CAMAS — Just before 5 p.m. on a drizzly Wednesday evening, children lined up in the Zellerbach Administration Center gymnasium wearing traditional white “dobok” martial arts uniforms.
Diligently abiding by “Soo Bahk Do time,” several students arrived early, just as Master Anna Oulashin has worked to instill in them. They’re members of Camas Soo Bahk Do (also known as Camas Karate), a small after-school martial arts business that meets twice a week in the facility owned by Camas Community Education.
The students gathered into two groups — the “talls and the shorts,” as Oulashin calls them. She instructs the older, more experienced students while her fellow instructor Charles “Chuck” Smith works with beginners. They teach students age 7 and older and they keep a small membership of about a dozen students.
Soon enough, empowered “yah!”s echoed through the gym as the pupils began practicing their moves. Her son, Sean, 21, who has practiced since he was 6 and is now a master, was practicing with students, too.
There are lots of martial arts facilities throughout the region; a quick Google search for “martial arts Clark County” yields more results than Starbucks locations. But Oulashin’s business is unique in the area for the type of martial arts that it practices: Soo Bahk Do.
Camas Soo Bahk Do
Location: Gymnasium at Zellerbach Administration Center, 841 N.E. 22nd Ave.
Rate: $136 for two months, two classes a week on Monday and Wednesday evenings.
Revenue: Instructor receives 70 percent of the membership revenue, while 30 percent goes to Camas Community Education.
What is Soo Bahk Do?
Soo Bahk Do, which translates to “hand strike way,” is the martial art form. It falls under the umbrella of Moo Duk Kwan, which, translated to “martial virtue,” is the style and philosophy. The two go hand in hand and it’s often said as one entity, “Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan.” Moo Duk Kwan was started by Grandmaster Hwang Kee in Korea in 1945. All Soo Bahk Do studios are certified by the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation and divided into regions. According to the Region 10 website, which is maintained by Anna Oulashin, there are seven Soo Bahk Do studios in Oregon and Washington, and 300 in the United States.
Camas Soo Bahk Do is in the midst of training for its next regional competition, set for March 15-16 in Mt. Vernon, and also for the big national competition — this year for the first time ever taking place in Portland. It’s set for July 25-27. Spectators are welcome at Soo Bahk Do competitions. Find out more at camaskarate.com/events.
“Soo Bahk Do is a Korean martial art. It has the same beginnings as Taekwondo. Taekwondo became a sport; it became well known in the (1988) Olympics and what not. The philosophy of our founder is that Soo Bahk Do is not a sport,” Oulashin explained.
Oulashin owns the business in a partnership with Camas Community Ed, as it’s commonly called. The classes cost $136 for two months with two classes a week, she said.
Camas Soo Bahk Do was started by the late Robert Shipley in November 1990 as an independent business in downtown Camas. However, in 2008, the city pushed forward with a revitalization effort which posed higher rents, Oulashin said. At that point, she had already owned the business for eight years; Shipley handed over the reins to Oulashin in 2000 when his family moved out of the area.
“In order for us to stay there,” she said of the original location at 406 N.E. Fifth Ave., which was only a street over from Liberty Theatre, Camas Antiques and the rest of Camas’ main drag, “we would’ve had to raise our rates really high and we didn’t want to do that. Our parents and members didn’t want us to just shut it down.”
One of the parents, whose son had been taking the classes since he was 6, worked for Camas Community Ed, which operates under the umbrella of Camas School District, and suggested it as an option.
The business doesn’t actually bring in much money for her, personally: just under $1,000 a month, she said. Instructors receive 70 percent of the membership revenue, while 30 percent goes to Camas Community Education, which takes care of advertising and provides use of the gym.
“So we’re here,” she said of the facility at 841 N.E. 22nd Ave., about a mile away and across the street from Doc Harris Stadium.
Location can be especially important for a martial arts facility, which could explain why the region is so saturated with them, Oulashin said.
She actually lives in Beaverton, Ore. — a hefty commute. She leaves two hours early to arrive by 4:30 p.m. That is, if she’s not commuting from the location of her day job in information services as a principal analyst supervisor at Providence Health & Services in Northeast Portland. The drive from there takes about a half-hour.
Oulashin isn’t interested in starting a business in Beaverton, though, because she said there are already so many martial arts facilities. She also isn’t interested in turning it into a full-time gym.
“It’s my hobby. That’s why I don’t want it to be a full-time studio. If it was, it’d be a job. And then, you know how jobs go. So this is what I look forward to after my day job,” she said.
She added it’s important for people to have easy access in their neighborhoods. In Camas, there are only a few martial arts studios, including Universal Jiu Jitsu on Northeast Fourth Avenue.
“Part of the reason, in addition to reputation, I think as a parent myself it’s about the distance or location. Not very many people will want to drive 30 minutes to get somewhere,” she said.
Oulashin found the particular Soo Bahk Do form of martial arts when she lived in Hawaii, where she grew up. In the early 1980s, she was looking for something to do for herself — an activity that wasn’t just what her boyfriend was doing. She found Soo Bahk Do — and Master Shipley, who helped her learn. Life and her day job eventually took her to Seattle and later Portland, and unintentionally reunited her with Shipley, who had also moved to the Pacific Northwest. Shipley died in October 2016.
While the group still holds competitions between its own federation members, Oulashin maintains that it’s not about that. They’ve even had to turn people away who were interested in using martial arts differently.
“We’ve had people come in who are like, ‘We want to teach Johnny how to beat up bullies.’ I’m like yeah, that’s not how this works,” Oulashin said. To advance to different belts, they test quarterly, and one requirement is community service.
“We’re not building a warrior, we’re building a better person,” Oulashin said.
Parent Dana Dean, whose daughter had been training with Oulashin since age 7 and is now 21 and at college, was there with her boyfriend’s daughter, Jocelyn, 10. They felt it would help with self-esteem.
“They care about this and the friends they’re making here,” said Dean, of Gresham, Ore. “Once you’re in, you’re a lifer.”
“It’s for our well-being,” Oulashin said. “Everything is about the philosophy of the art. The competition is with yourself.”
She has no plans to discontinue the business or partnership with Camas Community Education, though the thought has crossed her mind, only to be stopped in her tracks by a beginner with talent.
“I’ll take one more student to Dan (a midnight-blue belt, equivalent to the coveted black belt), and that’s it,” Oulashin said of a potential ending point for the business. “But then someone else walks in with a white belt, and they’re fantastic.”