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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 10, 2006

This karate kid is couch potato no more

How do you keep fit? Visit our discussion board to share health tips, diet secrets and physical activities that help you stay in shape.

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Five-year-old Phillipe Ledoux enjoys his weekly beginning-level karate taught by Karate Kids instructor James Kerr, left, at the Nu'uanu YMCA.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Age: 5

Profession: First-grade student at Royal Elementary School; also home-schooled

Neighborhood: Downtown Honolulu

Workout habits: Karate once a week, and scenic walks in the park, at the zoo and around the harbor

Biggest motivator: Receiving gold-star patches to put on his uniform, one patch for each book he reads

Next challenge: To receive the Academic Achiever patch, a big red patch that denotes excellence in reading

Hobby: Drawing and painting during classes at the Academy Art Center at Linekona. Phillipe draws himself in his karate uniform, executing exercises and sometimes saving a damsel in distress his mother, Elena.

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Phillipe Ledoux

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Pediatrician Shigeko Lau said most 5-year-olds can handle activities such as keiki karate, soccer, gymnastics, swimming and tennis.

She recommends talking to your pediatrician during an annual physical to make sure there are no problems.

"The main thing is that it needs to be fun and not seen as work. Make it social," Lau emphasized. She suggests looking into swimming, soccer, bicycling or dance classes: "Anything with a little aerobic activity," she said.

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Phillipe Ledoux, 5, learns how to fall correctly from his karate instructor James Kerr, at the Nu'uanu YMCA.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Karate Kids: Now offered only at Nu'uanu YMCA, but also will be offered in September at Ma'ema'e Elementary School and in October at the Richards Street YWCA. Information and registration: www.karate-kids.com, or write to James Kerr at info@karate-kids.com or call 778-7117.

Soccer: American Youth Soccer Organization offers programs for kids from age 4. Emphasis is on teamwork, and every child gets to play, regardless of ability. 247-1422 or www.aysosection7.org.

Swimming: The state chapter of the American Red Cross offers free swim classes starting at age 4 at Ala Moana Beach Park; 739-8146 or www.hawaiiredcross.org. Nu'uanu YMCA also has a keiki swim program for a fee; 541-5261.

Tennis: The U.S. Tennis Association has classes for keiki at various district parks; 955-6696, ext. 29, or register at www.hawaii.usta.com. The Kailua Racquet Club is just beginning its fall keiki program for those 4 and older; 263-4444.

Surfing: Lessons can be pricey, but you're guaranteed to get individualized attention from certified surfing instructors for your keiki if you sign up with Hawaiian Fire Surf School (www.hawaiianfire.com) or Girls Who Surf (www.girlswhosurf.com).

Ice-skating: The Ice Palace (www.icepalacehawaii.com) offers introductory skating lessons for kids as young as 3. 487-9921.

Gymnastics: Kokokahi Gymnastics can start kids as young as 3 with the basics, such as cartwheels and handsprings; 235-6866 or www.kokokahigymnastics.com. Tumbling, or beginning gymnastics, for keiki ages 3 to 5 is offered at Nu'uanu YMCA; 541-5261.

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Elena Ledoux could see her 5-year-old son, Phillipe, turning into a couch potato. She looked for other kids in their downtown condo for him to play with, but they all seemed either too young or too old. She took him to the park in the hope of getting him active and involved with other kids, but, once again, the kids didn't match up, and Phillipe begged to go home and watch cartoons.

As a single mother who has never been involved in athletics, Ledoux, an attorney, didn't know where to turn. She had an additional disadvantage, as she was raised in Uzbekistan, where scholarship is valued far more than sports. In Hawai'i, where athleticism is emphasized, she felt like a fish out of water, unable to teach her little fish how to swim.

"Where I come from, it's more important to be smart than fit, but in the U.S., it's more important to be fit and athletic. I want Phillipe to maximize his opportunities in the future, and if that's important, then that's what he has to do. I want him to have choices," Ledoux said. "If they get exposed to sports when they're little, they'll carry it through their entire lives."

As soon as Phillipe's pediatrician gave him the go-ahead to begin an exercise program, Ledoux took him to the nearby Nu'uanu YMCA, where she enrolled him in swimming. He enjoyed swimming, but it wasn't something he got excited about.

But while leaving the pool one day, Phillipe spotted other kids about his age in starched white karate uniforms, with patches on their sleeves. He wanted to join them. Ledoux found out they were attending the Karate Kids program, a weekly beginning-level class designed to use karate as a motivator for academic achievement, as well as help kids develop character, kindness and consideration for others.

It clicked. Phillipe became involved and enthralled with karate, and immediately learned to respect, and seek to emulate, his karate master, James Kerr.

As we caught up with Phillipe one Saturday morning before his karate class at the Nu'uanu YMCA, it was a challenge to get his attention. Shifting from one foot to the other, inching toward the classroom, all he wanted was to go to karate class. "Can't I go now, Mom?" he asked eagerly.

"I like exercising, and they teach me tricks. Last week, they taught me how to fall. It's really fun," he said. OK. Interview over. The kid just wants to have fun.

"So can I go to class now, Mom? Please? Please? Please?"

Ledoux has been surprised at the health benefits of karate. Phillipe has not had a cold since he began classes. In addition, "he actually grew taller!" she said.

There have been psychological and disciplinary benefits as well, as she found that she could use karate as "leverage to get him motivated. If I want him to do something, I tell him, 'Do you want to go to karate this week? Then you have to study,' and he does."

Kerr is not surprised. He said karate changed his life. "As a child, I was excruciatingly shy. I started martial arts at 14 and it was, literally, a passport to the world for me."

Kerr said Phillipe is an energetic, curious child who "likes to do things and then talk about them. We're working with him on patience and learning to wait his turn, and to share. He's learning emotional self-control."

The secret in getting young children active, Kerr says, is to find an activity that is interesting to them. A benefit of karate is that it's a group-oriented activity. "It's also something they can carry with them and do anytime, anywhere," he said. "Sure, they get some physical activity, but the kids also get character development and time to focus on simply being better people. And, yes, martial arts will teach them to defend themselves (and) to be more respectful and confident."

Kerr also gives a brief academic lesson during each class. The Saturday a reporter attended, the subject was history.

"Do you know who Ben Franklin was?" Kerr asked. Up piped an enthusiastic little girl: "The store!" she answered proudly. Oops. Not to worry. Kerr set the little one straight.

Reach Paula Rath at prath@honoluluadvertiser.com.