World karate star stops by American Tiger Karate Academy for teaching session
With nearly 100 students at any given time, 18 AAU National Champions, multiple silver and bronze medalists, and one Junior Olympian to the Dojo's credit, the physical demands of teaching at such a high level are intense.
This is why Pusateri found herself in an extremely challenging situation when she was recently diagnosed with Lyme disease. The affliction severely affects the nerves; and though she is improving, Pusateri still has trouble walking, which limits her ability to physically demonstrate for her students -- especially the more athletically demanding moves.
Enter world champion karate athlete Agata Smetaniuk, whom Pusateri met at a recent regional meet.
"You don't really meet Agata; you experience Agata," Pusater said. "I was with my students at a regional match, and I'm watching my students on the left of this particular arena, and I was just drawn. It's hard to explain, but everyone who knows her knows what I'm talking about. And I just felt her energy pulling my attention to the right. And you are just taken by her performance. Just the energy she exerts and the technical prowess is spectacular. So that's how I experienced her, and then I immediately sought her out. We connected immediately and ended up talking at length for hours."
Pusateri explained to Smetaniuk the challenges of teaching with Lyme disease, and expressed the need for someone to come in and help demonstrate for her students, several of whom have 2020 Olympic aspirations. Smetaniuk immediately offered her services.
Pusateri even explained to the 13-time world medalist that she didn't know how much they could pay, to which Smetaniuk happily replied, "It's not about the money. I can make anything work, and I want to help you."
Smetaniuk visited the dojo late last month and warmed up the class with some high-level methods.
"Her knowledge with body mechanics and what she was able to do in a non-physical sense, she was able to speak to the students about muscle groups," Pusateri said. "So, she started with just particular exercises that the students should be doing to focus on and isolate those particular muscles and those particular nerves so that they'll be optimal when you want to apply them. That sort of thing is the difference between a really good student and someone who is extraordinary."
After the warm-up, Smetaniuk delved into difficult individual moves that only someone of her pedigree can teach with accuracy.
"The other thing that she did is, there are two particular moves that are athletically challenging," Pusateri said. "If you can imagine turning to your left and then striking something the size of a dime with one finger or one toe, then completely spinning the opposite way and striking something immediately of the same size. It's extremely precise. It was tremendous the amount of complexity that goes into that single maneuver. And then there was another move, which is basically a spinning kick in the air, and you are to launch approximately the height of your neck, and you do this at a 270-degree turn, and that takes a lot of muscle balance and control. There's a tremendous amount of impact that you hit the ground with, and she was showing how to make that landing so that you don't harm yourself. And then you're quickly driving out of that movement into another movement."
Despite the high degree of difficulty, Pusateri's students, which included all ages starting from 10 years old and up, remained incredibly engaged throughout the trying session. Smetaniuk turned the normal 90-minute session into a full two and a half hours, and even a senior instructor from another local dojo came by to check out the unique happenings at the American Tiger Academy.
"We have three students definitely interested in competing in the 2020 Olympics," Pusateri said. "And this experience is essential for them to operate and function with that type of precision. It's a different level of neuromuscular development."
Smetaniuk's style fit right in with the personality of the dojo, which teaches a traditional style of shotokan, an old-fashioned type of martial arts training. That style sent three students -- Michael Henske, Taylor Henske and Michael Meier -- to the national championships this season and has proved successful over the dojo's 21 years of operation.
In addition, Pusateri and Smetaniuk share a spirit of altruism, with the dojo consistently involving itself with the greater good of the Elk Grove community.
Smetaniuk plans to return to help Pusateri at American Tiger Academy later this year and to check up on the students she taught in August. Her return appearance at the dojo is much anticipated and adds another layer to an already highly successful community operation.