Being able to say “yes sir” is the first rule of Charles Mann’s karate class.
Q: Many know you as the longtime sensei of the Zebulon parks and recreation department’s martial arts program. How did you get involved with karate?
A: I have been involved in karate since about 1988. My wife and I used to love to watch Bruce Lee movies. About that same time, there was a program started at the nearby elementary school to teach people martial arts so I signed up. I was hooked so I stayed with it and now I am a nine-degree black belt – a grandmaster. Not long after taking my classes, I started teaching it for Zebulon parks and rec and I have been the only one there. I teach it at the old armory – twice a week.
Q: What age groups?
A: I have taught all age groups. I suppose the youngest has been 5 and some of my older students are usually around 55 or so. I usually teach kids and adults together. I think it is important for the parents to take the classes with the kids, but they don’t have to – they usually want to.
Q: Have you ever had any 6- or 7-year-old black belts?
A: I do not promote 6- or 7-year-olds to black belt. I suppose they could stick with it and get to that point, but I just don’t think they are physically ready at that age for black belt. I don’t do that but I suppose there are other places that do.
Q: And you have quite a few awards yourself?
A: For about 11 years in a row, I have gone to a martial arts tournament held at ECU (East Carolina University). I have been named the #1 fighter in the area. I have collected a lot of trophies. My wife calls them dust-gatherers (laughing). She told me no more. I will probably have to start giving them away – maybe to a worthy student.
Q: So growing up, you didn’t have a dream of one day owning and operating your own dojo (martial arts school), so what did you pursue?
A: I was born and raised in Bunn and graduated Bunn High School in 1973. I went on to a community college in Kinston to study to be a brick mason. I worked for a year in brick masonry and decided that it not what I wanted to be. I worked for 17 years for Burlington Industries in Franklinton until they shut down. I also joined the National Guard and I stayed there for 22 years. I have worked for the last several years as a mechanic. I started out working for James Finch Chevrolet, and worked at several places, like J&M Chevrolet in Zebulon. I now work at a car dealership in Wilson as a shop foreman and technician. I have always been pretty good at working on cars. I like to stay busy working. I also work on cars at home. I tell my kids, ‘hard work never killed anybody.’ My daddy was a worker and I am a worker.
Q: Did you pass that belief on to your children?
A: Yes. My wife and I had four children – three boys and one girl. One of our boys was killed. We have 11 grandchildren. My oldest son is the athletic director at Bunn High School. My daughter works for Harris Teeter and my younger son works at Nomaco. We are trying to raise our two grandchildren that belonged to our son that was killed so it looks like I will not be slowing down anytime soon.
Q: Obviously, you are a very busy man. Any hobbies on the side, other than tinkering on cars?
A: I am active in my church (Mt. Moriah Baptist Church). My faith is very important to me. I think it is important to understand your mission and then every opportunity you have, to lift Him up.
Q: What beliefs do you hope to instill in your karate students?
A: To be good at martial arts, you have to be a good citizen first. I can’t have them making me look bad. I have two main rules: you have to respect me, and you can’t take my class unless you have the grades. They need to show me their report card. If they don’t keep their grades up, I tell them they better bring their books to my class. Some of them have an issue with showing respect and they do not like discipline. I don’t do this for a living. I do this because I love it. So if they have an issue with saying ‘yes sir,’ then I show them the door. Some kids have no issue with it because I can tell their parents teach it to them, but there are also a lot of parents now who don’t teach that and it shows.
Correspondent Dena Coward