SILER CITY, N.C. — Friday, August 9, 2013 —In a ceremony showcasing students' wide range of age and experience, five martial artists training with South Eastern Karate Association received black belt ranks earlier this summer.
Belts and certificates were presented by Master Instructor Peggy Jolly, a seventh-degree black belt, or Seventh Dan, who owns the school and has been teaching martial arts in Siler City for more than three decades.
The highest rank of the day was awarded to Kirby Pate of Pittsboro, who was promoted to Fourth Dan. The 18-year-old who is attending New York University this fall credits training since age five for helping him overcome any number of difficult challenges — both on and off the training floor.
He still recalls one moment early in his training when he was sparring a particularly daunting opponent. "It was difficult because I was afraid, but that's when I learned to trust what I was taught and what I can do," he says. "After that, I just threw myself into it and stopped being so reserved."
Joel Jolly of Siler City was awarded the rank of Third Dan Instructor. The 55-year-old draws on years of military experience to motivate young students in class who love his old-school exercises and upbeat style.
"I feel like I do help motivate people and that's important when they're doing something that they're not used to doing." says Jolly. "Learning motivation is good not just in karate and school, but in the work environment. People get to be good managers because know how to motivate people."
Three other students received their black belts and were awarded first-degree ranks.
Harley Phillips of Siler City received the rank of First Dan. The 19-year-old uses the self-discipline taught in martial arts to build his patience and mental focus, something that helps him succeed as a student at Sandhills Community College.
Training is not only about physical technique. When it's taught well, Master Jolly says, karate focuses on the complete person, and Phillips' dedication has helped him become better on and off the training floor.
Christian Aguiluz-Saldana and Davis Neff, both 10 years old, received the rank of First Dan Junior. The "junior" designation is used for all black belts awarded to students under the age of 18.
Aguiluz-Saldana, who lives in Siler City, began training because he thought karate looked interesting. Over more than three years of training, he practiced at home to learn the more difficult forms — choreographed patterns of techniques that help martial artists develop their skills.
The most important thing he's learned is how to defend himself. But it's not always been easy. "It's hard," he says, "because you need to kick hard and punch hard and do everything right."
Neff began training about three years ago at another school before moving to South Eastern Karate. The Moncure resident has worked especially hard to refine details in some of the longer, more-complex forms — something that isn't easy for younger martial artists learning forms that were created for adults.
He not only learned the sequence and techniques, but focused on improving each stance for each move. "I had to spend a lot of time on my red belt form," he says. "When I started, I was shaking when I did a low block. But I stretched at home so I could stop."
Master Jolly says her students' wide range of ages and expertise demonstrates how the art can make life better for anyone.
"Some people think martial arts are only for young people — and maybe even just young men — but that's not true," she says. "Martial arts are designed to improve yourself, not matter what your age or level of ability might be.
"We emphasize four things: self-defense, self-discipline, fitness and confidence. And all of those can give you a better life."
Classes are held in Siler City on Tuesdays and Thursdays — with one class primarily for children from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and another class primarily for adults from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Liberty classes are Mondays and Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Details are available at southeasternkarate.com.
South Eastern Karate Association has taught Korean martial arts in central North Carolina since 1982 to men and women from 5-years-old to well past retirement age. Schools in Siler City and Liberty feature instruction in self-defense and emphasize confidence, physical fitness and self-discipline.