July 4, 2005 – "Martial arts can change a child's life," said Evworth Charles, owner and master instructor of the St. Croix Martial Arts Studio. "It instills discipline, self-control and strengthens a child's body and mind. It also helps them get better grades in school by teaching them to focus."
Charles began his own training in martial arts at the age of 18, and today, 28 years later, Charles is a fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do and holds a black belt in karate. In 1989 he opened his school, located in Peter's Rest.
Charles has represented the Virgin Islands in martial arts competitions all over the world, including Surinam, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Between 1991 and 1998, he coached the V.I. National Team for the Pan-American Regional Championships.
With the hectic schedule of most adults these days, Charles still urges everyone to exercise. "One workout is better than no workout," Charles said. He is adding a new Sunday workout to his regular lineup of classes to accommodate people who don't have time during the week.
Self-defense, tai chi, kick boxing, hung gar kung fu, and tae kwon do are now available on Sundays. "You can come in and take one class or more than one," Charles said.
The classes are $10 each, and you can sign up for a series of classes or pay for them individually.
It's obvious that Charles' passion is teaching youth. He says the V.I. has the potential to send champions to the Olympics and other places that host international games, but there is not enough community support to fund programs that will reach the future champions.
"I give out scholarships to families who cannot afford the classes and the equipment," Charles said. "The business community needs to do more so we can build a good national team."
Charles said many potential martial arts champions could be found in the housing communities. "They are the perfect candidates. Their life is rough, and they aren't afraid to fight. They just need discipline and to know the art." Charles added that martial arts training teaches kids how to walk away from conflict.
Charles also thinks putting martial arts classes in the schools would be a big benefit to the children. "I see a lot of kids in my classes that I think have attention deficit disorder," Charles said. "They cant stay in one place for too long — even when they are watching television, they keep moving around. It's like they can't help themselves."
Charles said he has seen firsthand how martial arts help kids improve their focus, concentration, self-esteem and their ability to follow directions.
Charles says the key is caring. "When I see children in the supermarket, they all know me, they all call me, and they remember the things I taught them when they were in my school."
Charles said his greatest gift comes when former students contact him and tell him how martial arts changed their lives.
One former student, who recently returned from military service in Iraq, contacted him last week. "He called to thank me for teaching him. He said the training saved his life. He was in Iraq from the beginning of the conflict," Charles said.
"I was speechless, in awe, I realized how much I did for this person, and it gave me a reason to keep going. It's more rewarding than money to touch a child's life."
For more information and to sign up for classes, call the St. Croix Martial Arts Studio at 778-3681.
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