September 5, 2018

Theresa Java/Free Press
Randy Rapozo Jr. takes takes his turn kicking the shield.

Theresa Java/Free Press Randy Rapozo Jr. takes takes his turn kicking the shield.

KEY LARGO — Pastor Eric Fisher directed about a half dozen children last Thursday to do hamstring stretches before they took turns delivering roundhouse kicks to a padded strike shield.

The Lighthouse on the Rock Assemblies of God Church transforms into a pocket-size dojang three times a week for both kids and adults interested in learning self-defense with a focus on Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art that borrows fighting principles from karate and teaches respect. Fisher, the church’s lead pastor, easily transitions into sonsaeng, the Korean equivalent of sensei.

The Tang So Do tradition might best be recognized in the work of well-known martial artist and actor Chuck Norris, who showcased his master skills in “Walker, Texas Ranger,” a TV series that ran through the 1990s.

Students need not be a part of the church congregation to attend the classes, and most aren’t, according to Fisher.

“This is for the whole community,” he said. “It’s a way for people to practice courage, honor and perseverance. It’s based on principles that teach kids to be accountable, to do what they say they’re going to do — to help out mom and dad a little more. Martial arts gives people self-confidence.”

Fisher said his classes also incorporate taekwondo, boxing, grappling and arnis, the Filipino martial arts using a baton.

The little church has an arsenal of wood boards, a life-size grappling dummy to spar and wrestle with, a kickboxing bag, batons, bow staffs and more to be used for student practice.

Last week, the rapt students tiptoed their way through target circles on the mat before blocking Fisher’s sparring pool noodle and dropkicking a shield held by Fisher’s son, Zach.

“There’s varying levels of student attention spans,” Fisher said. “Some have short-bursts here and there but this is a Crock-Pot approach rather than cooking with a microwave. Some kids will come and go, but the true way takes perseverance.”

The classes are offered to ages 6 and up, but Fisher said that it is determined on a case-by-case basis. Younger ones attending with older siblings are often invited to participate.

“It’s funny to see when the younger sibling pays more attention,” said Fisher’s wife, Janeen. “They come and stand in the back and they’re as young as 3 to 4 years old, and they pay attention and are really good at it.”

Fisher learned the art about six years ago the same way he teaches his students now.

“It’s a tiered discipline or system. Everything is earned, belt-by-belt,” he said.

The adult classes run in six- or eight-week sessions, focusing on a different skill each session. Anyone can join at any time and be able to jump in, according to Janeen.

The group will do exercises in being alert to surroundings then go on to cover quick deflective sequences.

“People need to first be comfortable saying something when their personal space is being invaded and then defend themselves,” Fisher said. “We have exercises where I’ll block the exit and approach them. They have to find a way out and that may be with body language and by using hand gestures that appear defenseless but aren’t.”

“Teaching self-defense is a pressure test to help people identify situations that they’re not comfortable with and how to respond to them.”

Enrolling students should wear comfortable clothing, and set short- and longterm discipline goals

Lighthouse on the Rock offers its classes based on donations. Its youth martial arts classes are 5:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday, and at 11 a.m. Saturday, following a 10:15 a.m. adult self-defense class for ages 13 and up. The church is located at 99.3, oceanside. For more information, call Fisher at 305-451-6212 or visit lighthousekeylargo.com.

tjava@keysnews.com