You might say these parents are just like everyone else. They put on their pants one leg at a time.
But when they tie a black belt around their waists, they become parents with, ahem, super powers.
Dimitri Papadopoulos, Sharon Brown, Devin Fadaol and Raymunda Semana are karatekas, or practitioners of karate. They are also international competitors, members of the American Karate Team who will compete in Tokyo this month in the Shoto World Cup, the equivalent of the Olympic competition in karate.
The Shoto World Cup, which takes place every three years, is also known as the Funakoshi Gichin World Cup. The U.S. team has 16 members, six of them from Louisiana.
The barefoot sport of combat incorporates only hands and feet as weapons, with emphasis placed on unity of mind and body. Those who practice Shotokan karate say the discipline that comes with the practice of this 17th-century martial art spills over into everything, from parenting to professional conduct.
“The result of true karate is natural, effortless action, and the confidence, humility, openness and peace only possible through perfect unity of mind and body,” according to the Japanese Karate Association, the worldwide organization that sponsors the Shoto World Cup.
“There are so many benefits to this kind of training — self-control, humility, discipline, focus and confidence, just to name a few,” says Fadaol, a trial attorney and father of a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. “These benefits directly translate into my personal and professional relationships on a daily basis. I have already noticed some of these values rubbing off on my kids, as I observe them playing with other children. I feel that if my kids see me behaving a certain way based on the 25 years of training and competing, then they will be more likely to adopt these values as their own.”
“The purpose of karate is said to be continuous self-improvement. One can never be perfect, but by striving toward the ideal, all aspects of your life are improved,” says Brown, also an attorney and the mother of a 3-year-old son. “Another important part of striving for continuous self-improvement is keeping an open mind.”
Brown says this mind-set carries over into her parenting style, where providing structure and the guidelines for good character are priorities. Both she and her husband apply the principle of an open mind with shared reflection of their parenting skills.
“We tell each other, in private, when we have been too harsh or too lenient, or when we overlooked important circumstances. Wherever we can find room for improvement, we adjust how we handle and guide our son,” says Brown.
Semana, a pharmacist, and Papadopoulos, a biology professor, are married to each other and have an 18-month-old daughter. Papadopoulos grew up learning karate from his father, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who is principle instructor at the Tulane Karate Association. Dimitri Papadopoulos is not only a practitioner of the martial art, but a teacher, as well.
“Probably our daughter will train with us one day, as I did with my parents,” says Papadopoulos.
Not only has karate laid some groundwork for parenting, it also has had impact on work performance at the office.
“Mentally, karate has made me more strategic and decisive,” says Brown.
For Semana, the “competitive nature coupled with a positive attitude” enabled her to pursue and achieve her professional goals.
Brown, Papadopoulos and Fadaol are Tulane University alumni and were members of the Tulane Karate Club, where they continue to both practice and serve as assistant instructors for the 40-year-old club. This year’s Shoto World Cup will be Fadaol’s fifth time to compete in the world tournament, Papadopoulos’ fourth and the second for both Brown and Semana. The other two team members from Louisiana are Ranita Clement and Kellan Lyman.
These parents with full-time jobs try to squeeze in at least eight hours of practice a week either at Tulane University’s Reily Center or the Louisiana Karate Association in Metairie. Inside the dojo, the sounds express the strategic energy of the martial art. Bare feet slam the floor, the heavy canvas of the uniforms snap with fast and furious moves. Even the rapid jabs and kicks that slice through the air create the whoosh of swift breezes.
“Karate is a staple for my active lifestyle. I get bored with most activities like weights and running. With karate I am able to enjoy cardio and strength training. Also, being consistent with a healthy and diverse workout regimen helps me to stay stress free,” says Papadopoulos.
“It works muscles in all parts of the body because of the emphasis on coordination, balance, symmetry. We are getting the cardiovascular benefits because it is a high-intensity type of training. We are getting the strength-training benefits from the resistance put on the muscles, kicking and punching a bag, and blocking or reacting to opponents’ attacks. The team members are also doing a lot of plyometrics,” says Fadaol.
Karate is also viewed as a lifelong practice.
“I have seen 70- and 80-year-old Japanese masters move in ways that would make you think they are 40 years younger,” says Fadaol. “If you can find a sport or activity you truly enjoy doing, then you will never have to suffer through a workout a day in your life.”