By Larry Kline
There is a place where Havre residents can go to exercise, have fun and learn how to defend themselves: Brien's CHA-3 Kenpo Karate. Martial arts classes are led by dedicated, experienced instructors, who teach their students self-confidence, respect and discipline. The lesson is available to anyone willing to work hard and learn.
Chief instructor Frank Brien, 72, has more than 36 years of experience with Professor Tiwanak's CHA-3 Kenpo. The system is a mixture of boxing, judo, karate and jujitsu. Participants are taught how to defend themselves in street fights, and learn how to fend off knife and club attacks. The style was developed by Marino Tiwanak in Hawaii in the early 1950s.
Instructor Greg Tilleman, 42, who has been learning Kenpo for 18 years and teaching it for 11, said there are a number of reasons why people choose to walk through the gym doors for the first time. Some are simply looking for an activity. Others are looking to defend themselves. Some come to lose weight.
"There was one guy who came in here at over 500 pounds," Tilleman said. "He couldn't do a lot of high kicks, but we got him down to 230 pounds over the course of a year and a half."
Brien said female students have told him they were losing eight or nine pounds a month by practicing martial arts.
The activity is a good way for parents and children to share an experience and learn about discipline.
Joe Woods, 29, has been in the class for about 18 months. His two sons, 10-year-old J.T. and 7-year-old Mitchell, are also in the class. He said he joined because of his children.
"It's good excercise, and it's also a good way to teach discipline," Woods said. "It's good for kids if they're willing to work out and listen. It's a good sport for parents to take up with their kids."
Brien said he has heard from school teachers who say that kids who study martial arts come to class more focused.
Instructor Shannon Howland, 39, has been learning martial arts for 18 years. Both she and Tilleman are black belts. Howland started by taking an adult defense class with her sister.
"Once we got into it, it got in our blood," she said.
Brien first learned of martial arts while stationed with the Marines in Korea. He said newcomers are often surprised at the level of work required to succeed.
"They see it on TV, or they see it in movies," Brien said. "When they come in here, it's not all peaches and cream. It turns into work."
Brien said it takes at least five or seven years for a dedicated person to rise to the level of black belt. Students progress by learning and perfecting sets of moves. They begin by learning "grab arts," which are moves used to defend against an attacker who grabs them with one or two hands. Then the students move up to defending against punches, and progress from there.
"A lot of people think there's a secret to beating someone up that's bigger than you, but it's not a secret," Howland said. "It's all practice. It's practicing a move until you're not thinking about it. It's autoreaction."
Eventually, all Kenpo students learn how to use a kahoi, a 6-inch stick. Brien said there are about 50 different moves that utilize the weapon.
"You can protect yourself with this stick," he said.
Jesse Lee, 15, said he has enjoyed learning martial arts.
"I tried out different sports and none of them worked out," he said. "I decided to do this and it's been a lot of fun."
Classes are held at the gym, located at the corner of Second Street and Fifth Avenue, on Mondays and Thursdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. It costs $30 a month. Anyone interested in signing up can contact Tilleman at 265-6507.