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Preschoolers learn self-confidence and how to back off bullies.

Starting karate at the age of 3 sounds unusual, but at the trimm no shin class at the Pasco Odessa County Park, kids are learning the basics of this martial art.

The class is taught by sensei Mary Tuesink, a teacher of various Okinawan styles of karate for 15 years who was inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame in May 2006.

"With this being preschoolers the class isn't as structured as other classes I teach," Tuesink said. "But they learn the punches, kicks and steps, so it does them some good. There was nothing for preschoolers, so I thought this class would be a good idea."

Tuesink feels that teaching the class of kids between the ages of 3 and 6 is beneficial to them in numerous ways.

"It teaches them self-discipline and gives them confidence," Tuesink said. "A lot of kids have issues in school with kids picking on them and this gives them the ability to deal with that situation without becoming the bully."

One of the things the kids learn is how to defend themselves against strangers.

"The kids learn what to do if a stranger tries to touch them, which is obviously something you appreciate as a parent." Debbie Esenberg of Land O'Lakes said.

Esenberg is the mother of two of Tuesink's students and was the person who inspired Tuesink to start the class. The two have known each other for 12 years, and Tuesink has wanted to get the kids involved for some time.

"She kept saying that when they got old enough that she was going to teach them," Esenberg said. "It's great because they learn everything from the moves to balance and coordination and the moves make them more flexible. It's definitely something I want them to stick with."

The classes are an hour long and incorporate exercises that teach kids balance and the importance of quick reflexes. The session occasionally loses its structured atmosphere in favor of a free-play environment, but not at the cost of what the kids are supposed to learn.

"With the kids being as young as they are things get a little silly at times," Esenberg said. "But Mary knows how much structuring the class needs and she does a good job of keeping it under control. As long as the kids are learning we all feel like it's worth it."

One benefit of the karate class is the price. Many recreational activities can cost parents substantial amounts of money, but according to Esenberg, karate is affordable. Robes cost $25 and classes can be discounted for siblings. Each time a child tests for another stripe on their belt, it's $10.

"For us it's $30 a month for the two kids to be in this class," Esenberg said. "It's really inexpensive compared to other things the kids do."

As for the kids, they sum their feelings up in simple terms as kids so often do.

"My favorite part about the class is learning the kicks," 6-year-old Jason Ellis said. "I want to go further in karate."

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Trimm no shin karate classes

Where: The Pasco Odessa County Park, 1627 Chesapeake Drive.

When:4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Cost: $15 for the first child with sibling discounts available.

Note: The class teaches kids ages 3-6 the disciplines of the trimm no shin style of karate. Trimm no shin translates to "heart of trim," said Mary Tuesink, the class sensei and veteran of the trimm no shin style.

For more information, call (813) 926-1141.