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It's Safety First at Brookings Tae Kwon Do

Taekwondo and Karate Black Equips Growing Academy with Greatmats Martial Arts Mats

By Brett Hart

After nearly 30 years of training in various forms of martial arts, Brookings Tae Kwon Do Head Instructor Mark Anawski has become an advocate for safety.

This fourth-degree American Kaeru-Do Karate (AKDK) black belt, Kukkiwan certified third-degree Tae Kwon Do Black Belt, and Songahm Taekwondo black belt has trained in both International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) and World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) styles as well as participating in boxing and football, so he knows a little about combat sports.

A longtime law enforcement professional with more than 16 years of experience as a police officer and deputy sheriff in South Dakota, Mr. Anawski is certified in defensive tactics, pressure point control tactics, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and firearms and trains other law enforcement officers in many of these areas.

He admits that he didn't always make the safest choices, but now understands just how important safety has become not only in combat sports but in life in general. He also draws upon his exercise science background, where he holds a bachelor's degree in health promotion and started on a masters in exercise science and administration, to focus his instruction safe training practices.

''Everything in my life has been trying to be as safe as we can, because I wasn't,'' Anawski said. ''I need my athletes to be able to go to school the next day. I need my athletes to be able to go to work the next day.''

In 2010, he cut back on his law enforcement time to pursue his passion for martial arts and took over the Brookings Tae Kwon Do head instructor position from Masters Tom (6th degree) and Diane Buehr in August 2011.

Starting with just seven active students, Anawski followed Master Tom's request to keep it traditional, but make Brookings Tae Kwon Do his own.

''I respect all the other martial arts,'' Anawski said. ''I think they're phenomenal. They're beautiful. With my law enforcement background, I'm able to take applications from what I teach in taegeuk... (and apply it to) basic fundamental self defense.''

''I'm able to take applications that we teach law enforcement officers in real world situations and how to effectively stop that individual safely for you and for them. There's no reason why you can't take that same thought process and apply that to a citizen. ... It all starts with being mentally prepared and being aware.''

Shortly after taking over the program, Anawski challenged his students to bring friends to classes. He also began to partner with the area Parks and Rec Department, middle school, daycares and home school programs for physical education classes and to teach about how to address bullying.

''I don't believe you should ever not allow a student to train because he's an introvert or he's awkward or too noisy or he's too wired up,'' Anawski said. ''Martial arts can help them curb that.''

In the fall of 2012, Anawski also began to host open tournaments twice per year, that have drawn in upwards of 150 competitors from nine states as well as Canada. The first year, Anawski rented martial arts mats for his tournaments, and while the price was reasonable, he felt it would be worth investing in his own tournament mats.

He contacted a couple of different mat companies to get samples of economically priced mats that would be good enough quality for use at tournaments. Under the recommendation of another academy owner, he eventually landed on Greatmats.com and requested samples from them as well.

The Greatmats samples arrived first and Anawski was sold on the 20 mm thick Pro Martial Arts Sport Mats on every level, saying Greatmats ''knocked it out of the park - grand slam - not just with pricing, but with shipping.''

''You've got Century and Kwon... I'm sure they're good quality, but I'm not going to drop $1,000 to $1,200 on shipping alone. I'd rather take that money in the value of the mat or save my self that money if I can.''

Anawski partnered with another school in Minnesota, and the two academies purchased 400 of the 1x1 meter interlocking reversible mats - 200 red/blue mats for Brookings TKD and 200 black/gray mats for the other academy.

''It's great,'' Anawski said. ''Those mats - I can take them and travel with them. Take a stack in the back of my truck. It takes a few minutes to set up and take down. They're lightweight. They're perfect for that.''

If he needs a little extra padding for anything, Anawski said he just doubles up the the mats, and they work great.

And now, instead of renting mats, he's able to rent out his mats for other area tournaments when he's not using them.

Before Anawski knew it, Brookings Tae Kwon Do had grown to 50 students. In September of 2015, Anawski was visiting with a man who had trained in Shotokan karate, and he mentioned that he had his eye on a 5,300-square foot climate-controlled storage unit with the perfect location to turn into a dojang, but was concerned he wouldn't be able to afford it. As it turned out, that man happened to own the building and was in the market of selling it to the right person for the right cause.

Impressed by what Anawski was doing in the community, the man determined he was that right person with the right cause and they came up with a price both men were comfortable with.

In February of this year, the school was ready for a space of its very own and Brookings TKD purchased the building, storage business and naming to it.

Anawski converted 3,000 square feet of the building into a training area and left the rest to continue operating as storage units.

''I'm not deserving of this,'' Anawski said. ''I wasn't the best kid in high school. We've been absolutely blessed with where we're at and what we've grown to. We're well over 100 students now.''

Once again, he was in the market for mats and checked back with Greatmats to see if it was still the place to go to get the best bang for his buck.

Indeed, it was, and he ordered just over 200 of the Martial Arts Karate Premium 1 inch thick mats in a reversible wooden/black color. The majority of the dojang floor utilizes the wood grain colored side of the tiles while the sparring zones are separated out with the black side.

''We wanted something that looks natural with our building,'' Anawski said. ''It looks incredible. They're so nice, and the transition colors that I love.''

Anawski was particularly impressed by the gray dense foam center having a thick black or thick wood surface color on the outside.

''Over time when things do start wearing out, we're not going to fall into that gray,'' Anawski said. ''The center grey density is fantastic. It is exactly what we need. I've been at different school with mats, and these mats are so comfortable and they clean so well. ... From start to finish they've been fantastic.''

When not holding classes, Brookings TKD will occasionally host birthday parties on the mats.

''They hold up really well against stains,'' Anawski said. ''We had Hi-C, red pop, on the mat and it cleaned up. Food... That was everywhere, and we wiped it up. That was fantastic.''

While he was updating his dojang flooring, Anawski also purchased four 4x10 foot by 2 inch thick folding gym mats to practice hapkido and judo throws.

''Those are incredible,'' Anawksi said. ''For the price we paid, the value and the quality, they're outstanding.''

Now, with the help of the Brookings, South Dakota, area community and Greatmats, Brookings Tae Kwon Do has seen exponential growth and has its very own ADA regulated dojang with a welcoming earth tone Asian American feel.

''We really wanted to create an opportunity for training for anyone,'' Anawski said. ''The quality of the mats is beyond impressive. They were everything we wanted, and then some.''
Mark Anawski
Brookings Tae Kwon Do
Brookings SD 57006
For more on this topic please review our Martial Arts Mats product page.