COLUMBUS (WCMH) - With the help of Columbus firefighters, EJ's Warrior Karate Academy is sending their students to the national competitions in Salt Lake City and Reno.
The academy began in January 2013, in response to violence happening in the community. Ellis Jennings Junior (Sensei E.J.) said it's a way for kids to learn discipline and responsibility while acting as peace ambassadors in their neighborhoods.
In 2014, the academy had the chance to compete in Reno, but didn't have the money. Now, they have another chance to show the country what they can do.
“It keeps me focused," said 12-year-old karate black belt Destiny Jennings. "It keeps me humble and it keeps me doing things I want to do and who I want to be.”
She's ready for nationals and so is 7-year-old Marlon Paige who's also competing.
“I like to push myself," he said. “I want to be a good person and not that bad person that’s bullying the kids.”
His mom, Ann Bruce, couldn't be prouder of her two sons.
“We’re losing our youth and this kind of keeps them focused," she said. “It teaches them discipline, responsibility and it also keeps them out of the streets."
Seven, possibly eight of Sensei E.J.'s students are going to the west coast to compete.
But, it may not have been possible without the help of the Local 67 Columbus Firefighters Union and the City of Columbus.
“It was a blessing to have the firefighters do that," said Sensei E.J.
On Thursday, they presented the academy with a $7,500 check.
“These young men and women have the dedication and discipline that we see is needed in the world today that we don’t see a lot of in young kids," said union vice president John Capretta. "Anytime we can help nurture that and make it grow more then we will.”
The students learn virtues like discipline, confidence, respect and loyalty.
“We’ve had kids who’ve witnessed murders," said Sensei E.J. "I mean, it’s all kinds of stuff.”
He calls his student ambassadors of peace.
“The goal is to help other people become better people and for them to pass it onto somebody else and pass it on to somebody else," he said. "It’s to better the community.”
He's hopeful during the competitions some of his students will make it onto the national teams.
“Warrior’s Karate Academy is about to go for gold," said Sensei E.J. "We can finally actually say that.”
The students leave for the taekwondo nationals in Salt Lake City on Friday and will then travel to Reno for the karate nationals.