After 25 years it’s still a kick

Martial arts school observes anniversary

By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

Steve Smith of Steve Smith and the Nakeds has been making music intensely for 43 years. At 65 he’s still going strong and that includes a lot of jumping around and roaming the stage at full throttle. Martial arts training has helped him stay in top form, he maintains.

A standout hockey goaltender at Smithfield High, where he earned All-Suburban honors, and at Providence College, he began studying karate in 1971 as his college sports career ended.

Although he kept playing amateur hockey and continues to play today, he needed something that would provide the disciplined conditioning that he was used to in a high level of competition. After he tried running, which he hated, and also biking, which was better but not something he loved, a friend advised him to try martial arts. He did and has been doing it ever since.

Twenty-five years ago Steve met Rui Rodrigues when he bought the karate school Steve was involved with as a student and teacher. Steve had already earned his black belt and had been wanting to have a school himself, so they became partners. Now Smith is a member of the board of directors, but no longer a principal in the business.

“Martial arts is just part of my life. It’s never going to leave me,” Smith explains.

“I owe my physical well-being and appearance to [the martial arts],” he mentions. He is doing his thing with the Nakeds as passionately as ever, and he confides that he still plays hockey, sometimes as often as four times a week in what he terms PGA (perennial gold ager) leagues.

“Martial arts is self-perseverance,” says Rodrigues, who is 48. The two men make it clear that their involvement with the sport is more than just a commercial association. “You won’t stay with something if you don’t like it,” Smith says. “It’s priceless. It really is,” Rodrigues adds.

On Nov. 19, Professional Martial Arts Training Center, the dojo they have both been so deeply committed to, observed its 25th anniversary. It is a milestone that the men reflect on with pride.

Professional Martial Arts, located at 711 Putnam Pike in Greenville, teaches Kempo karate, which Rodrigues explains in the evolving terminology of the sport as now taught. “It aims to impart motor skill development, proper mechanical principles, self-esteem, respect, and discipline,” he points out.

“It used to be punching, kicking martial arts,” he says, “but now it is also about learning to be kind, compassionate, and confident.”

“A lot of people get stuck on belts,” Smith comments. “It’s not so much about rank as it is about the journey. We don’t do it for the glory. It is leadership emphasis for the kids. Our aim is to make them better people, better citizens.”

Rodrigues concurs, “We teach people to have the confidence to walk away from a problem. The best way to block a punch is to walk away. A large part of this is to teach awareness of surroundings and to recognize the signs of aggression.”

Smith discloses that his training has helped him to walk away from a few rowdy situations over his long career playing music in a wide variety of settings.

“We believe in a strong mind in a strong body,” he continues. “Our students have the skills to defend themselves if they have to, but we teach them the wisdom to avoid confrontations if at all possible. Martial arts are a catalyst to whatever else the student can do.”

Rui notes that, “they are recognized on college applications as a desirable activity. We have kids bring in their report cards. We ask their parents to get involved. This isn’t a seasonal thing. It goes on all year. We want to be a household name in their families.”

Professional Martial Arts Training Center is, in Rodrigues own words, “a small dojo that stands by its commitment to an uncompromising set of ideals.”

Displaying a passion, which comes across as genuine, he goes on, “I will never jade martial arts to make a dollar.”

Some 60 regular students take part in the classes they offer. Training is offered to Tiger Tots in the 3-6 year old range all the way up to people in their sixties. Smith and Rodrigues report that they have a dozen students who have been with them 20 years and now their children are also students. Upon referral from doctors they also have trained a youth with cerebral palsy who they helped to walk and several students with conditions such as ADHD. A female state trooper studied with them and now holds a fourth degree black belt.

Smith concludes “We’re not handing out candy here. We’re handing out confidence. We’re a full time school. Someone is here teaching every day.”

It has been that way for 25 years, both men say.