after new growths in his brain and cancer spread to his bone marrow throughout his body. 

“Kellan continues to fight, laugh, joke, and is living his best life. The next few months will be filled with a lifetime of memories,” is the euphemism his family uses at the end of that paragraph, and we will leave it at that. 

Master Anthony Atkins had never met Kellan before. Atkins is the admired Huntington Valley Demo Team coach and a world champion seven times over. He handed over his 2nd-degree black belt to Kellan. It’s a significant gesture – belts are special meaningful keepsakes. It would be like giving away a Super Bowl ring. 

“I want him to be able to hold a Black Belt, let him have that belt because that was one of his goals. It’s out of reach for them,” Atkins said. “They were surprised I gave him that. To me, that’s what you do for your karate family. This is my karate cousin.”

Being part of Action Karate felt extra important. Kellan inspired martial artists to use their time for something that brought everyone together.  

That night Kellan dozed off with a BIG SMILE, and said, “Mom I’m gonna dream about Demo Team tonight!” 

Kellan got a dream day and we all got a big memory. In all Action Karate classes for years to come, we will share this lesson about the value of time: 

This Lesson is about something extremely valuable. It’s not money or talent or trophies. It’s something we all have the same exact amount of today – TIME. We all have 24 hours today. 

There’s an ASAH shark named Kellan and he had a really bad illness – so bad that doctors told his family he wouldn’t get as much time to live as most other people. 

Kellan’s parents and older brother decided they would laugh, joke, love, and live his best life. That Kellan would get a lifetime of memories in just a few months. 

One of those memories was a special day at Action Karate when every demo team performed for Kellan and he got to be the captain for the day. His instructor Mr. Nichols said to the 15 teams over 150 martial artists, “I wanted to thank everyone for donating your time. It’s the most precious gift you can give.” All those people had never met Kellan before but it was an unforgettable experience for Everyone.

The lesson here is that your time is precious. Make sure you use your time to improve yourself, share your talents, and make the most of every moment.  

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Did you hear about the guy who was in a coma for the last year? He asked if someone wanted to Skype.

In case that was you, Zoom is now a Noun, a Verb and the biggest thing since beepers. It’s the teaching platform Action Karate uses every day for our martial arts classes as we’ve weaved in and out of lock-down. Zoom classes have remained.

After a year of Zoom, we’ve learned a lot. No matter what you are teaching on Zoom, whether it’s second grade or knitting, here are some tips that will help you sound like a video star.

9 Black Belt Tips for Teaching on Zoom

  1. Say names frequently – Ask participants to ‘Rename’ themselves what they want to be called, and refer to them by name frequently. Things like walking over to someone or making eye contact don’t work on video. Acknowledging them is the best way to keep people engaged.
  2. Include a second instructor whose job is to watch class – In Action Karate, that second instructor is a paid, certified, trained teacher giving feedback to each student. If you don’t have enough instructors, we also have other students take turns giving feedback and giving praise and corrections to their peers.
  3. Have a back-up plan for technology problems – I always have a phone nearby also signed into the class so that if the laptop drops, I can quick switch devices. Don’t wait until one device glitches to log in on the other. Just make sure the volume is turned down on one unless it is needed. Even better is to have another instructor logged on somewhere else who can pick up where your wi-fi left off.
  4. Include activities looking away from the camera – Staring at a screen is bad for your eyes and for your focus. Encourage people to look away from the screen – whether they are looking at a book, their own hands, or a piece of paper for notes. Do this frequently. There are tons of interactive transitions. I really like scavenger hunts for kids. (Go find something that starts with the letter b)
  5. Assign a physical movement to every part of class. It is boring to sit there and listen to someone talk, especially during a physical class. Kids are more engaged if they are doing arm circles, or standing on one foot. It shouldn’t be complicated like a jump spin but a physical movement is helpful.
  6. Forget about left and right. In a room full of people, facing them, we use the “mirror” technique – I say left but use my right. On video it is so confusing. For martial arts, it has been a distraction to learning. It’s better to say “other side.” Or use a “clock” visual – turn to 12, 3, 6 or 9.
  7. Share a video or text on screen to illustrate your teaching. The “share screen” feature is awesome – you can share anything. If you were doing a presentation, what visual would you use? Something on YouTube will help and make it more memorable.
  8. Forget about getting audio input – Mute everyone. It is the worst noise to let people stay unmuted. Only unmute one person at a time as needed.
  9. Can you hear me now? You’re trying to demonstrate, move around, get a good camera angle, and in the end, the volume suffers. Get a good microphone. It’s worth it for the audio to come through clean no matter where you are standing. Your instructions should be so clear that someone could take your class even if they can only hear, not see you. They should be able to follow along without moving their ear closer to the speaker, both in terms with how clear your voice is and the clarity of your directions.
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Think of physical fitness like four legs of a table, or four legs of a horse.

Each leg stands for a needed component of fitness and health:

  • Exercise
  • Eating
  • Breathing
  • Sleeping

If any one of these legs is missing, the table is not sturdy. If a horse is missing a leg, it’s barely going to be able to stand up.

The same is true for kids. If they are active, eat healthy and then stay up all night, they will not be at their best.

According to Rachel Dawkins of Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health.”

Sleep is in many ways the most important — and most neglected — leg of the table. Meaning: If you had to choose between eating candy for dinner, sitting in front of a TV all day, or staying up all night, it’s the sleeplessness that is most detrimental to short-term and long-term health. Not that any of those are great decisions, but people are often quick to forego or plan to “make up” sleep when in reality it is crucial to good behavior at school, ability to concentrate and moderate emotions.

My kids like: exercise, eating, breathing, animals. My kids don’t like: sleep.

Therefore I put it in animal terms:

  • Snails sleep 30 hours straight
  • Armadillos 18
  • Giraffe 4 to 6
  • Cow 4
  • Platypus 14
  • Opossum 18
  • Toad 14
  • Donkey 3
  • Star nosed mole 10.3

What’s best for a human kid:  somewhere between a giraffe and a toad, but essentially as much sleep as a star nosed mole. 10 hours give or take an hour.

The next time your kid tries to stay up late, simply tell them you don’t want them to be like a three-legged horse, but more like a well-rested star nosed mole.

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Autoimmune encephalitis is a rare disease most often diagnosed in teenage girls.

Sincere’s mom was shocked when she got the diagnosis for her energetic 4-year-old who loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

She wanted to enroll him in karate after watching him imitate ninja cartoons. But she wasn’t sure if he would struggle. The most common symptoms of the disease are cognitive impairment, involuntary movements, and difficulty speaking. 

But none of those symptoms were apparent in karate class and instructors didn’t even know about the diagnosis.

“With the ninja nunchaku kata, Sincere came up right in front of the class. He knows all the moves. He’s doing the advanced kata,” said his karate teacher Mr. Tariq.

To Tariq, Sincere is a fun kid to have in class.

“With his energy, he always wants to bring in extra moves,” Tariq said. When buildings had to close again at the end of 2020, Tariq was able to work with Sincere to develop some of his creative moves during a few weeks of private outdoor classes. He’s looking forward to continuing to highlight his creativity, while also helping him improve his confidence. 

To Sincere’s mom, his ability to grasp complicated moves has given him a new sense of identity. “Especially the focus, he’s been able to apply it in school…even him just being proud of himself. He had so much self-doubt with almost everything. He’s setting these goals and knocking them out,” she said. 

Tariq said that as much as he loves seeing improvement in karate, it’s more meaningful when he’s able to apply it at school and home. 

“Karate aligns the same values as parents. I love to hear you guys use words like integrity. I’m walking away at home and say I hope you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. He’s like, ‘that’s integrity.”

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The Powerhouse is also known as Marion. She’s 5’3” with red glasses, and analyzes engagement data metrics by day. An amateur artist, wife to a guy who works for a food delivery app, mom to the Kid Who Had No Talent. 

The Kid Who Had No Talent is also known as Giacomo, age 10, small for his age with floppy blonde hair and a soft spot for Pokemon. He revealed his self-image three years ago on a drive home from school. He was crying. The school talent show was coming up and he didn’t want to participate because he had no talent. 

The Powerhouse, so named for being short and scrappy during sports pursuits in her school days, was gutted. The Kid who is Quirky, Smart, Funny, Fun, Energetic, Sweet, Silly and Adventurous Thought he Had No Talent. 

This was not at all acceptable. 

Right then and there, Marion determined to change his perspective. She did not know she was starting a pursuit that would change their lives. 

“It broke my heart. I was really on a mission to find something to help develop his confidence. I found Action Karate Mt. Airy in my quest,” the Powerhouse said. 

The Kid Who Had No Talent got on the karate mat and immediately started crying, an unusually emotional reaction for a 7-year-old. An instructor pulled him aside and worked with him one-on-one without anyone noticing, and thought: maybe this kid isn’t ready for this class. 

By the time the tears dried, he slipped back into the class for roundhouse kicks and some awkward push-ups. 

“After that it was a strong commitment every week making him feel good and challenged and bringing out capabilities,” Marion said.

The Kid Who Had No Talent had capabilities. One of them was convincing The Powerhouse to do karate, too. He really wanted the patch that kids get if their moms train for a month. Secretly, the Powerhouse was curious to learn more. She asked Giacomo what to do.

Do it, he said. No turning back.

The next time the talent show came around, The Kid Who Had No Talent didn’t want to perform because he was shy, but he acknowledged that he had enough talent. 

“For me I felt like that was it. That was gold, him recognizing he had capabilities and that’s what this is all about,” the Powerhouse said. 

The Kid started sparring and developed a signature move scoring a quick, uncontested point against bigger opponents. He practiced with the demo team and went to weapons camps. He learned fancy moves with the bo staff. 

By the next year’s talent show, he performed in front of his whole school. The Kid Who Had No Talent had TALENT. 

“He did it. He put himself out here. That’s amazing,” the Powerhouse beamed.

A talent show wasn’t the ultimate goal of this journey. This is a Black Belt journey. 

Not some talent show. 

And for Black Belt, mom and son had to work beyond their limits.

“Both of us wanted to quit, We both cried. I’ve had a black eye. We smacked ourselves with weapons, got stuck on something, feeling like we wouldn’t get it. We told each other ‘you stink, take a shower.’ In all that hard work it’s like this consistent thing we have together: we motivate each other, we celebrate together, we’ve gotten stronger, gained friends, expanded who we call family. The school is our family,” Marion said. 

The thing about the Powerhouse though, is that she was also once the Kid Who Had No Talent, and more recently the Socially Awkward Adult. 

“I certainly struggle with self-confidence and being lost in who you are. A lot of adults experience that. Karate has made me feel so much myself and confident and comfortable in my own skin and that’s translated in me realizing I’m in control of my own happiness. Even in the pandemic, we got through it. The school has done an awesome job keeping us connected and keeping us with it. None of the magic or feeling of community has changed at all even though so much has been different. Anyone looking for that special something in your life, something to lift your spirits, something to make you stronger, it’s there and it’s you,” Marion said. 

As it turns out, there’s a whole lot of Kid Who Had No Talent in Marion and a whole lot of Powerhouse in the kid. Mother and son. Inspiration and Inspiration. 

Marion took her love of martial arts to the level of teaching classes and despite butterflies every time she teaches, she wants to share her martial arts. 

“I can focus on helping someone make progress according to their skills and capabilities and something unique to that person. I’m having a part in developing these kids and adults,” she said. 

“Classes are the only way I find I can workout and be motivated. I tried everything barre spin zumba. It’s that whole person activity not just working out my body physically, it challenges me mentally … emotionally building that grit.” 

Powerhouse and Talent meet Grit. In the midst of a pandemic, on a December day in 2020, Marion and Giacomo were masked outdoors more than 6 feet away from anyone else for a 3.5 hour Black Belt test. Their new white uniforms turned brown around the ankles, knees and elbows from mud. 

The first one to cry was Marion. Giacomo was cool, confident and nearly perfect in his performance. He had his moments, like when a bee crawled down his gi. A few days before his 10th birthday, he was the youngest person to get a Junior black belt from Action Mt. Airy. 

All superheroes don’t wear capes. These two wear Black Belts.

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Leilani is on the front lines of responding to Covid cases in Philadelphia. She was one of the registered nurses scrounging for enough protective equipment to get through her shifts last spring. She worked long hours and kept going with her studies in graduate school. At times, she physically practiced karate in an empty corner of the hospital during a break, keeping all of her protective equipment on. 

At work, she is attentive-nurse-Leilani, on track to graduate as a nurse practitioner by the end of the year.

In martial arts, she is the Lotus Warrior, a persona that pushes her to work hard in class.

She didn’t just practice at the hospital. She sent us videos of practicing her moves in the snow. She trained in her living room. She faced personal hardships: friends and relatives became ill. Some died.

Martial arts was her escape. Here is a text she sent us early on in the pandemic: 

“The other day me and other nurses were pulled to a complete Covid-19 floor full of patients.  It’s overwhelming mentally and spiritually.  But I look forward to class today, tomorrow and Friday.  It’s the time I get to focus on something positive.  Thank you.”  

This positive “something” started as a way to help her 10-year-old son overcome bullying. 

“Bullying set him back mentally where he didn’t want to speak up for himself. Now even in remote schooling Avery is the first one to raise his hand, to want to lead in Action Karate class, starting to speak up for himself to the same little boys that were bullying him. It’s phenomenal his mind is working a little different in a good way because of Action Karate,” she said. 

She had a dream in the back of her mind that she would get to practice martial arts, but she didn’t realize how quickly it would take hold as part of her life.

“Focus, determination, and this unbelievable thing I just cannot quit. I’ve always been a determined person, never let anything stop me. When we say the student creed, it gets to me. It resonates with me on the inside. Winners never quit, quitters never win. I transfer that to school. 

“I’m an RN trying to be a family nurse practitioner. It’s very challenging with Covid, the pandemic and taking care of really sick people.  I always keep in the back of my mind as a student at Action Karate, what we do, what we say before each class. I remember that and it sets me up for success. I do not quit, I never give up,” she said.

 “We truly thank you and everyone at Action Karate for helping us achieve our goals.”

Martial arts has helped her lose weight, feel more comfortable in her body and have more energy for her husband and son. When karate classes were exclusively on Zoom, she adjusted quickly because she was familiar with online training in her education. “Learning shouldn’t stop because of other things,” she said. 

It’s a lesson she sees in her instructors and martial arts peers. Other parents and families working hard toward their goals and having fun.

“You don’t want to get hurt, kicked or punched but life is hard, life is kicking and punching us right now. Go out and do it. Do it right now. Do a side kick. You’ll love it and never turn back and keep going forward,” she said. “No you’re not going to be perfect your first time. Your 10th time. You’re not going to know how strong you are until you put yourself out there in an uncomfortable situation. That is hard no matter what age, what fitness level, but it’s so much fun. Look at it as if to say bragging. ‘I did my first class. I did a kick and a punch, what did you do?’ Keep that momentum flowing before you know it you’ll have someone text you you’re eligible to earn your black belt.” 

She’s referring to a text we sent her a few weeks ago, indicating she and her son are eligible to test for Black Belt at the end of 2021, she replied: 

 “This is the best news I’ve heard since 2019! We will continue to work harder! My dreams are coming true! Thank you! Asah”

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