PUTNAM, Conn. (AP) — Lillian Frechette, 9, started taking karate lessons five years ago at Quest Martial Arts in Putnam and values what she has learned over the years.
"It helps you stick up against bullies, and people that are trying to hurt you," she said.
The whole Frechette family is enrolled at Quest, which is celebrating its 30th year in operation.
"We teach karate every day, and we have fun doing it," Quest founder and co-owner Mike Bogdanski said.
Kristin Duethorn, his co-owner, said one of the reasons why the school is still open after 30 years is because she and Bogdanski are still open to learning.
"Because we actively train and consider ourselves students, I believe that makes us good teachers," she said.
Duethorn first came to Quest in 1997, enrolling her sons. She joined as a student two weeks later.
Duethorn long had an interest in learning karate, and she was taking a year off of work to focus on her health.
"As part of getting myself back on track, I decided that I was going to choose the activities I wanted to do," she said.
Duethorn grew into a leadership role, and she said her presence brought more women into Quest. In 2002, she was about to open her own martial arts school in Massachusetts. However, Bogdanski convinced her to be a co-owner of Quest, telling her she had a passion for the school that nobody else had.
Bogdanski started his personal martial arts quest in 1969. As a student at Norwich Free Academy, he had been "bullied and beat up," he said. After seeing an ad in the paper, Bogdanski begged his mother for karate lessons.
"I wanted something to save my life," he said.
His teacher, Song Ki Kim, taught Bogdanski in the tang soo do martial art. After a couple years, Song wanted Bogdanski to help the newer students. After years teaching as a hobby, Bogdanski bought an old bank building in Putnam, and opened Quest in January 1988.
Jennifer Frechette, Lillian's mother, likes the school's helpful, family-friendly environment.
"They take their time to teach you the proper way," she said. "Not just to learn karate, but to be a whole person."
Quest will soon move to Thompson, "just a mile up the road," Bogdanski said. Duethorn said the gym area will be smaller in the new building so Quest can focus more on teaching martial arts.
Beyond the school itself, Bogdanski and Duethorn, both sixth-degree black belts, run other programs related to self-defense. For Bogdanski, it's anti-bullying programs that teach values such as respect, confidence and empathy.
As for Duethorn, she teaches a women's self-defense program. This is important to her because she ran a dormitory at a women's boarding school in a prior job. Duethorn also said she was attacked while in college.
"I really wanted to educate girls about choices and protecting themselves," she said. "I wanted to make a difference for them."
Lillian remembers one of Duethorn's lessons.
"If someone comes in for a hug, you can say 'No thank you, I don't want one,'" she said.
Bogdanski emphasizes it isn't just about teaching people how to fight, but also about bringing "families together and making the community a better place."
Information from: Norwich Bulletin, http://www.norwichbulletin.com