Martial arts instructor Rob Hood teaches his young students that adults resemble Florida weather: Most grown-ups are no more dangerous than a sunny day under blue skies; however, adults who intend to harm children pop up as fast as a raging afternoon thunderstorm.
So enjoy life, Hood advises his charges, but stay alert to potentially dangerous situations.
Hood, a third-degree black belt in karate and president of Young Olympians in Tampa, supervises a youth self-defense class at the county's Providence Park in Riverview, an East Hillsborough community just south of Brandon. About 50 students, ages 5 to 15, meet each Friday evening to practice kicks, punches and blocks, all within a framework of learning to defend themselves better.
"We promote self-confidence and greater street awareness in the class," said Hood, 28. "We're looking to protect the children with this program."
Beginning students practice for 45 minutes under the watchful eye of Hood and fellow instructor Michael Prentice, who has black belts in karate, judo, akido and tae kwon do. The more advanced students meet for the same amount of time once the beginners are finished.
Prentice, 27, said he has studied martial arts for 19 years and enjoys passing on his knowledge to students.
"I really get a lot of pleasure out of seeing these kids try so hard," he said.
During a recent class, Prentice taught beginners how to stretch properly, then had them practice back-knuckle hand strikes, cross-body blocks and front snap kicks. He demonstrated to the advanced students how to execute inside-outside crescent kicks and spinning back kicks.
As the group's sensei or instructor, Prentice teaches with a gentle yet firm manner. Occasionally, he calls out to the students, "Quiet. Eyes forward. Sensei's talking."
Hood said he's impressed with the students' attitude. "They try hard and listen well," he said. "It takes very little time to establish discipline in this class."
Seven-year-old Evelyn Hall, who has a yellow belt in karate, said the class is a lot of fun and her favorite strike is the front snap kick.
"I'm learning a lot about self-confidence," Evelyn said.
Melinda Haynes' son Steven, age 6, also enjoys the class, she said. She enrolled Steven in the class to learn self-defense as well as the benefit of starting and completing a project, she said.
Providence Park supervisor Mildred Coppersmith said she thinks the class is great for the children.
"Michael Prentice is one of the best instructors I've ever seen. While he teaches the children about self defense, they're also learning about discipline and controlling their behavior," Coppersmith said.
Hood charges $3 per class, which he considers a bargain.
"The students are receiving the same quality of teaching they'd get at martial arts studios, which charge much more money," he said.
The self-defense class runs throughout the school year, and new students are welcome to sign up, Hood said. The class will conclude with a karate tournament at the University of South Florida in late May, he said.
To learn more
For more information on the youth self-defense class at Providence Park in Riverview, call Mildred Coppersmith at 744-5618.