DOJO Karate builds confidence and
skills, and offers opportunities
Students at DOJO Karate are encouraged to be leaders, and are given training and opportunities to be leaders, including the chance to operate their own DOJO Karate school.
These facts are pointed out with considerable pride by Keith Stormoen and Chris Hourscht, who co-founded DOJO Karate in 2000 in Elk River, and have expanded to Buffalo, Monticello, Rogers, Medina and Waconia. Hourscht owns the Buffalo branch.
“Because our system is so successful,” said Stormoen, “we strive to set goals for the kids, that they can grow into leaders and instructors and, sometimes, owners. ‘We are about providing opportunities. We provided a lifestyle for Mr. Zepeda.”
He referred to Leonard Zepeda, who operates DOJO Karate in Monticello.
Zepeda grew up in California playing soccer. He always wanted to try karate and started in 2003 with Hourscht as his instructor in Buffalo.
“It was really addicting right from the first,” Zepeda said. “It was a lot of work but with the guidance and instructors we have, I wanted to be there every day.”
Zepeda moved up in the ranks quickly and soon was helping with classes. He decided to make a career of karate, taking advantage of DOJO Karate’s leadership training opportunities.
“I was given a chance by Mr. Stormoen and Mr. Hourscht to go on to the next level,” said Zepeda. “They help you with the basics of teaching in the classroom, working with students, working with parents, and the office stuff. It’s about a two-year process. I’ve been here five years now and they are still here once a week. We have corporate meetings once a week. And I can pick up a phone anytime I have a question.”
Zepeda, who has around 500 students, finds being an owner and teaching karate to be a rewarding job.
“Teaching kids is awesome and you are giving back to the community,” he said. “With kids, parents, adults, grandparents, you are teaching a different way of life —staying healthy, fit, flexible — and teaching something besides the traditional sports, not that traditional sports aren’t great, too.”
After five years, Zepeda’s enrollment is right around the 500 mark in students.
The co-founders have developed a manual of business principles and they offer a leadership class to anyone interested in becoming an instructor, manager or owner.
“We groom them head to toe and help write a business plan for where they are going,” said Hourscht.
“We develop future leaders one black belt at a time,” added Stormoen.
They believe that martial arts have such multifaceted benefits that each person takes something different from it.
“You learn fitness, confidence, discipline, respect, self-esteem, any or all of those,” said Stormoen. “Students tend to gravitate toward whatever area is their weakness. That’s the environment we create.”
Even the youngest students are taught to be the “best 3-year-old they can be” and not just the regular rambunctious little kid, said Hourscht.
“From kids through adults, we want to develop leaders in the community who bring a positive spin to life.”
DOJO Karate avoids the cookie-cutter position of teaching.
“We have developed the individual approach and push people to their personal best, whatever that may be. We evaluate daily,” said Hourscht. “If someone is remarkably athletic, we push them to a higher level. If a person has a learning disability or ADD or autism, something that limits them, we don’t just let them slide through, but we do re-evaluate the curriculum.”
Many high school and college athletes use karate to cross-train. Hourscht mentioned that he recently watched one of his third-degree black belts in a high school wrestling match. He added that many girls take karate for self-defense and find that they can raise their skill levels and confidence in their other sports.
“We are really adamant that martial arts do not dominate your life,” said Stormoen, “but complement everything you do in life. It helps with your balance and flexibility, coordination, hand-eye movement, all things that are beneficial to other sports.”
Two of DOJO Karate’s active and dedicated kids at Elk River are Serenity Lage, 11, and her brother Alex, 8, students at Kaleidoscope Charter School, whose parents are Callie and Dean. Alex started at age 4 because an older cousin enjoyed karate. Serenity started soon after because “she was sick a lot, and we thought this would help,” said her mother, adding that the regular, disciplined activity has indeed improved her health.
Before that, Serenity tried cheerleading and Alex tried tee-ball, but karate clicked for both of them.
“They really like this individual sport. It pushes them,” said Callie, very pleasantly surprised that they took to karate so enthusiastically and stuck with it as long as they have.
Asked what they like best about karate, Serenity said “focus and health,” and Alex added, “discipline and a good workout.”
Serenity is taking advantage of the youth leadership classes and Alex sits in. Serenity has become a youth instructor, with duties such as warming up the class, offering encouragement and helping to demonstrate the skills.
Callie appreciates the fact that family and school are asked to give their OK each time a student moves up in rank.
“You have to sign off at home that they are behaving, and at school that they are doing the best of their ability; they don’t have to get A’s, just do their best.”
She adds: “There are great opportunities. The kids want to be instructors. When Serenity is 16, she can have a job here.”