Renee was initially drawn to martial arts because of the popularity of The Karate Kid and the relationship between the main character Daniel and his instructor Mr. Miyagi. She was fully convinced, in 1991, after a martial artist in a local parade did a back flip and handed her a flyer for a martial arts school.
At only 11 years old, Renee signed herself up for her first lesson. She eventually went on to become a fifth degree blackbelt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art style based on Karate.
“I had the opportunity to train with innovative instructors, who really understood the value of making students feel proud of themselves,” Renee explains. “When I became an adult, I wanted to recreate that experience in our community. Specifically, I wanted teenagers to have a place to grow up and have supportive adults around to help them through those tougher years. I think we’ve accomplished that. We have a program here in Ocala that helps kids develop confidence and discipline and belief in themselves.”
Renee took a brief break from martial arts training to study education. She started back up again while teaching history at a school for children displaced from the regular school system. Most had been expelled due to felony or referrals. “I really believe there are no bad kids. There’s bad behavior, and I think every behavior is learned,” Renee says. “Oftentimes, when kids are having behaviors that don’t fall in line with what we may want from them, there’s a reason behind that. I think we can help them with the right guidance.”
One of Renee’s martial arts teachers gave her the push she needed to start her own martial arts school. Once the fire was lit, she opened her first location on Maricamp Road. Renee realized roughly two weeks later that she couldn’t be a teacher, martial arts instructor, and CEO, so she quit her teaching post and brought on more instructors to support the growing school.
“As the school grew and my family grew, I knew that there had to be other instructors,” Renee recalls. Today, Renee trains instructors instead of students.
Before starting her own school, Renee participated in many martial arts competitions as a teenager growing up in the tri-state area—the tripoint of the state boundaries of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, she doesn’t focus on competing as much in her own school and tends to focus more on teaching students how martial arts can help in everyday life. She centers some lessons around the idea that failure is a friend, steadfast and rewarding. Students replicate mistakes made in school in class to better learn from them.
“I think that helps them tackle challenges, and the instructors do a great job of pointing out the lessons that we teach and they translate to their lives outside of the mat,” Renee says.
According to Renee, there is no personality type best suited to martial arts. Her students range from outgoing to introverted, the academically gifted to the disinclined, children on the spectrum, children experiencing bullying, and children who just need to be active. Many have gone on to be doctors, lawyers, and veterinarians.