Karate Mom 
In-Sparring Discipline and Confidence at Home

By Melissa Tucker,  Photography by Brian Chilson

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When Laurie Smith Prud’homme’s 6-year-old son began taking classes at Unity Martial Arts, his classes were a mix of games and exercise. She saw improvements in his behavior and his confidence not long after. 

“In the first years, Isaac learned focus, concentration and determination as he progressed through the curriculum,” but he also made friends and learned respect for adults and his peers, she said. 

Almost five years ago, the two of them attended the annual international Cuong Nhu training camp, and she was inspired to pursue her own training in martial arts.  

“I was able to watch incredibly strong and graceful women and men of all ages who had practiced and taught Cuong Nhu for decades,” she said. “Until then, I had only watched the classes for kids. I began training as soon as we got back to Little Rock.”

Today, she and her son, now 15, train together in the adult and teenager classes at Unity. 

“I have learned so much from him, and it has added a new dimension to our relationship,” she said. 

At age 52, Prud’homme intends to continue her training indefinitely.

“I have been amazed at how good I feel after several years of training. I was never an athlete, so it took awhile to build up my strength and endurance,” she said. “But everyone is so encouraging, and I intend to train for the rest of my life. Classes are more than just workouts; we are connecting with friends and celebrating our progress together.”

According to Simmons Market Research, 13 percent of children under the age of 11 participated in martial arts in the past year. In addition, one in four teens have taken a martial arts class in the past 12 months. For adults, 63 percent of adults in martial arts are between the ages of 18 and 34. Adults ages 50 and over make up 11 percent of those in martial arts. 

Unity Martial Arts is one place in Little Rock where kids and parents can exercise together, and now that it has a new location with space, Unity plans to offer classes for parents that coincide with the martial arts classes for kids. They’ll also have a strength training area as well as yoga and other non-martial arts classes that may appeal to adults. 

The classes start for very young kids and go up to adults. Some children want to progress in the ranks and some just want to have fun. Unity’s owner, Tanner Critz, hopes to accommodate both. 

Laurie Prud'homme and Isaac Prud'homme share a love for martial arts and have practiced for 10 years.

Laurie Prud'homme and Isaac Prud'homme share a love for martial arts and have practiced for 10 years.

“For the average kid, the main goal is to play,” he said. “They may love the idea of martial arts, but traditional martial arts is focused on the idea that you’re going to get your 10,000 reps of this thing to get good at it, and most kids are not down for that. They want to play, every moment is an exciting new moment, and we have to master the art of learning through play.”

Unity has curriculum classes, which allow students to progress through the ranks, and focus classes, which are based in fitness. 

“Two classes a week is a good baseline for development,” he said. “One curriculum class and one focus class is a great place to start.”

Unity has family plans that allow for three levels of membership based on your commitment and the number of people in your family. But after the third person joins, the rest in the family are free. 

“We have several families where you have two kids who are taking classes, and one other family member joins, and then all of the family members can go,” he said. 

Critz has also created a fun, game-based program called Adventure Quest for kids in third to ninth grade, which will build physical and mental prowess as they progress. 

“The kids feel like they’re playing through an adventure story. They are time travelers, and the way they do well in the story is by increasing in metrics like pushups, multiplication and division problems and things like that,” he said. “So, you’re watching them get stronger and faster, and we’ve been able to stimulate some of the kids we might have otherwise lost to the paradigm of martial arts.”

These different classes and styles allow kids to phase in and out of martial arts. Sometimes their passion for it wanes, but Critz hopes to keep them engaged in fitness and the martial arts community. 

“You realize over time that people are not one thing all the time. If you have a kid in second grade and karate is their favorite thing, they’ll go up in rank quickly, but in fifth grade they may not love it anymore,” he said. “One of the things we’ve hit on is by building a community we can create some stability for them. They might change again, but by having this community of your friends here, there’s other activities going on, they’ll hold on longer until they come to the next shift, and maybe it’s back to being excited about martial arts again.”

If you’re looking for martial arts classes in the Central Arkansas area, several options are available. Some also have classes for kids. 

Impact Martial Arts
Adult self-defense classes; martial arts classes for kids and teens
Locations in Little Rock and Beebe
501-224-1222

Unity Martial Arts
Self-defense classes for adults; tai chi, yoga; martial arts classes for kids and teens
1524 Garfield, Little Rock
501-664-0604

Westside Mixed Martial Arts 
Jiu-jitsu and kickboxing classes for kids and adults
1021 Jessie Road, Little Rock
501-663-3850

All-Star Martial Arts
Seven locations in central Arkansas
Karate for kids ages 12 and under,
and self-defense classes for adults
and teens 13 and up.

Danny Dring’s Living Defense Martial Arts
Martial arts classes for kids and adults; kickboxing fitness for adults
308 Kiehl Ave., Sherwood
501-834-3537