When Chris Wheeles was a child, he loved watching Kung Fu Theatre on Saturday mornings. When a Yoskukai Karate Dojo opened in his hometown of Ashland, Ala., his parents made sure he was one of the …
When Chris Wheeles was a child, he loved watching Kung Fu Theatre on Saturday mornings. When a Yoskukai Karate Dojo opened in his hometown of Ashland, Ala., his parents made sure he was one of the first in line.
At 13 he began competing and has traveled the world since, earning titles and accolades along the way. Currently, Wheeles is a fourth degree black belt.
Before his father passed away three years ago from cancer, Chris was able to show him the dojo he built in Gulf Shores – all thanks to his parents’ dedication to helping their son succeed in the sport.
“I got to tell him ‘All these lessons, and tournaments that you took me to turned into this,” Wheeles said. “I tell parents, it’s not just a karate lesson. It’s going to give them more confidence in a job interview or the determination to not give up.”
On Saturday, even an approaching hurricane couldn’t dampen the mood as Wheeles cut the ribbon on the new Wheeles Karate Academy on 2nd Street in Gulf Shores.
The academy is owned by Chris and his wife, Kristie Wheeles, a Gulf Shores native and graduate of Gulf Shores High School. Kristie played soccer with the University of Mobile and earned the rank of second-degree black belt after taking karate lessons from Chris.
The Wheeles’s first dojo opened in 2010 but they quickly outgrew the space. Even after moving to a larger facility they still needed more room for the more than 200 students who visit each week.
The newlyopened facility boasts 5,000 square feet of space. Students as young as 3 can learn to kickbox, here or enroll in Jiu-Jitsu and karate.
Wheeles Karate is not just a karate dojo. Chris is also a certified Rock Steady Boxing instructor. The national boxing program was designed for individuals with Parkinson’s disease to help strengthen their bodies and combat the symptoms. Between programs he operates in Gulf Shores and Fairhope, 53 boxers participate. Many of them were present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
During the school year, Wheeles Karate also offers an after-school program. Everyday 50 students walk to the dojo from Gulf Shores Elementary school. The kids get karate Jiu-Jitsu lessons daily as well as homework time.
“Parents like that their kids are enjoying an extracurricular activity, and they don’t have to run around after they get off work,” Kristie said.
The Wheeles offer a karate scholarship program for students who cannot afford tuition.
“I was one of four kids, and we were all in sports. I don’t know how my mom was able to afford it. She never made us choose. This scholarship gives us the opportunity to give kids a chance to excel,” Kristie said.
For more information and class schedules, check the Wheeles Karate website www.gulfcoastkarate.com and Facebook page. The dojo is located at 2050 E. 2nd Street in Gulf Shores.