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Queens Village karate school imparts discipline

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At her school, she said, the students do not simply receive recognition for showing up but instead must earn their awards.

"They strive, boy, do they strive." said Austin, dressed in a black Chinese-style jacket. While she acknowledged that such an ethos might not seem politically correct nowadays, she said her style taught her students to stay focused on pre-defined goals.

"With no parameters for them, kids are lost," Austin said.

As one of the few women in the borough who own and run a martial arts school, Austin is said to maintain a disciplined ship.

"To all the kids she's not like their mom, but they have a lot of respect," said Tracey Smith, who is Austin's main instructor and confidante.

Austin's school, named Jaribu System of Martial Arts on 215-31 Jamaica Ave., has long been a staple of the neighborhood. It arrived in Queens Village in 1979 and stayed within a one-block area whenever a new location was needed.

"We made a promise to the students that we would not move out of the area," Austin said.

The original school was opened by Austin's late husband, Ronald Austin, on Hollis Avenue in 1958, although at that time the couple had not yet met. That occurred sometime later at a Latin dance club, leading to marriage.

Austin's new partner taught her martial arts, which complemented her childhood rearing by a mother who was a scholar of Chinese art history and who encouraged her to practice tai chi in the backyard.

"The philosophy was all there," she said.

In 1979, the couple moved the school to Queens Village, where Ronald Austin developed a new style of martial arts based on changes in street fighting at the time. Gone were the days when groups of young men would square off in man-to-man fights based on an accepted code of conduct. Instead the fights became free-for-alls. So instead of repelling an attacker directly, Ronald Austin taught his students moves to avoid their adversary.

He called his new style jaribu, Swahili for "the test," and it proved immensely successful in competitions for years and years. But six years ago Ronald Austin died in his wife's arms from an asthma attack, and she took over the school to continue his legacy.

She entered a world that was very much male-dominated, she said.

"I've had to fight," she said, not in the literal sense. "But I believe it takes a woman to bring up the gentleness in the men and to show the women they can be just as effective."

Austin said her school, though it has been influenced by street fighting, teaches self-control and non-aggression for situations in the larger world.

"NInety-nine-point-nine percent of the time there's no need for a confrontation," she said. "Martial arts is about thinking."

Austin said her approach has led to her students succeeding in both the classroom and in competitions. Although ultimately none of her students could make it to the tournament in Bayside, she said they would have earned their place among winners at the podium, just as the school's students had been doing for years.

"They didn't know what to do with us," she said, referring to the time when her future husband first taught students to use the jaribu style against opponents.

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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