CHESTERTOWN — For Patricia Gauani and Brian McNemar, martial arts is more than just exercise.
“It’s not just working out, you have a bond,” Gauani said.
“It’s cool because it’s almost like through the martial arts when you have this bond with everybody, it creates a family environment,” McNemar said.
So when Gauani and McNemar heard that many of the students they were instructing at a martial arts studio in Middletown, Del. were from Kent County, they decided that they needed to open up their own.
Team Unity Martial Arts, located at 818 High St. on the third floor of the Bainbridge Health Building in Suite 6, opened for business in early May. They offer classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5, 5:30 and 6:15 p.m. Eventually, once they get the word out, Gauani and McNemar want to offer classes six days a week.
Team Unity began as a competition team, but when Gauani and McNemar opened their studio, they decided to use “Team Unity” because it represents a unified effort made by a collective.
“Nobody ever does anything by themselves, you usually have to have somebody behind you, somebody helping you, you always have a team. You’re unified in what your goal is, and when you get together, you support one another,” Gauani said.
McNemar and Gauani practice and teach tang soo do, a Korean-based martial art that is similar to tae kwon do and karate. One of the most notable practitioners of tang soo do is Chuck Norris.
McNemar, who has been a martial arts instructor since 2002, began his practice when he was 7 years old. Gauani, however, came to martial arts later in life, initially to learn self-defense tactics. Their differing approaches help them teach a wider variety of people.
“It’s great because, where I have the perspective of, ‘This is what martial arts is like when you’re a kid,’ she’s got the perspective of, ‘This is what martial arts is like when you start as an adult.’ So we can kind of come from any perspective, in that case,” McNemar said.
Classes at Team Unity are separated by age. While the youngest students Team Unity instructs are 4 years old, there is no age limit beywond that.
“The oldest student I ever worked with ... she was 94 when I worked with her. She was an adorable little old lady who could not do any type of motion above her knees, but she was always smiling and having a good time with it,” McNemar said.
Each age group focuses on different tenets of martial arts, and as they progress through the ranks, they focus on cultivating new skills.
For the youngest students, the main focus of martial arts practice is self-understanding and foundational character building. At Team Unity, the program for 4 to 6 year olds is called Tigers and Dragons. According to their website, “this program is designed to develop strength, balance and coordination while building respect, learning discipline and enhancing focus.”
“That’s great for that age group, because they get a little bit of it, enough to understand what’s right, what’s wrong, how they’re supposed to be, how they’re supposed to act,” McNemar said.
Team Unity’s youth martial arts program, designed for children ages 7 to 12, is focused on building more self-awareness. According to the website, “these classes will help build confidence, develop self-discipline and increase concentration skills through traditional martial arts training.”
“So now, they’re starting to go into their confidence, their commitment, their understanding of honor and humility,” McNemar said.
For teenagers practicing martial arts, a large part of the practice is developing a sense of personal identity and moving beyond the basics.
“This is where people are going to start to develop those leadership traits. So not just those foundation skills, but now they’re stepping into responsibility, they’re going in to learning how to support one another, so when we’re talking about things like teamwork, compassion, that’s what they’re starting to develop more and more of,” McNemar said.
For adult students, the focus of martial arts is to build self-confidence, self-esteem, to stay physically active and to relieve stress.
“No matter what age you get yourself started into it, you can develop any of those things that I just mentioned. As an adult you can get into it and learn more about respect and focus, even though I said that for 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds, it works for adults too,” McNemar said.
Even though the core values taught in the younger classes are foundational, some children can also learn some of the harder-to-grasp skills at an earlier age.
“Just the same the other way around, I’ve had little kids come in and when I first got to work with them, they stood behind mom and hugged the leg and didn’t want to come out, and at the end of the class they were sitting up in their chair and saying, ‘Yes, sir!’ out loud,” McNemar said.
Likewise, McNemar said he has taken that same student and over a year’s time of training been able to get them out in front of a class lead a group of 20 to 25 students in warm-up exercises.
“They’ve gone from being a scared, timid little kid to having this empowered feeling and an understanding of what it means to be a leader, and they’re actually stepping up and doing it,” he said.”
Martial arts also helps boost your self-esteem.
“You also learn about yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses, things you need to work on as a person. And they get a sense of pride, like, ‘This is something I earned, this is something I did and this makes me feel really good.’ And that’s how we want people to feel, is good about themselves,” Gauani said.
Across any age group, the sense of empowerment one feels from practicing martial arts is beneficial, and the skills needed in martial arts are transferable.
“You learn how to be a good student and a good partner. That just transfers into your daily life,” Gauani said. “You just feel better. You invest time in yourself and your friends and when you get together like that, you want to spread the joy. You feel better about yourself because you’re trying to be better.””Give them coping skills, give them a way to focus their energies in a constructive way,” Gauani added.
Team Unity is looking to host some events to get their name out and become more active in the community. Currently, McNemar and Gauani are working on setting up a free movie night in June in Fountain Park to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the movie “The Karate Kid.”
“Right now, we’re looking to get ourselves started and we want to be a part of the community because we think that we can definitely contribute and help out,” McNemar said.
For more information on Team Unity or to sign up for a class, visit teamunitymartial arts.com.