Many youngsters on Pine Island have enjoyed learning the various styles of martial arts for years at a facility off of Pine Island Road.
Martial Arts University Founding Grand Master Jeffrey Santella said he opened the facility 27 years ago and 10,000 people have been trained there since its inception.
Due to his recent retirement of 29 years from law enforcement, he said he wants to expand the programs he offers at the facility, as well as open satellite schools, one of which he hopes to open on Pine Island.
Fifteen styles of martial arts are offered at Martial Arts University, otherwise known as 772-KICK, which is taught by 25 instructors.
"It's a true university of martial arts," Santella said.
Jeffrey Gosnell, 18, a Bokeelia resident, said he discovered Martial Arts University while sitting at Burger King eating his meal. He said as a birthday present he asked for classes, which he took, and continues to take on a weekly basis almost two years later.
Now he attends classes four days a week.
"I have a love for martial arts," Gosnell said, adding that he also enjoys the fitness aspect.
So far, Gosnell has participated in every class the university offers except capoeira, which he eventually wants to try.
The style he enjoys the most is aikito because it utilizes soft energy and self defense. Gosnell said by using the aikito style, if he happened to get into a fight, both individuals would walk away unharmed.
One thing he has taken away from martial arts is how beneficial it is to try new things. He said friends that he would not have made otherwise he has bonded with because they share a common interest - martial arts.
"I made new friends that I probably wouldn't of talked to before," Gosnell said.
This past weekend a fund-raiser was held at Winn-Dixie to further make Pine Island aware of the university.
"We are trying to make Pine Island aware, since they are our neighbors," Santella said.
In addition, the fund-raiser was also held to raise money for the center's scholarship program and the competition team.
Santella said those seeking assistance must draft a letter that will be given to the scholarship committee. He said they would review the letter, so they can further see how they can help the family.
Martial Arts University offers an after school program with transportation, if needed. Santella said school buses will drop off the students of Pine Island Elementary School, as well as Cape Coral schools, at the facility since they are certified as a safe place.
Cape Coral residents Rebecca Rapp, 9, and her sister, Shelby, 13, will have attended the university for three years at the end of May.
Rebecca said she enjoys taking classes because it is good discipline, as well as being fun. She said it also provides her with the opportunity to meet a lot of friends at times.
Capoeira and karate are the two styles she enjoys the most. The lesson she takes away from her classes is how to defend herself in a rough situation as well as how to solve problems.
Bad guys, Rebecca said, can be ugly and pretty, good and bad, and they could be anywhere.
"There is nowhere in life that is really that easy," she said.
Her sister, Shelby, said she enjoys street tactics, jiu jitsu and helping with the after school program. She said she enjoys the street tactics class because she learns self-defense and has fun.
Jiu jitsu, on the other hand, she enjoys because she gets to go against others. Shelby said she enjoys the physical fitness aspect of the style, as well as learning how to keep her balance.
The after school program allows Shelby to work with the kids and have fun with them.
Over the last few years, Shelby has learned how to have respect for others, gain leadership, as well as how to be responsible for herself through Martial Arts University.
In addition to the styles offered, Martial Arts University also provides the largest indoor archery program in the area, which was developed for the Sheriff's Department. Santella said he wanted to include archery because it is gender neutral, as well as not age specific. He said special needs groups can also participate in the sport.
The university, Santella said, teaches life lessons through martial arts.
"Our big focus is character and life lessons that go along with it," he said.
Westin Meier, 9, a fourth grade student at Pine Island Elementary School, said he has attended Martial Arts University for three years. The two styles that have grabbed his attention are karate and MMA.
"We get to spar in the cages," Westin said of MMA. "It's fun to get to do it."
Karate, on the other hand, he said he enjoys because he likes his forms.
Since enrolling in the classes, he said he has learned discipline, respect and how to protect himself from bad situations.
Santella's son Martial, 10, spends an average of five hours at the facility a day where he enjoys participating in all of the styles. He has been training for seven years.
"I like all of them, they are for fitness and respect," Martial said of the styles. "I really like it and it's a lot of fun."
The classes are $23 a week for a basic membership. Martial Arts University will kick off their summer camp on May 28, which is $79 a week for the classes, lunch and any field trips, fitness and training.
For more information visit www.772-KICK.com or call 239-772-5425. Martial Arts University is located at 110 N.E. 2nd Place, #409, in Cape Coral.