Building inner strength through self-defense class at the JCC

by | Jan 20, 2022 | What’s Happening

Tuesdays and Thursdays

“It is tough—but rewarding. I am learning to focus, have patience, and to train my brain. I am also getting stronger and having fun!” says Spirit Fighting Arts self-defense student C.J. Fenley about his experience with the new classes offered at the Simon Family JCC.

It all started for Fenley in the summer of 2021 when Karate Master Ron Smith coordinated with Dave Flagler, director of Camp JCC and Teen Engagement, to give an introduction to Master Ron’s teachings. Campers learned basic moves and left with a reminder to be proactive when it comes to bullying—even if it’s happening to someone else. Campers were invited to join classes at the JCC. C.J. immediately informed his parents that he was interested in participating—and now he’s a dedicated student.

C.J.’s parents—Christian and Michelle Fenley—are no strangers to the Camp JCC, Strelitz, and Jewish Family Service of Tidewater community, as they’ve worked for the various organizations.

“This is truly the first activity that he has connected with; he enjoys it so much,” says Michelle Fenley. Her enthusiasm over C.J.’s keen interest in the program is palpable. “It is just heart-warming to know that a single event from a single day at camp has changed our child’s life.”

Christian Fenley says, “Master Ron quickly recognized C.J.’s strengths and has built upon them to teach and engage him during class. Master Ron is always encouraging, and we can see C.J. developing physical and mental strength, as well as increasing self-confidence. What more can you ask for as a parent?”

While there’s no shortage of martial arts studios, Master Ron Smith is uniquely qualified to teach the children who gravitate to the JCC. He has seven black belts—including a 10th degree in Hanshi-Shorin Ryu and a 9th degree in Hanshi-Yamashita Shorin Ryu.

Smith retired as the chief of staff for the California State Assembly’s 42nd District before moving to Virginia Beach in 1997 to raise his teenage daughter. During that time, he founded a charity aimed at teaching children and adults quality self-defense techniques, anti-bullying, self-respect, respect for others, and self-discipline. These continue to be the core concepts emphasized by Spirit Fighting Arts. Along with being the chief instructor of Spirit Fighting Arts, Smith is a Virginia Special Conservator of the Peace, as well as chairman of the board of the USA National Karate-do Federation of VA, Inc. He has worked with thousands of children in different programs.

Kindergarteners and first graders can join Little Ninjas, while second through fifth graders partake in Self Defense classes.

For more information, go to, visit the JCC front desk, or contact Sarah Cooper, Camp JCC program manager, at or 757-321-2306.

Sarah Cooper