Sidekick Karate moves to bigger location to accommodate students, afterschool program

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 11, 2018

By Jessica Coates

SALISBURY — When Ricky Smith first started Sidekick Karate, he only wanted a small dojo.

He said that, after more than 30 years of teaching, training and competing in China Grove, he was ready to semi-retire and serve a small number of students.

But then, he said, the new dojo “kept growing and growing and growing.”

Ricky’s wife and Sidekick Karate co-owner Edie Smith said the dojo grew from four to 40 students in its first year and that enrollment has continued to grow by about 25 students each year.

“We knew that if we kept going, we would need a safer and a larger space to continue to grow,” Edie said.

After months of searching and a few more months of renovation, the Smiths dream for a larger space has finally been realized.

“We still have things in our old building. …So we don’t have anything on the walls yet. We haven’t decorated yet. But we’re in here. That was our goal to get in here,” Ricky said.

The new 12,000-square-foot Sidekick Karate dojo is located at 520 South Main Street, just down the road from their original location on West Innes Street.

“We looked for a building as close as we could find to our building with a lot of parking and a lot of space. And the building needed some work, but Edie had the vision on it, kind of more than I did,” Ricky said. “But we came in and made it work and we love it now.”

Edie said they loved their old location because of its historic character and the “great” neighboring businesses. She said they stayed there for as long as they could.

“But when you’re kicking and punching, you need room,” Edie said.

The new location has a separate space for the dojo’s afterschool program, which Edie and Ricky say is the first of its kind in Rowan County.

Ricky said he still had his heart set on a small dojo when a friend and fellow karate teacher in South Carolina, Brian Pena, told him about the afterschool program he’d started.

Pena, whose program serves more than 100 afterschool students in Columbia, has five buses that pick kids up from school and bring them to the dojo.

“And he just invited me to come up and get on the bus with him and go pick the kids up. And I said, ‘Well, I’m not really interested in doing anything like that,’” Ricky said. “But Edie and I went and I tell you what, we fell in love with it.”

Edie and Ricky said they loved the structure and discipline that the students showed as they got on and off the bus.

“I said, you know, a lot of kids in this area could benefit from this structure and discipline, but their parents can’t get them to the dojo because they don’t get off from work in time,” Ricky said.

Ricky and Edie soon acquired two buses of their own — one that Edie drives and one that Ricky drives — and began offering pickup services for their own afterschool program.

“So we pick them up. We bring them in. They know they’re getting a snack. They’re getting their homework finished. They’re getting a martial arts class and, if (there’s) time left, some down time to relax,” Ricky said. “And then (parents) just roll in to pick them up. And it’s working beautifully.”

Ricky said the afterschool program is another factor that pushed him and Edie to start looking for a different, larger space.

“The afterschool, when we added it, we added so many students very quickly to our enrollment,” Ricky said. “So we needed somewhere safer to bus people in.”

Now, in their new, larger space, Ricky said he is prepared for the dojo to grow.

“Success to me is not about money. It’s about doing something that you love to do. …And I’ve had my competition days in karate and kickboxing. But now what fulfills me and what gets me up in the morning is that I can help other kids,” Ricky said. “And it’s God’s business. If He wants to grow it, that’s up to him. I’m happy with a small amount, but if it ends up being 500 students, I’m OK with that, too.”

Sidekick Karate offers a “Screaming Eagles” class for kids ages 5-8; a Karatedo class for kids and adults ages 9 and up; and an afterschool program for kids in kindergarten or above.

For more information, call the dojo at 704-216-2258.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.