By Ardeana Hamlin
of the Weekly Staff
HAMPDEN — The presence of a martial arts school in the basement of the Hampden Congregational Church has proved to be beneficial for both school and church, said Marjorie Earl of Veazie, owner of Hampden ATA Martial Arts School. “I needed a space that was more economical, it provides income for the church and the students are encouraged to perform community service,” she said. Since the church basement also houses the Hampden Food Cupboard, Earl’s students often donate to the cupboard and help stock the shelves. “I really enjoy that aspect. It goes along with everything we believe in.” Earl also is an education technician in the life skills program at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden. “The biggest thing for us is that our classes are inclusive for special needs children with Asperger’s, autism, ADHD and ADD,” she said. “I like working with that population and seeing them succeed. Taekwondo is an individual sport. Success or failure is not based on what others do.” She said the school stresses core values of goals, perseverance, self-control, courtesy, loyalty, attitude and honor. Each month one of those words is the focus of class lessons and students learn how to integrate that value at home and at school. “It helps them learn to be good citizens and good people,” she said. The school, which has been housed in the church basement for 3½ years, has an all-female staff which teaches taekwondo, a Korean system of self-defense, to approximately 65 students ranging in age from 3 to 70. Earl said each class is specialized by age group. Even young children have earned black belts under her instruction, as is the case with sisters Saira, 10, and Emma, 8, Damboise of Winterport. “It’s fun!” Saira said as she and her sister gathered up armfuls of foam “noodles” that double as “weapons” during class time and frolicked on the expanse of bright blue mats covering the floor. It takes 18 months to more than two years to earn a black belt , depending on focus, practice and other factors, Earl said. “Black belts can be earned more quickly under the ATA [American Taekwondo Association] system than in other systems,” she said, “but it takes much longer to move to another level of black belt.” There are nine color belt forms and nine black belt forms, Earl, who holds a 4th degree black belt, became interested in martial arts 13 years ago when she worked as a federal parole officer. Her job often required her to travel alone in rural parts of Maine and she began to feel that her self-defense training was lacking. “I wanted to feel more positive,”she said, since her work brought her into contact with situations that often were fraught with a haze of negativity. “My goal,” she said, “became to prevent children from ending up in the criminal justice system.” When she began attending martial arts classes, she also signed up her children who were at the time ages 4 and 7. “I figured if nothing else my son would learn self-control and my daughter would learn self-defense,” Earl said. Now, Earl’s daughter Rachel, 19, is one of the school’s staff members, along with Victoria Burby and trainee Crystal Favati. They teach taekwondo forms, leadership skills, self-defense, bullying prevention and test every 10 weeks for new rank. “Parents are thrilled to have a female role model for their daughters — same for their boys. [Taekwondo] is not as gender related as one might think.” The school also offers after-school care for its students. Earl’s goal for herself as a teacher is to develop good people who form a lifelong habit of physical health. Her goal for her school is for it to be a completely inclusive place where everyone is welcome and comfortable. “It’s how I change my corner of the world,” she said. Hampden ATA School of Martial Arts is open 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday at Hampden Congregational Church, Main Road North, in Hampden. For information, call 862-5123, email firstname.lastname@example.org or at Facebook.