Here’s the story — of a karate family.
Two parents, six kids and plenty of black belts. And, somehow, this blended family formed a dojo in Lutz.
At West Coast Karate, it’s all hands, and fists and kicks, on deck. While patriarch James Stevens is the Sensei, he turns to his wife of nine years, Sabrina, to run the administrative side. Then, their six children, ages 20 to 5, either teach and or train at the dojo.
“We are, obviously, a blended family — a karate Brady Bunch!” Sabrina said. “We are a family owned and operated dojo, and people will be surprised by that.
Usually, they’ll come in for a couple of classes and then be like, ‘You know, some of the instructors look alike’ and then they realize it’s all in the family.”
James added: “It is all in the family — we don’t ever miss the kids or what they do. Of all the jobs you can have, this is one you don’t dread or are glad you have because you’re here all day, doing something you love with the ones you love.
He relishes his dual role: “To them, I’m both! Sometimes I’m just Sensei, sometimes I’m just Dad and sometimes I’m Sensei Dad, and I love it.”
The rest of this karate clan includes Sabrina’s kids: Richard Stoddard, 20; Leia Stoddard, 19; Benjamin Stoddard, 16; and Samuel Stoddard, 13. Then there’s James’ two children — William, 7, and Emily, 5.
The four oldest children are black belt instructors, while the two youngest, as well as Sabrina, are working their way up to that level.
The Stoddard children help James with classes, especially the younger students.
“I definitely feel as though I’ve embraced that leadership role,” said Richard, who also is a youth pastor. “With karate, you get to turn around and help people up. It’s helping other people grow and get better and flourish in life, both on the mat and outside the dojo.
“And I love being around the family because it’s always a great time.”
“I really love what we do and that we do it as a family,” Leia added. “I love teaching and working with the kids — just to see what they’re capable of and build up that trust and relationship with them. I work with the children’s ministry at church, too, so I just like to be involved with the kids.”
Benjamin also chimed in: “I think we all work well together, especially when most, if not all of us, are here teaching and running the dojo. We’re definitely stronger as a family when we’re all here together.”
West Coast Karate just celebrated its third year since opening during the height of the COVID pandemic, in June 2020. It began with an enrollment of zero and grew to more than 100 in less than two years.
“We felt it was time to open a dojo, but we also took the mindset that let’s be ready when people can come back,” Sabrina said. “Everything was ready — mats were on the floors, doors open to the public — and it’s gone better than we could have imagined.”
That’s not just from a business standpoint — because the students are excelling.
The dojo has attended countless AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) tournaments, locally and nationally, as well as the Junior Olympics. In 2022, it produced a silver and three bronze medalists at the World United Karate Federations ’s International Tournament.
At the AAU national tournament, Benjamin took gold in 15-advanced male kumite (sparring), while Samuel took gold in age 12-advanced male kumite.
Last year, they also started the West Coast Competitive Martial Arts Foundation, which strives to provide funding for martial arts programs and competitions for at-risk youth.
Additionally, Sensei James was named the Positive Coaching Alliance’s regional coach for 2023.
“Every class I’m out there teaching, Emily and William, for example, will be out there, too,” James said. “They have a curriculum, from a sensei point of view, and it’s just like their siblings, that they got the curriculum and need to follow it for their belts.”
This year, Benjamin and Samuel, as well as fellow students Blake Kongmanichanh and Gabriel Coleman, were selected to represent the U.S. and travel with the AAU to Dundee, Scotland in July.
All of which has come through the hard work at the family-run dojo that has seen all the kids follow in the footsteps of James.
“There’s always the hope (your kids) follow what you do, and, sure, kids sometimes venture out and don’t, but my entire family ended up here at the dojo,” James said. “I started (when I was) 11 and some of them started even younger than me, like William and Emily, but everyone has a little something to do around the dojo — which cuts down on overhead having to hire outside instructors!”
“It doesn’t feel like work when you love what you do and, of course, get to see your family this much,” she added. “It’s a bit of an excuse to see my older son, who’s married and moved out, but I get to see him a lot at the dojo still. … We get to have our family here at the dojo all the time and it really doesn’t get better than that.”
West Coast Karate
Where: 23604 State Road 54, Lutz
Details: A family owned and operated martial arts school that offers traditional martial arts classes, sport karate, weapons classes, daytime homeschool classes and an
after-school pickup program. The dojo is a member of the World United Isshin-ryu Karate Association and has trained martial arts students who are nationally ranked and recognized.
Info: Visit WestCoastKarateDojo.com, or call 813-469-8549.
Published on June 28, 2023.