By Brenda De Los Santos
Black Dragon Martial Arts Academy is all about family. When Dan Jenkins started his Norwich, CT-based karate school in 1994, he did so because he saw the impact that teaching karate could have on families.
Jenkins always felt he had big shoes to fill - his father was the first Black police officer in the city of Norwich in 1966, and his grandfather opened the first Black-owned business in the city in 1950s. Jenkins spent four years in the US Army, where he was able to compete in martial arts, and then had the opportunity to teach children at a karate school he attended in New Jersey. For him, carrying on his family’s legacy of serving his community would be through teaching karate.
Today, Black Dragon Martial Arts Academy is a thriving school with a dedicated body of students ranging from age three to adults. “Little Dragons” classes for three- to six-year-olds are extremely popular, as well as the six-and-a-half- to ten-year-old age group. They also offer classes for 11 to 13-year-olds, an adult program for ages 14 and up, as well as private lessons. Jenkins says, “We really believe a family that kicks together sticks together.”
Black Dragon has also become an important cog in the Norwich community. “Everybody in here has a name, they’re not just a number,” Jenkins says. “People really know that Black Dragon is here for the community.” For him, serving his community is not just about teaching martial arts, he also looks for ways to give back to and provide for those in need.
“We really believe a family that kicks together sticks together."
When COVID hit in 2020, one of the biggest concerns for many parents was how they would be able to afford school supplies for their kids' return to in-person learning amid the increasing financial challenges that the pandemic presented. Black Dragon teamed up with the Norwich Police Department and Thayers Marina to hold a backpack giveaway, and they were able to provide 650 backpacks to students in need for their first round of giveaways.
Jenkins is also building up the community by creating future leaders through Black Dragon’s Assistant Instructors College. Students in this program are trained in not just helping to lead classes, but they also learn management skills like professionalism and phone etiquette. “We go above and beyond what we are teaching you on this floor,” says Jenkins of the skills these students gain. “You can take it to school or take it to work. Being black belt is not just about the belt, it's a mentality and a way of life.”
Though the school is now a Norwich mainstay, it comes from humble beginnings. Jenkins explains, “We started with no money, on our reputation and favors. There was a man who owned a construction company who did the work and allowed us to pay monthly.” He attributes his faith - in God and in the students he teaches - as what keeps him going. He says, “Everyday I walk in here I see these kids accomplishing major goals.’’
Black Dragon Martial Arts Academy is located at 113 Salem Turnpike Suite 102, Norwich, CT 06360 and is open Monday to Thursday from 12:00 to 7:30pm and Saturdays from 9:00am to 2:00pm. Learn more about Black Dragon Martial Arts Academy on their website, Facebook or Instagram.
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