GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Mike Simkin stood on a blue mat in front of a row of 10 children, all in white uniforms with orange belts.
After exchanging bows of respect, Simkin led the youngsters through a group of exercises, consisting of jumping jacks, punches and kicks — all while counting out in Japanese. Several parents watched from the sidelines.
Simkin was firm but gentle with the pupils, encouraging them and making sure everyone got some individual attention.
This was one of about 15 weekly sessions at Simkin’s Martial Arts, where children as young as 4 to adults in their 50s and 60s learn Gojo-Ryu-style karate and other forms of self-defense.
“I love to teach,” said Simkin, 37, of Egg Harbor Township, sensei and owner of the studio. “I love learning. I love passing it on to other people.”
For as long as he can remember, Simkin said, he wanted to practice karate. He started taking classes at age 13 and immediately got hooked.
“Once I started, it was all I wanted to do,” Simkin said. “I was doing classes four days a week” all the way through high school.
After earning his black belt in 1991, Simkin said, he got a job in an Atlantic City casino and taught karate part-time. But the gaming halls didn’t suit him, and he opened a martial arts studio in Northfield in 1998. He moved to Route 9 in Galloway in 2001, and stayed there until opening up at Jimmie Leeds and Pitney roads two years ago. A second location recently opened on Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township.
Students are taught in classes grouped by age, Simkin said. The Lil Dragons are 4 to 6 years old. The 7-to-12-year-olds are in the next level. Teens and adults learn together, as they can understand the concepts even if they’re not yet able to perform all the moves.
The youngsters get a strong dose of self-confidence along with karate moves, but are taught not to use their skills unless absolutely necessary, Simkin said. They know not to punch or kick someone who might taunt them, but to handle bullies properly.
“Most case, there is no need for the hands-on physical aspect,” Simkin said. “A lot of it can be avoided by the show of confidence in themselves.”
Adults often take the classes for exercise or to get into shape, but also to learn to protect themselves as they grow older, Simkin said. Older students can start lessons, and he will help them work around any physical limitations they may have.
Simkin said he also travels to area workplaces, teaching self-defense to employees. That can be anything from a single session to teach people to escape an attacker to more advanced techniques.
Although he’s a sensei and a teacher, Simkin said he still takes instruction. He has a teacher in Florida, and they exchange visits so he can take lessons. He also works out with different instructors and is willing to learn whatever he can from anybody, and then pass it all along.
“As long as somebody wants to learn, I’ll teach them,” he said.
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