BRADENTON — Robyn LeBuffe isn’t intimidated by age.
To the 18-year-old East County resident, age is merely a number.
So, after deciding she wanted to open her own martial-arts school, LeBuffe was determined not to let anything stand in her way — not even the fact that she was 16 years old and a junior at Manatee School for the Arts.
“I was tired of teaching for other people,” LeBuffe says. “It was hard to teach someone a style that I didn’t necessarily know. I wanted to be able to teach what I knew and what I was good at.
“My (friend) told me I should open my own (school),” LeBuffe says. “I said, ‘But I’m only 16.’ That’s when she said, ‘Is age really going to stop you?’”
Unbeknownst to her mom, Pam, LeBuffe started making flyers and arranged to teach out of a local gym.
Within two weeks, LeBuffe had five clients. The following year her mom signed a lease for her on a 1,045-square-foot space in West Bradenton, where she opened Ultimate Tiger Martial Arts.
LeBuffe graduated from MSA in June and Oct. 24 she and her business partner, Justin Ortiz, moved into a 1,500-square-foot space down the street.
Ultimate Martial Arts is a traditional Goju Ryu karate school with a sport karate twist.
“I love teaching the kids what I know,” LeBuffe says. “The best part is watching them grow as martial artists. It’s an honor to see them grow and know that you’re an important part of their life.
“I want my students to live their dreams,” LeBuffe says. “Whether it’s getting their black belt of winning a world championship, I want them to reach their dreams like I’m reaching mine.”
LeBuffe began taking martial arts when she was 7 years old, after deciding to forgo gymnastics. She attended one of her cousin’s martial-arts competitions and immediately fell in love with the artform.
After her former school closed while she was preparing to test for her black belt, LeBuffe took a step back and turned her attention to Goju Ryu. One-and-a-half years later, LeBuffe, then 11, earned her black belt.
“I was almost ready to give up hope,” LeBuffe says. “It felt (amazing) to finally have that black belt around my waist. It was the hardest test I’ve ever had to take, but it was a goal that I finally reached.”
Since then, LeBuffe has become one of the most decorated super lightweight female fighters in the world. She was ranked No. 2 in the world before winning her first competition as an adult super lightweight fighter in July.
Most recently, LeBuffe won her first World Kickboxing Association world championship as an adult.
“It was actually phenomenal,” LeBuffe says. “This was my first year competing as an adult, and I ended up coming out on top. I’ve learned there’s no end to it. Dreams really do come true.”
Now in addition to running her own school, LeBuffe is in the process of trying to obtain a full sponsorship with Team Paul Mitchell Karate.
“That’s been a dream of mine since I was a really young girl,” LeBuffe says. “There’s only two girls on the team right now. It’s the top team, and it’s extremely professional. Whenever I saw someone from Paul Mitchell I always thought, ‘Wow, you must be really good.’ It’s a hard team to get on.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.