SILER CITY, N.C. — Wednesday, June 13, 2012—Martial artists poured into Siler City in May for a black belt reunion commemorating the 30th anniversary of South Eastern Karate Association.
About 90 people attended a casual afternoon celebration, which featured reminiscences from guests, photo and video displays showing the school's history and a demonstration by black belts currently training in the school.
A more formal and public celebration was organized five years ago to mark South Eastern Karate's first quarter century. But Master Peggy Petty Jolly, who established the local school in 1982 as a branch of the Young Yu Tae Kwon Do school in Greensboro, said this time the goal was to create a more casual atmosphere, so black belts could renew old friendships and meet new friends.
"There are a lot of people who helped establish this school and make it successful," Master Jolly said. "Foremost among them was Grandmaster Young Taek Yu, my instructor, who gave me this opportunity at a time when few women were even training in martial arts and it was unheard of to have a woman running any school.
"After several years, we separated and became South Eastern Karate Association, but Master Yu has always been an essential part of this school — and he always will be."
Among those attending was Gary Ward, a sixth-degree black belt who was Master Jolly's first instructor at Young Yu Tae Kwon Do in Greensboro. After the demonstration, Ward asked if he could lead the group before stepping in to run the black belts through their paces. Ward, who continues to teach, has been a guest instructor in Siler City before, but had not been able to return in several years.
Also participating was Robie Gray, an accomplished martial artist who studied the art in Korea before returning home to become one of the early American instructors. Robie and his late brother, Billy Gray, were Master Jolly's first instructors in Siler City, and Robie traveled from Virginia to share experiences and reminiscences with a room full of martial artists whose ages spanned about six decades.
Master Jolly believes the leadership skills her instructors passed down are one reason South Eastern Karate has been such a success.
"I was very lucky to meet these men and appreciate their willingness to teach and motivate me — especially so many years ago, when very few women were in the martial arts," says Master Jolly. "I will always be thankful to Master Yu, Gary Ward and Robie Gray because of the impact they've made in my life. I value their teachings and, with the strong bonds formed through our martial arts training, these friendships will last forever."
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.