The January move by Summit ATA Martial Arts in Morristown marked the academy’s second expansion in its 12-year history.
Founded by Sean and Melynda Cordry, the Taekwondo school accepts students from age four on up.
The new location is housed in the former KARM retail space adjacent to SYKES, just off West Morris Boulevard and translates to a 30 percent increase in open floor footage, a key component in the academy’s instruction methods.
In 2008, Summit ATA opened its doors at College Square Mall, with just two instructors: Sean and Melynda. By 2013, the school had grown and the couple decided to expand and move downtown on West Main Street. After six years there, another expansion was in order.
“We were looking for a new place last fall; we started looking at options in town,” Melynda said. “We needed more space to grow and expand.”
The new location did not require a lot of renovation, although an updated color scheme was debuted on Jan. 6 when Summit ATA reopened.
“We wanted to be able to serve the community better, by being a little more centrally located,” Melynda said. “The big open space is really conducive to our needs.”
The 12 years of consistent growth has resulted in a staff of four fully-certified instructors along with six instructors who are in the process of earning their certifications.
“Certification is a multi-year process,” Melynda said. “They are on their way to being fully certified black belt instructors.”
Melynda is a 5th Degree Black Belt, qualified to run a school as the Master, promote the Black Belts, and teach the assistants to become instructors.
The students at Summit ATA range from very young to senior adults.
“We generally take students at age four, three is a little young for our program, Melynda said. “Our oldest student is in their mid to late 60s. We accept all ages and abilities.”
The school has a thriving program for individuals with intellectual disabilities that included both children and adults.
“We have seen success with it, especially with those who are on the autism spectrum or have Down syndrome,” Melynda said.
All the students, regardless of their age when they begin classes, will learn traditional Taekwondo; the program includes more than physical skills.
For example, the classes for ATA Tigers, the youngest students, are focused on general social skills, motor skills development and emotional development.
“You are really trying to get kids ready for school, to understand the classroom structure and build the self-control necessary to listen to teachers and focus on teacher instruction,” Melynda said.
The Tigers also learn to use equipment and are instructed on abduction prevention: recognizing the “stranger, danger” scenario and how to react when someone approaches them in an attempt to cause harm.
“Taekwondo is a lot more than an exercise class,” Melynda said. She and Sean were introduced to the discipline through their two children, who are now adults. “We quickly learned that martial arts training is so much more than a physical activity. Children learn to be more courteous, more responsible, conscientious and how to be a leader in their community. It’s about creating an overall much better person. We want all of our kids to be that.”
The variety of students who regularly attend Summit ATA is no coincidence.
“I have adults of all shape and sizes who take classes,” Melynda said. “You don’t have to be in great physical shape to take our classes. We want to take the adult and help them become flexible, stronger, more confident, help them lose weight, if they want to. We talk to them and find out what they want to get out of it. Usually they get a lot more out of it than they thought they were going to get.”
The discipline is surprising, in more ways than one.
“Even myself, when I started doing this almost 20 years ago, I thought ‘I’ll do this for a year,’ I couldn’t see myself doing it for longer. After the year went by, I thought, ‘Hey, I really like doing this. I’ll get my black belt and then I’ll be done.’ Now I’m a 5th degree black belt and there is still so much to learn,” Melynda said.
With regard to adult students, the experience can be life altering.
“They get a huge increase in self-confidence, how they carry themselves, how they deal with their spouse and children. Adult males may just want to learn how to fight, instead they learn self-control and respect for others and themselves, all around. It’s an amazing transformation to watch, no matter the age.”
The fitness classes, “Empower,” are held daily from Noon to 12:45 p.m. Evening classes begin at 5 p.m., for the ATA Tigers, or “little guys,” four nights a week. Beginner Taekwondo classes begin at 5:30 and 6:15 p.m., according to age group.
There are more than 100 students enrolled at Summit ATA, ranging in skill levels from White Belt to 3rd Degree Black Belt. On average, it takes a student about 3 and a half years to reach Black Belt level. The ATA Tiger students, if introduced to the Summit ATA program at age 4, will reach Black Belt at around 9 years old.
The celebrations for achieving skill levels are a highlight of the program.
“We call our belt testings ‘graduations,’ because people are freaked out by the word ‘test,’ Melynda said. “When we started this, we decided not to use the word ‘test.’ We do that about every eight weeks. Next week is the first graduation we will have in the new space. Everybody gets to show off their skills, too, in front of their family members and friends.
The Empower class follows the direction of the school’s other programs, in that it focuses on more than just fitness.
“We have a strong self-defense curriculum,” Melynda said. “A lot of women in the area may be unsure of where to go to learn how to protect themselves. That’s a big part of the Empower class. We incorporate it into our adult classes, but not into the children’s class.”
The new address for Summit ATA Martial Arts is 2161 W. Andrew Johnson, right behind Chick-fil-A. For more information, call 423-307-8489.