Four years ago, Tita Deming couldn’t stand up and take two steps without pain.
“Now I’m doing things I never thought I could do,” says the 49-year-old Woodland Hills resident.
One of those things is studying for her black belt test at the end of April.
“My kids are proud of me,” says Deming, a senior red belt who takes classes at with co-owner Nikolay “Master Nicky” Sartchadjiev. “I feel better now than I did 10, 20, 30 years ago.”
Not karate in the strict sense, Sartchadjiev’s all-levels mixed martial arts class for teens and adults combines boxing, muay thai, tae kwon do, submission grappling techniques, Bulgarian hand-to-hand combat and traditional karate, for a “street-smart, street-effective” skill set, says Sartchadjiev, who immigrated from Bulgaria 14 years ago. Karate translates to empty hand, and it is this definition that Sartchadjiev evokes with his mixed martial arts style. Tuesdays usually focus on boxing and self-defense, Thursdays on kicking and grappling.
“I don’t want to be like the typical martial arts place people go to, where they learn the forms without breaking a sweat,” Sartchadjiev says. “I like them to see this class as an opportunity to get in shape. They know at least twice a week they can get a great workout and learn self-defense.”
When Deming joined the dojo, she weighed almost 300 pounds and needed a knee replacement.
“I thought, ‘How can I do this class? I’m going to hold the class back,’ and they kept saying, ‘We’ll adjust, we’ll teach you how to [do the forms] with the rotation of your body,” Deming recalls.
Indeed Sartchadjiev has accommodated Deming—instead of running and duck-walking laps around the dojo during warm-ups, she does squats and other exercises off to the side—and she has lost nearly 100 pounds.
Sartchadjiev structures the teens and adults class more loosely than the kids classes while staying true to the curriculum in place.
He keeps tabs on the teens, encouraging them to apply the discipline of the dojo to the classroom.
Black belt Sergey Kalashnikov has not only reaped physical benefits from the class, but also academic improvements.
“Without this class my life would’ve been different,” says the 15-year-old Calabasas resident, who has practiced under Sartchadjiev for five years. “It changed my physique, but it goes beyond a physical level. It taught me how to increase my level of discipline, like standing straight and looking forward. It’s helped me focus in school, at home, in general.”
Both the teens and adults enjoy each other’s company.
“It’s a great inspiration for the teens to see their moms and dads doing the same thing they’re doing, and it keeps my older students young,” Sartchadjiev says.
Local resident Christopher Roos was drawn to the class after watching his daughter’s progress.
“Master Nicky is incredible at motivating the kids. I’ve watched them respond to him and thrive on his messages. It’s very motivating for me to watch him inspire people,” Roos says.
The family atmosphere also appealed to Juliet Saralou, who at 39, had never worked out in her entire life before joining the dojo six months ago.
“That’s why I feel comfortable,” the orange belt says. “Even when I think I can’t do it, like, ‘Oh, it will be so many years before I earn my black belt,’ they say, ‘You’re doing OK! Hang in there!”
Master Nicky’s teens and adults class is offered at Nicky’s Pro Karate—The Training Zone on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., with an optional 11 a.m. sparring class on Saturdays. Participants must be at least 13 years old. The dojo is offering a trial class and uniform for $29.95. Programs start from three months for $600; the average cost is $180 per month for a one-year program. Family membership programs are also available.