WORCESTER – A seventh degree black belt and one of only 14 women in the world to earn the title of Grandmaster, Karen Brown has been mastering and teaching the art of Tae Kwon Do for 40 years.
Since 1995, Brown has owned and operated Hanmi Tae Kwon Do Center on West Boylston St. in Worcester.
“Taekwondo is a great sport. It’s good for self defense. Every taekwondo school is different. For us, the kicking and punching part is just the second part of it,” Brown said in an interview on Tuesday, Oct. 3. “The most important part of it is we are trying to create a great community with great community members. We are trying to present a way of life instead of just self defense. The kicking and punching is all just secondary.”
Brown, 53, originally of Saginaw, Michigan and now of Leicester, is the mother of four children – Justin, Jennifer, Kevin and Jordan – all black belts and Tae Kwon Do instructors at Hanmi Tae Kwon Do Center.
“All of my children have been training since they were three. They teach at the studio every day. It’s the most amazing thing. I feel so grateful and blessed that I get the opportunity to spend time with them everyday. I just feel really lucky and fortunate,” Brown said.
In 2013, Brown and her children were on the gameshow Family Feud [See Video Below]. They won four straight games before losing in the fifth episode.
“It was the best and it was so fun. We were on for five episodes. We lost the last game which was devastating for us. We missed out on the brand new car. It was exciting though and a lot of fun,” Brown said. “We want to go back.”
“I still can’t believe how much fun we had and how amazing it was. Steve Harvey was great. The whole crew was wonderful,” Brown added.
Brown earned her seventh degree black belt last summer and it was presented to Brown last October at the New England Open Championships at MIT in Boston.
To earn the seventh degree black belt, Brown had to master numerous forms, techniques, and breaking, which she did with Grandmaster Kwon in Tewksbury — a ninth degree black belt.
Additionally, Brown had to write a 10-page essay about herself, her training, and what she’s done to promote taekwondo over the past 40 years.
It took Brown ten years to earn her seventh degree black belt — which she said was too long, but it was by choice.
“I should probably be eighth degree by now. At the time, the titles didn’t mean a lot to me. I just figured if you were a good person and doing the right things, that’s how you find your title in life. It’s not about being a Master or a Grandmaster. The other Grandmasters pushed me to do it, and it’s been worth it. I’m doing what I love. And now that I have that title I’m owning it and getting used to it,” Brown said.
Not only do the students at Hanmi Tae Kwon Do have to refer to Brown as Grandmaster, but the instructors do as well, including her own children.
“It’s so much fun,” Brown said with a laugh when asked how it feels to have her children call her Grandmaster. “Lately, because my kids and my students keep talking about, it feels pretty amazing and I feel proud to have the title.”
The hours for Hanmi Tae Kwon Do Center are 2 PM to 8 PM Monday thru Friday and 9 AM to 12 PM on Saturdays. On weekdays, the Center hosts a two-hour afterschool program for Worcester kids.
“We offer pickup at schools, which we’ve been offering for 12 years. We have vans and we pickup students in Worcester and they come and train with us for two hours,” Brown said.
Brown and other members of the Hanmi Tae Kwon Do Center also offer the Hanmi Bully Prevention Program in Worcester Public elementary schools — typically for second and third graders — and teach taekwondo in gym classes to the students for three weeks.
During the bullying prevention program, Hanmi staff members go into the schools and talk about bullying, self esteem and the five spirits of Tae Kwon Do: helping each other, respecting each other, having self-control, having self-discipline and having perseverance.
Brown said, “We go over all those when we discuss how children can prevent bullying. If you’re helping someone, you’re not going to be bullying them. If you’re confident, you’re not going to bully. And if you have self-control, you’re going to be watching what you say to other people.”
“And of course they get to do Tae Kwon Do which the kids get really excited about. And it makes the learning that much more exciting,” Brown added.
The bullying prevention program is something that is near and dear to Brown’s heart, since it was bullying that got her into Tae Kwon Do in the first place.
When Brown was 13 years old, she was really into sports and athletics, and she had a cousin five years younger than her that was getting bullied in school.
“He was like my little brother and I kind of took him under my wing. He was always getting bullied at school, so his grandmother wanted him to take martial arts. He didn’t want to do it by himself, so of course I said I would love to do it. And we went together and that’s how it all started,” Brown said.
Today, Brown’s Tae Kwon Do Center instructs roughly 350 students, both children and adults, and offers five to six classes per day. Brown teaches a Black Belt class and oversees others. Her children and other black belts that work for her teach the majority of the classes.
“The other important part of Tae Kwon Do and what we do here is the self esteem and confidence part,” said Brown. “It doesn’t matter if it’s children or adults, it works for everyone. If you want to change your lifestyle and be focused on bettering yourself, you should come see us because that’s what we are all about. That’s what we teach.”