Author Archives: Joyce Brekke

KARE 11 Features JK Martial Arts

We are very thankful to one of the dojo (JKMA school) mothers, Heidi.  When KARE 11 Television Sports announcer Eric Perkins, asked on Facebook for a ‘feel good sports story’ she immediately suggested JK Martial Arts. We are sharing it with you because we know, ” it is easier to build strong children, then to mend a broken adult.”-author unknown.

Please view the story here.  Pass it on to build strong children.

Yes You Can Learn Karate

Yes You
Can Learn

Written for Connect WC

We customize and adapt to your learning challenges. Ages 6-60+ can do this sport.
There are huge benefits to learning karate. And just like school, when the teaching is customized and adapted to meet a person’s needs, success happens.

The goal of learning karate is not what the normal person thinks-to be a good fighter. The goals are much, much more than that. It is to learn self control, build self esteem, improve body control and much more. The additional end result is the ability to know when and how to defend oneself.

There is scientific evidence showing the amazing mental health benefits of doing karate. In his book SPARK, Dr. John Ratey says that karate is the best stimulant of the neuro-chemicals feeding the pre-frontal lobe of the brain. This part of the brain is where executive function occurs. It controls moods, anxiety, self-control, judgment, motivation, prioritization, and organization. We’ve seen it happen. Sometimes, it is like a switch gets turned on. A child’s mood changes in class. They can focus in school. They do what their mom asks.

Our structured curriculum, methodical teaching, and accommodations assure the wonderful sensation of success! And for some kids, to be successful at one thing is like a miracle; A life changing experience; A door opening event.

Success Through Learning and Communication

First, we understand how you (the student) learn and how you communicate. We acknowledge you (or your parent) advocating to help us teach you more effectively and adapt to your sensory requirements. You’ll be surprised how beneficial karate is for your mental health and physical health. With a normalized teaching environment you will learn with a variety of students and be rewarded with success in every class. The values learned will be used in other parts of your life.

Learning Styles
Everyone learns either
- visually
- audibly
- kinesthetically (tactile learning)
Most of us have a dominant way of learning, but use a combination of the learning styles. When we understand how we learn we can apply it to our lives to be successful. Understanding how you learn is our first step in creating our working relationship. We use all three styles of learning as we teach. For example, if we know you are a visual learner, we have an instructor stand in front of you so you have someone to model. If we know you are an audible learner, we repeat the same key words to help you remember the moves in karate. If we know you are a kinesthetic learner we may use a pad for you to hit to enhance the mind body connection. Repetition is part of the routine to create muscle memory.

Self Advocacy
Becoming a self advocate is helpful for everyone. For those of us with special learning needs, becoming a self advocate helps others be successful in teaching us. For example, knowing your dominant learning style will allow you to self advocate for yourself by sharing with your teacher how you learn so the teacher can adapt to your needs. Another example is if you are sensitive to noise, and respectfully ask your instructor to be positioned in the quiet part of the room, you will likely be moved to the quiet area. If you are a hyperactive individual and respectfully ask to be placed in an area where you can move without distracting others, you will likely have your request granted. Ask for an accommodation respectfully, and you will likely receive it! We encourage self-advocacy. The success experienced in karate will increase self esteem. With high self esteem, a person is better prepared to be a self advocate.

Sensory Needs
We are sensory friendly, accommodating when there is a sensory processing disorder, sensory integration dysfunction or vestibular or auditory dysfunction. For example, asking, “May I touch you to guide your hand into position?” Other examples include: asking other students to yell quieter, positioning sensitive students in quieter places of the class, providing tagless T-shirts, and using weighted wrist bands.

Karate is great exercise for the proprioceptive input needed by children. When we observe a student not paying attention or fidgeting, we offer additional bear hugs or frog jumps. Joint compression occurs when we have students strike pads with their hand, creating the stimulation to their wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. It is also positive mental feedback that they are hitting the pad correctly.

We seek to understand student’s body cues and adjust to what they are telling us. Like the hyperactive child who spins in class, so we give them more input. Anxiety stops so many from moving. We watch intently for signals of increasing anxiety and adjust so they do not shut down. This may include placing them in the front of the classroom so they don’t see other students, or in the back where it is quieter, slowing down, or modeling for them….it all depends on each student’s needs. We’ll adapt.

Mental Health Benefits
“Aerobic exercise with complex movements in a rigid schedule [Karate] is the most important intervention” to stay on task, pay attention, and alter our moods, according to Dr. Gary Johnson of the C.A.L.M clinic and Dr. Ratey in Spark. This activity stimulates the neuro-chemicals in our pre-frontal lobe. This part of the brain fully matures at about 27 years old. It is where our self control, mood control, organization, prioritization and judgment is centered.

Our students say it best:

- A 14 year old boy with PDD-NOS who earned his Black Belt: “Through out my time in karate I have learned to control my anger, how to keep bullies at school away, and how to take responsibility for my actions.” Now he is a successful college student.
- “The biggest impact [of karate] has been my self confidence. Ever since I started karate I have been willing to take on new challenges and risks better than ever before.” 17 year old boy with ADD.
- “Learning a new kata [series of 12 or more karate moves] is hard but I learned to be patient about things.” 15 year old boy with ASD. Some students require us to teach with more specific details. Accommodations allow for success!
- “Karate has also taught me that 40 or 60 or 120 Japanese jumping jacks will chase away a bad mood better than anything else.” Mother of two, who all achieved their black belts together.
Physical Health Benefits
The physical benefits of karate are many:
- increased strength
- increased flexibility
- improved balance or vestibular regulation
- increased core strength
- understanding of body in space
- cardiac and pulmonary stamina

Many people have tight muscles. Anxiety tightens our muscles. Doing karate movement takes the stress out of our muscles, stretches them and gets the blood flowing to them. Everyone has different flexibility. We accept and acknowledge that and work with each student’s starting point.

Balance is very important in movement. It is essential to doing a karate kick. It requires, and thus improves, core strength, leg strength and concentration. We do exercises specifically to improve strength and concentration. The concentration translates into other parts of life like the student who finally passed a math test after starting karate classes!

Normalized Learning Environment
At JK Martial Arts, our classes are organized by karate belt level; beginner, intermediate and advanced. All ages, all learning abilities are in the same class of beginners, for example ages 6-60, typical learners, folks with ASD, ADD, dyslexia, etc. Everyone is the same in a normalized environment. I remember a time in class when Sensei (the teacher) was pausing to help a student. Thus, I had to struggle to hold the position. I thought to myself, “Thanks for giving me extra time to get stronger!”

Success in Every Class
Because we understand how each student learns, we accommodate our teaching to assure they are successful! For example: Alan is distracted by others. He is also sensitive to noise. He loves learning karate and being with other students, but it is not the best learning environment for him. He switched to private lessons every other week, and group classes every other week. Sensei gives him new material in his private lesson in a manner that works best for him. He learns very well with the use of pads and fewer distractions. In class, he sees his new friends and enjoys being able to do what everyone else is doing. This week he received his first intermediate level belt. When his mother asked him how he felt, he said, “Like a winner!” Isn’t this a wonderful statement to hear from a 12 year old with ASD?

How Karate Influenced Me

How Karate Influenced Me

The best answer to this question lies in the response from a student.   Each student testing for their Black Belt at JK Martial Arts is required to write a paper answering this question.  The papers are as remarkable as the students.  This is why I am featuring the response by Jacob in this blog.

“I can’t do it!” I whined.  I was at a summer camp called Cathedral of the Pines.  I was playing softball on the second to last day. I had already been injured multiple times swimming and playing softball, so I wasn’t very excited.

The ball come at me and hit me in the arm. It hit hard, as I accidentally walked straight into its path to second base, trying to avoid it.  A counselor walked me down to the nurse’s office, me whining all the way.

I was probably really annoying, now that I think about it.  But that’s not important.  I thought I couldn’t play.  And this wasn’t just because I didn’t play often; it was also because of my eyesight: 20/100.

I was poor at catching because I couldn’t see the ball.  I was a weak hitter because I didn’t see it coming. I was lousy in the field and mediocre running. But this wasn’t the only sport. I’ve found that whenever I try a sport, I get hurt, or I am terrible at it, and never have fun, UNTIL KARATE at JK Martial Arts.

In karate, I didn’t have to see.  I just had to have power and form.  I didn’t need to be the first to get it done, I just had to finish.  I didn’t have to beat everyone else because we were all a team. If I needed help, even in the middle of class, someone would work through it with me.

And for the first time while playing a sport, I was happy and focused.

Even to me, I seem to have reached my black belt test quicker than expected. It’s true, I’m very nervous, but also very excited.

It’s because ….. I can truthfully say I am great at a sport.

Jacob continues to attend classes and assists with teaching.

See more testimonials throughout the website.

Author: Joyce Brekke, BA, RRT, Black Belt Shorei-Ryu Karate, Director, JK Martial Arts


Understanding Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

For those of you who have kept up with my recent blogs, you know I’ve been reflecting on the ways JK Martial Arts helps special learners. As I wrote in a previous blog, every person is unique and has unique ways of learning.

This is especially true of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In my research to understand how students with ASD learn, I discovered there really is no specific formula. The best approach is to learn how the student learns best, and then adapt lessons accordingly. This is exactly how we do things at JKMA.

Students with ASD tend to favor structured, calm and predictable environments. Change usually is very difficult for them and often induces feelings of anxiety.

At JKMA, we use a methodical approach to teaching karate, so lessons become routine. We teach in small detailed steps to match the precision that many people with ASD desire. The routine nature of the steps also provides students with a sense of calm.

Of course, repetition is helpful to all learners. Repeating the same audible cues has actually helped non-verbal students with ASD voice the steps out loud!

But too many repetitions can bore some students and provoke anxiety. Other students could become anxious if they learn and understand the moves but are unable to execute them with finesse and the full power they desire.

We strive to know each student’s triggers for anxiety so we can help them avoid it. For example, we will alter the number of repetitions a student does, based on his or her tolerance for repetition. We also set expectations in advance by telling students how many repetitions they will do that day.

Sensitivity to noise and light also can negatively impact learning for students with ASD. That is why we always speak to students with ASD in softer tones, or place them in a quieter area of the dojo. We may also use visual cues rather than verbal ones.

Some students with ASD have limited flexibility and strength. In these cases, we will provide more time for stretching and adapt stances and kicks for the students’ different abilities.

Finally, JKMA understands that some students with ASD may not be ready for a class with other people. That’s why we also offer private lessons, where students can practice karate in an environment more conducive to their success and prepare for the move to a class setting.

See the JKMA resources page for literature used in our research on special learners.

Author: Joyce Brekke, BA, RRT, Black Belt Shorei-Ryu Karate, Director, JK Martial Arts


JK Martial Arts Helps Students Improve Social Skills

Karate requires discipline. It is a very old tradition that is honored by many dedicated instructors. It demands respect and requires humility. These are the values students learn while taking karate at JK Martial Arts: Discipline, Honor, Respect and Humility.

These values serve as the foundation of all our karate classes. With time and practice, students learn to apply the same values outside the dojo and go on to experience success in other areas of their lives.

A mother of a JKMA student was pleasantly surprised when her normally defiant son said to her, “yes ma’am!” She was so grateful for his increasingly respectful behavior at home and school. (Karate students are required to reply, “Yes ma’am!” or “Yes sir!” when given a command.)

A 12-year-old Black Belt student also has improved his social skills after taking karate at JKMA.   He wrote, “Because I learned dignity from karate, I have learned to hold my head high and be proud of myself. Honor has helped me to accept other people’s opinions and be kind to the people in my life.”

A 13-year-old Black Belt student echoes this sentiment, saying, “Karate has taught me how to make friends outside of school.”

It is extremely gratifying to help people gain more confidence and experience greater success in life through karate. But JKMA isn’t the only place one can learn to improve social skills. Indeed, Jane Steinhagen, a mother of a JKMA student, offers special classes in this area. Just visit to learn more.

Author: Joyce Brekke, BA, RRT, Black Belt Shorei-Ryu Karate, Director, JK Martial Arts

Mixed-Age Karate Classes Foster Students’ Success

In our society, school is the only place where people are segregated by age. In the “real world,” we interact with people of all ages and walks of life. We learn from each other, build friendships, develop unique experiences and gain greater insight into the world.

This fact was brought to my attention in 2008 by Ann Rooney, M.E.D. of Concerning Learning, an organization that helps students identify the tools they need to achieve academic success. Ann had asked JKMA to teach karate at The Academy of Whole Learning, formerly The Whole Learning School, a private school for children with learning challenges.

It was through this experience that I realized how valuable it could be to create a more realistic, or “normal” setting in our dojo, where kids of all ages could interact.

And that’s exactly what you’ll find at JKMA. Classes are organized by belt level and each includes kids of all ages.

When I started karate at age 52, I made friends with a 9-year-old boy, Charlie.  He had ADD and as many children with ADD, it is hard to make friends. When his aunt asked him if he had made any new friends, he said “Yes! A lady named Joyce.”  Wow, that warmed my heart. I’ll be going to his high school graduation party soon.

The mother of a student said she appreciates that we have classes with kids of different ages. Her son now looks forward to going to class to see his dojo friends.

And a father is delighted that he can take the same karate class as his daughter.

A 14 year old boy who has Autism Spectrum Disorder is enjoying 8 year old boys looking up to him with respect.

A 48-year-old student and mother of a student summed up the value of our approach when she said: “I have a karate family of people I care about and who care about me.”

That’s exactly what we strive for at JKMA: an environment in which everyone feels comfortable and in his or her element.

If you haven’t tried a class yet, or would like to observe one, please call 763-253-9016 send an email.

For other examples of how the JKMA curriculum benefits special learners, check out my previous blogs.


Author: Joyce Brekke, BA, RRT, Black Belt Shorei-Ryu Karate, Director, JK Martial Arts

Customized Teaching Methods for Each Student

Customized Teaching Methods for Each Student

Everyone processes information differently.  That is one of the most exciting aspects of being human. Nobody is the same. Even an individual’s mood and the way he or she learns can vary day to  day.  This is true of those with known learning challenges and those without a “diagnois.” In my previous blog, I posed the question: “How does the JK Martial Arts curriculum help special learners?”  Typical learners, as well as those with challenges, use one or a combination of three learning styles: visual, audible or kinesthetic.  During the first free trial lesson given by Sensei Katherine, she discovers how the new student learns. Then she uses the appropriate cue to teach the student. Visual learners will watch Sensei’s moves first and then follow them. Audible learners will listen to Sensei repeat the same cues, and then execute them. Kinesthetic learners learn by doing the move over and over again using pads so they have sensory stimulation. You can learn more about how Sensei customizes learning for each student in this short video.

Author: Joyce Brekke, BA, RRT, Blackbelt Shorei-Ryu Karate, Director, JK Martial Arts

Exercise is Medicine

Exercise is Medicine

By Joyce Brekke, RRT, BA

Director at JK Martial Arts

Black Belt Shorei-Ryu Karate



JK Martial Arts is celebrating its 8th anniversary this month. When I started this business back in 2007, the first question I asked myself was, “How does the JK Martial Arts curriculum help special learners?”  With 30 years of experience in health care, including doing clinical research, I sought to find the answer in Medical Journals.


Dr. John J. Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, wrote  SPARK, the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. He compiled many research projects and summarized the proven results that show the benefits exercise has on the brain.


When we do heavy exertion with complex moves, we stimulate the natural brain chemicals that affect our pre-frontal lobe.  This part of the brain, known as the executive function, controls our judgment skills, mood and general ability to “self-regulate.”  Interestingly, this area of the brain is the last to develop, usually in our late 20s!


Medicine used to treat ADD essentially does the same thing by stimulating  the brain chemicals in the prefrontal lobe.


At JK Martial Arts, we are all about exercise. But we also focus on teaching students core values that will guide their practice inside the dojo and help them succeed outside of it. After eight years of teaching, we’ve seen numerous success stories, which I’ll share in forthcoming blogs. I’ll also explain the numerous ways the JKMA curriculum helps special learners.  In the meantime, get out and exercise. It’s as good for your mind as it is for your body!