OCEAN PINES -- After working with Powerkicks as a tae kwon do instructor for about
four years, it only seemed logical for Sean Saunders to take over the business when the owner wanted to sell.
"I feel like I can work off my own merits," Saunders said.
After taking over in August, he renamed the business the Panther
Academy and gave it a new look and some new features.
"I didn't want to piggyback someone else's business or work off their reputation,"
he said. "It's an academy of learning now, not just martial arts."
But using his own reputation to gain students wasn't a problem, Saunders already had
made relationships with the students he worked with.
"I'm not the yelling kind of instructor," he said. "I feel like, yes this is an academy
but it is also a place I want people to feel they belong. Take my master quest students for example, we go out to dinner once
a month. Instead of just looking at it as a job I try to create relationships with my students."
The most obvious change since his takeover is the name, which Saunders said sounded
cooler but also had meaning to him.
"I'm Native American and my name is Spirit of the Panther so it made for a good name,"
he said. "It's a new entity here and I wanted to personalize it."
Saunders said he's added features like demonstrations on nutrition and further developed
the tae kwon do curriculum.
"My curriculum is different than other schools, we do different parts of the curriculum
on each night," he said. "Tae kwon do is mainly about kicking so I added in some philosophy, hand motion and self defense."
Now students can schedule around their classes and know what they're going to work
on before they go in for a class.
"Usually the instructor knows what is going to be taught but the students don't,"
he said. "This way is really more academy style."
The students also get progress reports, which helps them to keep up on their skills.
"The progress reports say what they need more work on," Saunders said. "It can take
a lot guess work on the part of the student, this helps their confidence and studying martial arts instills confidence so
they go hand in hand."
Students are tested after completing the required number of classes to receive another
"They do the skills they've learned and if they pass the gain a belt and move up,"
he said. "They are rated in each area by points on different techniques. This allows the student to know where they stand
But it's not all action. Like Saunders said, there is now some philosophy taught to
"For children I will talk about life and safety skills, for example, if it's Halloween
time I will talk to them about being safe when trick or treating," he said. "For adults I may read them a passage of philosophy
out of a Zen philosophy book or Bruce Lee's philosophy. It gives them a perspective on how to look at themselves as martial
Saunders said martial arts is a mental activity just as much as it is physical but
he's not preaching a mandated lifestyle, he just wants to share the information.
He and girlfriend Kristen Zoon run the business together and hope to add more classes
and facets to their academy, including tai chi.
They are currently offering after school programs for children to come do their homework
and then have tae kwon do classes.
"It's really an all ages place, it's not just for kids," Saunders said. "It's also
geared toward adults, it's a universal school of learning."
Zoon and Saunders will host their grand opening on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. The
festivities will include a free tae kwon do class, live sword demonstration and Chinese auction. For more information on classes,
call 443-373-7172. Originally published Wednesday,
September 20, 2006