The five traditional animal forms of Shaolin Kempo karate are the tiger, crane, snake, leopard and dragon.
Unless, of course, you count all the little animals that attend Team UMAC’s Kids Martial Arts program.
Master Lou Milonas started United Martial Arts Canada — now called Team UMAC MMA & Fitness — in 1990 and has taught kids all the way up from little dragons to MMA-level contenders.
Throughout his classes, Milonas focuses on physical training, but also bringing about the makings of a better person, he said.
“Real martial artists just don’t teach you how to fight and kick and defend yourself,” he said. “Martial arts is a way of life and there is something deeper to it.
“Last week I was teaching my kids about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he did. It has nothing to do with martial arts but it has everything to do with being a good person and doing good for more than just yourself but for others as well.”
Christine Bishop enrolled her daughter, Karma, in the UMAC kids program. The positive effect of the program on Karma is clear, she said.
“This is definitely a release for the kids,” Bishop said. “My little one, if she’s had a bad day or anything like that, when we come here it seems to disappear and she relaxes more.”
The kids practice stances and strikes accompanied by loud bellows at the Team UMAC facility at 34 Golden Gate Ct. in Scarborough. They learn how to handle encounters with strangers or help an injured person through methods of understanding and a bit of laughter.
“I think the most redeeming quality of this program is when Lou talks to the kids,” Bishop said. “I mean last week he was speaking about the importance of loyalty, how to be a leader and not a follower.
“He takes half an hour out of each class to discuss and invite questions and he helps bring out their character to complement their fighting skills.”
After the kids classes have ended and the evening starts to set in, the mixed martial arts classes start and a whole new animal comes out to train.
“People used to come just to learn karate or taekwondo or hapkido,” Milonas said. “Today it’s very different because of the UFC.
“Back then when you said karate it was like the international way of saying martial arts. Now not so much.”
Over the last 23 years, Milonas said he’s seen mixed martial arts grow, but added there’s more to MMA than most people think.
“The UFC has really brought three things to life: Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai or Thai boxing, and wrestling,” Milonas said. “All these years I’ve been telling them that mixed martial arts is not only about those three elements. It’s a lot more.
“It’s still in its infancy. Today, versus five years, ago you’ll see karate in it, kung fu, taekwondo, because now the guys that just started with the top three styles and had just a little bit to get by now are starting to dig in a go back to learn more in order to stay competitive.”
Learning different styles of MMA is exactly what Gemma Sheehan is doing. She’s going through the new Brazilian Matador jiu-jitsu program at Team UMAC.
“I’ve been in jiu-jitsu for two years now. I started with kickboxing,” she said. “Being a smaller competitor really makes you work on the basics and your technique to give you the edge.”
After spending many years going through kickboxing and wrestling lessons with Team UMAC, training here isn’t something Sheehan would give up easily, she said.
“I feel like part of a family here,” she said. “Even if there was a flashy coach (somewhere else) with flashy techniques or some other reason to draw people away I wouldn’t go. You develop a loyalty to your team and your coach.”