JEFFERSONVILLE — A Southern Indiana school has created a space for families to bond while learning the discipline and skills of martial arts.
White Tiger Martial Arts has been open for nearly two decades, and this summer, it is relocated from New Albany to 3018 Middle Road in Jeffersonville.
According to owner and instructor Todd Somers, the school is about much more than teaching students the basics of Taekwondo or kickboxing.
Somer said White Tiger “isn’t your typical martial arts school,” and he especially loves seeing how the school brings people together. Families training together make up more than half of the students enrolled in classes.
“We have a grandson and grandpa doing the classes together,” Somers said. “We have moms and their sons doing it, we have fathers and sons doing it. It’s brought everyone closer together. It’s turned into a family here.”
Somers has been involved in martial arts for more than 40 years. He holds black belts in Taekwondo, Hapkido, kickboxing and Kempo karate, and he is an eighth degree grandmaster in Hapkido. Both Somers and his teenage son, Owen, have been inducted in the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
Earlier this month, Somers was named “most inspirational martial arts master of the year” by the hall of fame, and his son was inducted as Taekwondo ‘black belt of the year.
In 2004, White Tiger Martial Arts opened its first location in Salem, but the school has switched locations multiple times — it was open in locations in Clarksville and New Albany before moving to the Jeffersonville space.
White Tiger has been awarded school of the year several times by the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and received recognition in the national martial arts industry, including a feature in the MASuccess Magazine and a future feature in Black Belt Magazine.
Somers started out with Kenpo karate in California, and he trained in Taekwondo and Akido in Bloomington. He later got into kickboxing, and both he and his son trained with the famous martial artist Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.
The pandemic has presented some challenges for the school, and COVID-19 has caused many martial arts schools around the country to close. But during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, many families continued to pay for virtual classes at White Tiger, and following the reopening, Somers has seen an “explosion” of interest in the school.
“The only time I was scared was when the lockdown happened, because I was like, how long is this going to go,” Somers said. “Seeing it continue to grow like this with more and more people coming in…as long as everything stays like it is, it’s fine.”
For Somers, it is meaningful to see his 17-year-old son become so involved with the school. Owen has been practicing martial arts since he was a kid, and he now helps out with the classes.
“I know Owen will take over,” Somers said. “There’s only nine levels of black belt, and he’ll be going for his third in a couple of years, so I’m getting to the point where I’m letting him run class.”
Students can start taking White Tiger classes at 6 years old — or as young as 5-and-a-half if they have the attention span to focus on the classes. The school is focused on education, and it’s not about “cashing in on the cuteness,” according to Somers.
For families, it is often economical to attend classes together at an affordable price, Somers said.
“Having a family doing it together helps, because the kids are not doing it by themselves, and the parents are like, it’s better than a gym membership,” he said.
Somers enjoys seeing how his students progress through the classes at White Tiger, including building up both their confidence and skills.
“We had a student who just couldn’t kick,” he said. “It was like watching Bambi on ice. He would throw a kick, and he would fall, he would throw a kick, he’d fall. Now he’s throwing that kick at the head, now his balance is just completely there. So it’s just improving the person constantly.”
Audrianna Shirley and 9-year-old son Micah McPheeters have both attended White Tiger since April, and they recently moved from white to yellow belts.
“For us, it’s been an amazing bonding experience as mother and son to have something to do that we both enjoy,” Shirley said. “And the community here is wonderful. When we came we didn’t know anybody, but now everybody knows us by name.”
Brittany Enlow and 8-year-old son Thatcher also train together at White Tiger — Brittany has a white belt, and her son has an orange belt. They attend classes in Taekwondo, Hapkido and kickboxing.
“Doing this as a family makes us both work hard and support each other,” she said. “I think it just helps each other grow stronger and more confident, and it definitely provides discipline for him. This is very good for kids who need a little more discipline to help with focus.”