For Tommy Hood, karate is much more than a career or a sport. It’s been the foundation of his life since he was a kid.

As an 8-year-old kid in Columbia, the youngest of six children in a home without a dad, he discovered karate, and it turned into a lifeline for him. His instructor became one of the most influential people in his life.

“He became more to me than just a teacher; he was my father,” Hood said, relaxing in his Laurens Road karate studio. “He actually told me, ‘As a competitor, you’re the top fighter in the world; you didn’t stop fighting. So as a business owner, you can’t stop fighting either. You have to keep fighting and keep pushing through, even when you’re not doing so well.’ Those were some inspiring words for me. That kind of drove me to where I am today.”

Hood is the owner of Carolina Karate Fitness Center and the coach of the U.S. Olympic karate team for the 2020 games, which will be karate’s first time as an Olympic sport. At 28, he retired from a successful career in competition and went into coaching. As head coach of the U.S. National Karate Team, Hood found out last summer that the Olympics would be admitting karate into competition for the 2020 games.

Only 80 athletes — 40 male and 40 female — will be allowed to compete in the Olympics in karate, and he has several hopefuls training at his studio.

Carolina Karate’s Laurens Road location opened in May; it’s actually Hood’s third studio in Greenville.

He opened the first one a decade ago on Augusta Road, and it took a discouragingly long time to make it into a success. The studio had 3,200 square feet, but no students.

“It was challenging at that location because I had zero students. I started out with no students at all. I had a vision, and I had a dream, and my wife and I, we made it come true. So we started with zero, and we built a small empire,” Hood said with a laugh.

After the first year, Hood and his wife Elizabeth, who works as an engineer, stepped up the promotion. They handed out flyers, and they started talking to schools about the benefits of karate.

“I like to think that when you have a good product, it kind of sells itself,” he said. “If you don’t have a good product, it’s very difficult to sell. So I feel that martial arts as a whole is so valuable that it just sells itself, that once you see what it can do, it’s only logical that you want to be here.”

Before long, they outgrew that facility, upgrading to a 4,200-square-foot studio on Mauldin Road, where they stayed for five years.

The new location has the same number of square feet as the previous studio, but the layout works better for the class setup, Hood said. The studio has full-time and three part-time instructors, as well as assistant instructors, many of whom are teenage karate students, doing the same thing Hood did as a teen. It has around 190 students who come to the studio, and an after-school program with the YMCA serves around 200 others, Hood said.

His son Caleb, who’s 9, is a student. His daughter Olivia, 6, hasn’t gotten into martial arts yet because “you can’t wear dresses in karate,” her dad says with a laugh.

Hood is a big believer in the benefits of karate; he’s seen them in his own life. He met his wife through karate competitions, and the sport was instrumental in his development, particularly in helping him gain confidence.

“For me, I had always been a personally confident person, but the fact that I was a little bit of a slower learner when it came to my school work, when it came to talking in front of the class, things like that, I would rather take a zero than to get up there and do those things,” he said. “So inside the world of karate, I was extremely confident because it was something I was good at when I was young, starting out. But what helped me was the benefits outside karate: being able to talk to my peers, being able to talk to adults, being able to stand in front of thousands of people and teach seminars. Those things, I didn’t have growing up, but through karate, it had given me that ability and confidence to do those things that I despised.”

You Can Go

Carolina Karate Fitness Center is located at 2015 Laurens Road, Greenville. Classes are offered for children ages 3 to 13, teens and adults. Find a schedule online at or call 864-277-2008.

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