RIDGWAY — A Ridgway man believes in teaching youth discipline, strength and comaraderie through the traditional practice of martial arts.
Tri-County Tang Soo Do at 164 Main St. in Ridgway is part of the World Tang Soo Do Association, said chief instructor Rick Panebianco, or “Master P.”
Panebianco, a Ridgway resident and mechanic by trade, ran a karate program out of Philipsburg, he said, then started it at the Ridgway YMCA. The current Ridgway studio, which has been remodeled a few times, opened in 2000.
It’s rewarding, Panebianco says, to watch his students grow up and further their karate careers. Some even bring their children back to the studio for classes.
The studio walls are covered with pictures of students and white, orange, green, brown, red, blue and black belts. The classes go by beginner, intermediate and advanced, and a “little dragons” group.
Part of karate is “sugarcoating things very little,” he says. “We build leaders. We build discipline, structure, character and teach integrity and self confidence.”
The traditional Korean martial art is taught the same way it was 2,000 years ago, Panebianco adds.
He was 26 years old when he started martial arts, Panebianco said, and has always been athletic. He liked the structure of the classes and strength of the leader.
“It saved me,” he said. “When I first walked into the class, I said, ‘I want to be the guy up there.’”
Panebianco firmly believes youth need discipline to go out into the world, something he teaches, as well as the physical aspects of strength, flexibility, balance and coordination, agility and cardio-respiratory strengthening.
The DuBois Tang Soo Do location started about two years ago at the DuBois YMCA, and the head instructor there is Doug Walk, Panebianco says. Between both locations, there are eight instructors.
Not only does martial arts give students a vote of confidence, Panebianco said, but it gives them a sense of belonging.
“Nobody sits the bench here,” he said. “Everybody is doing something and trying to achieve the same goals.”
The parents are trained, too, Panebianco says, to be their child’s cheerleader, but to let the instructor do the work.
He keeps a ‘thank you’ book from grateful parents, too. One note says, “We want to thank you for the positive effect you and the studio have had on Rayna, Khloe and Adilynn, as far as self confidence, fighting spirit, good sportsmanship, respect and obedience. You teaching them these key fundamentals is greatly appreciated.”
Panebianco says he believes “Champions are made in empty gymnasiums.”
The studio feels like a family, Panebianco says, with students who started at a young age and now becoming instructors.
“When you become a blackbelt, your duty is to become an instructor,” he said. “We teach them to get better so they can teach others to get better – it’s a ladder of teamwork.”
Panebianco can remember teaching karate with his son in his arms, he says, and now represents a father figure to many of his students.
Karate builds camaraderie, and also helps youth do better in school, he adds. He also teaches it as an anti-bullying mechanism and gives the parents advice on how to handle it.
“I try to teach these kids to stand up for themselves,” he said, tracing martial arts back to the Buddhist monks who did the same. “You’re nobody’s punching bag.”
He says he even keeps track of teacher comments and report cards for his students.
“I tell the parents that I will come to detention and sit with your child if they get in trouble for standing up to a bully,” he said, adding that many child therapists today recommend martial arts.
For more information, visit www.tricountykarate.com, the Facebook page or call 814-773-3226.