Friends and families gathered on Saturday to witness four students earn Black Belt ranking at Rising Sun Martial Arts. At a gathering of martial artists representing over 80 years of combined experience in the martial arts, Calla Baker and Michael Hebert of Newport, Griffin LaBrie of Claremont, and Joseph Renaud of Weathersfield, VT, received promotions based on years of hard work and dedication.
Griffin LaBrie has been training since April of 2007. He was promoted to 5th Degree Junior Black Belt; only the third person at Rising Sun Martial Arts to attain this level. “Karate has enabled me to realize that reaching high levels of achievement are within my reach and I can accomplish anything I set my mind and spirit to by keeping my focus and determination,” said Griffin, when asked what karate training has done for him. He was also recognized for his commitment and skill in teaching karate. Kyoshi Brent Baker, director and lead instructor at Rising Sun, mentioned how LaBrie was his “strong right arm” in teaching the Juniors’ classes throughout the summer months and how the younger students looked up to him as a positive role model. Griffin was awarded the teaching level of Sempai (Assistant Instructor) – a step up from the Apprentice Instructor level that he had previously held. In response to the question of what a Black Belt means to him, LaBrie replied, “It means [taking] responsibility for not just me, but others too.”
The youngest of the group who were tested on the 10th (in an exhaustive three-hour examination), Calla Baker was promoted to the level of 1st Degree Junior Black Belt. A fifth grader, Calla has been training since the age of three, moving up from the school’s “Little Ninjas” preschool program to the Juniors program. Now, after six years of training, she is finally allowed to wear a Black Belt. “I take karate because it teaches me how to defend myself,” she explained. “It lets me stop thinking about what a terrible day I’ve had or how mean someone was. I can just learn, be with nice people and friends, doing something I love – something that it fun and gives me a challenge.” When asked about the Black Belt test, Calla replied, “I had to work hard. I had to push myself harder than I ever did and I passed! It was all worth it!” In addition to studying karate, Calla assists in teaching the Little Ninjas preschool karate program.
By international standard, one must be at least sixteen years old in order to wear an adult-grade Black Belt. Statistically, less than 2% of all the people who start training in karate reach this goal. Michael Hebert and Joseph Renaud are two young men who beat those odds, earning the level of 1st Degree Black Belt. With approximately seven years of training between them, Joseph and Michael trained hard and remained committed, overcoming obstacles and pushing back their limits. In terms of what being a Black Belt means to him, Michael states, “The lower ranks look up to you. You should have patience and a will to get the best out of yourself. You need to have proper respect and discipline for what you are and [for] those around you.” Joseph echoed this sentiment: “When I look at the lower belts, it encourages me to keep going as I am an example to them.”
In addition to those students earning their Black Belt ranking, Timothy Cunningham of New London was also recognized for his work as an instructor at Rising Sun Martial Arts, and for being a positive role model – especially for the students coming up the ranks behind him. Tim was upgraded from the level of Shidoin (Apprentice Instructor) to that of Sempai (Assistant Instructor). The next teaching level Tim and Griffin will be eligible for is that of full Sensei (Instructor).
The feeling at the end of the ceremony was one of joy and accomplishment. Each of these young people is aware of the responsibility that comes with wearing a Black Belt, but their teachers have no doubt that they will live up to this responsibility. And how does it feel to earn one’s Black Belt? Calla summed it up in just one word: “Amazing!”