NAMPA - Empty Hand Combat in Nampa is not your typical dojo. In addition to teaching martial arts and self defense, it is also helping troubled kids and teens turn their lives around.
It all starts with owner Cosmo Zimik and his passion for inspiring young people to get on the right path and stay there.
"Kids that are in my program, they cannot fight on the streets or do drugs," Zimik said. "The kids, especially [those] on the street and in the gangs, they see us as stable."
Zimik also offers a scholarship program for kids and teenagers who are struggling. Many of them have been involved with gangs.
In Nampa, the gang problem is real. So is Master Cosmo's drive to help pull kids away from that lifestyle. It all began seven years ago when he spotted a group of teenagers outside his gym.
One of those teenagers was Salvador Ramirez.
"All we would do all day is hang out and do nothing all day and look for trouble," Ramirez said. "Then I met Cosmo and he pulled me away. I would slowly start coming to the gym more. I just kept coming back to the gym."
At just 17 years old, his life was going nowhere fast.
"You're always around drugs," Ramirez said. "Either your mom's on drugs or your dad is on drugs or someone is an alcoholic. The kids don't have someone to turn to."
Many turn to local gangs for that sense of family. Cosmo got Salvador in the gym, and off the streets.
"Salvador came in and tried the boxing in the ring, the Muay Thai and he likes it," said Zimik. "And I trained him pretty hard where he was almost limping that day, but he came back the next day."
Ramirez is now 25, and competes internationally in Muay Thai. Thanks to Zimik, he also mentors kids.
"He taught me a lot of values," he said. "Because I never had my dad in my life, so Cosmo has taught me a lot."
"I'm kinda like a father figure for him," Zimik said. "But actually he's the one who gives me hope. He gives me hope to come to work, to keep fighting for all these other kids that are out there, that need our help."
Ramirez is now changing lives, too, by volunteering his time to help troubled teens.
"You slowly let them gravitate toward you, you slowly let them talk to you, and eventually they open up," he said. "My goal is just to show people that there is a different way."
And these men are not just there to teach martial arts to troubled teens. They are helping them learn life skills that will provide for a better future.
"We can help you get a job, we can help you get the GED," said Zimik. "We have a lot of companies in Nampa that will hire our kids if we vouch for them."
Zimik is looking for community partners and mentors for the kids in his program. If you want to be a part of what he's doing in Nampa, or if you know a kid who could benefit from a scholarship, check out Empty Hand Combat's website and Facebook page.