For the 15th year in a row, Santa Claus got a little help this Christmas season from some people known for both their colorful belts and their generous bent: Louisa County martial arts students.
And these holiday helpers who get a kick out of making Christmas merry for others are learning their lessons — both martial and moral — in a place some might not think of as going hand-in-hand with the martial arts.
A house of worship.
The martial arts school, which has trained more than 300 students over the last 15 years, meets every Monday evening in the basement at United Presbyterian Church in Columbus Junction.
Every year during the holidays, students, instructors and supporters take a break from their kicking and chopping to support a community cause. This year, according to senior instructor Stan Tate, it’s the food pantry in Columbus Junction and the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.
In past years, students have spent the weeks before Christmas on a range of projects, including coat and toy drives, helping with Habitat for Humanity and community tree and shrub plantings.
“It takes very little coaxing on our part,” Tate said. “Each year we just remind them that we’ll be doing it again.”
“They’re the kind of kids who care about people, who want to do the right thing. All we have to do is provide a little guidance and they are very responsive.”
Tate, an elder at the church who teaches tae kwon do, aikido and other martial arts, said that “we do get questions every once in a while” about why a church would host a martial arts program, but not very often.
“We encourage the people we see to come to church and to read their Bible, and we make sure that each student has a Bible,” he said. “We talk values from time to time, but we don’t want to scare people away.”
The free program features five black belt instructors and is limited to 16 students.
Classes aren’t limited to young people. Tate, who’s 68, has a student 11 years his senior.
“I am an older gentleman, and (martial arts) helps me stay in shape,” said Tate, a forester when he’s not teaching martial arts.
“We do this as a church mission to show Christ’s love, and it has its rewards,” he said, including watching students progress in the discipline.
Very few will make it as far as Tate did — the black belt, the tae kwon do pinnacle.
“Only about 2 percent go to black belt,” he said. “It can take many years. I have an assistant instructor who took 13 years to get her black belt.”
But the class has many benefits — with or without the black belt.
“It’s a pretty active class,” he added, “and it’s pretty physical. We have had a number of kids with behavior problems, and so we instill old-fashioned loving discipline and teach them to discipline themselves.
“We have a lot of emphasis on family in our community, and we’ve had a lot of families who have trained with us over the years.”