Glencoe twins nearing ‘black belt’ confidence
From left, Carly Spiro, 10 and her twin sister Martina start school this month as Glencoe Central School fift- graders at. Both brown belts, they're hoping to achieve black belt status later this year. | Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 27, 2012 9:47PM
They’re twins, they share a brown belt in karate and when it comes to fighting with sticks, they’re gold medal winners.
According to their coach, it’s no surprise that 10-year-old Glencoe fifth-graders Martina and Carly Spiro are winners, considering the work their put into martials arts.
“They’re really hardworking girls,” said Sensei Jeff Kohn of Glenview North Shore Dojo, where the Glencoe Central School fifth-graders practice kata skills and bo training, involving a staff-like weapon.
“You know what? When it comes time for the summer, they try they really hard,” Kohn said. “They’re a pleasure to have in the school because they really make a difference.”
When the academic year begins Aug. 27, the twins will be packing confidence among their school supplies.
“What a tremendous coach, we are so fortunate to have him,” said the twins’ mother, Rosemarie Spiro, an attorney and homemaker. Their father, Samuel Spiro, is in commercial real estate. “To be able to train children from all walks of life, he (Kohn) really communicates with them.”
Five years ago, Kohn began Karate Can-Do!, a 501c3 charity for students of all abilities.
Both Carly and Martina, who hope to earn their black belts this year, are consistent volunteers.
“Well, obviously, (Karate Can-Do!) is a huge character builder,” Rosemarie Spiro said. “It’s beyond building their character. It builds their spirit, and it’s important for them to understand that they impact these kids. These kids look up to them.
“Think about that, (mentoring) children who are striving so hard to simply move an arm to punch, to do the formations, to do the movements required in karate, and my kids are right there, helping them. Who could ask for anything more?”
Kohn said he is impressed with how the twins help out in the Karate Can-Do! program and excel in other activities.
In fact, when they’re not competing, both girls enjoy theater with Skyline Studios (formerly of Wilmette, now of Winnetka) and Actors Training Center of Wilmette. They also take guitar lessons.
“They’re great at everything,” he said.
Martina and Carly both took first place in the 9 and Under Female Kata category in the 2011 Nationals and Team Trials in Arlington, Texas.
In 2010, they each won the gold medal in team kata.
Last month, they each placed third in the U.S.A. National Karate Championships & U.S. Team Trials in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the age 10-11 Female Bo division.
Martina had what she called two “freak injuries,” including a broken rib cage and a foot/ankle problem. She credits Kohn with getting her “up to competition speed,” she said.
“He always makes sure that if we feel we can’t, he proves we can,” Carly said.
Can’t is a word not found at North Shore Dojo, the twins say.
“(Kohn) motivates us to do our best, and when we are not trying, he makes us try harder. He brings out the best in us,” Martina said.
Their mother contends their study of bo weaponry requires the discipline and control “because you have learn how to handle that bo, how to move it,” she said.
Mastery of the bo also requires awareness of one’s surroundings.
“That’s a whole other part to it is the discipline,” Rosemarie Spiro said. “It’s taller than them. It’s longer than them. The height of a bo is taller than a kid …”
Both girls enjoy golf and piano music, such as Scott Joplin, as well as ’60s tunes, but their time with Kohn is cherished, especially for bo instruction.
“It’s hard because you have to do amazing techniques,” Martina said.
“You have to kind of sort of spin it around your entire body for attacks,” said Carly.
“But it has to look good too,” Martina added.
“It has to look cool. The judges have to like it,” said Carly, with a smile.
Kohn’s work has paid off for him as well. Last month, the U.S. Olympic Committee named him its first-ever “Paralympic Coach of the Year for Karate.”
In 2014, Kohn will accompany Michael McCarthy, 15, of Chicago, to the World Disabled Games in Paris, France where McCarthy will represent the U.S. as part of the United States Disabled Karate Team.
“Michael is a world class athlete,” Kohn said of the Niles Notre Dame College Prep freshman.
Kohn was nominated for the honor last year, and he found out by surprise at the Fort Lauderdale trials.
“It’s a lifelong achievement, and whenever one is recognized by the Olympic committee, it’s a huge honor,” he said. “It’s like the Pulitzer Prize.”
His twin pupils are as proud of their coach as he is of them.
“I’m really happy for him,” Martina said.
“I think he’s a really nice person and a great teacher,” Carly said.
North Shore Dojo is located at 2081 Johns Court in Glenview. Call (847) 729-0001. Visit www.northshoredojo.net. Visit www.karatecando.org.