Students of all ages and backgrounds learn everything from self-discipline to self-defense.
The sound of small feet pitter-patter across the cushioned floor of the dojo.
After a quick hand shake and bow, the young students of Zen Life Center take their fighting stance and wait for instruction.
Richard Hoehn, the master and vice president of the dojo paces around from student to student — showing them the defensive actions to take against an attack.
The kids in this class are full of energy as they bounce around practicing blocks and strikes with one another.
But like any martial arts facility, Zen is not about just fighting — it’s much, much more.
“We take it very personally — everything that we do here — and we want to give the best to our students,” Hoehn said. “We try to emphasize the physical fitness, but we really specialize in self-defense — teaching people appropriate and effective self-defense strategy depending on their age, gender and so forth.”
Looking to focus on different aspects of martial arts — from self-defense to life philosophy — Hoehn, a native of Winter Park, opened Zen Life Center in Winter Springs in January 2017 and currently teaches about 200 students that range from young children to older adults.
The family-like atmosphere of the dojo is a strong reflection of Hoehn and his family — who are also involved in the business.
Hoehn’s wife, Dr. Sheila Rochefort-Hoehn, acts as an instructor and president. She also holds a third-degree black belt and is a self-defense expert. The couple’s young children, Kai and Laelle, are also active in martial arts.
The light-hearted-yet-serious lessons he has taught have stuck with his students, especially the younger ones who are learning self-discipline and respect.
“The teachers are kind and everyone around just respects you for who you are,” said Mackenzie Becker, 11, who has been involved with martial arts since the third grade. “And the education you learn here — you learn self-defense against every person that could come up to you.”
That concept of being able to defend yourself is something Hoehn stresses. Among his many lessons, Hoehn includes discussion on what to do if approached by a stranger. The techniques taught came in handy during a frightening moment for one of his students who was randomly approached by a man in Winter Springs recently.
“Luckily, the kid took off and told his grandmother and nothing happened to him, but it was still pretty scary for everybody,” Hoehn said.
Hoehn grew up with martial arts. His father was a military kid who had picked up and learned the Korean martial art of Taekwondo while living in Thailand. Once his dad returned to the United States, he started his own dojo.
As a 16-year-old, Hoehn really picked up his love for martial arts and began competing in tournaments. Now a sixth-degree black belt in Jidokwon Taekwondo and a black belt in San Soo Kung-fu, Hoehn has earned five U.S. National Gold medals in different martial arts categories and the title of U.S. Open International “Self-Defense” Grand Champion in 2012.
He also was inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2007 for becoming the first American to complete a 100 Man Kumite/Grappling Challenge.
That wide-ranging experience in the martial arts is something Hoehn believes can help benefit those looking to find their niche.
“My theory is the more I know, the more I can share with others, because not everyone will use the same stuff,” Hoehn said. “So I have to teach a lot of things to different people, and then eventually, they can find their own path with what they learn.”
Finding that path and development through martial arts, and life in general, continues to inspire Hoehn in his work.
“For some kids, it’s they’ve just gotten better self-esteem, for others, they’ve learned how to handle bullies,” Hoehn said. “All the different stories that my students share with me about how they enjoy it and how it helps them in different ways — that’s what keeps me going.”