Karate has offered a giant dose of self-confidence to many of the young students at Ernest Fuentes' karate academy. ¶ One boy, who used to be sort of timid, recently made a bold move. He belted out a solo tune at a school program in front of a crowd.
"Everybody was crying watching him sing," said Fuentes who runs Keiko Shin Karate Academy.
And the singing boy's confidence was thanks, in part, to his new hobby: karate.
Gerrita Metcalf says her kids are no longer shy.
The two, Addison and Colton started going to Keiko Shin after school. Now they have a "take charge style."
Dozens of kids gather after school to learn kicking and punching techniques at Keiko Shin in Wesley Chapel's Grand Oaks Square. It's home to an award-winning karate competition team.
Fuentes, 40, walked away from a career as a family lawyer in Venezuela to start the academy two years ago.
Sensei Fuentes, as he's known, says karate is his passion. He's a black belt martial artist who specializes in Shotokan and Okinawan techniques. Fuentes studied in Japan and earned an international Okinawa instructor's degree, too.
And for Fuentes, his true passion is youngsters. He said he also has a master's degree in child psychology. It really helps him work with kids. At Keiko Shin, he's part teacher, part mentor. Fuentes knows that kids look up to him.
In karate class, kids must address adults as "sir" and ma'am."
"We need to review and reveal our social values," Fuentes says, in his thick Spanish accent. "Celebrities with drug problems, being in jail, DUI & are not real celebrities at all. They cannot be a leader."
"I don't just teach kicking and punching," said Fuentes who lives with his family in Wesley Chapel. "My foundation & is citizenship. Being a good person in this country."
Each week, Fuentes asks the kids the same question: This week, what did you do for your country?
He wants them to go out of their way to do a good deed.
For some youngsters, that means helping the elderly carry groceries.
One kid said that he made a point to greet the store clerk that day.
Another said he'd helped the cafeteria staff at school collect and stack lunch trays.
"That is my motto: respect, discipline, confidence and a winning attitude," said Fuentes.
Martial arts has gained popularity in recent years, as more and more parents opt for karate as their kid's after-school activity. There are a handful of karate schools in central Pasco alone.
Despite the kicking and jabs, Fuentes insists karate is not about violence.
It's more about self-defense, he adds.
Metcalf agrees, karate is "not an offensive kind of sport. It's more of a defensive sport where you use it if you have to."
If you go
Keiko Shin Karate Academy is at 26312 Wesley Chapel Blvd. in Wesley Chapel.
For information, call Ernest Fuentes at (813) 994-9253.