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April 2014

21

Taekwondo academy alive and kicking

Taekwondo Academy in Oconomowoc caters to area youth

Everyone calls it "karate," and not just in the United States.

"Even back in Korea, there was a taekwondo studio that said karate on the door," said Bob Crouch, the grand master at Oconomowoc's Wisconsin Taekwondo Academy, a multi-office operation that teaches the craft to young kids, among others. "There are so many different styles of martial arts. Most people see what they see on TV, which is unfortunate."

You won't find taekwondo on television - in fact, Bob's daughter Jenn (the master at the academy's Mukwonago location) even admits the sport isn't a made-for-TV phenomenon. But the values of taekwondo are many for the students who participate.

"Karate is Japanese, with a lot of low kicks and different types of punches," Bob said. "Taekwondo we do more of the flashy high kicks, aerial kicks. It depends who's teaching the program; a lot of schools are strictly fighting schools, but a good traditional school teaches self-defense.

Crouch-ing Tigers

"We have the bullying situation and can teach self awareness and protection, but what's nice about taekwondo is nobody has to sit on the bench. Everybody can compete, everybody is on the team. That's nice for the kid who never got picked for the basketball team, but they can be on the team over here."

Bob's initial experiences with the discipline stemmed from his training in the Marine Corps and his stint in Korea. In 1992, he opened his first studio in Genesee Depot, then cultivated a program that worked with the area's elementary schools. In 2005, that program began to bring kids from the schools to the studio, which now resides on Wisconsin Avenue in Oconomowoc.

The business is a family operation. Jenn, 25, runs the studio located on McKenzie Road in Mukwonago and also teaches classes at the YMCA. Josh, 27, helps his dad run the Oconomowoc office.

"We traveled all over the nation, went to the Canadian Open, the U.S. Open in Vegas, we went to nationals every year, the Junior Olympics …" Jenn said. "The big competitions were over the summers and then we always had state, regionals and the small tournaments and stuff."

That tradition continues for the Crouches into adulthood. Earlier this year, Jenn led a team of 15 youth to the national meet in Wisconsin Dells, and her squad took home 41 medals. Bob happens to be the North American Sport Taekwondo Association president and coordinated the event.

At the national meet, events include weapons forms (a series of judged movements with weapons), regular forms (kicks and punches), team forms (in which Jenn oversaw a three-person team that took first place) and sparring. The style of Olympic sparring includes heavier contact and could result in a kick to the face, while point sparring has different gear and lighter contact.

Getting your kicks

The reasons for getting involved are many.

"It teaches a lot of discipline and self respect, that's one of the major selling points of martial arts in general," Jenn said. "We have a lot of ADHD kids or autistic kids because their therapist recommends it. We have people that want their kids to defend themselves so they're not worried about their kid getting jumped on the way home. We teach them self-defense instead of becoming the attacker. The other (reason) is the parents bring their kids in because they want that structure. They need discipline."

Bob considers taekwondo to be a full-body experience.

"We stretch your entire body out and then work on balancing the body," he said. "In baseball, for example, you're working on hitting and throwing the ball with one side. Here, we want the right leg just as strong as the left leg and right arm just as strong as the left arm.

"We expect certain things from the kids as well as the adults. Not so much the kicking punching, it's the mental aspect. They have to understand what being a black belt is. It's not going out there picking a fight; it's about helping people and being willing to help one another."

Bob is an eighth-degree black belt, Josh is a fifth-degree and Jenn is a fourth-degree out of a possible nine. The test to advance up a level can be grueling.

"It's several hours," Jenn said. "Can you survive top sparring, get out of the way and not get hurt, and then you also do a brick-break at the end."

Having Jenn in the mix was a comfort for Kathleen Battaglini, whose 11-year-old daughter, Faith, won two golds and a silver at the national tournament.

"On a personal note, having a female master that is a fourth degree is inspiring for a young girl," Kathleen said. "Not to in any way diminish the incredible achievements of Master Josh and Master Bob Crouch, but it is rare to find a female who has achieved such a rank. I have been to a number of different studios, having lived other places before … WTA is exceptional in that they are a family and the children are supportive of one another encouraging the younger and lower belts that they can do it. They aren't just selling a belt either, the kids will earn them."

Faith has since earned her black belt and will carry that distinction with her throughout life as she attempts to ascend the degrees.

"She started to have pain in her heel during the black belt test but persisted and even insisted that she continue and fought through the pain to finish her test," Kathleen said. "They teach the kids to not give up, that they are capable of more than they think."

All ages

Faith is part of what the organization calls TASMA (Transported After School Martial Arts), which allows time for homework and study in addition to the taekwondo. Bob's wife, Wendy, also teaches a Zumba class at the Oconomowoc location, and the WTA also has a "Li'l Dragons" program working with children ages 3-5.

"It works and it doesn't work at times," Bob said of getting kids at that age to focus. "It's nice because the kids get used to doing something together with other kids. Some are running around, but the other kids start to get it. Maybe they have a big brother and big sister in the classes. They've got little uniforms and we've had such good results with it. We decided to do it on a whim, and so far it's been working really good."

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