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Karate kids grow up

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Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 9:45 am

Karate is truly a family affair for the Roeske clan.

Brother and sister James and Emily Roeske have taken the reins of Surprise Family Karate, the facility the 20-somethings and their mother, Ellie, opened in July to the community in order to offer kids and families a unique activity in which to partake.

As former national and world karate champions, mom admits James and Emily pretty much run the day-to-day show by holding classes for an estimated 45 active students of all ages and skill sets. Kids as young as 3 years old can participate in Punching Pee-Wees.

From learning the basic karate moves — punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques — participants can also learn weapons training and performance techniques as part of teams.

Unique to Surprise Family Karate is the opportunity for kids and their parents to participate together — five families take advantage — rather than having mom and dad sitting on the sideline and merely observing to make their impressions of the sport.

“Besides learning all the right moves, karate teaches a lot of respect and manners,” James said. “It’s a good activity for anyone and everyone.”

James, who also dabbles in dancing, admits steps learned in karate can translate to help athletes in team sports, as well as cheerleaders and dancers gain confidence and discipline.

“Karate offers something that traditional sports don’t,” James says. “Unlike a lot of the team sports, you can progress at your own pace. You find yourself gaining a lot of self-confidence because you’re always competing and not sitting on the bench.”

To say the Roeskes, natives of southern California, grew up in karate would be an understatement.

James, 22, a former national and world martial arts champion by age 9, started competing at 3 years old. As a 6-year-old, he laughed it up on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, which helped spawn many television and silver screen roles. He’s best known for starring roles in “Tum Tum” and “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain,” which also starred former World Wrestling Federation champion Hulk Hogan.

James went on to appear in national commercials for Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Sylvan, the national tutoring company, as well as guest spots in TV shows like “Profiler,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Young and the Restless.”

Emily, 20, was no slouch, either.

The No. 1-rated champion for her age division in 1998, Emily was in a “3 Ninjas” alongside Hogan. Emily followed up the movie appearance with starring roles in the popular Disney “Halloweentown” movies, as well as “ER.”

Like her brother, Emily’s karate stardom and acting chops landed her commercials for McDonald’s, Mattel, Campbell’s Soup and Blue Bunny.

The Roeskes’ karate talent not only landed them opportunities to compete in California, but also in Arizona at least two to three times a year in tournaments.

Ellie Roeske said the family came to enjoy what Arizona had to offer, and move to Surprise earlier this year.

Separating karate and everyday life can be tough for the Roeskes. Ellie herself is a fifth-degree black belt and former kickboxer.

“Sometimes we’ll slip and call her Mrs. Roeske at home,” James says of the manner in which they address their mother at the family’s karate studio.

James and Emily say they’ll most likely continue the family business. James recently obtained his degree in deaf studies. Emily has an interest in nutrition and may pursue a career as a dietitian.


Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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