Matt Hosokawa has been in love with karate since he saw his first Jackie Chan movie as a kid.
Hosokawa, 30, always dreamed of getting a black belt and teaching his own class but he struggled in school and needed special education. He eventually learned why he was different.
"As I got older, in my early teens, my mom told me, 'You have autism, Matt.' So I was like, 'Really?' I refused to believe it, but as I became a young adult I realized I was at the high-functioning level of autism," Hosokawa said.
Matt decided early on he was not going to let autism slow him down. He earned his black belt and now he teaches his own class for Club Aspire, a nonprofit program for young adults with developmental disabilities.
The club operates out of Pasadena Christian Church. Every Wednesday night at 5 p.m. you'll find Matt patiently instructing his devoted students in the martial arts.
Program Director Jose Sanchez says when Matt first started 5 years ago as a volunteer he was shy, but he's grown to be a great leader.
"With him teaching this class it just gave him a boost of confidence. This is what we aspire for our participants here to reach one day," Sanchez said.
Matt says karate training is about much more than self-defense. "It's about discipline. It's about teaching you how to control yourself and show respect to other people -- not to bully other people," Hosokawa said.
One of his best students is 32 year old Karen Hoge. Despite having Down syndrome she's earned the high-ranking brown belt. Her mom says karate has helped her focus.
"Balance has always been an issue. Now she is doing complicated kicks," Suzi Hoge said.
Matt says connecting with his students allows him to earn his own money and plan a meaningful future.
"I'm hoping to get a new car and continue helping people with special needs. Especially a person with autism … if they have the capabilities like I do, I encourage them. They can do it," Hosokawa said.
Club Aspire also teaches art and pet therapy, sports, and life skills. If you'd like to volunteer or donate visit clubaspire.org.