Vero Beach Karate Association (VBKA) is “old school” Vero. Head Instructor and Founder Mr. Willis has been running the show and molding kind, polite and gentle karate students for over 40 years. Karate is the name and plenty of karate happens at VBKA yet comportment (manners & etiquette) is equally important in Bill’s and the rest of his staff’s teaching philosophy. Karate burns the energy and builds discipline while the character lessons turn boys and girls into empathetic young men and women.
VBKA’s teaching style is unique and has been highly successful in developing grounded young people. It is a successful model that really works. Mr. Willis is pleased to see a third generation of students walk through the school’s doors on Wilbur Avenue. Even his three grandchildren think him “cool enough” to brave karate classes and life lessons in their grandfather’s domain.
When Mr. Willis first began teaching karate many decades ago students were interested in the “Bruce Lee” style of fighting karate. Mr. Willis was bothered by the focus on fighting and felt he could certainly teach karate but wanted to instill manners and discipline for life as well:
“While the martial arts is the center of what we do at the Vero Beach Karate Association, we learned many years ago that it could also be a vehicle to enrich people’s lives through character building and personal development activities. The formation of children into confident, well-mannered, and successful young adults is a process that includes caring and supportive parents, inspiring teachers, wholesome enrichment activities, well-developed programs, and positive role models.”
Paulette Zeran (Mrs. Zeran to the students), head of the Tai Chi program at VBKA, encountered Mr. Willis one day some 35 years ago. Mr. Willis’s philosophy appealed to her and she has been involved in the center ever since. Mrs. Zeran developed VBKA’s Children’s Program. Cathy Watkins, a 6th degree Blackbelt who is VBKA’s Camp Director, Office Manager and a Teacher, says Paulette is “‘amazing. Her moral compass is dead-on; she knows how to draw out the best in the kids and their parents.” Cathy herself is pretty amazing.
The Enrichment Program develops the idea of charitable giving in VBKA’s students. “It is important”, says Mr. Willis, “to instill a sense of giving whether it involves money, time and/or influence.” The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) is the school’s favorite charity and over $250,000 has been raised for MDA over the years through “Kick-a-thons”. Fundraising is a friendly competition and students raising the most money receive rewards.
Education is a strong emphasis at VBKA. Every three months a Student Excellence Award is presented to two outstanding students based on their performance in class, at school and in the community. Black Belts are awarded college scholarships. Ballroom Dancing programs teach dance etiquette; there are music programs and Summer Camps to keep students active and engaged.
VBKA holds a Banquet every year and the money raised pays for college scholarships. Cathy Watkins spends a day prior to the event teaching students fine dining service. Students serve and entertain guests and enjoy seeing who earns the most “scholarship tips” for best service.
A passion for educating youth is equally evident in Mr. Willis’s “dating manners” class for teenagers. It is a program that garners plenty of giggles and flushed faces but instills the right message: “If a young man does not open the door for you”, Mr. Willis tells the gals, “he is not the right man for you.” The message of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is loud and clear.
Mr. Willis and his dedicated staff truly walk their talk. Step inside any evening when classes are in full swing and you immediately notice the energy, confidence, maturity and respect emanating from each student. Every encounter at the school is an opportunity to practice respect and good manners. These adults are passionate about grooming good citizens and it shows.
Check out the dedication and fun this weekend where more than 130 of VBKA’s students will compete:
2015 Annual VBKA Tournament, Saturday, March 7th at Oslo Middle School Gym
Visit VBKA’s Main School Facility:
Vero Beach Karate Association
1946 Wilbur Avenue
Vero Beach, FL 32960
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