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Kids get a kick at JBLM karate program

Instructor takes up teaching martial art on base where his father left off

Published: 03:29PM July 17th, 2014

In the "Karate Kid" movie series, Mr. Miyagi taught several life lessons to young Daniel through karate.

In similar fashion, children from as young as four to high-school-age teenagers, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord learn about respect, confidence and discipline to prepare for life’s challenges from karate instructor Joel Toline at the Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills Unlimited Academy on JBLM Lewis Main.

Some of the parents said their children could use the guidance when it comes to seeing the results of time, dedication and hard work.

Physical and mental skills are developed and improved under Toline, who said the most important skills taught are the ones that prepare children on how to face life’s challenges.

“We really reinforce that with the kids — how important it is to be respectful to their elders,” Toline said. “We have home rules, and we have life rules that we go over in class on almost a daily basis.”

Toline teaches not only with a karate expertise, but also with the understanding of what life is like as a military child, which he himself has experience with.

At age 4, Toline began to learn karate from his father, Bud, when he was stationed at JBLM as a sergeant 1st class. Years later, Toline started a youth-karate program on JBLM in the 1970s.

Toline said when he was a student, his dad balanced between being a parent and instructor very well. Toline not only learned from his father, but other black belts from different backgrounds and styles up until his teenage years.

“Like most kids, I had a period where I wanted to hang out with my friends, and my dad never pushed me to have to be in the class, which I think helped,” Toline said. “(Karate) gave me a lot of lessons to deal with life’s lessons and just to make good decisions when I’m away from my parents and with my friends.”

A year after graduating high school in 1991, Toline began assisting his father as an instructor for karate classes. Ten years ago, he began his career as a firefighter and currently works with the Valley Regional Fire Authority in Auburn.

Toline’s father passed away in 2006. Since then, he has continued his father’s legacy as lead instructor at karate program on base, which currently teaches more than 120 children throughout nine classes; each meeting twice per week to learn the same lessons Toline learned from his father.

Like other programs offered by SKIES, the karate program is looking to expand. Toline said he would like to find another instructor he can trust; he has just one assistant, Eric Hetland, one of Toline’s students who began training with him 15 years ago.

Although he is focused on his firefighter career, Toline said he plans to continue instructing karate as long as he physically can. He has two children, ages 3 and 7, who have shown an interest in learning martial arts, and he wants to teach them.

His oldest, Christian, already assists Toline’s students ages 4 to 6 and has earned his orange belt — the third of nine belt levels, ending in a black belt.

While watching young Christian’s gun-ho attitude about the martial arts grow, Toline said he thinks about how he felt as a kid and having his dad as an instructor.

“It’s funny how it works out and you follow in your parents’ footsteps,” he said. “In some ways you may not want to, but in this particular case I’m really glad I did.”

For more information about the karate program, visit or call 253-966-3539.