Achieving a black belt in karate isn’t just about brawn and agility.
It’s not how fast you kick and it’s not in the way you hold your weapons.
It’s about how you hold you head. It’s attitude, and behavour.
But to get there, you still have to put in the work. And on Saturday, several students at the Cheam Yama Dojo in Agassiz worked at their grading, for as long as three hours.
And after a grueling afternoon of focus, they passed.
Deanna Wilson earned her brown belt, Ann Schneider and Kim Garcia earned their black belts, and Nathan McKay earned his ‘ni dan’, or second level black belt.
The 18-year-old has been attending class at the dojo since he was little boy.
Karate is a part of him, but he was still surprised when his sensai called to say that he was ready for grading up a level. There are 10 levels to black belt — increasingly more difficult and nearly impossible to complete in a lifetime.
But McKay plans to keep working at it. a
“It would be hard to leave it,” he said. Practicing the martial art has always provided a way to release tension, calm down and focus, he added.
“I always feel calm and open minded when I leave,” he said. “You always forget what’s going on in the outside world.”
For Garcia, 16, karate is a time to relax and feel accepted. She struggles with health issues, such as asthma, and pushing through for hours on end can leave her exhausted.
That’s where the discipline comes in, says sensai Bruce Tupling.
“No matter how busy your life is, what happens in your day, or if you’re feeling well or not, you come here,” he said. That’s the first step.
The second step is self confidence — a natural progression from the discipline.
“The self confidence comes from being here and learning what we do,” he said.
And once a student really nails the discipline and the confidence, the athletics follow suit.
But it’s really the least important aspect of a black belt, he explained.
“It’s everything they do once they step inside the dojo,” he said. “Ability is the last thing, almost the least important.”
At the same time, ability is something. And on Saturday, Tupling’s four students all showed their skills.
For Wilson and Schneider, they also showed what amazing things can happen when family supports each other. Schneider is Wilson’s mother, and grandma to former student Ian Wison and current student Abby Wilson.
“It all started with my grandson when he was five” Schneider said. “And Abby has been around it all her life.”
Schneider decided to join the dojo in 2005.
“It’s something I always wanted to to,” she said, and she jumped into it with the hopes of helping her balance and memory as she faced the inevitability of aging. And it’s helped, she said.
“Self defense is not really why I’m here,” she said.
Earning her black belt on Saturday was the second biggest accomplishment in her life to date, she said — second only to her children. But for Schneider, the practice of karate has given her gifts she wasn’t expecting at all.
“I’ve learned to let people into my own space,” she said. “You do learn to let people in, because you learn to trust people, and trust yourself.”
To learn more, visit the Cheam Yama Dojo on Facebook.