Mario Hinojosa and France Tokach were not overly impressed when introduced to Shihan's Kandan Karate about three years ago. But oh how that has changed. Mario, a junior at Perry Meridian, and France, an eighth-grader at Little Flower, have grown to love the martial art, and they earned their black belts July 14 at Garfield Park's Burrello Family Center, where classes are offered. They were tested on self-defense, techniques and their knowledge of Japanese terminology. And as black belts they are qualified to teach.
France, whose mother, Kary Dangler, died suddenly in December, has found karate to help her cope with the loss. She's at the center from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday for practice, as is Mario.
“I like the people I practice with, and I even practice at home,” said France, the school's youngest black belt ever. “It's not easy, and it requires a lot of discipline. I feel that I can protect myself, and I plan to continue with karate for a long time. “I don't talk too much about karate, but I told my classmates that I was going for my black belt."
“Karate has been the best therapy possible for France,” said Shannon Pool, who's rearing her. “I don't know where she would be without karate. She's had a few struggles, and I struggle every day. Kary was my sister and my best friend. We talked about seven times a day. I see Kary living on through France.”
Pool has high praise for shihan Don Schenck (shihan is the title for an expert instructor) and his wife, Jean, who handles the administrative aspects of running the school.
“He is a great teacher, and he doesn't allow France to slack. He and his wife are angels. They are wonderfully comforting people, and they have played a key role in helping France to cope with her loss.”
Don Schenck, 62, a seventhdegree black belt and a 34-year teacher, accepts no compensation for his services.
“I’m retired; I volunteer my time to keep our costs down. I want to bring more of the Southside community into our program. We have the space. We have nearly 20 students enrolled, and that is about the perfect size for our school. People who are interested in our program can stop by our practices.”
The only costs for a student are a uniform and the annual tournament. And some of those expenses are offset through grants from the Friends of Garfield Park. Linda Burrello, who retired as the park's senior manager in 2014, played a key role in helping to launch the program in 2012. She was on hand for the black belt examination.
“If it weren't for Linda, karate would not be here,” said Schenck, who combines three aspects of the martial arts into his class: kobudo (weapons: a wooden staff, a billy club and a three-pronged knife), goshin jitsu (self-defense) and karate (punches, blocks and kicks).
Injuries are rare because of the extensive padding and headgear worn, and students are not allowed to spar until they know what they are doing. The students are up for ranking every three or four months if they have good attendance and a proper attitude.
“I only require my students to work hard and give it their best effort,” said Schenck, adding that it’s his goal to develop his young students into outstanding community members. Besides the physical fitness aspect of the program, he sees improvements in his students’ self-confidence and personal discipline.
“It’s all about improving our minds, bodies and spirits.” Nowhere is that more clear than with Mario, who says, “I was overweight and had a lot of pimples when I started karate. I didn't like my appearance. I have lost a lost of weight, and my pimples are gone. I have gained self-confidence, and I am a lot healthier. I owe it all to karate.”
Mario, son of Maribel and Mario Hinojosa, often practices in his backyard. “I'm pretty confident that I can protect myself. I work hard,” he said, noting that his younger brother, Ivan, introduced him to karate. Schenck had high praise for Mario and France after they received their black belts, and he nearly teared up when presenting them special gifts for their dedication to karate.
“They are ordinary students who work extraordinarily hard to get to where they are. They put perfect effort into everything they do. And if they aren't doing something right, that just challenges them to improve themselves. Mario is always there to help me with classes. If some of the students feel a little uncomfortable about approaching me, they go to him.”
Karate has become a way of life for Schenck, and he doesn’t see that changing. “It’s all about training for a lifetime. It’s my goal to be teaching past 80. If I quit teaching, it means I'm in a casket.