New Semester of Martial Arts Begins in February

Champion Force Athletics (CFA) has offered self-defense classes at Cherry Creek Elementary School for years.  Students as young as four can start in a white belt class.  Older students are also encouraged to attend even as a beginner.

A History Dating Back Over 50 Years

In the 1950s Bonnie Hood began teaching baton and wushu, starting a company named Bonnie’s Blue Bells.  It was her goal to provide youth programs which offered quality and affordable options.  The following decades would see two company name changes before becoming Champion Force Athletics which offers self-defense and cheer opportunities.  Corporate offices are in Wyoming, Michigan and programs are offered in eight states.  

Over 10 years ago Lowell High School student Amanda Vezino was part of the CFA cheer program.  She was asked to start a program in Lowell.  It was well received by the community.  About four years ago the self-defense program was introduced.  Each program sees about 30 students across the three levels of class each semester.  

Coach Sean and Laine Fleszar demonstrate how to get away from an attacker.

Learning Self Defense, Respect, and Responsibility

Taking martial arts classes through CFA is not only about learning various karate moves.  Students are taught respect for themselves, peers, teachers, parents, and what they learn in class.  They learn about bullying and how to get away from an attacker.  An added self-confidence and respect is also seen in many students.  Part of the Student Creed states what is learned in class should not be misused.

Cherry Creek Elementary School is the site for classes.  Most students attend a Lowell Area District school but this is not a requirement.  A beginner class for white belts, an intermediate class for yellow belts, and an advance class for belts higher than yellow are offered.  Coach Sean Thayer finished just finished teaching his first class in Lowell but has been with CFA for two and a half years and has been training in martial arts for over three decades in numerous disciplines.  

Thayer is accustomed to teaching students of all ages and adjusting techniques based on age.  A younger student has a very different mindset and way of learning compared to someone in middle school or above.  When asked how to effectively coach all students he says, “I think to live by example is the best way. I encourage students to practice significantly outside of class.”  On occasion parents are asked to come and assist in the class.  At the end of each class parents are invited in to see what should be practiced during the week.  “I also try to have their parents get engaged with the classroom as time allows so they have the knowledge to help with practice at home.” states Thayer. He believes practice outside of class is where muscle memory is learned allowing various moves to be second nature.  

Laine Fleszar receives her advanced brown belt.

The beginner and intermediate classes also involve student helpers.  One or two students of a higher belt rank assist in teaching.  Advanced students are able to get in additional training and be a role model.  The other students are able to learn from a peer and see what they can accomplish with training.  Laine Fleszar who has been taking lessons for three and a half years, is the student assistant for Coach Sean in Lowell and Ionia.  “The key to teaching young kids to learn is patience. It takes a lot of time for them to get some concepts, and you cannot expect them to perform the techniques perfectly.” she comments.  Fleszar was recently promoted to senior brown belt and enjoys being part of each class.

Henry Schrauben (l) and Colton Bailey (r) receive medals during the January tournament.

Twice a year students have the opportunity to participate in a tournament.  Special classes are also offered to enhance training throughout the semester.  At the end of each semester everyone has the opportunity to test individually with Coach Sean to determine whether a student is ready for promotion to a higher belt rank.  Colton Bailey, a five-year old recently promoted to yellow belt had this to say when he was asked why he likes karate, “I like karate because there are fun activities and fun tournaments.  You can move up a level and learn new things.  That’s why I like karate.”

While much of the curriculum is based on individual performance there’s also a team element.  Students are taught and work together on moves.  They learn to respect themselves and each other as well.  “I encourage each student to try harder, go farther, and do more. It’s a time to learn about themselves and self-awareness, about safety and how to be smart and grow in confidence. To do this, I also urge them to support each other rather than pull each other down because if they stick with this, they’ll be training partners for a long time.” reflects Coach Sean.

Older students are sometimes hesitant to join a beginners class fearing they’ll be “stuck” with younger kids.  An older student could be tested and moved up a belt rank in a matter of weeks due to the ability to learn moves and concepts faster than younger children.  Self defense classes are appropriate for boys and girls alike.  

When and Where

A new self-defense class semester is starting Wednesday, February 8.  Start time for beginners is 5:30 in the cafeteria at Cherry Creek Elementary followed by the intermediate and advanced class.  Each class is approximately 45 minutes in duration with 15 minutes between each level.  New and returning students pay a one time $10 registration fee and a $7 class fee.  A class fee is collected each week, although an option to pay for the entire 16 week semester at once is offered with incentives to do such as CFA gear.

Questions about the upcoming semester can be sent to Sean Thayer at  You can also contact him via Facebook message through his profile.  Champion Force Athletics can also be contacted at 616-538-2888 or toll-free at 800-940-7469 with questions about self-defense or cheer.  

CFA’s new semester for cheer starts on Monday, February 6 at Cherry Creek Elementary.  Division 1, ages 4-6 starts at 5:45pm, Division 2, ages 7-9 starts at 6:30pm, and Division 3, ages 10+ starts at 7:15.

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