SIKESTON -- Jimmy Duncan of Morehouse never had any intention of joining the diversified world of martial arts. After watching his son's first Tae Kwon Do class, he was a little amused, and decided he would give it a try. That was 15 years ago.
Today Duncan, 41, is certified in Tae Kwon Do and runs Duncan's Martial Arts in Morehouse. Through the years, he, like many other martial artists, has learned there's a lot more to the sport than kicking and punching.
"If I ever have a bad day and my stress level is high, when I walk through the door for class, it immediately drops," Duncan said.
Duncan prefers to use the word "martial arts" when referring to the style he teaches because he feels the word "karate" has been too generalized over the years. Duncan incorporates Tae Kwon Do with other techniques that exceed the definition of karate.
Aside from a stress reliever, martial arts, first and foremost, is about discipline, Duncan said. "Self-discipline is understanding that you control your body," he explained. "Once you have discipline, you can have respect for others." Through the years, Duncan has been given the opportunity to work with members of his family. His daughter, now 18, also picked up the sport along the way. Although Duncan's son and daughter no longer practice, he said they're always welcome in class and thinks they'll return some day.
Garry Meeks, head instructor at Moo Sul Kwon Martial Arts in Sikeston, said Moo Sul Kwon, a type of Tae Kwon Do, is also a very family-oriented sport.
Meeks' wife and youngest son practice Moo Sul Kwon. His oldest son has in the past, but is currently taking a break from martial arts.
In Meeks' 15 years practicing martial arts, he has seen a lot of parents and their children taking classes together, he said. Mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters -- you name it, and Meeks has probably seen the family combination.
Duncan said he's also seen a generational interest in martial arts. One of his newest students is 65-year-old Janet Hinson. Hinson began taking Tai Chi classes Duncan offered for senior citizens and more mature people.
Hinson decided she wanted to learn a little more and asked Duncan if she could join his Tae Kwon Do classes, which incorporate children and adult students, Duncan said. Hinson wanted to continue her exercise and began slowly, working her way up.
"She's turned into the grandmother of the class," Duncan said. "She's really adapted to the kids. She's just an inspiration."
Martial arts also runs in Hinson's family. Her son, Jerome A. Hinson, is a black belt in Okinawa Kenpo, and will return to his roots this week to visit Duncan's class from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.
Hinson's son is on leave from Okinawa, Japan, where he serves as a Navy chaplain for the U.S. Marines and studied under the late Grand Master Seikichi Odo, a Japanese "national treasure."
Hinson knew her son was coming home and figured it would be a great opportunity for her class, as well as a bonding opportunity for Hinson and her son. Hinson also thinks it will be neat to workout with her son for the first time, she said.
So why is the sport so popular with families? Meeks thinks it's because martial arts offers something for everyone. "Parents get into it for the discipline and focus; teens get into it for the competition and older people get involved for the physical aspect of it and to stay in shape," he explained.
Meeks and Duncan estimate the earliest age a child should start any form of martial arts is 5 years old. Attention span is a little longer and balance and coordination are better, Meeks explained. Anyone physically capable above the age of 5 can practice martial arts, they agreed.
Those involved in martial arts meet at least two or three times a week so they get to know one another, and a family-like atmosphere kicks in.
"It's more than just working out with people," Duncan said. "We're friends, and I hope I will remain friends with them all of my life."