Story by Ammie Bryant, Editor and Photos by Jefferson Bryant unless otherwise noted
“I don’t know where I would be today, if my friend hadn’t told me he was going to go play with nunchucks after school,” Stillwater Martial Arts owner, Alex Evers, smiled. “I thought, hey that sounds like a lot more fun than going home to do my homework. I want to do that.”
Alex was twelve years old when he began studying martial arts, earning his black belt by the age of fifteen. Born in San Francisco, Alex came to Stillwater in 2001, at the age of ten. It would be another two years before he began training at Superior Karate. After that school closed, he moved to Grand Master Hans which eventually became Three Points Karate.
Once he earned his black belt, Alex began teaching karate to other students in his school. At first, he taught one class every other day, then gradually he began teaching more. By the time he began college, he was the head instructor at Three Points Karate. The owner of 3PK opened another school in Tulsa and put Alex in charge of the school in Stillwater. While earning his degree at Oklahoma State University, Alex worked as the karate school manager and head instructor.
Alex had different ideas about how he wanted to run the school than the previous owner. He wanted the school to become a bigger part of the community and to offer free events. So he reached out to friends for financing and two months after he graduated college in 2013, he bought the Stillwater 3PK school. Just three years later, he says he has nearly paid it off. He thought it would take him at least ten years to do that.
In early 2014, Alex rebranded the school as Stillwater Martial Arts and made it the school’s mission to use martial arts to better everyone’s lives. The afterschool program that he runs out of the school is an extension of that.
He had seen other martial arts schools on the east and west coasts who were offering after school programs and he was intrigued. So he did his research. He visited a few schools and talked to them about how they ran their programs–what worked and what didn’t work–and came back home to Stillwater ready to try it.
He began the Stillwater After School Program in the fall of 2014 with one van and thirteen kids. Stillwater Martial Arts picks up participating kids after school and brings them back to the martial arts school. First things first, they have an after school snack and then they sit down to do their homework. After homework time, the kids either participate in a karate class or play games. All of the kids enrolled in the program also work to earn their belts just like any other enrolled student in the Stillwater Martial Arts school.
The first year of the program, Stillwater Martial Arts didn’t make a profit on the program, but it wasn’t about the money for Alex. He wanted to provide a service for kids and their families in the community.
The program went smoothly and the program was expanded to include forty kids during the 2015-2016 school year. The jump from thirteen to forty was a big one. It didn’t go quite as smoothly as the first year, but after a month into the program he and his staff made the needed adjustments like adding more helpers and extra tables and chairs. The program was so popular last school year that there was a waiting list to participate, but most kids stayed in the program. It was rare for anyone to drop out.
Due to the popularity of the program, Alex really wanted to expand, but didn’t see a way to do so until the store space immediately to the north of the school’s location on the historic northwest corner of 9th and Main opened up. This was the opportunity he had been waiting for. In its existing location, the martial arts school was full–Alex had given up his small office in the back to house the kids’ backpacks. Now was the chance to move the after school program next door into a dedicated space that he would be able to design to work best with the different age levels.
Alex took us on a tour of the new space the first day he picked up the keys after signing the lease in July. “We’re going to build a wall here with a door and a counter space for parents to check their kids out,” Alex told us. “The back area used to be office space, we’re going to knock down some walls and build another one so that we can separate out the kids by grades.” Alex explained that the large front room would house mats for tumbling and karate instruction. There is even a kitchenette for those all-important after-school snacks.
The new space will be primarily used for the after-school program from 3pm until 5pm, but the after school program isn’t the only thing that has been expanding. In the future, if needed, the after school program space could be used for some of the evening or daytime martial arts classes as well as for the parents’ night out programs that the school offers. “We hosted a lock-in for Valentine’s Day. The kids and the parents both loved it,” Alex told us. “It was a lot of fun.”
Stillwater Martial Arts is a microcosm of the larger community it belongs to. When visiting the school you will be welcomed with courtesy and respect, but it’s not until you participate in a class that you come to truly appreciate what a friendly and truly kind place the school is. Your age, size, or athletic ability does not matter to your instructors or classmates–you are treated with consideration, patience, and encouragement.
Alex will tell you that karate teaches confidence, focus, and discipline. “When something’s difficult do it anyway,” he said. Based on our experiences with members of the SMA community, we would add to that list: leadership and service.
We expect to see the corner of 9th and Main continue to bustle with activity in the coming years as the Stillwater Martial Arts school and After School Program thrives. Alex Evers loves the location in the heart of downtown, “There’s a lot of really great things down here.” We would have to agree with that statement, starting with the young entrepreneur, Alex Evers, and his business, Stillwater Martial Arts.