At the beginning of each American Kenpo Karate Association class, students bow in and owner/instructor Marianne Morrill asks them how they’re feeling.
In uniform, they respond, “Doing great, getting better.”
“I tell them it doesn’t matter what kind of day they had out there, when you step in here, everything is good,” said Morrill from her freshly renovated karate studio at 7575 W. Twin Peaks Road.
The 1,800-square foot studio is currently home to about 100 students from ages 4 and up, but when it opened in 2008, it had zero students.
“I started fresh,” said Morrill. “We had nobody.”
Morrill did have something on her side though — she was an experienced karate teacher before opening AKKA, and she had a family that was interested and supportive of the sport.
Of her four children, three are black belts.
Her second oldest helped stir the family’s interest when he enrolled at a young age, and from there the trend continued. Now her son runs the family’s second studio in Three Points, while her two daughters help run the Twin Peaks location Morrill works out of.
The biggest challenge in starting from ground zero was the fact the Twin Peaks interchange had not yet been completed.
“The only people over here at the time were us and Hungry Howie’s (Pizza), so we suffered right alongside them,” said Morrill.
As the area developed more with the completion of the interchange, and later the Tucson Premium Outlets mall, and combed with the word-of-mouth efforts of Morrill and her staff, the studio has blossomed into a family-friendly karate and kickboxing platform.
Morrill describes the style of karate — Kenpo — as a Chinese-based martial art in which each belt level represents a different kind of animal.
“It’s kind of like Kung Fu Panda,” said Morrill. “My younger students can relate to that.”
And it’s in those young students Morrill sees some of her biggest payoffs.
“Seeing the growth in the kids we teach — and the adults too for that matter — is very rewarding,” she said. “We had a student get his black belt as a youth and come back as an adult to get his adult black belt. It was awesome to see how much this made a change for him.”
Even Morrill has noticed an evolution in herself. Once petrified of being in front of an audience, that’s no longer an issue.
“If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I’d be doing this, I’d probably have said no way,” said Morrill. “I hated getting in front of people. The thought scared me to death. I definitely have more self confidence and a more even temperament. Ask my kids.”
Confidence is only one of the benefits of karate. Discipline, honesty, courtesy and respect are also lessons learned. The idea that karate teaches students only how to fight, or that it promotes aggression, is a dying myth, says Morrill.
“Sometimes I get that question — ‘If you’re going to teach my kid how to kick and punch, how do I know he’s not going to kick and punch the first kid he gets mad at?’” said Morrill. “We tell them that we teach kids to kick and punch so they don’t have to fight. Ideally it inspires confidence and respect and promotes self defense. When they have these lessons, they’re less likely to go look for a fight.”
While that theme is common to the karate mantra in general, Morrill says she approaches the martial art in a different way than others might.
“Some (instructors) might tell you their karate style is best,” she said. “I’ll tell you the best style is the one you’re most comfortable with, and the one you’ll practice. Whatever that style happens to be, if that’s what you continue to do, then that’s what’s best for you.”
AKKA runs classes from 4-8:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m.-noon on Saturdays.