WALLINGFORD, Conn. — Barbara LeBlanc was picking her children up from martial arts class in 2005 when the class instructor dared her to take up the sport with her two sons.
“It was me and two other moms and we said, ‘Well I’ll go in if you’ll go in,'” said LeBlanc, of Wallingford. “(The other moms) dropped out after a few weeks and I was very surprised at how much I liked it. When I first started it was me and a bunch of little kids. It was a huge stress relief for me. I didn’t want to give up.”
Twelve years later, LeBlanc has earned her black belt and continues to practice Kun Tao, an American-Filipino style of martial arts centered around self-defense techniques, with her sons Josh, 21, and Nathan, 18.
The family has grown closer by practicing martial arts together, LeBlanc said.
“Most teenagers want nothing to do with their parents, but we at least had this in common even though the rest of the time I was the mom they didn’t want next to them in the mall,” said LeBlanc, who works as a literacy coach in the New Haven school system. “It’s great for us as a family to bond over this.”
The family trains together at Bergamo’s Martial Arts Studio in Cheshire and competes in about four to five tournaments a year.
“We’re definitely closer because we can take out our anger on each other in a healthy way here at the studio,” Nathan LeBlanc said.
Barbara LeBlanc and her sons competed at the International Sport Karate Association’s World Championships earlier this year, which attracts thousands of competitors globally.
Josh LeBlanc placed first in men’s creative breaking — a competition that judges competitors on breaking objects like cinder blocks and baseball bats, along with the creativity of their routine. Barbara LeBlanc placed second in women’s creative breaking and Nathan LeBlanc placed third in a separate creative breaking competition at the world championships.
Barbara LeBlanc said seeing her son win first place at the tournament was a proud moment.
“It was incredibly emotional,” she said. “When they called his name, I pretty much lost my mind.”
Barbara LeBlanc said she and her sons share a normal mother-son relationship at home, but their dynamic changes once they’re inside the studio. She was required to bow to her son Josh when he was 11 after he received his apprentice black belt.
“There were a couple years when I outranked her, so she had to call me sir,” Josh LeBlanc said. “Once we left it was back to, ‘Yes mom.'”
“I was so proud of him that I didn’t mind. He totally deserved it,” Babara LeBlanc said.
Part of the family’s training regime includes performing choreographed self-defense routines in which they kick and hit each other, making contact but not hurting each other, Barbara LeBlanc said.
Josh LeBlanc said being able to hit his mother took some getting used to.
“I fought my mom, which is something a lot of people can’t say,” he said.
“I love training with them. They’re so good to me in class, they’re so helpful,” Barbara LeBlanc said.
After 12 years of training, Barbara LeBlanc said her life has changed positively from martial arts.
“It’s changed my life by improving my confidence. If you can pass a black belt test in this school, you can do pretty much anything,” she said. “If you would have said to me 10 years ago that I’d be in this position I would have laughed at you. I’m way stronger than I thought I was.”
Her husband doesn’t compete in martial arts, but is “the backbone for our competitions,” she said
Josh and Nathan LeBlanc, both graduates of Sheehan High School, will enter their senior and freshman years, respectively, at Eastern Connecticut State University this fall.
For the first time since she took up the sport 12 years ago, Barbara LeBlanc will train in martial arts this fall without either of her sons.
“I’m going to really miss them here, but there’s no stopping me now,” Barbara LeBlanc said.
Information from: (Meriden) Record-Journal, www.myrecordjournal.com
Information from: Record-Journal, http://www.record-journal.com