Charlene Johnson Lawrence
6th Degree Black Belt
Charlene Lawrence was born and raised in San Bernardino California. She graduated from San Gorgonio High School in 1973. She attended San Bernardino Valley College in 1975. In 1976 she married Bobby Lawrence. They have five children and 18 grand children.
Charlene has been studying karate for 40 years. She is a 6th degree Black Belt in Kenpo. In 1996, Charlene became a certified Tae Bo Aerobics Instructor with Billy Blanks. She was the 2nd person certified outside of the state of California to teach Tae Bo Aerobics. She loved teaching Tae Bo as it matched her energetic approach to teaching karate. Even today she is known as a highly energetic teacher, coach and business mentor.
At age 42 Charlene won the EKL Nationals Grand Champion Sparring title. At 45 she won the Golden Gate NBL Nationals in San Francisco in the 18+ Kenpo Forms division that included men and women. At age 59 she took third place in the Kenpo masters division that included men and women and first place in the women’s division.
Charlene is the President of Bobby Lawrence Karate (BKL). She owns three full time karate schools. The BLK organization oversees ten other BLK licensed schools. Charlene turns 60 in January 2015 and after 30 years of service, will retire from teaching and operating BLK. She will, however, continue serving as an ambassador of goodwill for Kenpo karate schools wherever she is.
How did I get started in Kenpo? What year?
I started Kenpo in 1975, because my then boyfriend, now husband, studied Kenpo with Richard Callahan in San Bernardino, CA. I figured if I wanted to see more of Bobby while we were dating I had to say, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. So I did. It was the next best decision I made in my life up to that time.
What has been the driving force in my training/teaching of Kenpo?
Well, that would definitely be my husband Bobby Lawrence. He has supported me, taught me how to teach, given me confidence to be a leader and business woman in the community, helped me grow into the business woman, leader, mother, grandmother, school owner and Black Belt that I am.
What advice can I offer to women starting out in Kenpo?
Women start karate for all different reasons and from my experience as a teacher here are some of those reasons: Fun, exercise, weight loss, abusive situations, confidence, stress release, camraderie, friendships.
I say “just do it”! Just go for it! Start your first class with a clean slate, an open mind, a sponge ready to soak up everything your instructor has to teach you. Don’t go to class thinking you have to act a certain way, look the perfect part, be the toughest one there. Your teacher is there for YOU! To help you achieve the goal that you set when you first signed up for class. Have fun! Enjoy! Be serious, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh! Make new friends! Work Hard! Have a good life!
What is your thought that because men in general are stronger they have a tendency to hold back in partner work, training and sparring out of fear (or concern) they might hurt you? Has this happened to you?
Of course this has happened to me! Men are stronger that’s just the way life is and I respect that. I’m grateful for the men who helped me along my journey by respecting me and using self control when working with me. I hate getting slapped up side the head by some knuckle head when it is totally not necessary.
It’s a fine line for the men too. If they don’t hold back a little, they would be bullies. If they held back too much they might be condescending. But most of the men I’ve worked with in Kenpo have been great. The most influential were my husband Bobby, Richard Callahan, Ed Parker, Frank Trejo, Billy Blanks, and Bob White.
What do I think about the lack of female presence in the International Journey.
I’m not one to have my name ‘up in lights’ so I haven’t really thought about it. Maybe we should get Tom Bleecker to think about a “Woman’s International Journey”.
I remember having black and blue arms while working techniques or sparring with an evenly matched partner. That big black and blue bump on my leg from clashing shins in sparring was always a badge of honor. I’m sure my parents thought I was weirder than weird and my friends couldn’t figure me out. But for anyone who loves karate the way we do, will completely understand how I feel.
Have you ever felt you had to compensate for less physical strength during training?
I didn’t worry about having less strength than others. I just worked hard and had fun with whomever I was working with.
Did you feel you had to compensate for being part of the ‘fairer’ sex…….
Out of my years of teaching I don’t really remember any man being disrespectful to me because I was a woman. I never felt I had anything to prove because I was a woman. Everyone that walked through our doors was treated with the greatest respect. This goes for the tournaments also. Many great friendships were developed over the years without any hint of me feeling that I was part of a ‘weaker sex’.
What advantages do you think being a woman gives you in relation to karate?
I feel that some of the advantages besides, working hard, having fun and making friends are the relationships that I developed with our karate families. The friendships we develop with parents and their children are for the most part heartwarming. I believe I get to give a few more hugs to the kids and lend a listening ear to the mom’s. The bonds that are developed are precious and can last a lifetime. I am so grateful that I have crossed paths with so many wonderful families and friends. They have truly blessed my life forever and ever.
My contribution is I opened our first Kenpo school in 1990.
I am the one who turned my husband’s Kenpo Karate hobby into a business. I helped Mr. Parker return to his teaching roots by bringing him back to Utah at least two to three times a year over the last eight years of his life. I picked him up at the airport, drove him to his sisters’ house, and set up local seminars and black belts tests for him. He trusted me. He knew he could always depend on me for truth and honesty and to help his organization grow.
I also love how Kenpo training instills confidence and success mindedness in those who practice it in a positive way. As a result of my running a karate school all three of our sons support their families by operating professional karate schools. Our daughter too works for us at our corporate headquarters.
Are there things you would have done differently in your martial arts career?
I can’t think of a thing that I would do differently. Everything was about learning and growing and that’s what I did. There were some negative things along the way, but only enough to teach me lessons about people, business and life. The good was most definitely the best part of this career. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Have you experienced sexual harassment in the martial arts?
Yup! A prominent martial artist (from another style) came to a local tournament and when I approached him to shake his hand and introduce myself he asked a very off color and personally intrusive question.
Lessoned learned. Not all martial artists act like my friends. So I just stay away and hope that life’s lessons will help him grow into a more respectful human being some day.
Besides the karate people I have already mentioned I would have to say;
My children – Justus – Dallas – Desi – Miki and Keiki – They are so good and so smart and such good parents (well not Keiki as she’s only 16) and they are teaching me so many wonderful things about life. I look up to my children with the greatest of respect.
Ken Karen – I was 16 years old when I started my first job at Jack in the Box in San Bernardino, CA. Ken was my boss and he taught me so much by his example. He taught me how to work hard. Work fast. Work as a team and to enjoy the customers that come through the line. I am so grateful for his patience, his energy, and his willingness to teach me in a positive manner.
Sandy Tillotson, one of the principle owners of Nu Skin International, who by her example, taught me how to present myself in public and at business social functions.
John Cokinos and Ned Muffley from Educational Funding Company (EFC) . They introduced me to the business side of karate. It’s where I got my start in the business world. They encouraged me, taught me and gave me the words to say to help me along my way. I can’t thank them enough for their commitment to my success. I will forever be indebted to them.