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YMCA is under fire

Some Burbank members aren't happy with recent moves by CEO, especially regarding Karate Kids.

June 09, 2012|By Jeff Tully

A group of Burbank Community YMCA members is crying foul over decisions to curtail full-contact karate and boxing, while at the same time refusing to loosen policies to allow underprivileged, at-risk youth to participate without being members.

The claims, aired publicly in recent weeks in letters to the City Council and other groups, have been targeted at Chief Executive JC Holt and the nonprofit's board of directors, who have chalked the complaints up to a small band of disgruntled people affiliated with a select set of programs within the YMCA.

At the core of the dispute was the YMCA's decision to either end or set up to fail Karate Kids — a popular martial arts class that had been running for five decades — and contact boxing, despite what current and former members say was strong community interest.


Brian Bastien, who headed the Karate Kids at the YMCA for 38 years, said that after Holt took over, his martial arts programs didn't get proper management support and he was forced to leave.

"We had great support for our programs over the years by the management, and they just loved what we were doing," Bastien said. "But as soon as the new CEO came in, they began to give us a hard time."

That "hard time" included setting overly stringent enrollment standards, "so they kind of set us up to fail," he said.

He recalled one class getting cut after falling short by two students, "sending them all into the street."

"Shortly after that, they said we couldn't do any more sparring in my other classes," said Bastien, who now operates his own studio. "You just can't run a martial arts program without sparring."

It's a complaint echoed by Burbank Boxing Club instructors, who say the sport is severely neutered — in terms of impact and ability to stay relevant — without full contact.

The YMCA of Glendale allows full-contact sparring, and the Hollywood YMCA allows full-contact mixed-martial-arts classes.

Holt said the decision to eliminate full-contact sparring was influenced by the USA Medical Advisory Committee of the YMCA, which recommends "a complete ban on boxing for children and adolescents," although the document does not address martial arts sparring or boxing for adults.

While Holt acknowledged that the decision on whether to follow the recommendations is left to each Y, "there is a liability issue."

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