Oklahoma City — What might be a typical martial arts class in any number of private dojos (“place of the way” or training facility) is, perhaps, not so typical for an Oklahoma City school. Oklahoma City’s Harding Fine Arts Academy’s mission is to prepare high school students for college in an academically challenging, arts integrated environment. The martial arts program is no exception to that objective, school officials say.
All of Harding Fine Arts Academy’s elective classes are either fine or performing arts-oriented, including martial arts.
Teacher Jennifer Allman (black belt) has taught martial arts at Harding Fine Arts Academy, an Oklahoma City public charter school, since 2010. Karate students are enrolled in two classes; one beginning to intermediate, and one intermediate to advanced. The program has so far produced three black belts and 15 brown belts and numerous under belts.
“Some schools offer martial arts as an after-school activity, but to my knowledge we stand alone in making it available for arts credit,” Allman said.
Because there are no other high school teams, Allman said, the Harding martial arts team competes against private clubs in tournaments across the state and region. “The Oklahoma Karate Association hosts ten to fourteen tournaments a year and we also go to tournaments hosted throughout the region, including an annual tournament in Missouri.”
HFAA team members, whose ages range from 14 to 18, compete in a variety of divisions including Weapons where a kata (individual training exercise) is performed using a weapon, Sparring, CMX (Creative, Musical and eXtreme) and the Forms division which is a kata with a choreographed set of moves performed.
Since the program began in 2010, students have won 11 Grand Champion Trophies, 437 first Place trophies, 308 second place trophies, 243 third place trophies, and 47 OKA State Champions and runners-up.
In July the team traveled to Orlando, Florida for the 2016 International Sports Karate Association (ISKA) U.S. Open Tournament – the world’s best-known, largest, and most prestigious open martial arts championships. More than 70 teams from over 40 countries and six continents attended. HFAA earned two Grand Champions awards.
Harding Fine Arts sophomore Vien Schmelzenbach won this honor in the Beginning Forms and Beginning Weapons events. First place awards went to HFAA students Emilee Harmon (Intermediate Musical), Denazia Jeffers (Intermediate Forms and Weapons), Emily Alvarez-Hamilton (Beginning Sparring), Vien Schmelzenbach (Beginning Weapons and Beginning Musical), Autumn Sutton (Beginning Forms and Beginning Class Sparring), Aye Hla (Advanced Boys Class Sparring) and Sierra Wilkinson (Advanced Girls MMA). The team also earned eight second places and thirteen third places at the Florida tournament. Teacher, Jennifer Allman placed second in the 18+Womens Weapons division.
Fourteen team members qualified to compete at the Unified World Championships in Italy, October 25-30. To qualify, students had to place in the top three in their division.
Harding Fine Arts Academy will host “Firehawks to Italy Fundraiser Tournament” on Saturday, September 17 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Funds raised will help with expenses, with trophies and medals to first, second and third place winners. Cost is $30 for competitors, $2 for spectators. Harding Fine Arts Academy is located at 3333 N. Shartel Avenue in Oklahoma City. For information on the tournament or to donate, contact [email protected]
Harding Fine Arts Academy is an Oklahoma City charter school that prepares high school students for college in an academically challenging, arts-integrated environment and was named a 2015 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Note: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.