Inspiring leaders through Taekwondo

Published 5:06 pm Friday, March 23, 2012

Karen Mitchell, center right, stands to the right of her team, which includes teachers and students. Mitchell operates a Taekwondo gym off Philip Davis Street in Pelham. (Contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“Karate is from Japan. Taekwondo is from South Korea,” said 12-year-old Sophie Duvall, answering my questions about martial arts.

Duvall is just one of many confident leaders at Karen Mitchell’s Taekwondo in Pelham. Duvall’s grandfather, Clem Muck, contacted me about Mitchell’s studio.

“My interest generates from watching four of our five grandchildren learn from Karen and her teachers, and seeing how much these teachers help the children,” Muck said.

The Duvall sisters were quick to share their learning experiences under Mitchell’s instruction. Asked what she learns from studying Taekwondo, 9-year-old Mallorie Duvall said, “Taekwondo pushes me. I can challenge myself.”

Watching Pelham High School students and other teens, including an older Duvall sister, Paris Duvall, I was impressed by the way these teenagers work with younger students. Patient instruction and a no-nonsense atmosphere prevail. The little ninjas, as Mitchell’s youngest students are called, (including 6-year-old Maddie Duvall), were completely engaged.

“I moved to Mobile with my husband as a young woman. While I was living there, I was one of four women kidnapped. I escaped, but the experience changed me,” Mitchell said. “I was so consumed by fear that I couldn’t function. I couldn’t be alone. I would go to my husband’s job with him and sit in a chair while he worked.”

Mitchell credits her family for suggesting a self-defense class.

“They knew I had to deal with my fear,” Mitchell said. “I was fortunate to find a really good program. As my skills progressed, my instructors encouraged me to train to be a teacher. I felt wonderful because Taekwondo was something I did well, and I wanted to share that incredible feeling.”

Mitchell’s passion for teaching is evident. Watching her teach the class, speak to her students, offer encouragement, ask questions or listen to their news was a treat. Energized by her interactions with the kids, Mitchell is passionate about her students’ success. Mitchell opened in Pelham in 1990.

“The success of this school is not me,” Mitchell said. “It’s the team. It’s Dana, Meagan Slappey, Addison Fox, Jordan Pelkey, Paris Duvall and so many more.

“I don’t have to worry about these kids. Taekwondo makes these teens leaders instead of followers,” she added.

Confident teens leading younger kids toward personal self-discipline makes Karen Mitchell’s Taekwondo a wonderful asset for the Pelham community — and Mitchell one of my newest personal heroes.

Connie Nolen can be reached by email at