Dose of discipline for sport, for life

Purpose: Mentoring children has become an almost spiritual calling for karate instructor and world kick boxing champion Dulany Muhammad.

October 30, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Master Dulany Muhammad is tough on children.

That's why parents bring their kids to his Kickmasters gym in the 3000 block of Greenmount Ave. in East Baltimore.

"You want discipline? You have a bad little boy who needs discipline and doesn't have a father?" said Delroy Muhammad (no relation), who sends his son and daughter to Kickmasters. "I recommend anyone to take their children to this man."

Dulany Muhammad, a seventh-degree karate black belt and world champion in three divisions, is an imposing figure: bald, chiseled face, muscles hardened from countless hours of training, sparring and dozens of amateur and professional fights. He doesn't let his students get away with anything. His rules are simple: no lying, no stealing, no disrespecting anyone.

He is trying to give these children what he feels they need to survive in the unforgiving world outside his gym.

"The discipline I give them is not just for martial arts," said Muhammad, 42. "It's for life."

Will J. Jordan, who has written extensively on the relationship between athletics and education, said involvement in sports can teach children lessons that carry over into the classroom.

"Some of them are very clear, like hard work pays off," said Jordan, who for eight years was an instructor and researcher at the Johns Hopkins University and is now a senior sociologist at the Center for Naval Analyses. "Students who study long hours, who pay attention, who execute the assignment, those kids will do better."

Around children, Muhammad reveals none of the power and controlled violence that has won him three world championship kick boxing titles in the middleweight and super middleweight divisions between 1997 and last year. With children, he is by turns gentle, tough and concerned. He'll sit them down after a day's workout and talk to them about hygiene, manners and treating each other with respect.

The more proficient students, such as Cherkitae Muhammad, 13, (Delroy's daughter) get to teach students basic skills and moves.

"I'm setting an example for my brothers and sisters," said the young Muhammad, proud, yet a bit nervous. "He's tough, but it's going to be even tougher when we get out in the real world."

`You can't be crying in here'

The teacher can be an unrelenting taskmaster during sparring sessions. One recent afternoon, he watched as two boys stepped into the center of a circle formed by a dozen sitting classmates. They bowed to each other, took their fighting stances and started swinging.

Their roundhouse punches and kicks were years from perfection. Muhammad looked on, called out directions, encouraged, scolded. "I told you, stop doing that," he said. "All the wild swings. Don't do that."

The boys returned to their fighting stance, then resumed. When they finished, they bowed to each other. Muhammad searched the room for another pairing. This time, one of the fighters brought his opponent to tears. Muhammad stepped in quickly.

"Hey, no crying in here, man. Suck it up. Suck it up," he said. "You can't be crying in here, especially with all these girls here."

It is a harsh rule, but Muhammad feels he must toughen the boys, many of whom have no men in their lives. Sure, their mothers can raise them, but he believes a boy needs a man in his life. He makes no apologies for what some consider a sexist worldview. "Little boys are just not going to listen to a mother the same way that they're going to listen to a man," he said. "A woman can't teach a boy to be a man."

Achievement, confidence

Mentoring children has become an almost spiritual calling for Muhammad, who grew up in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He took up karate as a child, finding in the martial arts a sense of achievement and confidence. He moved to Baltimore in 1977 and became a professional kick boxer during the 1980s. He has 29 wins, 3 losses and 18 knockouts.

Next month, he'll head to Madison Square Garden and challenge Joe Brown for the World Professional Kick Boxing Organization's super middleweight title. The winner gets about $13,000, enough for Muhammad to buy equipment and improve the gym.

It is a simple space. The front area is for sparring and training. A couple of children's trampolines are on hand. A heavy punching bag hangs in the back, with weights, benches, a treadmill. Posters from various fight cards share the walls with a red-black-and-green Liberation flag and boxing mottoes found in every gym. The brief admonitions are meant to inspire:

Your next opponent is training harder than you are.

To perform like a champion you must practice like one.

Champions never take the easy way out. PAY THE PRICE!

Nation of Islam influence

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