At Jeff Ellis’ International Karate Centers, students moving from white to black belts are empowered with positive life skills for future success

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Jeff Ellis’ International Karate Centers has promoted fun martial arts programs that have meaningful outcomes for the entire family for over 40 years. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Adam Cook

The lessons learned at Jeff Ellis’ International Karate Centers are more than a matter of form. Technique translates to life skills and the measure of success takes a stance more nuanced than black and white.

“The progression from a white belt to a black belt is an indicator of development, in the physical and psychological sense,” says Jeff Ellis, owner of the Strongsville dojo. “It’s the internal sense of accomplishment that’s most meaningful. Self-confidence empowers students.”

As a teenager, it is a lesson Jeff took to heart.

“My mother was a single parent—my father died when I was 11—I was a rebellious teenager, and I wasn’t doing well academically. The task of putting me on the straight and narrow fell to a cousin,” says Jeff. “When he introduced me to martial arts, the effect was profound. Martial arts helped me believe in myself and taught me to focus, and from there I learned how to study.”

After graduating from Baldwin Wallace with a major in psychology, Jeff decided he wanted to make a direct impact with young people by sharing his transformative experience with martial arts. He heeded the call, and instead of becoming a counselor he became a Shihan, a Japanese term that translates to grand master instructor.

“I didn’t want anyone to have to wait as long as I did,” says Jeff. “For over 40 years, my mission has been to provide young people with a foundation of success by building their confidence, leadership skills, self-respect and respect for others with focus and discipline.”

The significance of focus and discipline has increased as studies have revealed a steep rise in the number of children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. If a child is suffering from these diagnoses or from low self-esteem, martial arts will help them to gain the confidence they need to succeed in school and at home.

“Confidence opens the door to improve in areas like focus and discipline,” says Jeff. “Not every child with ADD/ADHD takes medication. Many do and many should. But, over the years, we’ve seen medications reduced and sometimes eliminated. A quality martial arts program has a positive effect when added to a therapeutic regimen.”

Jeff Ellis’ International Karate Centers offers classes of all skill levels, in both group and one-on-one settings, for students starting at 4.5 years of age to adults.

Amanda Plavan, whose son Liam attends Jeff Ellis’ International Karate Centers, says that values such as respect, politeness and thoughtfulness are reinforced throughout his classes.

“It is beautiful to see how he carries the lessons he receives in class into his daily life at home and in school,” she notes. “It is wonderful for Liam to have such a talented mentor in Shihan Ellis, as well as so many helping hands from the other senior students in the class.”

As a student progresses from white to black belt, they learn leadership skills like mentoring beginning or other younger students. Mentoring other students opens doors to taking on active roles in the community. Jeff is a proud member of the Rotary Club of Strongsville and hosts free community workshops, including Bully-Proofing Your Child, the Child Safe Community Day Fair and “Don’t Be A Victim” Women’s Self-Defense workshop.

Jeff also frequently hosts “Kickin’ Birthday Parties at the dojo for children looking for a fun and exciting way to celebrate their birthday.

“The environment we foster reinforces the lessons children learn from parents and teachers,” says Jeff. “Our programs open children’s ears and eyes to the positive lessons all around them.”

Jeff Ellis’ International Karate Centers recently relocated to 17748 Pearl Road in Strongsville. Call 440-238-9390 or visit to book a starter course.