Volume 7, Number 3, 1998

Karate instructor holds black belt in teaching

Judy Anderson Clapp, HN '75, '77M, has a sixth-degree black belt in Chinese kenpo karate and a second-degree black belt in modern arnis, a Filipino stick-fighting art.

Right at this moment, though, she's sitting on the floor with knees bent and the soles of her feet together, making hummingbird, geese and flying dragon sounds. Later, she pretends to pop up as if she's a piece of toast in a toaster. A group of 20 or so 5- and 6-year-olds joins her in doing monkey stretches and bouncing playfully while touching their hands to noses, heads and knees.

As co-executive director with her husband, Jim, of the American Karate Studios in Newark, Clapp has earned a national reputation for her innovative approach to teaching karate to youth. Of the 769 students at the school, some 500 are under age 12.

Back in the mid-'70s, when Clapp enrolled in her first martial arts course at UD, the sport was dominated by men. Clapp became the national runner-up in the Black Belt Women's Forms division in both 1978 and 1979 and went on to be inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Woman of the Year in 1991.

The "macho" reputation of the martial arts, with emphasis on physical contact and military-style discipline, deterred most women and children from taking it up, Clapp says. But, the emphasis on fitness in the '80s and an evolution in the way karate is taught has changed all that. Nearly one-third of the approximately 3.5 million martial arts students in the U.S. are female, up from 9 percent just 10 years ago, according to the International Martial Arts Association. The sport's popularity with children increases yearly.

Today, many people recognize that practicing the martial arts helps participants to develop concentration, self-discipline and a sense of serenity. Physicians recommend martial arts training as therapy for children with attention deficit disorder.

Clapp's enlightened approach to teaching martial arts has helped to transform the sport. She consults with schools across the country, helping them to tailor their curricula to children and design self-defense classes for women, and she was one of the first instructors to incorporate simple but effective karate moves into her self-defense classes.

As recently as the early '80s, most martial arts schools had no separate program for children. "You could have a 6-year-old training side-by-side with a 46-year-old," Clapp says. Even when schools did separate classes by age, they continued to teach the same curriculum to all students. Teachers simply introduced the concepts in smaller chunks. "But, that's like taking an English class for high-school seniors and teaching bits and pieces of it to a first-grader," Clapp points out.

"At that time, to have separate classes and requirements for juniors was unheard of," she recalls. But, at American Karate Studios, adults and children were separated, and Clapp developed programs specifically for juniors (ages 6 to 13), with a different curriculum and lesser requirements for belts. (The color of a martial artist's belt indicates the level of proficiency he or she has earned. For Chinese kenpo, there are 26 "orders" of belts, ranging from white to 10th-degree black belt.)

By 1985, Clapp had also created a curriculum for children as young as 3. Her copyrighted Dyna-Tot karate program for pre-school children emphasizes age-appropriate development of gross motor skills, social interaction and concept-building, all done in a playful environment that keeps the kids' attention.

The preschoolers also work toward "belts," but these are striped instead of solid color and mark accomplishments in such areas as self-control, respect and responsibility. Many children who enter the program at age 3 or 4 go on to earn black belts as young teens.

American Karate Studios will host this summer its first-ever training seminar for martial arts instructors, and soon, Clapp will start selling the Dyna-Tot curriculum. In the future, she plans to produce other instructional materials and videos, too.

A torn ligament in her knee put an end to Clapp's competitive days in 1992, but she says she has no regrets and that she's always loved teaching best. "I was born to teach," she says. "For some reason, I was chosen to make this contribution to the martial arts."

Last year, the International Martial Arts Association presented Jim and Judy Clapp its Hall of Fame Award for their contributions to the martial arts, particularly for innovations in teaching. They joined an elite group of only seven other people from more than 2,000 schools internationally who have received this honor.

-Theresa Gawlas Medoff, AS '94M