In the Classroom: The art of self-defense

Ken Karapetian's judo studio at the Glendale YMCA is not large, but he makes the most out of it.

His judo students warm up by playing an impromptu game of soccer on the studio's padded floors; tiny traffic cones serve as goal posts.

Later, the students run laps around the studio. Careful not to run into one another, the students hug the perimeter of the space as they run.

Karapetian's judo studio is a converted handball court in the basement level of the YMCA's main physical fitness building. He was renting a studio on Glenoaks Boulevard, but said he was forced to move out after the owner declared bankruptcy in January. With nowhere to go and a desire to keep kids off the streets, Karapetian said he found assistance through the Armenian-American Chamber of Commerce.

"I want to collect kids from the streets," Karapetian said. "I don't want the money. Just give me a place."

Karapetian approached the chamber, which then approached the YMCA with the idea to transform an existing handball court into a judo studio. The chamber donated $500 to Karapetian to offset the cost of remodeling the 800-square-foot handball court, said Ray Calame, senior program director at the YMCA.

The money was also used to fund scholarships, with classes starting in June.

"Ken basically got the room together himself and with volunteers," Calame said.

Karapetian holds judo classes for beginners from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and classes for experienced students from 7 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The age range of most of his classes is between 5 and 14, with classes averaging about 15 students. He is assisted by four coaches.

"We've got a great place," said Armenian-American Chamber of Commerce President Zaven Kazazian. "I've always felt the YMCA should be a center for young kids to go and spend time and develop themselves. So, this was another avenue that the kids can grow in their acknowledgement of some of their athletic abilities and some of their personal growth."

While the YMCA charges its regular membership fee for students to use the facilities, Karapetian charges nothing, except for the uniforms, which cost $60.

"It gives me confidence, and I know not to pick on someone weaker than me," said student Taron Tonoyan, 14, of Los Angeles, about taking the class.

Karapetian teaches the basic movements of judo. After students master the basics, they move on to more advanced techniques, such as body slamming (the technical term is throwing) and the appropriate way to fall.

"We show them the professional way," Karapetian said.

His classes also offer students the chance to prepare for various competitions.

"If someone's running at you, you drop down and do a throw," said student Gvorg Akhverbyan, 14, of some of the skills he's learned. "It's using their power against themselves."

Above all, Karapetian said, the classes teach self-discipline and confidence, which he teaches from the very first day.

"Without self-discipline, you cannot do anything," Karapetian said. "If you don't have self-discipline, then this sport is not for you."

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