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By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN â Robert Benner, 23, who once considered a career in law because he enjoys âthe philosophical aspectsâ became, instead, a third-degree black belt martial artist using philosophy to shape and mold little kids.
He is the owner â with partner Mike Bennett, an accountant with deep family ties to the community â of Narragansett Bay Budokai, a studio (or dojo) that will celebrate its grand opening Oct. 24. The Boston Neck Road establishmentâs big event will feature karate demonstrations, a free introductory fitness class, refreshments and a bevy of special offers for new members.
It is the first venture into business for the former Bishop Hendricken student who graduated from Narragansett High School, and attended college in Pennsylvania and at CCRI before finishing with an associateâs degree in political science from the University of Rhode Island.
Benner began his own martial arts training at age four and, by 12, was a black belt. He switched to Kenpo and now specializes in an Okinawan style of karate called Matsubayashi-Ryu.
âHaving my own dojo is a dream come true,â he says. âFrom the time I was little, I always said âI canât wait till Iâm a sensei [teacher.]â Itâs my first venture in business; I wasnât even aware of building permits.â
He signed the lease Sept. 8 and has been working with town officials ever since to create an ideal space for training a variety of students.
Heâll be offering teen and adult karate as well as fitness programs focusing on cardio and non-contact boxing and kickboxing. There is also something new called âkarate bodyâ, a workout program similar to exercise boot camps but also including karate.
Cardio fitness is for youth and adults; each class can accommodate 15. He describes kick-boxing and boxing as training in the same way as a fighter but only for an hour a week instead of 12 hours a day.
In his class, he says, itâs âBounce, jab, jab, jab; work up a sweat.â
Benner believes karate is an excellent survival tool, especially in emergencies.
âIt helps you become aware of your surroundings,â he notes. âEverybody assumes itâs just kicking and punching; itâs not.â
His true expertise â what seems a natural gift â is working with small children. They begin at age 3 to 6 as Little Dragons and Super Dragons. Heâll be offering an after-school program across Boston Neck Road at the North Kingstown Daycare and Pre-School, and is talking with Hamilton Elementary School about a before-school program. Hidden Hills Early Learning Center, in Exeter, wants him to work with their students, too.
âI donât work with children under three because their motor skills are still developing,â he explains. âAt that age, itâs more about learning how to listen, focusing, socialization skills, discipline. I create an atmosphere where they can enjoy themselves and make friends but thereâs no jumping and running.â
He previously led after-school programs at schools in Exeter and West Kingston.
âI think making a connection is what itâs all about,â he says. âIâm a big kid myself. I think the kids like me because Iâm relatable. I believe you canât teach discipline through yelling and being tough.
âItâs not Sparta; weâre not building an army of six year olds.â
Benner says his message is that you can be âgoofy and funny but also disciplined and respectful. Discipline is wanting to do the right thing, not being forced.â
His school has six stated principles he considers vital to building character: compassion, strength, unity, patience, progress and persistence.
For more information call 294-2800, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.BudoBay.com.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at email@example.com.