DAYTON - When resident Jack Ratliff, 40, injured his back two years ago, he needed to find a new way to get exercise that wouldn't aggravate his injury. He tried tai chi and yoga, but neither of them was active enough. He lifted weights, but disliked the gung-ho attitude of trainers at the gym.
Enter John Watermolen, 39, who heads the Dayton Martial Arts Program offered through the Central Lyon County Parks and Recreation Department.
"This is a great class for me," Ratliff said. "It allows me to stretch out my back. John understands that I'm a 40 year old with a bad back, so I won't be doing any back flips. He has certain expectations, but he isn't a drill sergeant."
Watermolen, who holds a third-degree black belt, has been teaching American karate, a combination of several East Asian martial arts, since 1992.
Watermolen encourages would-be students to drop in on a class to see if they like it. "That's how the parents get involved," he said. "They stay to watch the kids and realize, 'Hey, that looks like fun.'"
Classes cost $35 per month per family member, although family discounts are available. Ratliff, who pays $65 a month for himself and his son, likes the affordability of the classes. "You can't find anything like that in Carson, and I don't have to drive a long way either," Ratliff said.
Watermolen makes sure the classes are fun for grownups and kids alike. When Ratliff's son, 12, wanted to spar with him, John moved around the class schedule so the father-son match-up could happen.
"My son couldn't wait to get a crack at me," Ratliff said. "Luckily, I was wearing protective head gear."
But the classes aren't all fun and games.
"For kids, martial arts not only provide an opportunity to exercise and let off steam, but they also build self-esteem and self-confidence," Watermolen said.
He makes sure his students do well in the dojo - and in the classroom.
"Martial arts can be a tool for doing better in school," Watermolen said. "My students have to show me their report cards, and I have incentive programs that reward good grades."
He added, "If the child isn't a great student, I look at their citizenship. Even if we can't all be great scholars, we can all strive to be great citizens."
In his experience, martial arts, he says, can also help children with attention problems concentrate in school.
Parents have nothing but praise for Watermolen. Thomas Gresch's daughter Mary, 9, has been enrolled in the class since the beginning of the year.
"Mary really enjoys the classes," Gresch said. "I would definitely recommend it to other parents. It's a great way to get your child involved with other kids in a constructive way. John teaches respect, which is hard to come by these days."
Teresa Brethauer has 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, who both love the class.
"It teaches them self-control, and I've noticed they've developed greater self-confidence and gotten better grades," Brethauer said.
Robert Gorder has two children in the class - Robby, 6, and Katy, 10.
"It's convenient since it's in Dayton," Gorder said. "The lessons John teaches carry over into the classroom and into the home - things as simple as being polite and being on time. He's good with kids and parents, and he has a third-degree black belt so he knows what he's doing."
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