Outside the Mat

06/30/2023 03:34 AM By Lisa Anderson
Renee Williams
Renee Williams
Story by Taylor Strickland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Outside the Mat

Owner of Martial Arts Studio Imparts Life Lessons

Martial arts master and instructor, Renee Williams, embodies the transformative power of her discipline. Beyond the physical, her teachings at The Martial Arts Center emphasize life values that resonate off the mat, weaving a philosophy of respect, discipline, and self-belief into every lesson.

Respect. Discipline. Communication. Honesty. Self-esteem. Belief. These are the tenets martial arts master Renee Williams and her family strive to adhere to in every aspect of their lives, and they are also the values Renee teaches her instructors and students at The Martial Arts Center.

“I think that when you train in martial arts for a long period of time that you think about the principles wherever you are,” Renee declares. “We say you’re always wearing an invisible dobok, which is a uniform. Being a martial artist doesn’t leave you when you leave the school.”

The Next Karate Kid

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.
Renee Williams

The Key to Happiness

Renee has three daughters, all of whom are involved in martial arts. Her husband and eldest daughter are also black belts. 

Traditional martial arts schools go from white to black belts to mark student progression from novice to master, but Renee chose midnight blue as the final belt in her school to remind students that there is always opportunity to grow and develop. Renee added belts to motivate students, especially the little ones like her youngest daughter, to continue forward and be consistent in their training. 

“As a parent, I know consistency is the lesson I want them to learn all their lives. If you’re going to succeed and have a happy life, you have to be able to consistently eat well, consistently exercise. You have to be able to consistently save money; you have to be consistent about the relationships you have and give attention to your loved ones. There’s a lot of areas of our lives that the answer is to be consistent.”

Renee says the skills taught at the martial arts school are apparent in everything she and her family do. Their value was especially apparent during her middle daughter’s transition from elementary to middle school. “It was a different animal,” Renee notes. “She didn’t have a folder I could just check. It was her responsibility to manage herself.”

Renee does a lot of traveling to various seminars and meets with many child development experts, in order to better be of service to her instructors and students. She also encourages her family and students to expand their knowledge of the world by meeting new people from different places.

“I think that life is rich and you should have as many experiences as you can,” Renee says. “I did not travel with my parents as a kid, so I want my children to have an opportunity to see the world. I encourage everybody to travel and try new things and go to new places and take in as much as the world has to offer that you can.”

Mentorship Is Balance

It may come as a surprise to some, but Renee does not perceive herself as particularly strict when it comes to instructing her students or parenting. Her empathy and love of children often make it difficult to lay down the law. 

“Great parenting, great teaching, great mentorship is a balance of love and discipline,” Renee expounds. “I’ve had to work on being able to be more of a disciplinarian and adhere to whatever the structure is. I’m very compassionate naturally, but something I think is a strength of mine is I can recognize when there’s people around me that are good at something I’m not.”

Renee says her mentorship success comes from her developed sense of empathy and that excellent mentorship is a two-way street. “I think a great mentor needs to care about the mentee’s success and be able to tell them what they need and not necessarily what they want to hear,” she continues. “It’s important for someone who really wants to grow to be able to hear the tough messages and apply them.”
Learn More

Watch the full interview on July 14, 2023, on YouTube, or find us on your favorite podcast app!

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