Local Martial Arts Studio Owner Offers Ladies Self-Defense

Nicole Littlefield, Managing Editor

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Bartlett Martial Arts studio owner offering weekly ladies self-defense classes Monday and Wednesday nights at 7:15 to 8.

Although Karen Sugino is currently a black belt in martial arts and instructs many students, she didn’t always know she’d make a good coach. Sugino worked at an insurance company for 25 years, and after work she drove her teenage daughter to her martial arts class. She was going to sit on the bench like always, but the instructor had a different idea. He tossed her a gi and told her to join the class. Sugino didn’t back down from the challenge. She put on the uniform and stood in line.

“I did everything that was asked of me in that class and not at one point did I think of anything else, and that is what I loved,” said Sugino. “That’s when I said, ‘I need to do this,’ because it was the first time in my life that I’ve ever done anything for me. I was a single mom since 18 years old, then got into a marriage that wasn’t good and had three more kids and ended up being divorced. It was always who needs to be where? What is happening at my job? What’s for dinner? But I didn’t think of any of that. I did 40 minutes of nothing but mind-body-spirit.”

As an out-of-shape mother of four, the first class was extremely difficult. However, she loved that she had time to dedicate to herself. At the age of 46, Sugino began signing up for as many classes as she could and would practice whenever she had a free moment. Through her dedication and enthusiasm for kyuki-do, she earned her black belt and continued to train and instruct at Elgin Academy.

Sugino said, “There was a lady who always was teaching that course [Pre-K students], but she got pregnant and had to leave. So, they asked if I could step in and give this a try. That is when it finally clicked. I remember so clearly looking up and seeing all these kids on their bellies, just waiting to do a push up faster than me. Big smiles on their faces. Then looking up a little more and seeing their parents. A lot of them are primarily moms, looking at their kids with big smiling faces. I realized they trust me with their kids, and their kids love hanging out with me.”

Sugino thought, “Why not me?” Then, she opened KMA Bartlett with the hope to spread the knowledge of the mind-body-spirit connection. Most of her programs are for younger children. However, she also has an 8-week ladies self-defense program and many other options for anyone interested. 

“Not all of the other academies necessarily have a lady self-defense program,” said Sugino. “To me, being a woman and a [martial arts] academy owner, which is more rare, is important to me. I felt it was important to empower other women and to help them defend themselves. That doesn’t mean anything will happen, but they will be more mentally prepared and physically prepared so it doesn’t reach the worst situation possible.” 

Most sexual assaults happen at or near the victim’s home. The second most common place is college campuses. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused everything to shut down, Annie Walinder decided to take self-defense classes to prepare her for returning to a college campus. She has been training with Sugino for a year.

“Within one class, you learn at least seven escape techniques,” said Walinder. “One thing that I love about working with Karen is that what she teaches is practical. She teaches basic self-defense techniques and escapes. I have told every friend I have about these classes because I think learning self-defense is a really important skill to have. It is really fun, gives me a good workout, and it doesn’t feel like a chore. I also love that I am supporting a small, local business.”

For more information visit kmabartlett.com/