Story and photos by Nancy McGuire.
Looking on as her father and older sister, Asia, were performing the moves of their Sensi (instructor) in a beginner karate class, Nikki Nowosiad mimicked along from the rows of chairs surrounding the room. Seeing her intently following along at her own pace and the smile radiating from her face, her father, Witek, decided to enroll her as well. It was a big step for the Nowosiad family as Nikki is a special needs child. Nikki was given a uniform and belt and did her best to keep up with the class. These karate class outings became a weekly family affair they all looked forward to.
Several years later, a woman who owned a gym for special needs kids heard about the Nowosiad family and their involvement in karate. The owner approached Mr. Nowosiad about organizing a class at her facility. Consulting with his teacher and mentor, Sensei Nakaya, Nowosiad, who had become a black belt, developed a curriculum similar to his own karate class but adapted for those participants that need more time and individual instruction to master each level. And thus, Beyond Karate was officially started in 2014.
According to Sensei Nowosiad, “My classes teach the same skills and movements performed in any karate class. I have adapted my approach by allowing each participant to learn at their own pace with more individual attention.” He holds his students to the same high standards that are a part of any karate program. Through their participation, he sees his students develop a greater sense of self-esteem, empowering them with more confidence and the willingness to engage with new activities and new people in their lives.
As with most other karate programs, students are tested before they progress to the next level. Known as “belting ceremonies” these events take on a whole new meaning at Beyond Karate. “Many of these kids have been told what they can’t do. We focus on what they are able to do”, says Nowosiad. On these special days, students that have been granted their promotions then gather with family, friends and staff at Howdy Homemade Ice Cream shop to celebrate their achievements. Nowosiad sees his karate classes as just one element to providing special needs kids an inclusive community where kids and parents can regularly come together. This tight-knit community organizes monthly social events where kids and parents both can build connections and a support system. Where they often feel excluded from many childhood activities and social activities, the community of Beyond Karate has filled that void.
In addition to the social and emotional benefits of karate, there are also physical benefits as well. In many special needs kids, muscle atrophy can be a side-effect leading to balance and coordination issues. Karate, through its structure of movements and concentration of efforts called katas, can strengthen participants’ minds and bodies simultaneously. These basic skills can lead to benefits in many aspects of Beyond Karate’s participant’s lives. Nate, who began Beyond Karate during COVID and has now transitioned into in-person classes is one example of the far-reaching benefits the program provides. According to his mother, “I have seen his processing speed increase and his self-confidence grow. He’s more focused for sure and doing better in school because of his participation in the program.”
For the last several years apart from 2021, many Beyond Karate participants have gathered for a statewide tournament. Just like all other karate tournaments, these special-needs kids must perform their katas before a panel of judges. Awards are presented by the different age divisions and it becomes a true celebration of their hard work and support communities. Plans are already underway for October’s gathering.
Starting with just five students, Beyond Karate now enrolls more than 70 participants. Classes are held in various locations in Richardson, Flower Mound, Plano, Southlake as well as at the Notre Dame School near downtown Dallas. Nikki’s big sister, Asia and the inspiration for the family’s involvement in karate is now an instructor and Sensei Nakaya continues to play a pivotal role in the growth of Beyond Karate. Sensei Nowosiad sees a bright future for his program and its participants. To learn more about Beyond Karate, go to https://www.beyondkarate.com/.