WLAA Spotlight: Families getting their kicks – and positive returns – at Keith Hafner’s Karate

Ann Arbor’s Lucy Hully is a very busy person – wife, mother, job, house, pets and what she calls the “usual chaos” many of us experience on a daily basis. With such “chaos” it’s sometimes difficult to remember what happened yesterday, let alone last week or last month or years ago.

But Lucy remembers – like it was yesterday – when a postcard from Keith Hafner’s Karate arrived in the mail inviting her son to a free karate lesson. She told her husband, “I think we ought to try this.”

Her son, Max, had a different reaction.

“I will never forget it,” Lucy says. “Max, at 4, was already a bit of a couch potato, but when we told him he had been invited to a free karate lesson, he jumped up and ran around the living room.”

Max started karate at age 4 in 1997. His sister, Anny, began when she was just 3 years old. Like many in the Ann Arbor area, the trip to Keith Hafner’s Karate became a family ritual – and “family” is an important aspect of martial arts that few realize until they join.

The students and instructors at Keith Hafner’s Karate are family oriented, friendly, sincere and upbeat. One grandmother of a student recently said: “My grandson always feels welcome, he feels like he belongs, he feels encouraged and he loves coming to classes.”

Anny Hully

Lucy admits she had some reservations.

“I didn’t know much about the martial arts, but I had some reservations about putting my somewhat undisciplined child in an environment where he would learn more about punching and kicking,” says Lucy. “But having a dedicated time and place, with protocol and a uniform, where he would punch and kick and yell, seemed to help him control himself in other environments. The instructors were always firm and supportive of not using karate outside the karate school.”

Hava Levitt-Phillips, who was born and raised in Ann Arbor, has been bringing her son Felix, 8, to Keith Hafner’s for over a year. She didn’t have any reservations about martial arts but did have a few other concerns.

We weren’t concerned about karate or this program, but we were a little leery of making such a long-term commitment and then having to drag a reluctant kid to class twice a week,” she said. “Felix had been asking about martial arts classes for a year and a half before we said yes, though, and we really worked hard at making sure he knew what he was getting into. Turned out, we needn’t have worried. He loved it from the start.

Hava, who works in education as does her husband, said they were moved from the beginning by the constant warm regard all the teachers bring to their students.

Felix Levitt-Phillips

“They are just so beautifully accepting of each child where she/he/they are at and so positive,” she says. “At the same time, they maintain realistic, high expectations for every student, in terms of karate and character, and then they help them rise to those expectations.”

There are some stereotypes about martial arts – some true, some not so true – that can cause people to choose not to participate. But an important thing to remember is that all martial arts schools are not the same and Keith Hafner’s has become the standard of excellence when it comes to teaching the principles, respect, confidence and positivity of karate.

“Felix has grown even more into his loveliest qualities,” says Hava. “I think hearing our value system echoed by his karate teachers and peers has helped him keep growing into a guy who tries hard, is learning to accept not being good at something right away, and really shows respect for the adults and kids in his life.”

Lucy not only saw the same characteristics grow in her own kids but she wanted a little of this positive reinforcement in her own life. Yes, Keith Hafner’s Karate is not just for kids!

“I thought at the time that I could use some confidence myself,” Lucy said. “When Terry Brennan, one of the instructors, asked if anyone else in the family was interested in taking karate lessons, I answered, ‘well, me, but that’s silly.’ At the time I was 37, overweight, and in no condition for kicking and punching. I couldn’t do a single push up. But Terry encouraged me to try the adult classes. And I loved it!”

Lucy said it was difficult to fit karate into her busy schedule but some things are worth it – even if you have to kick a few things off the schedule, this was very much worth it.

“The benefits were amazing,” she said. “The camaraderie, the shared goals, the all-out fun, and there is no better stress management in the world. By the time I was a brown belt, training for ‘black belt camp,” I was in the best physical condition of my life. From a starting point of no pushups, I had progressed to being able to do 25 full ‘military style’ pushups, I could run a 10k in under an hour, and, of course, I knew some cool karate stuff.”

Felix Levitt-Phillips gets his kicks

Lucy and Max earned their black belts at the same time; Anny a year later.

Max is now 26 and a software developer in the Boston area. Anny is 24 and earning a Master’s Degree in early education, and coaching pee-wee soccer.

And Lucy?

“I took a few years off of karate but returned in 2017,” she said. “At the age of 56, I decided to try again. It’s been challenging, but the fun, the camaraderie, the stress management, the physical fitness, and the cool karate stuff, are all still there.”

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