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Pamfilis Karate Academy trains mind, body, spirit to 'fullness of human potential'

Ever so gently, Karen Kells-Pamfilis reminded her students at the Pamfilis Karate Academy that it takes more than just showing up for her class at the Merritt Athletic Club in Towson to master some aspects of Seido karate.

In this particular case, the 51-year-old mother of three was referring to the end-of-session meditation during which there was more movement among some of the younger students than she would have liked.

The Zen portion of the class followed earlier segments of rigorous warmup exercises and self-defense instructions preceded by several rounds of sparring in protective gear.

Even though the physical activities were done, Kells-Pamfilis wanted her students to understand how closely tied meditation is to Seido karate.

"It's the same as practice for karate," Kells-Pamfilis told her students about quiet time. "You have to practice meditating, too."

"I know that meditating for five minutes is a long time for some of you who have not been practicing," said fellow instructor David McManus, 25, who grew up near his high school alma mater, Loyola Blakefield. "It happens slowly, over time. It's a process."

With students ranging in ages from 4 to 53, Pamfilis Karate Academy is celebrating its 15th year at the Towson Merritt, on Mylander Lane, although its owner also teaches classes at a variety of other schools, including St. James Academy in Monkton, St. Paul's Lower School and West Towson Elementary School.

A former administrator at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Kells-Pamfilis learned about Seido karate from a friend and discovered a lifestyle that fulfilled her desire to teach others about the joys of "bushido," the name for a "non-quitting" spirit that gives students the ability to overcome any obstacle or difficulty, be it emotional, physical or financial.

"I love karate and judo," the Glen Arm resident said. "But Seido karate is not just for fighting. It's about people pulling each other through. That's why you train with other people. You work together and give your best."

In the words of its founder, Tadashi Nakamura, Seido karate is "the training of body, mind, and spirit together in order to realize the fullness of human potential." Its devotees can be found around the world.

Of Nakamura's followers in Baltimore, Tom Culbertson is one of the most dedicated.

The Owings Mills resident has been practicing the martial art for 27 of his 50 years and recently earned a 5th-degree black belt.

"I use it every day," said Culbertson, who grew up near the Towson Y — where he took his first class after being invited by a neighbor. "I've never had to use it in a physical confrontation. But it's a great way to stay in shape. It gives you flexibility and mobility. I have more stamina — not just physically, but mentally, too."

There's another aspect of Seido karate that drew Culbertson.

"You work with all different kinds of personalities," he said. "There are no cliques. Once you're in, you're part of the family. And that transfers to the outside world as well."

For women, Culberston said, learning the art of self defense is always important. Yet, he said, fighting is an emotional issue for women.

"It's great to see their growth and strength," he said. "But it's not so much about their physical confidence. It's about emotional confidence and character building. They don't even realize it's happening, but you keep pushing their limits and, bit by bit, they're challenged every day. McManus started Seido karate as a 12-year-old and has worked his way up to being a black belt.

He said that meditation and his Catholic education are not at odds with one another.

"Jesuits have a long history of introspection," the Loyola University New Orleans graduate said.

Besides, he noted, Seido karate does not have a religious component to its philosophy.

Even so, McManus added that his daily meditation makes him more aware and calm.

"And because we practice (deep) breathing (techniques), it improves your athletic capacity," he said.

McManus also boxes downtown, near his home in Federal Hill.

Both disciplines have helped him overcome a congenital heart defect that prompted doctors to recommend a valve replacement.

So far, McManus said, he has avoided an operation because of his outstanding physical and mental conditioning.

"Anything that you put that much commitment into helps in all aspects of your life," he said.

West Towson resident Abe Novick took up Seido karate to be with his kids, Dumbarton Middle School students, Ben, 14, and Olivia, 12.

"We started at lower levels together and have worked our way up," Novick, 53, said. "It's been a great bonding experience."

Seido karate's structure, Novick said, can be a big benefit to kids.

"For instance, in [a hectic] world, with so many distractions, teaching a kid to zero in on a task translates into better schoolwork," he said. "Seido karate gives you confidence and self-assuredness."

Additional information about Pamfilis Karate Academy is available at

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