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Changing lives a kick at a time

An afterschool karate program teaches kids the importance of being focused, respectful, confident and kind.

By PAUL SWIDER
Published September 10, 2006


As a young boy, Tim McCahan longed to learn karate. When he finally got his chance, he almost backed away, intimidated.

The sport has changed his life, he said, and now he wants to bring that same experience to other children.

"It empowered me," said McCahan, 46, who is now the head of American Karate Studio, a school aimed more at shaping young minds than bodies. "The change to my life was phenomenal."

McCahan almost didn't get his chance. While he wanted to learn martial arts and often sat and watched through windows, his parents didn't see the merits of it so he couldn't go. When he was 16, he got a free pass, took a class and was afraid it was too tough. But he prayed for the strength to take another class. And then another. A week turned into a month, then a year and before long he was a black belt.

McCahan now caters to children just like himself, those with eager energy but no place to put it. His afterschool karate program also is a convenience for parents. He has a bus and picks up children from 12 area schools and drives them to his studio at 6141 18th St. N for fun and education and discipline until their parents fetch them after work.

"We're a different type of karate school," said McCahan, who is now in his third location since starting the business full time in 1999. "Other schools focus on physical fitness and self-defense. For us that's a fringe benefit to what we offer. We're more into the character development of the martial arts."

McCahan has about 60 students for class that runs about 21/2 hours every day. There's time for kids to be kids and structured learning, but also attention to courtesy, sportsmanship and respect for authority. The children also learn to teach each other these same traits and repeat a school creed to reinforce ideas of positive self-development and helping others.

Parents say it works.

"I see such a change in these kids," said Kay Beauvois, whose 19-year-old daughter, Rachel Cruz, still studies under McCahan occasionally after starting at age 8. "Some of them were wild, but they get settled down. McCahan has such a way of working with the kids."

Beauvois said her husband, Don, a St. Petersburg police officer, also studies with McCahan, as does her brother-in-law and her nephew. She said she has seen the results in her daughter, who is now more focused, respectful and confident. McCahan said that self-confidence is a prime product of his training, but not so kids can beat up other kids.

"It's just the opposite," McCahan said. "When you take a child and help them see their capabilities and develop self-esteem, these are the kids that get in less fights."

McCahan has been involved in martial arts now for 30 years and is now a sixth-degree black belt. His wife, Debbie, a fourth-degree black belt, also teaches at the school, as do his teenage son and daughter, both black belts as well.

McCahan used to be a carpet cleaner while learning karate. He taught more and more and slowly left the carpet business. He now has grown into a 7,000-square-foot facility that teaches all ages, though he is most focused on children. He said he finds reward in helping youngsters the way he was helped.

"Kids have such a hunger to do things right, but they want guidance," he said. "It could be mom and dad or a baseball coach or a karate instructor. They want mentors in life."

McCahan can be reached at (727) 525-2022 or online at www.tmkarate.com.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.