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Extracurricular activity helps area youth put their best foot forward

Julie Severn

3/20/2006 12:00:00 AM

Five-year-old Jakob Lunham and brother Kaleb, 7, recently joined an after-school program where they're learning respect, concentration and self-discipline.

And they're getting a �kick' out of it.

The Saginaw Chippewa Academy students are enrolled in a traditional karate class under the instruction of Greg Morales and have a great time practicing Okinawa self-defense.

"The kids really enjoy learning new moves," Morales explained. "They have fun and are becoming physically, mentally and spiritually empowered. Okinawa is a way of self-improvement that develops strong, confident and well-balanced individuals."

Morales, who will be 77 in May, said the classes improve his overall health as well.

"I really love what I'm doing," he stated. "My dad taught me to be a descent and respectful person and to get along with everyone-it's an honor to pass along those teachings."

Morales has been instructing karate on the Isabella Reservation and in the Mt. Pleasant area since 1998.

His interest in martial arts began in 1970 while working for a foreign construction company in Ludington.

"A few Japanese guys I worked with asked me if I wanted to learn. Of course, I did. So, I met them on the beach-barefoot and in cut-off jean shorts-and got the tar beat out of me," he explained. "It was really more like street fighting than an educational setting, so I had to learn the hard way."

After about six months, Morales began gaining strength and had gathered enough hands-on experience to defend himself and be competitive.

With time he earned self-respect, as well as that of his teachers-and a black belt.

Morales went on to study in Kalamazoo and at the Power House in Lansing under Seikichi Iha.

"People come from all over the nation to study with Seikichi Iha," said Morales. "I could have kept my black belt standing and earned higher ranks or degrees, but I decided to work my way up from a white belt, learning as much as possible along the way."

After four years, Morales attained his first degree. He has continued training with Seikichi Iha over the past 24 years and is currently a fourth degree black belt working on his fifth.

"I feel pretty limber for my age," he admitted. "This has kept me in good health-I can breathe well and I don't get the aches or pains that come with getting older."

Along with classes for Tribal youth taught in the Tribal Gymnasium on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m., Morales trains adults at the Masonic Hall on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6 to 7 p.m.

"Okinawa is for anybody who wants to learn," he explained. "Seikichi Iha says, �If they know how to tie their shoes, they're old enough to learn.'"

And as Morales proves, one is never too old to do the things they love.

"Concentration, self-discipline and respect are key components in succeeding and martial arts instill these qualities."

Morales urges his students to meditate each night before going to bed, concentrating on only their breathing.

"Having control of your mind helps in keeping your temper and your wits about you," he explained. "You wake up with a clear vision and when you respect yourself, you respect others."

Morales and his students are currently training for an Okinawa style self-defense demonstration at Michigan State University in July.

"This is a big event," he added. "Students and instructors who study the same art form will come together from all across the country."

But for Morales, the knowledge he passes on is training for something even more important.

"I hope to teach the kids to be good, descent citizens in their world now and as they grow."

Morales also trains state troopers in Lansing. He served in law enforcement for nine years in South Haven.

"Instilling morals and values at a young age guides individuals down the right path into adulthood," he said. "Teaching self-defense, it is important youth understand that being a bully doesn't get you anywhere but in trouble. I just really want to make a positive impact on people's lives that will continue on in future generations."

Classes operate year-round and cost $25 a month for children and $50 a month for adults, plus $45 for a uniform. For more information, contact Morales at (989) 775-4530, (989) 773-3100 or (989) 621-4193.