Gavan Hall got himself ready to face the mountain standing in his way as he prepared jump over the high-stacked kick pads.

Hall took off running with all the adrenaline a 6-year-old could muster before stopping right when it was time to become king of the mountain.

His kung fu instructor, Delcie Pace, called him over, made him take a deep breath before looking him in his eyes and telling Hall he can do this. Hall stepped back, gathered himself and ran straight toward the mountain with a full head of steam to clear the four kick pads on the second try.

King of the Mountain is an exercise Pace does on the regular with her 5-to-7-year-old kung fu classes.

“Moments like that is why I do it,” Pace said. “Because he can take what he learned in that moment and he can apply it outside of here … Gavan got up to it and stopped dead because he got nervous.”

Pace is one of the kung fu instructors at the Guardian Kung Fu on National Road. Guardian Kung Fu teaches children how to defend themselves using kung fu, but owner Todd Wright and the rest of the staff take pride in the life lessons and behavior traits the children pick up in the process.

Hall has been enrolled in Guardian’s classes for three years now. His grandparents Mike and Laura Pannell enrolled him in Guardian’s youngest age requirement, which is the 3-to-5 age group. Both Mike and Laura Pannell have witnessed a change in Hall’s attention to detail, focus, respect level at home and at school.

The increase in home behavior can be attributed to the individual job sheets that each child has to complete and have singed by their parents. The job sheets are behavior based and are specific to the individual. If a child is struggling picking up after themselves at home, like Hall for example, then Pace will make that a part of his or her job sheet.

“He’s making sure his book bag is put up, and his clothes are picked up,” Laura Pannell said. “When we first (brought Hall to class) there were toys everywhere. Then if he gets in trouble or something, he doesn’t want C.J. to know this because he could get punishment for those things.”

Etiquette and respect are at the core values of learning kung fu at the Guardian. Children can’t even earn their first kung fu sash until they learn the eight magic words which include “yes mam,” “no sir,” “please” and “thank you.”

Each kung fu class is centered around a specific skill stripe of either focus, teamwork, control, memory, balance, coordination, discipline or fitness. As the class progress, the kids begin to talk about how all of those work together on when learning kung fu on the mat and in life.

One of Hall’s favorite activities is dodgeball, and the entire class teams up against Pace during the game. Dodgeball works on their coordination and absorbing impact when learning kung fu, but it also works on their focus and teamwork off the mat. Pace said they are learning skills without even realizing it.

“You name it and dodgeball works on it,” Pace said.

All of the kids in Hall’s 5-to-7 class are 6 years old, and Pace said they are the youngest class that is getting ready to move up to what they call the “big kids class.” Hall and his classmates will take what they have learned in Pace’s class and apply more kung fu to it while still learning life lessons.

Laura Pannell remained cautious when deciding which martial arts class to bring Hall to because she wanted to make sure learning how to defend himself did not turn him into a bully. She is content with the balance that is being taught to Hall at the Guardian Kung Fu.

“The first things that he’s taught are self-defense and getting away,” Laura said. “And then, of course, the next step when he gets on the big mat, they teach more defense response with offense and then they get away. It’s conflict avoidance, really.”

At a glance

Guardian Kung Fu

Owner: Todd Wright

Opening Date: April 2, 2005

Class age groups: Children ages 3-5, 5-7, “big kids,” men’s and women’s adult classes.

Cost: $25 for two-week trial

Contact information: 812-372-7100 or email

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5632.