Durham family finds togetherness in martial arts

November 12, 2013 

The class, led by Sensei Curtis Glenn, demonstrates a kata routine.


  • Interested?

    Classes are offered at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at A Cultured Alliance, 1910 Sedwick Road, just off Highway 55. Call 919-525-9862 for more information.

Anyone accidentally walking into a room seeing knife-wielding assailants being quickly disarmed and knocked aside would have been taken aback.

“Keep your arms straight! That way the person trying to stab you can’t move forward.”

Bahtia Glenn, 16, follows her dad’s directions and thwarts Grant Coleman’s attempt to swing the real-looking, rubber knife toward her.

These exercises in self-defense look like fun, but behind the merriment is a serious lesson in eliminating fear and taking control of a potentially bad situation.

The Glenn family lives and breathes martial arts. Each member – Curtis, his wife Demeca, and their daughters Bahtia and Kipany, 18, – has earned a black belt and practices a blended form of Japanese martial arts developed by Curtis’ father.

Woodrow and Martha Glenn were stationed in Japan during World War II. After studying aikido, shi toh ryu, and judo, Woodrow Glenn created his own blended style, which he called MAWJAC. After the family returned to the states in 1973, Curtis continued his studies with his father, eventually earning his black belt in 1980. The entire family teaches, and Kipany and Bahtia specialize in helping the younger students.

Curtis met Demeca in high school. Originally from New York, she had been bullied and grew up fighting. Both attended UNC-Chapel Hill, and when Curtis decided to offer a martial-arts class, Demeca signed up, adding, “I knew we were gonna get married way before he did.”

Demeca went on to explain the mindset behind martial arts, which should only be used for self-defense, not aggression. Being aware of your environment is the first step of defense. For example, when a woman is driving at night, she should always park under a streetlight, and not in some random, dark section of the parking lot. And anyone walking to his or her car or home in the dark should already have keys in hand.

“When I see women running along on the trail in short-shorts while wearing earbuds, I just want to shake them,” she says. Women, especially those who have never fought before, often freeze when encountering someone who wants to hurt them. “Martial arts makes you feel stronger and more in control of your situation,” she says. “You learn how to deal with trouble, and hopefully the wisdom to avoid bad situations.”

Later, while leading the class, Curtis Glenn reinforced what his wife said. “We don’t fight all day. We what?”

“We get away,” the students chime in.

After some stretching, light calisthenics, and conditioning exercises, the students pair off. Today, Adriel Vasu and his wife Pushpa are taking their first class. Adriel has taken martial arts before and it shows, but Pushpa giggles nervously as she tries some of the unfamiliar moves. Their sons, 4-year-old Zoesh and 2-year-old JJ, run and skip around the room while occasionally stopping to mimic their parents’ punches and kicks.

Seven-year-old James Coleman patiently holds up a punching cushion for Zoesh, who gives it a couple of whacks before grinning and taking off again. James and Grant’s father, Major Coleman, said the family was looking for something they could all do together. All four Colemans have earned their brown belts and enjoy martial arts so much that they even practice at home.

“It’s a lifestyle for us now,” said Mr. Coleman. “We told our boys that it’s for self-defense only. If someone attacks, they’re only supposed to disable them and get away. And, you know, I can tell that martial arts has given them a real sense of accomplishment. Once they get over one hurdle, they take on more challenges with no fear.”

The fake knives are put away, and now the class lines up for working on their katas – routines that display the mastery of certain moves. Suddenly, everyone is spinning, kicking with precision, and showing the benefit of intense drills and being in shape. It’s very impressive to watch, but I was somewhat amused. All of the Glenns are kind and have sweet, pleasant personalities, but when you see the fire in their eyes as they perform their katas, you realize that they are not to be messed with.

Do you have a suggestion for a Neighbors story? Contact Patricia A. Murray at

Durham News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service