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Legends Self-Defense Martial Arts aims to teach defense techniques in easygoing environment

Legends Self-Defense Martial Arts co-owners Jerry and Pamela Sterling pose in front of their gym Monday morning at 6002 U.S. Highway 30 in Cheyenne. The Sterlings teach the art of To-Shin Do at their dojo, located in a space they share with Evolve Fitness. (Briar Napier/Cap City News)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Jerry and Pamela Sterling wanted to give the people of Cheyenne an outlet to learn self-defense strategies without the rigor of competition seen in other martial arts.

And in a sweltering space that they share with Evolve Fitness at 6002 U.S. Highway 30 in Cheyenne, the husband and wife co-owners and instructors have turned that idea into reality.

Legends Self-Defense Martial Arts, which opened for business last week, sees the Sterlings teach students of all ages the ways of to-shin do — a Westernized, modern version of the ancient Japanese martial art of ninjutsu — through various classes designed to help participants learn self-defense techniques to protect themselves in a variety of scenarios.

Founded by American martial artist Stephen K. Hayes in 1997 in Ohio, to-shin do has sprung up in gyms across the United States, with the Sterlings saying that they’ve found the skills within the art to be beneficial. Now, after officially opening, they hope that local residents find the skills to be essential pieces of information to learn, too.

“Obviously, [the problems people face today] are much different than [people] faced back in the feudal days of Japan, but the principles and the concepts still work in today’s society,” Jerry Sterling said. “We were very fortunate that Master Hayes spent his life studying over there in Japan. … Our goal here at Legends Self-Defense is to provide a service to the community that we believe is very needed, especially in our society today.”

Establishing situational awareness and confidence is a key part of the program and to-shin do in general, Jerry said, which involves hand-to-hand training, practice with (and defending against) prop weaponry, and more across the Sterlings’ 45-minute sessions. He noted that he only teaches one student as of now — his granddaughter — as the business gets off the ground, but that those interested can currently take a free introductory class at the dojo to see if to-shin do is a good fit for them or others they know.

Similar to other martial arts, there’s a belt-based ranking system that signifies skill level and proficiency, though unlike some other martial arts — such as taekwondo, judo and jiu-jitsu — to-shin do is not a competitive sport. With that in mind, the Sterlings said that they wanted to provide self-defense training with a welcoming atmosphere; however, participants can additionally expect to break a sweat in the meantime while they’re at it.

“It’s a different take on martial arts from what we see today in the world,” Jerry said. “It’s very practical [and] simple; not easy, but practical and simple and a very intelligent approach toward self-defense. … I don’t believe that there’s any martial art out there that can’t offer people some sort of growth in their life, but really, it’s all about the teacher. We try to just remain humble and in the face of that humility, we try to just pass on knowledge.”

Citing advice from a friend in the business world, the Sterlings opted to open Legends in a shared space rather than a standalone one at first while they build their student base. The current setup is simple with few frills — there’s some protective pads, prop weaponry and a traditional opening gong — but for now, it’s enough for what Jerry called the “first phase” of building up the gym.

Legends had a booth set up at Superday last month in an attempt by the owners to get the word out while they continue to do all that they can to try and make the public aware of what they’re up to. Once more people understand what to-shin do is in the first place, the Sterlings hope, then the prospective students will start coming around to the dojo.

And for those who want to give martial arts a try, the Sterlings are welcoming people in with open arms.

“There’s an option if you don’t want to do a sort of competition martial art,” Jerry said. “If you just want a place to come and train and make friends and be a part of a good, family-oriented group, that’s what we’re really looking for.”