Vermont Martial Arts Academy offers focus and fitness

"Focus your eyes. Focus your mind. Focus your body."

The karate students at Vermont Martial Arts Academy (VMAA) repeat Sensei DJ Hurlburt's words with gusto.

Sensei DJ, karate instructor at VMAA located on Airport Road in Manchester, teaches children the importance of being focused and having discipline, not only during karate class, but in school and in everyday life.

The atmosphere at the VMAA Dojo is 100 percent family friendly and inclusive. While the students participate in their karate lesson, parents and siblings line the back wall to watch. Parents often exchange smiles, give a quick hello or share compliments about each other's children.

Class starts with Sensei DJ lining up his students, whom he knows all by name. They stand in a row in front of a wall of mirrors. The students wear white Gis with different colored belts - some white, orange or yellow. Sensei DJ instructs them to do various stretches and exercises - each move teaching the children how to use their bodies.

"Ichi, Ni, San," the students count to 20 in Japanese while doing jumping jacks and pushups.

"Exercise should be fun," says Sensei DJ which explains why most of the time the children's classes end in a friendly game of dodgeball — no head shots allowed and players return to the game after they touch the wall for 10 seconds.

Then, once the warmup is completed, the students stand in a horse stance — knees slightly bent, feet planted firmly on the mat. The children practice their punches, alternating their arms from left to right. Then they practice their kicks, alternating their left and right legs.

"The exercises teach them to use both sides of their brain," Sensei DJ explains.

Sensei DJ, who has a black belt in karate and Aikijutsu, started teaching karate nine years ago at VMAA's Rutland Dojo before teaching in the Manchester location.

"I've been passionate about karate since I was a kid," he says.

Sensei DJ started taking karate as a kid because he was dealing with some bullying issues. karate gave him the confidence he needed to get through those issues. It has improved his life and he's seen how karate has improved the lives of others as well.

His favorite part about teaching children is when he introduces something new to a child for the first time. He watches them try and some are not always able to get it the first time.

"Then they get frustrated and just when they are about to give up they get it," Sensei DJ explains with enthusiasm.

"Seeing a child succeed. Seeing that satisfaction on a child's face. That's the ultimate," he adds.

Sensei DJ's easy, laidback demeanor with the kids allows him to teach his students life lessons without making them roll their eyes. They listen to him and they understand his messages which are usually about discipline, doing their best and the importance of respect - respect the Dojo, respect your parents, respect your teachers.

"Working with kids keeps me young at heart," Sensei DJ says with a laugh.

While Sensei DJ is amazing with kids he also knows how to train adults. He teaches adult karate, Aikijutsu and, on Thursday nights, he teaches Kickboxing.

"I love to teach. I love to train," says Sensei DJ with a smile.

But don't let his kid friendly demeanor fool you. He knows how to help adults achieve a healthy body.

Ultimately, Sensei DJ says, "learning how the body is supposed to naturally work is what martial arts is all about."

If you feel your child or yourself could use a little more focus or discipline in life contact Sensei DJ Hurlburt of VMAA at 802-366-1056 or email him at


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