ROCHESTER — Bob Jobe is quick to note the boy who arrives at karate class wearing jeans instead of his uniform, called a gi.
"Where’s your uniform?" he asks. "Twenty-five pushups."
When he hears, "What’s up, Bob?" the retired police officer and black belt doesn’t hesitate doling out 10 laps for the disrespect.
Yet there appear to be no hard feelings on either side when Jobe later confirms that the laps and pushups were completed.
It’s all part of the high expectations Jobe places on the nearly 40 students who attend a free weekly karate lesson in the basement of the former St. Andrew School on Portland Avenue. The karate classes are run by St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish, of which St. Andrew Church is a part.
Word about the year-old karate program spread through the youth drop-in-center, which is open Tuesday and Friday from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at St. Andrew Church. The drop-in center offers fellowship, homework help, sports, video games, arts and crafts, and a warm meal provided by Foodlink. The drop-in-center has been so successful that a new center will soon open at St. Michael Church. Both centers are seeking adult volunteers.
The karate program is more structured than the drop-in-center, noted James Smith, a black belt in karate who works as the parish’s maintenance supervisor and as an assistant with the parish’s youth-ministry program. Karate helps give young people the discipline and structure that they need to connect, focus and become responsible adults, he observed.
"We try to give them the tools for character-building that they can take through their lives," Smith said.
Smith has been practicing karate since he was 13 years old. From it he’s learned humility, patience, fitness and decision-making. The class also teaches young people to work hard to master skills rather than laughing off challenges, he said, and helps fill a need for this type of instruction in the area around the church.
"A lot of parents (in the neighborhood) can’t afford to send their kids to karate or to a structured setting," Smith said.
In addition to the no-cost karate lesson, the students receive free uniforms donated by the community, belts and lunch, and they are also connected with parish ministries that include holiday gift programs.
Students also get a weekly lesson in spirituality and faith, as Jobe ends each class talking about the Bible, faith and Jesus’ sacrifice.
When the class first started, none of the students knew what the Ten Commandments were, he recalled. Now, every hand in the class goes up when he asks about them.
At the end of a recent class he asked how many students in the class have had a loved one die. Nearly every hand in the class went up.
"The good news is you are going to see them again," Jobe said. "If you just do what he says and follow him, you are going to see them again."
The young people say the reason they come back for a rigorous workout each week is simple: the class is fun. While one sensei might be teaching a group of students the proper way to do a back kick, another will be leading a group in a game of "Sensei Says."
"It’s just a place to relax," said Tamere Kendrick, 14, an eighth-grader at John Marshall School, who learned about the class through his participation at the parish drop-in center.
Eleven-year-old Aaron Rodriguez, a fifth-grader at School 45, said he has learned self-defense skills and how to control anger. He heard about the class from his uncle.
"I liked it, and I kept going," Aaron said.
Aaron was one of several students to recently receive blue belts. The others are: Noah Luciano, Jeremie Pena, Julissa Pimentel, Jorge Pimentel and Alanna DaVila.
Jeremie, 9, a fourth-grader at School 39, said he had never gotten a chance to do karate before.
"I had only watched it on TV," Jeremie said. "It’s cool for people to learn."
October Smith, 13, an eighth-grader at John Marshall School who is James Smith’s daughter, said she has been doing karate for a month and a half, but she already has her eyes set on a lofty goal.
"I want to get a black belt and teach it to all the kids," Smith said.
Seven-year-old Vanessa Pimentel, a student at Jefferson Road School, has another goal in mind.
"I want to do it because I want to be a good person," she said.
The class has even attracted a few adult participants, who said they had been bringing children and grandchildren to the class and decided to try it for themselves.
"I like the fact that it’s very structured, especially for urban kids. They need it," said Becky Rodriguez, a St. Michael parishioner.
"I started because I was getting older, and I need my body to stretch," said Miriam Rodriguez, a parishioner of St. Michael. "It will help me to lose weight."
And after all students young and old go through the rigorous workout for nearly an hour, each manages to earn a compliment or some sort of other public recognition for their hard work.
By the end of the class, Tamere has earned new stripes on his blue belt. As Jobe tears off the tape to add the stripes, he tells the class that Tamere has shown up to each session and has worked hard. The stripes and the praise are motivators to keep the students coming back for more.
"A lot of kids are at home doing nothing," Jobe tells the group. "You are doing something that’s hard. Look at the kids who have stripes."