For Karen Bennett, taekwondo has always been a family affair.
Her family’s relationship with taekwondo started when Bennett’s son Michael was 5.
“My oldest son had issues with discipline,” said Bennett. “He was very fidgety and had a lot of excess energy.”
So she decided to enroll him in the popular martial art. Soon she enrolled her other son, three-year-old Trenton. Then her husband David decided to enroll.
Bennett said the family constantly encouraged her to join too and a few months later she gave in and signed up.
“When I started, I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Bennett remembered. “I was really reluctant to start. Taekwondo was not in my wheelhouse.”
Fast forward 24 years and both Bennett and her husband are master instructors and sixth-degree black belts. The husband and wife duo also opened Cloverdale Black Belt Academy in 2001.
Bennett recently won a world taekwondo championship title in 2019 in Little Rock, Arkansas — as part of the ATA Martial Arts organization (formerly known as the American Taekwondo Association). ATA has more than 300,000 members worldwide and is one of the largest taekwondo organizations in the world.
Bennett won her title in the category of “creative weapons.”
Bennett said she would never have made it to the top without first learning through taekwondo that anything is possible.
“As you start to develop your skills, it helps to develop your confidence as well,” she explained. “You realize that, ‘I actually can do this,’ and the more you start doing things, the more you start to realize that there are less and less things that you cannot do, because it pushes you outside your normal comfort zone.”
Bennett said the discipline that is inherent in martial arts transforms people into better versions of themselves — both physically and mentally.
“I feel that it can be life changing,” she said. “It stimulates the brain. It’s great for exercise. It helps with anxiety. It builds confidence.”
She said it helps people, and especially children, create confidence where there was previously none. She noted that is key in helping people overcome any personal adversity they may be facing as well.
“It’s a really great environment,” she said, regarding the process of training and learning taekwondo.
Bennett said that “great environment” is what helped pave the way for her family to open the Cloverdale Black Belt Academy in the first place.
“Again, when I started, I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. But I [now] realize what it can do for people. It’s very empowering.”
Bennett said her and David saw the impact that taekwondo had on people and they realized that instructing was something they felt they needed to do.
“It’s not the same as other jobs,” explained Bennett. “We impact people’s lives.”
She said she believes she can make a difference in people’s lives everyday.
“You can help people that are having bad days. You can change their mindsets.”
In addition to being a taekwondo instructor, Bennett also teaches Krav Maga — the Israeli military self-defence and fighting system — and she teaches human kinetics courses at TWU.
Bennett said she finds a type of balance in splitting her time between teaching on the training floor and inside the classroom, adding that she finds fulfillment in both.
“I think martial arts is really integral for people,” said Bennett. “It doesn’t just make people physically fit. As they become more physically fit, they will learn that they can push their boundaries — it expands their world.”