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I AM JMAC: Matthew


Matthew’s been training at JMAC for 7 years, but he’s been a part of the JMAC community ever since his parents, who train at JMAC, brought him to the dojo at the age of 2. This amazing 14-year-old trains in both karate (purple belt) and judo (blue belt). He’s at a transitional time in his training, where he participates in the kid’s programs as a senior student while gradually transitioning to the adult programs.

What does an accomplished young martial artist do outside of school and training?  

“I like to play video games a lot, especially JRPGs,” he says, and “I like to sit and relax and read in my room.” Although he reads all kinds of stuff, his favorite is fantasy. 

His next great adventure is high school, which he begins this year. He’s very excited for the advanced program that he’ll be participating. As for favorite subject, he states, “content-wise, it’s math.  I like to learn about all the different things you can do with it. Other than that, my teachers affect how much I like a subject.”

What first got you into martial arts and why did you choose JMAC?

“I was here a lot because my parents did martial arts. I thought it was really cool and wanted to be a ninja” he laughs. “So, when the kids karate program opened up, I said ‘yeah’, I wanna do that!’”

What would you tell a friend who seems interested in trying karate?

“Karate is fun to do and learn, but you can’t mess around all the time” he says, smiling. “We work on stuff, but also have fun. There’s a lot of time where you have to be serious about what you’re learning. JMAC’s also a nice place to be and hang out with people.”


What words would you use to describe your training at JMAC?

Almost immediately, he states “It’s pretty flexible, because if you’re having trouble you can ask a teacher or you can ask another student who knows the material better. It’s also a community because you can just talk to people, really. The only real divide between people is if you’re one of the oldest students and there is someone new that comes in. You don’t have a lot of time to hang out with them, but it’s really nice once you get to know them after class.”

What’s your greatest challenge in the martial arts?

“In judo” he says, “we do randori, which is applying principles that we learned.” He continues, “It’s kind of hard not to be tense all the time. You try to be unpredictable so you can get people off balance, but I have to work on practicing more types of throws. Right now, I have two or three that I usually do, so they know what to expect.” He adds, “I mean, how do you think about being relaxed? Because, when you think about being relaxed, you try to be relaxed and you get tense,” he smiles and adds, “it’s really weird.”

You recently began training in the adult karate program.  What’s the greatest difference that you notice between the programs?

“I notice the teaching style is different. In the kid’s program, there is more group work and occasionally the more senior students will branch off and do one kata above than the rest of class. The adult program is like that, but everyone can be from the most recent kata to 3 or 4 kata behind that. There’s more individual work and one-on-one, with kata.”

Is there something that was really, really hard, that you succeeded at learning?

“When I started karate, we did a lot more of the basic kata. It’s the kata are that you’d learn as a child in Japan as a part of your PE program. You’d have basic movement patterns, left, right, middle (‘I’ pattern). My biggest problem back them, was that you’d have to do this spin turn as a part of that. You’d have to put one foot behind your other foot and then turn your body at the same time. That was always really hard me when I was just starting.”

“More recently, I learned a kata that involved some different stepping and movements that I was not familiar with. It was a kata that did not follow the “I” pattern, I was so used to. The new kata was - so not that. It had different stepping and more complicated moves. It wasn’t just basic upper block, lower block. All of a sudden there was this weird block, push thing,” he says “moving his arms and hands. Out of nowhere you have this fancy, ribbon looking thing with turns – ‘step, turn, 45 degrees, put your hands in chamber, push out, etc’. The hand position is still weird for me, not too close, not too far – I’m still working on that. Now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I’m feeling better about it, but it’s challenging.”

How has your training carried over into your everyday life?

He laughs, “Well I can roll and it looks cool!” But other than that, “I think that it helps me to think things through before I do them. I rush into things less and take my time and think about what I’m going to do and what I’m going to say. In karate kata, when you do a turn you look first, so you know what you’re dealing with. You don’t want to just punch right into a wall. And if there is something in the way, you can then adjust and then continue.” He adds “Two of my closest friends I would not know if I hadn’t done judo. I think it’s really nice to have that type of community here so that you can have those friendships.”

Matthew’s mom, Andi, shared the following thoughts:

Why Karate and Judo and why JMAC

“His dad began training with Suino Sensei when he was 17 years old. Then I started. We brought Matthew to the dojo when he was 2. As soon as the kid’s program was available he started training – there was no question.”

What positive changes have you noticed in Matthew as a result of his training? Other comments?

“I find that he’s calmer and he thinks things through. I’m sure part of that is him and part of that the training. It’s always interesting to see him helping the younger kids – whether they’re age younger or belt younger he really seems to step up whenever needed. He’s definitely more confident - I think that comes from here.” 

“He has a quiet nature and this helps him be more outgoing - And, speak his mind. He’s found his voice. At the beginning of class, there’s a call to meditate, ‘Mokusou’, a moment to get your head in the game. It’s incredible to hear his loud, strong voice.” She smiles and continues, “One of my favorite memories is of him in a Mokusou contest a couple years ago, at the JMAC anniversary celebration. He was very young and the entire community was cheering him on as he belted out the Mokusou in his young, high pitched voice – red faced, he eked out every last bit of air in his lungs.” 

“It’s nice for us and it’s nice that he’s met his best friends here. And, he’s met all kinds of kids. He’s starting high school this year, which will be really challenging, and I believe this has helped him prepare for the unexpected things that life brings.”

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Serving Southeast Michigan:

JMAC students come to practice from throughout Southeast Michigan, from such areas as:

  • Ann Arbor
  • Birmingham
  • Bloomfield
  • Brighton
  • Canton
  • Chelsea
  • Clinton Township
  • Detroit
  • Dexter
  • Dundee
  • Fenton
  • Fowlerville
  • Grass Lake
  • Howell
  • Inkster
  • Jackson
  • Lansing
  • Livonia
  • Manchester
  • Milan
  • Milford
  • Monroe
  • Novi
  • Okemos
  • Pinckney
  • Plymouth
  • Rochester
  • Romulus
  • Saline
  • Southfield
  • Tecumseh
  • Troy
  • Whitmore Lake
  • Wixom
  • Ypsilanti
  • University of Michigan
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Michigan State University
  • Washtenaw Community College
  • Oakland Community College
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Ann Arbor - Martial Arts Mecca

For the prospective martial arts student, Ann Arbor is a mecca in the Midwest. More than any other location in Michigan, Ann Arbor has a wide variety of martial arts styles taught by many well respected sensei (teachers). You can find training opportunities at community centers, college and university gyms, health clubs, fitness centers and dojos (training halls). Among the styles available are: aikido, iaido, judo, jiu-jitsu (also called jujutsu), karate, kendo, kung fu, MMA (mixed martial arts, sometimes called BJJ) tae kwon do, tai chi, and many westernized martial arts systems. At JMAC, we offer world class instruction in judo, jiu-jitsu, iaido (Japanese swordsmanship), and karate for kids.


Aikido is a martial arts descended from jiu-jitsu. It includes joint locks, throws, takedowns, and pins. The philosophy of aikido is a peaceful one - to use the attacker’s energy to neutralize his or her attack without causing injury. Aikido is taught in several forms, such as Aikikai, Ki Society, and Yoshinkan. Aikido was founded by Ueshiba Morihei, who studied with Takeda Sokaku, the most famous practitioner of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Its principles can be found in almost every Japanese martial art, especially jiu-jitsu and judo. Read more about the physical and philosophical principles of Nihon Jujutsu.

Iaido in Ann Arbor

Iaido is Japanese sword drawing. It was created by the Samurai to defend against surprise attacks by an armed opponent. Most iaido involves the practice of pre-arranged forms, which are excellent tools for training the body, improving concentration, and entering into a meditative state. Finding a talented instructor in iaido with legitimate credentials is rare … in the Midwest it’s practically unheard of. For those with a desire to compete in swordsmanship for sport, kendo is the activity of choice. Those who are willing to endure an occasional whack on the head may pursue bokken kumite (sparring with wooden swords) with our director’s authorization once they reach black belt at JMAC. Read more about iaido at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Judo

Judo was founded by Professor Jigoro Kano. It is both a martial art and an Olympic sport. It includes throws, pins, joint locks, and chokes. It is among the most vigorous of martial arts and is very popular with children as well as adults. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers classes in judo for children as young as 6 years old, and for adults (starting at age 16). One fact not widely known is that sport judo is a narrow cross section of the complete art of judo. Proponents of the entire art, such as Satoh Tadayuki Sensei of Waseda University in Tokyo, recognize that the founder’s vision encompassed not only “judo” throws, but joint locks, takedowns, redirection, strikes, vital points, dynamic ukemi, kata, and weapons. Judo training at JMAC includes many of these opportunities. Read more about Judo at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Jiu-Jitsu (Jujitsu / Jujutsu)

Jujutsu - which is also written "jujitsu" and "jiu jitsu" - is the ancestor martial art of aikido and judo. Although it includes many of the techniques found in aikido, as well as many more combative techniques that did not find their way into aikido, the philosophy of jujutsu is more practical. Techniques are applied more directly, with a greater emphasis on pain compliance. Those who study jiu-jitsu over the long term improve their fitness, concentration, and ability to defend themselves. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers serious jiu-jitsu classes for adults starting at age 16. You can learn more about the differences between Japanese jujutsu and Brazilian jiujitsu.

Karate – Kids Karate in Ann Arbor

Karate involves mainly strikes, kicks, and blocks. It was originally developed in the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa), and was later exported to Japan before finding its way around the world. Karate is an excellent martial art for those who prefer striking, and helps develop physical strength, stamina, and confidence. There are many forms of karate taught around the world today, including Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, Chito-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, and Kyokushinkai. If you’re looking for a way to help your child learn enthusiasm, fitness, discipline, and manners while having a lot of fun, consider the kids karate program at JMAC. We have an incredible core of talented instructors who have made it their business to inspire kids to be their best. Read more about our karate program for kids.


Kendo is a sport descended from Japanese swordsmanship. In Kendo, participants wear padded armor and attempt to score points by striking vital points with bamboo swords called "shinai." Practice is fast paced, involves much spirited shouting, and is a lot of fun. The Japanese Martial Arts Center does not offer kendo, but can refer you to a reputable kendo instructor in the area.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that actually includes many sub-styles. Like karate, kung fu involves strikes, kicks, and blocks, but also includes many esoteric motions that can be applied to take down or otherwise defeat an opponent. Kung fu often appeals to imaginative people because of the many references to animal forms, but it is also a very challenging and practical martial art.

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

MMA (mixed martial arts) to a modern competition-based collection of techniques. Most MMA schools teach striking as well as grappling. Although not a traditional martial art - and thus lacking many of the character development and spiritual aspects of ancient Asian arts - MMA is nevertheless a fantastic form of exercise and a lot of fun. Because many MMA fighters have employed judo and jujutsu successfully, the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers private instruction to top-level competitors as well as occasional workshops for our members.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is the Korean counterpart to Japanese karate. As a striking art, it includes punches, kicks, and blocks, but typically Tae Kwon Do emphasizes more kicking than does karate. Competition (usually for points rather than full contact) is very common among Tae Kwon Do practitioners. It is an excellent form of exercise, but seems more susceptible to commercialization than more traditional arts such as aikido and iaido.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is another form of Chinese martial art. It is usually taught with slow, controlled movements and deep stances. There are many health benefits associated with Tai Chi, including strong bones, cardiovascular health, and calmness.

Getting Started in Martial Arts in Ann Arbor

If you are considering taking up martial arts, you will find many superb opportunities in and around Ann Arbor, including outlying cities such as Brighton, Canton, Howell, Northville, and Plymouth. Students from the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, Cleary College, and even Michigan State University have supplemented their education with martial arts and found that the physical activity helps them concentrate on their studies. We think the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers the best programs in Michigan, but we’re interested in people who are willing to work hard and do what it takes to become truly accomplished. We encourage you to look around to find the martial arts club or school that best meets your needs.