CARMEL — John Adamson says it all started with a brawl outside the once-popular "Tee Pee Restaurant," on 38th Street and Fall Creek Parkway, in the 1960s. It was a time when Bruce Lee and Billy Jack were of heavy influence in pop culture.
"There were like pipes involved and chains and like, it was a gang fight," Adamson, 44, said, retelling his parents' story.
Adamson's parents, Doug and Janice, were both in high school when they were working at the sockhop-style restaurant in Indianapolis, Adamson said. So when a fight broke out between Carmel High School students and North Central High School students, his parents were caught in the middle.
"[My father] goes out, and he sees one guy being held and three guys beating him with a club," Adamson said. "He thought, 'If that happened to me, I would have no idea what to do.' And that was the catalyst for him to start being curious about martial arts."
Forty-four years later, Adamson's Karate Studios has seven dojos across central Indiana. It has started the first youth karate tournament and overnight karate summer camp in the country. What began as a quest to teach Hoosiers self-defense became the foundation of a community.
Adamson, his three brothers, their wives, and their kids are all involved in the family business.
"I was born into it," Adamson, now a sensei, said. "It's all I know."
"I've thought about this before, 'Why am I still doing karate?' Well, I really enjoy being a coach, and I really enjoy helping people," Adamson told WRTV. "It's just a great way to impact people's lives."
The Adamsons now train athletes who compete in all-ages Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournaments and world championships. Their most recent competition was in Romania, at the 9th WUKF World Karate Championships in 2021, where they helped represent the United States.
With just over 40 competitors, the AAU of the USA team earned the second-most medals, behind Ukraine. A feat, considering the home country had, according to John, hundreds of competitors.
WRTV caught up with each of the four Indiana competitors, who all train at Adamson's Karate, when they returned from Romania. Winning gold medals was great, but it's the community they say they cherish most.
Tyler Macke started training at Adamson's when he was 4 years old. At the time, the Macke family lived across the street from their dojo in Brownsburg.
"We didn't know much about karate at the time. But we started exploring and doing some trial classes, and we realized really quickly that this was going to be a perfect fit," Steve Macke, Tyler's dad, said.
When Tyler was 4, Steve said he and his wife noticed signs of hyperactivity from Tyler, and it was hard to get him to focus.
It's a discipline he not only recommends to parents with children who are hard to get focused on but to all kids — and all adults too.
"There's far more that you learn besides just how to punch and kick. It's the focus, at least initially, with the younger kids. It was how to stand in a line; how to say 'yes, sir,' 'no, sir;' how to be respectful towards your elders; how to just follow basic instructions and how to do it in an organized way," Steve said. "And we greatly appreciated [what] the dojo did for Tyler, because he was very rambunctious, very rowdy, and it brought a certain calm and a certain focus to his actions."
By the time Tyler was 8, he had received his black belt. Steve says he admires the practice of karate and what it was doing for Tyler, so he too started training. "That was a fantastic privilege that I had to be able to share that experience with Tyler."
Steve says he recommends the sport to both adults and kids who find it hard to focus.
Although Tyler, now 12 years old, has competed all over the country, going to Romania this past fall was his first international competition. He says he did well and enjoys the sport, but his favorite part is making friends.
Florence Hargitt, 16, says karate has taught her so much. It's not just an individual sport. Instead, she told WRTV, it's about community.
"You still need to rely on others for help or rely on your teammates," Hargitt said.
Hargitt practices karate at the Adamson's Carmel dojo, where she's been training since she was 9.
"I love it, actually. It's amazing," she told WRTV of her experience.
"It helped change my mindset as I was growing up. Just seeing everyone like very disciplined, very self-controlled, and like, obeying the teacher and like, being respectful to others," Hargitt continued. "That kind of culture kind of shaped me to where I am now."
As Hargitt nears the end of her high school career, she says she's not sure if she will continue her journey with karate as she prepares for college. This is why she wanted to make sure she was part of the team that went to Romania for the international competition.
"I was supposed to go to Poland. And that's like when I decided I want to go to a world championship before I leave for college, and then (coronavirus) happened, and I couldn't go to Poland," Hargitt explained.
The friendships are the biggest thing Hargitt took away from her time in karate, especially the world championship. "The actual competition itself was maybe like 30% of the actual trip," Hargitt said, laughing. "I made a lot of really nice friendships there."
In Carmel, Theresa Adamson trains at her uncle John Adamson's dojo. She also coaches at her father's dojos in Brownsburg and Zionsville.
"I've been going to karate ever since I was 4 years old. So I've been growing up, learning different kinds of self-defense and competition, and just everything about karate," Theresa told WRTV.
The 16-year-old is already a first-degree adult black belt. Yet, despite her expedited level of expertise and previous world championship invites, 2021 was the first time she attended an international competition.
"Growing up for competitions, I was always a little, I would say, scared even though I shouldn't have been," she said, "because I just kept worrying about like, all the different kinds of outcomes that could happen; like the worst that could happen."
Theresa is glad she went to Romania. She not only won gold, but she performed in several different divisions and styles of karate.
But, it's the large number of friendships Theresa's made over the years that's taken the cake. "I feel like everyone would say that about karate," she said. "The people there are really cool. I think they're really sweet to hang out with."
Gavin Thornberry, 14, trains with Adamson's Karate in Avon.
"I was at a birthday party. And I was like, 'I like this,'" Gavin said of when he first started to become interested in karate. He started practicing when he was 6 years old and about six months after that, his whole family started joining him.
"We've been doing it full time for six-plus years," Chris Thornberry, Gavin's father, said.
Gavin medaled in 6 competitions in Romania, but he — just like the other three Adamson's Karate competitors — says the friendships he made during his time abroad, was the best part.
To learn more about Adamson's Karate Studios, visit adamsonkarate.com.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.