By Mylika Scatliffe
Special to the AFRO
The Covid-19 global pandemic introduced us to the term “social distancing,” which has meant so many different things. Working from home. Virtual school. Less travel if any at all. Virtual birthday parties, weddings and happy hours. Less fitness and gym time. For me, it has also meant working from home while simultaneously monitoring and helping with virtual second grade taking place in my living room, an extra 20 pounds that I couldn’t afford, and my son, who’s an only child, being bored and missing interaction with other children. Thankfully a friend told me about A Plus Taylor’s Martial Arts and Fitness.
Leroy Taylor opened A Plus Taylor’s Martial Arts and fitness in the Woodlawn area of Baltimore County in 2018. Taylor, 65 has been a martial arts and fitness instructor since the mid 1990s. He’s a World Kickboxing and National Kickboxing Champion. At first glance he appears and sounds intimidating, but only until you see how he interacts with the students at his karate school, or dojo. Taylor, or Sensei as he’s referred to at the dojo, oversees karate classes for children, starting at age 3, and adults 6 days a week, and adult cardio and fitness classes three days a week. He tolerates nonsense from no one. He commands respect, not out of fear but because his students, children and adults alike, can innately sense that he wants only the best for and from everyone under his tutelage.
On the advice of my friend, I took my son in for the introductory special that included 6 weeks of classes and a uniform for $69. I thought I would go in and sign him up and come back another day for his first class, but Sensei immediately gave him a uniform, or gi, and a private lesson on the spot so he would be familiar with some of the forms and blocks when he joined a class of students. I was colored amazed when my little one immediately and enthusiastically took to the instruction and looked forward to the twice weekly classes.
“When are you going to take my kickboxing class?” asked Taylor. I literally looked behind me as surely I thought he was talking to someone else, but he was asking me. I politely demurred, mentioned I hadn’t worked out in quite some time and didn’t think I was in good enough shape, etc. but next thing I knew I was at a kickboxing class. Fast forward a little over a year later and my son and I are still there.
Taylor is transparent about his love and desire to see the children who come to his dojo to learn to do well in karate and in life. “What we do here isn’t just about kids learning karate. Of course, I want them to be able to defend themselves, if they need to, but I want them to have confidence, discipline and respect for themselves and others,” said Taylor. When teaching karate and the principles of self-defense and protection, the students are always reminded that the knowledge and skills are never to be misused. Flagrant misbehavior, mistreatment of others, and not following the rules are immediately reprimanded – verbally and in the form of push-ups. Taylor always takes it a step further to explain why the offense is unacceptable and to remind a child to treat others as they’d want to be treated.
Once mothers witness how their children are cared for, they want to take part in the fitness classes. Nikki Berryman brought her daughter to A Plus when she was being bullied in school, to learn to defend herself. “Them Covid 20 pounds were for real, so I joined the kickboxing class starting in July 2020,” she ruefully noted. Berryman stated she didn’t have a fitness routine previously, but just found it hard to lose weight. With three children under the age of 8, including 3-year-old twin daughters, finding time for fitness can be difficult. Going to A Plus for kickboxing and cardio on the same days her daughter has karate class makes it easier, and she has lost the 20 pounds. “I appreciate Sensei and his sincerity. He’s truly invested in these kids and us. The most motivating thing is that he works out with us – he’ll go 12 rounds of kickboxing after running through the Superhero challenge with the 3–5-year-olds and teach another class after that!” Berryman said. “Plus, I love that he plays music we can get hyped on instead of boring elevator music,” she laughed.
Tanya Powell is new to the Baltimore area. Having moved here from Chicago she doesn’t know many people besides her fiancé, so felt especially isolated during COVID. Her daughter invited her to take part in the class last December. Powell, 52, found it especially timely since running was no longer an option in her West Baltimore neighborhood once it started to get dark early in the morning and early in the evening after work. “I’m diabetic and need to keep my weight under control.” Powell also started karate in January of 2021 to have variety in her fitness routine and increase her flexibility. Most of all Powell loves the camaraderie and energy in the classes. “Sensei really loves what he does with us adults and the kids, and his passion and energy spills over,” Powell said. “If you miss a class, he checks on you to make sure you’re ok. I love feeling like I belong and not like a number. Especially since I’m not from here.”
Taylor’s adult students appreciate that he teaches to make sure things are done correctly. “He doesn’t just let us do whatever,” said Berryman. “We have to do it right.” Taylor doesn’t expect everyone to move and work at the same pace, but he does expect everyone to keep moving. It’s nothing for him to shout, “GET UP!” if we take too long transitioning from sit ups to the next round. The best part is we’re allowed to hold him accountable as well.
A common refrain from the adult students is appreciation for Taylor’s sincerity and generosity. He’s always willing to share what he has and to make sure everyone is taken care of and has a good time. “He gives so much of his time and resources,” said Powell. Not only are there classes 6 days a week, but Taylor hosts parties for children with good report cards and for holidays- no parents allowed! While he wants the kids to have a good time, they are held accountable – their most recent report cards must be supplied to Taylor before participating in any activities – and they must answer for grades and conduct that reflect them giving less than their best.
Tia Diggs, whose daughter Summer has been taking karate at A Plus for the last year, appreciates that Taylor is down to earth. “I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my daughter’s focus and discipline since she has been part of the class.”
The children aren’t the only ones to benefit; movie nights and social hours are hosted for the adults too; with social distancing in mind – no children allowed!
Taylor saw the business take a hit during COVID, but it’s thriving now. With his sense of community and love for fellow man, thriving is the only thing to do.
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