Following a tough path to mastery
After five years of training that culminated with a grueling six-hour test, four Lake Tahoe youths lined up, stone-faced and proud, to receive their junior black belts from the East West Karate school at the Fairway Community Center in Tahoe City on Monday.
Niko Sabah, Trevor Semmens, Rennie Fidler and Sydney Lancaster all passed the test to receive their junior black belt in karate, allowing them to teach the martial art to others.
The process between beginning and ending as a black belt is a long one for the athletes; many times they wanted to quit, and many times it hurt. But in the end, that was what made the ceremony so sweet.
For Fidler, part of the feeling of achievement came from the knowledge that she will be able to teach others her art, but most of it was just plain accomplishment.
“You know that you never gave up,” Fidler said after the graduation.
Linda Granger, a teacher with East West Karate, told the sizable audience that each child has a demon he or she must conquer on the path to becoming a black belt. For some it is a physical challenge, for others mental. Whether it be boosting confidence or overcoming pain, each athlete earns the belt.
Fidler’s mom, Nancy, said that many training sessions ended in tears, but standing up to return to the next practice was what made the belt such an accomplishment.
“It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Nancy Fidler said.
Mike Willete, Granger’s partnering teacher in the school, said the effort that goes into the belt is unlike any other youth sport out there.
Students will begin training as early as 5 years old. Like other sports, karate students train for two hours a few times a week, and those who aspire for a black belt work and practice on their own with “homework,” as Willete called it.
What sets karate apart from other youth sports, said Willete, is the fact that his athletes train year-round, as opposed to just during the fall or summer.
Willete also said that East West tries to maintain a degree of the intensity found in traditional karate schools that is often missing in other American Karate Association schools.
Willete said that the last six months of training before a student earns his or her black belt is where most of that intensity comes into play.
Whether that intensity manifests into physically grueling training sessions or full-contact sparring, Willete said it is one of the reasons his black belts are special.
“We teach kids to handle intense situations,” he said.
The ceremony also included a demonstration by Steve Brumme, Willete’s brother-in-law and a 12-year artist in the Jujitsu discipline.
While Brumme practices the art like everyone else, his form is unique due to the fact that his legs have been paralyzed since he was a small child. Brumme has had special crutches engineered, and along with the metal braces he wears on his legs to stand, function not only to help him walk, but also to act as weapons for his art.
The Jujitsu art is largely grappling, throws and holds, which are ideal for Brumme, who in a fight would most likely end up on the ground quickly.
After throwing Willete a few times in demonstration of how Brumme would deal with an attack, his message to the kids of East West was made clear.
There are no excuses.
While all four graduates knew that lesson all too well after years of painful training and intense strain, perhaps none knew it better than 13-year-old Rennie Fidler. Fidler is a little person, and while Willete and Granger put her through the same rigors and pushed for the same results as all the other kids Fidler’s age, for her all the hurdles are a little bit higher.
During the training to become a black belt, there was some concern about the pain Fidler was dealing with. But she made the decision to see it through.
She is scheduled to go in for leg straightening surgery next week that will put her into a wheelchair for five months.
The surgery was scheduled around her black belt graduation ” the same graduation that helped teach her that there are no excuses, and that with perseverance comes great reward.
While her fellow graduates also learned to follow through on opportunities, it was Fidler who told the crowd her goal as a black belt.
“To take advantage of all opportunities given to me,” Fidler said before being handed her black belt.