Students at United TaeKwonDo Academy in Hamilton prepare for the Dec. 20 kickathon. From left: Rae Lynn Sypher, D.J. Corcillo, Kevin Pogoszewski, Jennifer Lewis, Natalia Pogoszewski. Staff photo.
Students at United TaeKwonDo Academy in Hamilton prepare for the Dec. 20 kickathon. From left: Rae Lynn Sypher, D.J. Corcillo, Kevin Pogoszewski, Jennifer Lewis, Natalia Pogoszewski. Staff photo.

Students of all different levels in one martial arts school in Hamilton got their kicks in for a fund raiser held Dec. 20 to raise money for a children’s charity.

The United TaeKwonDo Academy of Hamilton joined four other martial arts academies in holding its first ever kickathon. Students from the academy, which opened a year ago, gathered together on the facility’s mats and performed a variety of kicks. The more kicks a student did, the more money they raised, said Michael Crocco, head instructor and owner of the academy at 2452 Kuser Road, in the Briarwood Shopping Center.

As with participants in a walkathon, students were instructed to ask friends and family to agree to donate a certain amount per kick, he said. Through Martial Arts With Hearts, a nonprofit organization created three years ago by Crocco and friends Bryan Klein and Nick Despotidis, the funds will be donated to The Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders, located in New Brunswick. Klein and Despotidis are also involved with United TaeKwonDo.

“More often now, martial arts schools are just about fighting,” he said. “We want to put their [students] muscle behind their hearts and their motivation to raise money for kids with cancer.”

Overall, this is the third kickathon held by Martial Arts with Hearts. The organization has chosen different charities each year. The March of Dimes and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation have benefited in the past. Combined, the organization donated about $88,000 to those charities.

TaeKwonDo is a Korean form of martial arts and uses feet 70 percent of the time for defense, and arms 30 percent, Crocco said. He compared it to karate, which is more of a 50-50 split between kicking and punching. TaeKwonDo is practical for self defense, he said, and individual progress is quicker than in other martial arts, in his experience.

Students at each belt level – different colored belts denote different levels of skill – were expected to perform a certain number of kicks for the event, he said. Black belts, the highest level, were expected to perform at least 750, while white belts, the lowest, were expected to perform 100.

Self defense is not all that’s learned at the academy. Students also learn humanistic lessons, Crocco said.

For example, yellow belts have to turn in a book documenting their acts of kindness, each act receiving points. Blue belts have to learn empathy and for one day take on a disability, like being blindfolded to learn what it’s like to be blind, he said.

“We want them to be good martial artists, but we [also] want them to be better people,” Crocco said.

Each of the five United TaeKwonDo academies (others are located in Manalapan, Jackson, Matawan and Union) is trying to reach $10,000 in donations. The total check will be presented to the Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders on Jan. 28. For more information about United TaeKwonDo, call (609) 586-1227.