Caelin Cox is so sure of his balance that he says kicking is at the forefront of his love for karate.
But that wasn't always the case, his mother says. A year ago, said Trish Cox, Caelin "had no balance."
For the last year, the 10-year-old has been part of a class for children with special needs at Green's Karate in Hixson.
Owner Corey Green has offered the free class for seven years and says he has become somewhat of a pioneer in the field of using karate with children who have disorders such as autism, Down's syndrome, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactive disorder.
"It's amazing no one else is doing what I'm doing," he said.
Karate, according to Mr. Green, helps children with special needs with hand, eye and feet coordination as well as with fine and gross motor skills, balance, reflexes, flexibility, concentration and focus.
It also offers manners, respect and self-discipline, as it does for all children, he said.
"If you don't have those three," Mr. Green said, "it's very difficult to be successful in life."
The studio owner said the seeds were planted for offering such a class when he was 18 years old and learning how to be an instructor. He was given a Bosnia native youth who had a prosthetic arm, leg and hip with whom to work. In four months, the student earned a yellow belt in karate.
"I thought, if that kid could do it, anyone could do it," Mr. Green said.
Several years ago, one of his students, Brandon Earnshaw, became the first autistic person in history to qualify for a USA National Karate-Do Federation championship, he said. Subsequently, the young man qualified for nationals two other times, and another one of his autistic students qualified once, he said.
Rena Ethridge and Tiana Lloyd, both of whom are in the class with Caelin, aren't quite ready for nationals but have enjoyed their classes.
"We get stronger in our hands and our feet," said Rena, 7, a first-grader.
"It's cool," said Tiana, 11, a fourth-grader. "Sensei Green is a real good teacher."
Their moms appreciate what the class has given their daughters. Both said they sought help with balance for them.
"They've helped make her stronger and more confident," said Rachel Ethridge.
Terri Carr said the classes have helped Tiana with her concentration in school.
They've also given her confidence, she said.
Mr. Green, who is working on a textbook on teaching karate to children with special needs, said the methods are not necessarily different to teaching other children.
"I just had to break it down differently," he said. "I've learned how to give them a visual aid or a visual reference."
While he teaches 25 students with autism, he said he is still learning and believes karate can help unlock the mysteries of autism.
"Karate is not a cure-all," he said. "Some (children) I cannot help." But, "it's a way to give back, to help people who can't help themselves."