A ‘Kick Start’ For At-risk Youths

Sensei Donohue (right) and his instructors getting ready to teach karate Photo courtesy Kick Start Karate

Movies and video games glorify violence to the point where kids spend hours on end armed with their remote controls engaging in virtual fights. Some might ask why in the world would you want your child to embrace a sport that involves live combat engaging in sharp blows, blocks and kicks.

Kick Start Karate is martial arts training that benefits young people by teaching them how to defend themselves, and is an activity that encourages participants to resolve conflicts productively. Its founder, former Honolulu Police Chief and City Councilman Lee Donohue, says the program “promotes education, produces leaders and teaches its participants to live a drug-free lifestyle.”

Since its inception in 1994 by then Assistant Chief of Police Donohue and Waipahu High School educator Amy Abe, more than 1,100 youngsters have kicked and karate chopped their way through their personal challenges.

“The ’90s was an era filled with youth gangs in Kalihi, Waipahu, Ewa and Ewa Beach, and Kick Start provided an alternative to anti-social gang memberships, the use of illicit drugs and juvenile delinquency,” says Sensei Donohue, who has embraced students from “rough and tumble” backgrounds. He believes that his mentoring program has changed lives for the better.

The results are astonishing. Students who come from harsh family situations and/or displayed violent behaviors were at risk of spending part of their lives in prison, and Kick Start Karate came into play providing hope for a brighter future.

“One gal who was class president in middle school was failing her courses after her brother was killed in a drive-by shooting. We intervened and enrolled her. Today she is a great mother and is a contributing member of her community,” explains Donohue.

For nearly two decades, Kick Start has provided alternative activities for at-risk youths, but the sport is not just for troubled teens. Kelsie Pascual, now a registered nurse, was a model student when she joined in the sixth grade.

“We live in a fast-paced and demanding world, where everyone wants instant gratification. Kick Start taught me control. Discipline and patience are the basis for my career. It also helped me build physical endurance and today, I am physically fit for long shifts as a nurse, where I am mostly on my feet at work,” says Pascual.

The sport also enhances quality of life, puts all participants through leadership training and gives them a sense of empowerment, resulting in more productive citizens in society.

“We’ve had students whose families were in turmoil, some with siblings being incarcerated, and we were able to intervene to help guide them through their challenging environments,” says Donohue. “As sensei, I provide leadership that encourages them to become better people with good values and strong characters learned through the martial arts.”

Seeing his students graduate from high school and grow to become hardworking adults and understanding parents is what inspires Donahue to keep working in the dojo.

“I have watched Sensei Donohue instruct every student with love and patience. He is able to take his values and passion and make them come alive in the dojo,” says Eric Quemado, who received his black belt from Donohue. He has since returned as instructor and mentor. “I constantly seek ways to make sure each student achieves academic success, because I believe high self-esteem and academic success go hand-in-hand.”

Classes are free of charge, thanks in part to veterans like Quemado who volunteer their time and skills.

It also takes the help of the community to fund Kick Start Karate, which is available to ages 6 to 18. Classes are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. (Guidance), and 5:30 to 7:15 p.m. (Karate). Although its annual fundraiser, called “Taste of Kick Start,” was held Sept. 1 at Hawaii Kai Towne Center, donations still are being accepted. For more information on how you can kokua, go to kickstarthawaii.org.

Kick Start Karate has been an effective vehicle in instilling the values and skills necessary in the ongoing crusade to help our youths resist temptation to go astray. Donohue and his dedicated staff are the driving force behind the sport, and they merit our appreciation and support for their tireless efforts in developing and nurturing conscientious and law-abiding citizens in our community.