On the corner of 8th Street and Magnolia Avenue sits an old, grey brick building with “Arviso Karate” painted above the black barred gate in front of the double-door entrance.
Upon entering, a trophy case displays the accomplishments of students from the past 50 years, while the next doorway leads to the room where those same students perfected the techniques that earned them the hardware.
Thirty-nine-year-old black belt Janessa Thelander still remembers her first summer in the hot, concrete room where she fell in love with martial arts 28 years ago.
At 11-years-old, Janessa Thelander quit ballet and was looking for another activity to occupy her time.
“My brother joined karate so I wanted to join too,” she said. “I think my parents were skeptical at first. I remember I came in and it was really, really warm in here. There was condensation on the glass, it was so warm.”
Thelander stuck with it through high school and kept training at the University of Arizona after she graduated from Cibola. She returned home to Yuma after graduating college and took her first break from the sport.
“When I started having children I stopped karate for a while,” Thelander said.
But once her children were old enough, she returned to the concrete dojo, this time with a couple of younger participants by her side.
Thelander's daughter Mia, 13, has been going to Arviso's dojo since 2008, while Elise, 10, followed shortly after that.
“They seem to enjoy it,” Janessa Thelander said. “The unique thing about karate is it's not a seasonal sport. Soccer, there's a season and you stop for the summer and then you go back the following year. Karate, you join, and you stick with it.”
Since karate is a year-long commitment, like most children, Thelander's daughters sometimes need a helpful nudge.
“Naturally most children sometimes say gosh, I don't want to go, and I felt that same way,” Janessa Thelander said. “But my parents always encouraged me to go. My parents could see that it was very beneficial to be involved in this sport so I try to convey that same encouragement to my girls. There are times where they don't feel like they want to come but I say let's go because once you get here it's fun, and it's a great form of exercise.”
Teaching generations of families isn't something new to the school's owner, Robert Arviso, who has awarded 73 black belts over his 50-year career in Yuma.
“It's just been an every day deal,” Arviso said. “I just like to keep the kids out off the streets. If they can pay me one month fine, if they can't pay another month, fine. We're not making any money at it, it's just to teach and I enjoy that.”
Janessa Thelander has competed for grand championships multiple times including her latest victory at the Somerton Karate Tournament.
The latest win turned out to be a little more special however, with Mia Thelander winning the junior colored belt grand championship alongside her mom.
“It was really cool,” Mia Thelander said. “I was really excited because we both won and because all my hard work paid off at the tournament.”
According to Arviso, karate isn't the same as it once was in terms of popularity.
“Karate is now more popular with the younger generation,” Arviso said. “There aren't as many of the older generation. Once they get to 19, 20 years old, they want to do something else. It's mostly little kids now.”
But Arviso knows that they'll be back, just like Janessa Thelander is.
“They're going to come back,” he said. “It's faded away but it's coming back. I know in my heart they'll be back sooner or later.”