Todd Huddleston knows what martial arts training can do to change a child’s life because he knows what it did for him.
“I’m a living example of that,” said Huddleston, who has run Yonsei Martial Arts Academy in Kenner since 1999. “When I was younger, I lacked self-esteem. I started (martial arts) when I was 9. I went on to be a math major in college, went to graduate school and lived abroad. If I had not done martial arts, I would not be the person I am today.”
Huddleston is a certified master of Tang Soo Do, which combines elements of karate and kung fu. After graduate school in the 1990s, he lived in South Korea and became a master instructor at Yonsei University in Seoul.
From Korea to New Orleans
At one point, he wondered whether or not he should return to the U.S. – and to the New Orleans area, in particular – to teach the martial arts.
“I wondered whether I should come back home and start a martial arts school and influence people the way the martial arts influenced me,” Huddleston said. “From time to time, you hear of people leaving Louisiana to look for better opportunities. I wanted to go back and help out through martial arts.”
One of the biggest misconceptions parents have about allowing their children to study martial arts, Huddleston said, is that they will become more prone to violent outbursts. Actually, among the fundamentals of the sport are respect, focus and self-control.
“Right off the bat, that’s what we tell the kids – ‘This is what we need to do,’” Huddleston said. “We’re teaching in the classroom the things that parents aren’t able to achieve at home. We teach the difference between right and wrong things.”
Huddleston says sometimes parents can be a part of the problem, raising children with a sense of entitlement.
“I see too many parents doing too many things for their children,” Huddleston said. “When I was a kid, I had to carry my own gear bag. Now, their parents are carrying the bags and it’s almost like they’re a slave. Let’s say a student forgets his belt. He’ll say, ‘My mom forgot.’ I’ll tell him, ‘No, you forgot it.’ I’m tired of seeing parents bend over backwards for their children. These are hard lessons. One of the great things about my position is that I can be the guy in authority. I’m not their friend or their buddy. I am their martial arts instructor.”
In this video game era, where some children exercise their thumbs much more than their minds or the rest of their bodies, Huddleston said martial arts demands discipline and hard work, and as students progress by attaining high-rated belts, “they learn that if they put forth the effort and work at it, they can achieve it.”
Yonsei offers year-round classes in various martial arts disciplines, but the summer is a time when children have extra time to give it a try. “In the summertime we can offer shorter programs for parents to try it out, and if the kids like the program, maybe they’ll continue,” Huddleston said.
Usually, every new student starts at the beginner’s level – taking two, 45-minute classes a week – until they get in better shape and advance. Huddleston has taught special needs children, as well.
“If they allow the program to do what it’s designed to do, you will get results,” Huddleston said.
For more information on Yonsei Martial Arts Academy, go to www.yonsei.us or call 465-5353. Yonsei is located at 2530 Florida Ave., Kenner, LA 70062.