The Post-Journal

City Teacher Puts Kick in Pupils’ Lives

Lunged to the right in their barefoot and arms positioned with closed fists held tight to their faces, Christina Keborts’s young disciples oblige by assuming the stance as she calls out a Japanese karate form.

There is more to unarmed combat than a series of high kicks and swift slices of the hand, instructs the Love Elementary School teacher’s aide. She holds a fourth degree black belt in Shotokan karate and since winter, Ms. Kebort has been giving free martial arts lessons to third and fourth graders who participate in Project Love, a popular after school program.

Once inside the school gymnasium at Love, Ms. Keborts’s students begin training by warming up their muscles and their vocal chords with screams that accompany each precise movement. “Hay-ya,” say the karate students in unison, as they execute their move and adjust their weight in anticipation of the next instruction.

At a glimpse, the students appear to be concentrating on their motor skills, but further look into the dynamics of training demonstrates how karate not only builds the body, but strengthens the mind.

“Learning karate you gain self respect, self-discipline, respect for others, physical conditioning, friendship and loyalty,” said Ms. Keport.

During the school day, pupils may refer to their teacher as Ms. “K” but in karate class she is “renshi’” a Japanese term for junior master.

Because the students are learning a Japanese martial art, the language and the technique go hand in hand. They are competent in counting to 10 in the foreign language and they know basic technique words in Japanese that will serve as a foundation for advancement.

“The students have done really well since they first started.” said Michelle Prince, school science monitor who supervises karate classes. During the first day of class, certain students were withdrawn and lacking confidence among their peers, said the supervisor. A few weeks of karate with Ms. Kebort and the same students were re-energized. “This has boosted their self-esteem. We need more people like Christina.” Mrs. Prince said.

The boys and girls are currently working towards their yellow belts, an opportunity that they would not have had without the after school activity. This idea was expressed by Jonathon Bragg, a fourth grader who participates in Project Love. “I’d be sitting around if we weren’t in this program because I’d be bored.” said Bragg.

Some of the challenges that the students are faced with include knocking over a 270-pound wavemaster kick bag and using punching mitts while practicing sparring. Each feat is rewarded with a round of push-ups or some karate “trick” performed by one of the instructors.

“Christina teaches us a lot of things,” T’Anna Robinson, who is one one of the twenty some karate students. 

Ms. Kebort’s disciples have recognized her achievements, and so have local businesses, community friends and Love School personnel who felt that her hard work was deserving of an award. “Christina has volunteered a tremendous amount of time for the school and never asked for reimbursement,” said Rich Fleurant, community school coordinator. “We know she really wanted to go to Texas and be part of (Chuck Norris’ annual golf and tennis tournament which includes Karate). To be invited and to be one of the highest ranking black belts in the area, it would have been disappointing for her (not to attend). It was our way of saying thank you,” said Fleurant.

Ms. Kebort received a personal invitation from Norris to join other celebrities during the weekend’s events because she is a sponsor of Kick Drugs Out of America, a program endorsed by Norris that discourages the use of illegal substances. The program has been implemented in several metropolitan cities throughout the country where certified black belts are hired as school employees to help “at risk” students learn karate as a means of challenging their outlook on life and to discourage drugs and violence. “I’m hoping to get it incorporated into Jamestown,” said Ms. Kebort. “Chuck Norris has been a positive role model,” she said.

The time that Ms. Kebort volunteers for Project Love is a step in the same direction as Norris’ program to help area students use karate as a creative outlet. Her pupils learn that in order to succeed, physical strength is an asset, but it must be controlled by the mind and used for self-defense purposes only and at the lowest degree possible. “We stress that karate is only for self-defense purposes.” said Jeremy McIntyre, a third degree black belt who assists Ms. Kebort’s classes. “You don’t use it to bully people around,” he said.

On Friday, the entire school and families of the karate students will have a chance to witness what takes place during the afternoon martial arts classes. There will be an after school assembly during which the students will receive their yellow belts, a step up from their current level as white belts.

The third and fourth graders that are to receive the new belts are David Bennett, David Bragg, Jonathan Bragg, Charles Barton, Paige Gustafson, Taylor Knight, Aaron Lee, Jordan Leeper, Earl Matteson, Chris Morgan, T’Anna Robinson, Robert Turner and Michael Vail.

Ms. Kebort and other masters of the martial arts will perform demonstrations that include unarmed combat and breaking wooden boards and cement blocks with their physical and mental power.

When she is not busy with her karate pupils, Ms. Kebort trains with Rick Johnson, an eighth degree black belt who runs Johnson’s Martial Arts in Warren. Her free time with Project Love allows her to use her skills to help others.

“I wanted to give something back to children,” she said with sincerity.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.