COLUMBIA — Children spun around like fans while throwing kicks into the air. Some yelled as they threw their last punch. Some stumbled and fell to the ground while attempting to mimic the movements of their instructors.
"Pow" and "Bow," the children yelled as they playfully swung their plastic kamas (a Chinese weapon similar to a sickle) during their class.
These are some of the routines of a group of 3- to 6-year-old children called the Tiny Tigers at the Hockman's American Taekwondo Association Martial Arts studios in Columbia.
They are taught the basic fundamentals of tae kwon do during their classes, but they learn things beyond throwing punches and kicks.
Besides learning the moves, the Tiny Tigers learn about discipline, respect and how to deal with strangers.
Before class, the Tiny Tigers bow and say "honesty" before entering the training area. They also stand with their feet together and their hands at their sides as they listen to instructor Russ Taft tell them not to use what they learned in class on other people.
"I tell them in every class, if someone calls you a name, do not punch them in the nose," Taft said. "But we want them to learn how to protect themselves if them or someone in their family is attacked."
Richard Cloud, father of Tiny Tiger Bryce Cloud, said he had a different view of tae kwon do before putting his son in the program.
"When I first brought Bryce here, I wanted him to learn how to fight, because I didn't want him to be a punk," Richard Cloud said. "But I saw that they teach him how not to fight, which is good."
The Tiny Tigers also wear V-shaped patches called victory patches on their karate uniforms. Near the end of a class, Taft asks the parents if their children showed examples of discipline or respect. A parent stands and gives an example, such as cleaning their room without being told or getting good grades in school. The Tiny Tiger is then awarded a colored star to stick on his or her patch.
Angela Killion, mother of Tiny Tiger Tina Killion, said the tae kwon do classes have improved Tina's manners and helped her defend herself outside of the studio.
"At her school, this boy went to punch Tina, and she blocked it and shoved him away," Angela Killion said. "She has had chances to use her moves outside of class, but she doesn't."
Taft also teaches the Tiny Tigers not to talk to strangers and what to do if a stranger tries to kidnap them. He said he teaches them basic releases and eye pokes and tells them to yell and make a scene when someone grabs them by the arm.
During some classes, the instructors will grab the Tiny Tigers by the wrist, while pretending to be strangers, to simulate being kidnapped.
"Get back," "Get away from me," and "I don't know you" are among the phrases the Tiny Tigers will yell, while breaking the hold.
Taft said he has offered free stranger awareness lessons when he worked for other ATA schools. He said he plans on visiting day cares and schools throughout Columbia to present them with the same opportunity.
"I ask kids all the time what a stranger looks like, and they usually say they got a black mask on or they got a knife," Taft said. "But a stranger can look like anyone."
Hockman's ATA Martial Arts runs the Tiny Tiger program at three locations in Columbia. These studios are located at 3401 W. Broadway, 112 Corporate Lake Drive, and 2703 E. Broadway.