Dawn Barnes Karate Kids Turn Fear
Into Courage, Self-Esteem
By Carole Myers



Thousands of children and adults, too, are finding a powerful way to confront fear and self-doubt, with the assistance of top martial arts expert Dawn Barnes and her unique Karate Kids “Circle of Power” methodology. While psychologists and health practitioners often provide useful information, multi-discipline teacher Sensei Barnes, a gentle and beautiful blue-eyed blonde and one of the few female 3rd degree black belt Shotokan Karate experts in the country, has mastered of the fine art of turning fear into courage and strength.

“By connecting with their physical and emotional reaction to frightening situations, children can restore a sense of safety in their personal space”, said Barnes. “They can be guided to understand the difference between anger and aggressive behavior, re-establish inner calm and self-worth, demonstrate respect for one another, and celebrate the goodness in life.”

Barnes is the first teacher to introduce children to a unique holistic blend of martial arts disciplines, combining Shotokan Karate (Japan), Tai Chi (Chinese), Native American Animal Studies, and Hatha Yoga (Indian), combined with meditation. Children as young as 3 years old show benefits from participating in the program and many have studied with her for years, achieving their “black belt club” and beyond.

While the course might appears to kids to be about fun and physical exercise, the goal of the teaching is much deeper: uncovering the courage, self-esteem, a sense of peace and self-confidence that allows a child to be the best he or she can be, to face any challenge with optimism and a sense of adventure. The pathway begins with the first step into her unique dojo atmosphere, a uniquely mystical feng shui environment rarely created for children.

Barnes has perfected her combination of methodologies over the years. Native American animal symbols are used to find spiritual harmony with nature. In nature, every animal has a special gift or power unique unto itself, as does every human being. By mentally connecting human and animal powers as the Native Americans do, a child begins to understand that the same forces flow throughout all living creatures, including themselves. She uses an animal card game to create a visual tool for children, helping to guide them to a greater sense of strength and confidence within their own world.

Shotokan karate is used because it emphasizes two basic ideas in its training: balance and muscle control, supported by the belief that proper study eliminates ego and promotes hard, honest work, humility, and excellence. Yoga also provides balance along with internal harmony, use of breath and general well-being.

While many people feel any practice, such as meditation, that requires sitting still and quiet is difficult for young children with their shorter attention span, Barnes has proven otherwise.

Both formal meditation and Tai Chi moving meditation are incorporated into a regime for children of all ages. Chi represents the spirit or life force inside a person that can be strengthened through regular practice of martial arts. When mind and body are calmed during practice, the Chi can flow within and out of the body to allow for optimum health.

To teach children how to feel their Chi, a game called “Ball of Energy” is played. They sit in a circle with their hands extended in front, palms facing each other about six inches apart. By sitting still with their eyes closed, they eventually feel a tingle between their palms. This tingle is their Chi energy. They then create “a ball of energy” and slowly place the ball on top of their heads saying “I am smart.”  When the ball of energy is placed anywhere on the body they give a different affirmation. Example: over their hearts they might say “I am loving.”

Since 1987, Barnes has taught her unique methodology to thousands of children and in 1995 opened her first Dawn Barnes Karate Kids studio at 1207 Seventh St. in Santa Monica, California. This past October, a second studio opened at 17205 Ventura Boulevard in Encino, with hundreds of children rushing to sign on in the first few weeks alone.

“Immediately following the events of September 11th, parents told us their children were confused and fearful of things such as their own school being a target for terror. Other reactions included feelings of anxiety, anger, overly-aggressive behavior, and a general sense of mistrust,” explained Barnes.

By taking her classes, parents report they have observed in their children, “…an increase in confidence, focus and general physical ability”, “…she is full of self-confidence and more in control of her body,”  “…overcame his fear of flying,” “…able to discern in their play with others what is appropriate and what is too physically aggressive.”

When Barnes opened her own studio, she ignored the traditional concept of a discipline-demanding karate dojo. From the start, her premise was to treat children with respect, loving kindness and constant reinforcement for their efforts, understanding that all people advance at their own pace and must find their own way. Every effort is rewarded with applause by the group, badges and animal cards and lots of warm hugs and encouraging words.

“Just coming to class is a sign of achievement and courage, for both children and adults. Each step along the way must be met with re-enforcement and appreciation of that particular individual. That, to me, is the real role of a Sensei,” comments Barnes.

Her physical studios are also a huge diversion from the typical black and white, locker-room like dojo. They also have an appearance quite different from the usual children’s classroom. Created by Hollywood set designer Clarence Major, the new Encino space was inspired by poetry and reflects both the designer’s attention to the power of the number three and the art of feng shui, creating a place of harmony and balance supportive of Barnes’ overall philosophy and teachings.

A healthy restaurant next door offers a one-way mirror for patrons to observe the delightful demonstration as the little ones practice their yoga and martial arts. The lobby provides an area for parents to gather in a serene Zen garden-like setting, while watching their children through glass walls.

Parents enjoy watching their children so much, in fact, they regularly request that Barnes offer adult classes. In January 2002, ongoing Women’s Self-Defense classes begin, focusing on fitness and street defense.

“Adults have the same fears as their children. I know how much courage it takes to get the initiative to step into the dojo and say “I’m ready to learn’. I’ve been there,” said Barnes. “But the result is astounding. This month, two women, both housewives in their forties, will earn their black belt. They will tell you they both wanted to quit many times, but the confidence they’ve gained has truly changed their experience of life for the better.”

Her plans include opening Dawn Barnes Karate Kids studios in selected cities throughout the U.S. over the next few years. She released her first children’s video last year and intends to produce additional videos, books and also a television series for children.

This month she achieved her third degree black belt and became one of only about 20 women in the U.S. to earn that designation in the rigorous Shotokan style. She immediately set her next goal: to attain her fourth degree belt and win the World Karate Championships Masters division.

“What can possibly be more important than giving our children the opportunity to find the courage inside them to be all they can be? It works. And it’s awesome, “ Barnes exclaimed.

Check out www.karatekids.net  on the web. The studio phone numbers are (310) 393-1312 in Santa Monica and (818) 789-4400 in Encino.

Return to the January/February Index page