Students learn discipline, fitness at MacKenzie’s Tae Kwon Do Plus

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Few would argue about the benefits of martial arts in fitness, discipline, and tradition for both children and adult students. And depending on the preference of the student, so many different forms of the martial arts are available to entice even the quietest and introverted personality to become empowered by the sport.

Different schools follow different styles including acrobatic or dance-type foundations, direct combat, high kicks and hand/foot combat. Others focus on the open format, incorporating a sampling of different traditions into several different styles that have roots in Korea, Japan or China.

James and Lauren MacKenzie have made martial arts, and particularly taekwondo, their main fitness and discipline focus for most of their adult lives. And since 2004, the couple has operated their school, MacKenzie Tae Kwon Do Plus, under the traditional Korean HO-HAM format and franchised under Tiger Rock Martial Arts International.

Martial arts instruction is diverse. Schools found in shopping centers across west Florida are dedicated to some traditional form that falls under the umbrella term of Marital Arts.

Mixed martial arts, Jiu-Jitsu, taekwondo, and grappling fall under the martial arts umbrella; each focusing on its own specialty of discipline and form. Every martial art has its own thing, explained Lauren MacKenzie. Taekwondo, for instance, focuses on hand and foot timing and combat.

“We use both our hands and our feet and both sides of the body,” she said.

The MacKenzies first began as a club before opening their own school in Spring Hill. But they have always been members of the same taekwondo organization that was formed in the 1980s.

Now titled Tiger Rock International, it went through several organizational name changes but operates under the same format.

“We are the only Tiger Rock school around here,” Lauren MacKenzie said.

The school’s origin began when James MacKenzie began looking at different forms of martial arts and decided on taekwondo and the Tiger Rock Foundation, his wife said. He chose Tiger Rock (which used a different name then) because it was a closed organization, meaning all instructors were taught the same forms and in turn followed the same curriculum.

James MacKenzie enrolled himself and their son Mason, then 5, into the program.

“They did it as a father/son thing,” Lauren said.

Lauren MacKenzie was into cardio kickboxing at the time but eventually took her husband’s advice and joined the academy with their daughter, Makayla, then 4.

“James really enjoyed it,” Lauren MacKenzie said, and eventually became certified as an instructor in 2002. The family moved to Spring Hill specifically to open their own school. In 2004, they started MacKenzie’s Tae Kwon Do Plus.

The facility is open and bright, decorated with a karate theme, and large enough to fit the students comfortably as they demonstrate their forms. James MacKenzie instructs, asking specific questions as the students fall into traditional stances and exercises in a group, synchronized and spot-on in their moves.

MacKenzies has roughly 50 students, children and adults, of which 15 competed in the fall tournament last month. The team took home 43 placements in individual and team competitions, including forms, free forms, sparring, sport sparring, agility, board breaking, and Elite Counter Aggression Skills, which provides a set of six aggressions that competitors must counter measure.

Lauren MacKenzie explained that as a closed organization, only Tiger Rock schools compete during tournaments which are held three times a year. This year, the team went to Pensacola and Tallahassee for nationals and competed in the world championship in New Orleans.

While similar to other karate schools, MacKenzie’s is grounded in tradition and respect. James MacKenzie had the students work through several exercises, like jumping to clear a bow staff held for each, and leaping into flying side kicks at a punching bag. Each time James asked a question, the students would respond in unionism, demonstrating the solid foundation of respect the teachings encourage of all participants.

Finally, the students who attended the tournaments posed for a group shot, displaying their medals proudly. Many of the members who competed this year have done so previously, looking forward to an opportunity to demonstrate their skill and training to other Tiger Rock competitors.

MacKenzies Tae Kwon Do Plus teaches four nights a week, Monday through Thursday, and offers instruction for adults and children.

Mason MacKenzie is already teaching classes and is a 4th degree and world champion. He has solid form and technique and a passion for the martial arts.

The MacKenzies are pleased to have raised their children in the martial arts since it not only teaches respect and discipline but self confidence and self reliance. James MacKenzie took down a shoplifter at a local Walmart two years ago using his taekwondo technique.

“You may never need it,” he said. But having the tools builds the kind of mental and physical confidence money can’t buy.

Contact Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at