Teaching More Than Karate, by Susan Chaves
Published in "The Darien Times" Feb 15, 2006
Five years ago, Konrad Koenig left his construction job building houses to follow a longtime dream of becoming a karate instructor — and now the owner of Dynamic Martial Arts here in town.
"It's not that building houses wasn't cool," said Koenig, who lives in Greenwich with his wife and two daughters. "But there was something more satisfying in teaching this. So when the opportunity came up to teach full-time, I took it."
He taught at the Dynamic Martial Arts center in Greenwich until the opening of his own studio two weeks ago at 165 Noroton Ave. It took nine months to find the spot, which although small, has good parking and allows decent visibility through the window for passersby to check out the place formerly used as the laundry drop-off for Belle Cleaners.
After signing the lease on Jan. 16, Koenig hired a crew that same day to install new floors, re-paint, lay down the mat and hang doors, among other things. Despite the scramble to complete the work and tighter quarters than he would have liked, Koenig said he wanted to be in Darien.
"It's logical based on the location of the other schools," said Koenig, noting that there are three other centers in Westport, Stamford and Pound Ridge, N.Y., in addition to Greenwich. "Now that I've made it look nice, I'm psyched about this space."
Right now, he has about six students signed up for kempo karate, which blends traditional karate with shaolin kung fu and jiu jitsu. Koenig, who has been involved with the particular system for more than 10 years, began studying martial arts as an alternative to mainstream sports such as football or baseball --something he said he was never interested in as a child.
"I just kind of found this," Koenig said. "I like kempo because of the practicality of it. It's about day-to-day self defense."
It is also about more than fists and fights. Kempo karate — and martial arts in general — instill the three basic rules of respect, self-discipline, and self-control. Participants, especially children, also learn the three stages of what to do when confronted. First, ask the other person to stop or leave you alone. If the individual continues to be bothersome, tell an adult what is happening and let him or her deal with the situation. Only when those two approaches do not work, should you resort to physically defending yourself.
"Learning to defend yourself is why you come here, but once you start training you also realize there aren't many things in this world that make you want to put your fists up for," Koenig said. "You come to realize 'I'm above this, I don't need this.'"
He hopes to pass such values on to the students, who ranges in age from 31/2 and 4 year olds up to adult, as they work through the 12 levels to receive their black belts. A second degree black belt himself, Koenig would like to get up to the 5th degree (the highest level the 10th degree), at which time one is considered a master.
"That's a long way off, but I want to get there," said Koenig, who still trains twice a week and goes to the gym. "It's a lot of hard work so I'm thinking it may be 10 years from now."
And he has witnessed others attain goals that others thought were impossible. Last year, he watched as a 70-year-old man earned his black belt. More recently, he helped a 5-year-old boy with no self-control learn to focus and perform some simple positions in just five months.
"To take a kid like that and turn him around, you can't say we're not helping," Koenig said. "Can we help them all? No, but it's still amazing to see the changes in a kid like that."