Helping Children be Better People

Helping Children be Better People is Promoted by Relationship Between Pak’s Karate Academy of Mandarin and Great Strides Rehabilitation

By Christina Swanson

Chelsea loves practicing the high block, Cole likes saying “Kiai” (kee-yah) and Will takes a shine to kicking. Sounds like a typical elementary-school-aged kids’ response to beginning karate classes except these are children with special needs and the classes are just one way their rehabilitative school goes beyond the norm in expanding their daily learning process.

Great Strides Rehabilitation has been providing speech, physical and occupational therapy services for Northeast Florida for more than a decade with their main clinic, school and outpatient therapy support. Although they are located in Mandarin as part of the Jacksonville Pediatric Enrichment Center, their therapists also help children with disabilities at schools and medically fragile day care centers. Also located within this large Mandarin business complex on San Jose Boulevard is Pak’s Karate Academy of Mandarin, a mainstay in this area for 31 years.

Dr. Jon Edenfield, OTD, OTR/L, founder and executive director of Great Strides, wants his students to engage in a variety of leisure activities to help with their motor and social skills in a fun way. “Many special needs children have a hard time participating in sports teams or other typical activities such as riding a bike, and when they do, it can be a negative experience causing them to become self-conscious of their own behaviors which can lead to poor self-esteem,” said Edenfield.

When the students walk to the play ground each school day, they actually pass the Pak’s Academy building. One day about six months ago, when one of Pak’s owners, Master Christopher Tersak, saw the children, he approached the therapists with the group and struck up the idea of having the kids participate in some basic karate classes at no charge.

Edenfield already knew the benefits of karate for special needs children, especially those in the autism spectrum, in developing better balance, motor coordination, focus on a task, and improved eye contact and social skills. Tersak saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community and fulfill their core mission to extend the benefits of karate to all people, especially those with challenges and behavior issues.

“It’s all about form, discipline and focus rather than the physically aspect of fighting,” said Tersak. “Behavior is a huge part of advancing in karate…how they stand in line, address their instructors and interact with other students.”

“It’s inspiring to see how the instruction builds confidence to speak and perform in front of people which is one of life’s greatest fears even in adults,” explained Tersak. You see when the little ones first come here they are still holding onto mom’s leg; after three months they are standing in front of 300 people performing for their first belt.”

Working with the Great Strides’ students also challenges and grows Pak’s teachers to become more patient and understanding in their instruction methods. They are starting to receive feedback from the kids’ therapists and parents that the classes are showing a positive impact on the students’ everyday lives. “That is our payment because that is why we do it,” said Tersak.

Pak’s Academy is known for being family oriented where about 20 percent of the parents join their kids after they witness how beneficial learning the discipline of karate can be. “The greatest thing is to watch a father practicing moves with his child,” said Tersak. “We are in the business of developing community leaders in school and life, not just black belts. “ (The Pak’s Karate Academy of Mandarin — named after the grand master founder who has 150 schools world-wide and independently owned — was bought by two brothers who learned and have taught there for 20 years, Master Christopher and Master Nicholas Tersak, along with wife Angela Tersak.)

Recently, Edenfield attended his students’ first ceremony at Pak’s Academy, watching six to eight year olds pay strict attention to instructions and beam with pride after breaking their first boards. “It’s obvious the children are really into it and their behavior and focus improvements are extending into other crucial communication areas as shared by their parents,” said Edenfield.

For more information about Pak’s of Mandarin call 262-8200 or go to; to reach Great Strides Rehab call 886-3228 or visit