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Meet Master Mike

Master Mike Marienthal has taught Karate for Kids at the JCC for 39 years and started coming to the J for preschool two decades before that, so this place really is his home away from home. Here’s some of what this JCC Indy institution had to say during a recent interview.

On lessons karate teaches outside the dojo: The really neat thing about martial arts is that it’s something you do for yourself, for the individual. We have found that martial arts students, once they get up to a certain level — say they’ve been training about a year — then we see an improvement in their grades. They’re taking their pride in their martial arts accomplishments and putting it into other aspects of their life.

On showing off and speed vs. skill: I have to warn kids not to try tricks or stunts. They want to jump and fly through the air, and I have to say, “No, you’re not ready for that yet.” And I have to tell them about not using it in school, not even just to show off. It may be because they’ve seen this stuff so much on television, they think they can do it.

Kids have a lot of energy; they’re jumping and moving around a lot. Martial arts is a movement activity, but there are also times when you have to go slow. You have to know how to hold your hand correctly, so there’s a lot to think about. You have to go slow and practice slowly, which teaches you patience.

On how The Karate Kid holds up: Both Karate Kid movies are excellent movies—the older one with Mr. Miyagi and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and the newer one too with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. I think it really shows what a good instructor is: somebody who’s patient and balances toughness with kindness. I think that’s very important. [Tae kwon do instructor] Master Decaudin and I balance our “get tough” attitude with a good smile and hearty pat on the back.

On the most important self-defense technique: I would say probably the most important actual physical technique that would behoove anyone is knowing how to throw a good punch. Back in the day they would say, “Oh, you punch like a girl,” but you don’t see that anymore. Look at Ronda Rousey, look at our world—girls can punch. I think that is the best technique for anyone—young, old, male, female, whoever you are. If you know how to throw a punch, you can defend yourself.

On Jackie Robinson’s all-around athleticism: Walter Payton is one of my sports heroes. Jackie Robinson. [Jewish boxer] Max Baer. Jesse Owens. Actually, my relative Mike Marienthal, the guy I was named after, he played football at UCLA with Jackie and he told my aunt that he thought Jackie Robinson was the greatest athlete he had ever seen. It was great what he did on the baseball field, but he was an outstanding football player.

On travel: I’m a martial arts instructor yet I’ve never been to Asia! I want to go to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand.

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