A nurse, an emergency room doctor and three active kids. It’s a family that could easily be short on family time. But since January 2010, the Kotch family uses Tae Kwon Do, a form of martial arts, as a way to exercise and spend quality time together.
Stephen Kotch, MD, medical director of Meritus Medical Center’s emergency department practiced martial arts in college so a light bulb went off when he saw an advertisement for a parent’s night out at a martial arts studio shortly after his daughter wanted to try something other than dance. The Kotch’s twin 13-year-old boys and nine-year-old daughter participated in a night of kicks, pizza and anti-bullying discussions—and the kids, especially their daughter, were hooked.
“After that experience, Steve wanted us all to join, but I was the only holdout,” said Karen Buckwalter Kotch, RN. “He explained that our commitment to the practice would guide our kids.” The family went from practicing Tae Kwon Do two days a week to four days a week. The Kotch children watched their parents struggle to learn new moves, reinforcing that learning doesn’t come easy at any age.
Martial arts is practiced for self-defense, competition, physical health and mental development. Along the way, the Kotch family has learned many life lessons. When Karen couldn’t break a brick by using her hands, she opted for a swift kick to get the job done. “We all learned that you can’t let barriers get in the way of achieving a goal. You have to look past the problem.”
All five Kotch family members achieved black belt status—the highest belt color denoting a degree of competence. But getting to that level meant goal setting, like running a nine-minute mile and cranking out 100 push ups and 100 sit ups over four minutes. “When our daughter came down with a fever and couldn’t attempt her run during her pre-test, the four of us repeated the run with her to show our support,” said Karen.
As parents, Steve and Karen feel good knowing their grade school and adolescent kids can defend themselves if harm comes their way. The studio devotes time to anti-bullying discussions, but also teaches participants how to defend themselves when necessary.
Spinning kicks, sparring, striking and deflecting punches have improved the family’s flexibility, endurance and strength. Steve’s back problems are markedly better, and both husband and wife are in the best shape of their lives. Karen admits that 300-400 kick combinations in 40 minutes makes her typical run look easy.
But the real take away from Tae Kwon Do is holding adults and kids to higher standards according to Karen. “The kids see us being critiqued and watch how we accept constructive criticism,” explained Karen. At the core of martial arts is integrity, discipline and respect. “The kids have learned to love and take care of themselves. Self-confidence is a big part of it. They understand that doing their best is what counts in life,” said Karen.
“I never knew that martial arts could be more than just a sport—it’s a way of life.”
By: Anne Gill