Ken Smith built a snowman when he was a child.
Instead of standing and admiring his creation, Smith ran into the house, cracked his mother's broom in half and ran back to what he saw as his opponent. With a few quick whacks, Smith defeated the snowy menace. Smith knew then he wanted to learn the martial arts.
Smith, now 43, is living his dream by owning his own school — Modern Arnis Academy in Homer Glen. The academy is named after a Filipino martial arts system created by Grandmaster Remy A. Presas.
Smith is one of only six people in the world who Presas left the art to when he died. Presas stressed the use of self-defense tactics like grappling and the use of weapons in his system and that's just what Smith was looking for.
"It has everything. It's a very well rounded art," Smith said. "I like fighting with the weapons and the stick. There aren't a whole lot of systems that are better at that than the Filipino ones. It has joint locks, throws, ground grappling and weapons -- it's a very complete art."
Smith has taken the self-defense aspect of Modern Arnis and built his academy on that principle. Modern Arnis will host its grand opening celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 25. The event will include free giveaways and demonstrations from instructors as a way to show the public what their art form is all about.
"Our emphasis at this school is to teach people about protecting themselves," he said. "We teach them how to keep themselves safe and that's really our goal."
Anj Lum, an acupuncturist at the academy and a close friend of Smith's, said that anyone could practice the art form no matter what age. Modern Arnis offers a Little Dragons class that trains children 4-years-old and younger in the martial arts and teaches them about real-world dangers.
"We teach self-defense right away," Lum said. "We talk about bullies and stranger danger. We want them to know that they might be little but they can get away."
But Modern Arnis isn't just for the young. Smith said that one of his students learned the art and recently got his black belt at an unlikely age.
"I have a student who just got his black belt and he's 70 years old," he said. "I believe it was a week or two before his 70th birthday when he got it."
Along with age, Lum said strength and size are not important when it comes to learning the art. Smith teaches his students to use their natural energy to get out of unwanted situations.
"You want to use minimum effort to get the maximum impact," Lum said. "If some big burly guy was to come at you, there are a lot of things that you learn from the art that say, 'I'm little but I can still kick butt.' "
Healing the Breaks
Besides the traditional martial arts classes, the Modern Arnis gym also offers cardio kickboxing classes, a weapons only class and, every second Friday of the month, Modern Arnis plays host to Nerf Wars.
So, what exactly is a Nerf War? It's exactly what it sounds like. You are armed with a Nerf gun and obstacles are set up for foam warfare. And it's not just for the kids; Lum said that the adults have participated.
"I had a networking thing and I said to the parents, 'Why don't we do it?' " Lum said. "I can't tell you how many times they've asked when we are going to do it again."
Once her acupuncture degree is completed, she will use the office space of the academy to set up shop and provide healing
"Our motto is, 'He breaks 'em and I fix 'em,' " Lum said. "And it (acupuncture) doesn't hurt. If you look at how thin your hair is, that's the size of the needle we use. There are a lot people who have had acupuncture here before who said they didn't realize it was that easy."
Modern Arnis Academy has plans to spread beyond its walls and teach an after school program at St. Michael's School.
"We're going to teach them common sense things like to always walk in groups and things like that," Lum said. "But we always want to show them how to get away if they do run into trouble, too."