Martial arts program marks 25 years of training Chickasaws

ADA, Okla. - For 25 years, the Chickasaw Nation has provided martial arts training to build confidence and positive character traits in tribal youth.

The ongoing success of the martial arts program has allowed it to expand to serve Chickasaw Nation employees and their immediate families.

Chickasaw Nation Director of Youth Activities Trevan Jimboy is in a leadership role that supports the martial arts program.

He said he attended tournaments and classes as a supportive fan. One thing he noticed was how the martial arts students presented a positive outlook on life, self-worth and respect.

“What I’ve learned is how beautifully the program has been built,” Mr. Jimboy said. “You see the mission of the Chickasaw Nation being met, promotion of family, health, language, communication as people, physical and mental wellness.”

He said he walks away from martial arts classes feeling hope, because there are individuals in this world making a better life for this generation and the generations to come.

Chickasaw Nation Martial Arts Sensei Matt Clark, has led the martial arts program for 20 years. He is one of the people working to better those around them.

“My first class had 43 people in it,” Mr. Clark said. “Now we have close to 250 who are permanently registered. They come two days a week all year long, 70 to 80 times a year with ages ranging from three to 63.”

Martial arts classes are conducted at five locations within the Chickasaw Nation, including Ada, Ardmore, Purcell, Sulphur and Tishomingo. As part of the program, students learn karate discipline (Chikasha ittibi) blended with judo and jujitsu techniques – all while using the Chickasaw language.

“We are not teaching our students to be fighters,” Mr. Clark said. “Martial arts is the art of teaching self-defense and how to be a better person. We teach them manners, respect, culture and language.”

The language is integrated into every class by way of commands. It does not take long for students young and old to pick up colors, numbers, actions and other basic words.

“It’s another avenue where they can learn the language and actually get to do it,” Mr. Clark said. “With language, if you don’t actually do something with it, you might lose it pretty quickly.”

The language also plays a role during tournaments, where students engage in point-based sparring in a controlled ring with helmets, gloves, foot protection and mouth guards, among other safety measures.

“It’s kind of like code talking,” Mr. Clark said. “We’ll be able to say, ‘Isso ishkobo (to hit the head),’ allowing the person in the ring to know where to punch. But their opponent doesn’t know.”

Mr. Clark teaches five basic needs: character, sincerity, effort, etiquette and self-control.

These traits of the warrior ethos are emphasized consistently, each representing additional martial values, all building upon the physical aspects of lessons.

“Just about every young child has a spirit to want to be a warrior,” Mr. Clark said. “We give them an outlet to be a warrior and do it safely and be proud of what they’re doing. It instills so much character and respect. The etiquette of life itself comes through martial arts.”

Looking back on his years leading the class, Mr. Clark said his personal highlights included tournaments, the expressions and happiness students have about the competitions they won or did well in, and seeing the respect and character they develop.

To balance maturity and physical capabilities of the students, classes are divided into four sections. These include two little warriors age groups (ages 3-4 and 5-6), a family class (ages 7-adults) and a demonstration team class.

Classes are offered twice a week and are available to Chickasaw citizens, Chickasaw Nation employees and their families. Enrollment is open year-round.

For more information, contact the Chickasaw Nation Martial Arts Program at (580) 272-5504.