My Day at Camp: Punching away stress with karate

RAK staff writer Dani Horn spends a day at Paradise Valley School of Karate summer camp and finds,”This camp was a serious workout, but also serious fun.”

When I walked into Paradise Valley School of Karate in Phoenix for the first “My Day at Camp” experience of the summer (an annual tradition at RAK), I thought I knew exactly what I would be getting myself into.

I had recently started a Jillian Michaels workout DVD that included some pretty rockin’ kicks and punches, so I naturally assumed karate would come easily. Surely I was in shape enough after four weeks of working out to take on a kids karate camp.

About 25 kids and I — ranging in skill level from novice to yellow belt — first lined up across the hug blue-and-red tumbling mats to hear from Sensei Heather Hamel, who stood in front of a mirrored wall and a message painted in bold, black letters: WE TEACH RESPECT… EVERY DAY.

We were told a bow is a “hello” in the karate world, and to greet each other in this manner before and after every spar. She told us to always be courteous while practicing and to never “break the will” of other students by making fun or being discouraging.

Sensei Hamel told students that addressing the Senseis as “Sir” or “Ma’am” was a sign of respect toward one’s elders (as is doing chores and being helpful at home), and that they could earn stripes toward their belts for doing so.

Practicing forward kicks at Paradise Valley Karate.

After a few bows, we practiced forward kicks at a standing punching bag. As we lined up in groups of six to take our turns, 18-year-old Robert Castro (who has been training at the karate school since he was 5) showed us how to complete an effective kick.

With my left foot planted firmly in front of me and my fists up to protect my face, I swiftly smacked the punching bag with the ball of my right foot, knocking it back. “Ya!” I yelled.

Not too shabby, I thought. By the fifth properly executed karate kick, I began to break a moderate sweat.

Next came rolling somersaults taught by the school’s owner and founder, Sensei Mike Wall. He told us to get down on one knee, place our hands flat on the ground, put our heads next to our hands and push off with our feet for a quick roll.

Or in my case, an abrupt flop.

OK, so maybe I wasn’t quite up to the skill level of an 8-year-old white belt.

But as we tried the move over and over, I did get faster. I even managed to roll myself into a ball once and pop up in a mean fighting stance.

As my minor successes grew, so did the red hue of my face.

This camp was a serious workout, but also serious fun.

Our punching session put us right in front of the huge mirrors to ensure proper form. As we fiercely jabbed and swiped, honing our technique, I could feel stress I didn’t even know I was carrying melt away.

When break time came and the younger kids headed to the game room, I felt like I could take on the world.

Or, at least move on to level two of that workout DVD.

If you go: Paradise Valley School of Karate camp sessions run from 8 a.m. to noon or 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Custom schedules are available. Camp runs weekly through Tuesday, Aug. 8. 3851 E. Thunderbird Road, #B117.

Paradise Valley School of Karate owner and founder Mike Wall taught Dani and the class rolling somersaults and more.