SILER CITY, N.C. — Wednesday, December 10, 2014 —Rachel Spoon of Pittsboro was awarded a third-degree black belt and five other students received first-degree black belts from South Eastern Karate Association when the school held its quarterly examinations earlier this fall.
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.
Spoon, now an 18-year-old freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, started training almost a decade ago so she could defend herself if a dangerous situation ever arose. But she continued for so long because she loves studying martial arts.
“For me, it has formed invaluable relationships from childhood through adulthood and it has given me the confidence in my ability to manage stressful and uncomfortable situations,” Spoon says. “It completely changes your way of thinking and approach to all difficult situations, and it never leaves you. Once a martial artist, always a martial artist."
Spoon trained for many years beside her mother, and family ties are not unusual among other students receiving black belts this fall.
Greg Neff, 50, trained previously in martial arts and earned a second-degree black belt. But he worked his way through the ranks at South Eastern Karate Association to spend more time with his son. “He wanted to try the art and, when I went in and looked at Master Jolly’s instruction in the kids’ class, I thought it would fit very well with him.”
But Neff says that’s not he only reason he returned to martial arts. He also enjoys the self-discipline karate promotes, being able to control yourself both physically and mentally, as well as the relationships students develop during training. “Physical fitness is a given, but I think that camaraderie is a big part of training that people aren’t aware of,” says the Pittsboro resident. “It’s not just about a single person; it’s not all about you. It’s about the whole class and there’s a great camaraderie everyone shares.”
Other new black belts with family ties include brothers Oscar and Hector Pulliam of Siler City, who both received the rank of First Dan Junior, a first-degree black belt designation for students under the age of 18.
Oscar, 11, particularly enjoys working on forms — choreographed patterns of karate techniques used in training — because they mix a variety of kicks and punches. Hector, 9, prefers working on a stretching exercise that helps him get his kicks higher in the air. But both believe it’s important to use the skills they’re learning in the right way. “A lot of people think karate is what you learn to beat people up,” Hector says. “But karate should only be used in self-defense.”
Matt Blanton also trains with his brother, who received a black belt earlier this year. The 10-year-old from Bear Creek started training when the two were watching karate movies and got interested in trying the martial arts for themselves. He echoes the point Oscar and Hector make about when — and when not — to use the techniques he’s taught in class.
"When I was in second grade and was drawing, a kid drew a picture of him taking karate and he had a bunch of sores on him,” Matt says. "But it’s not about hurting people. It’s about self defense.”
Also receiving the rank of First Dan was Latrell Greene, a student in South Eastern Karate Association’s school in Liberty. Greene is particularly strong with kicks, largely because of his focus and outstanding jumping ability.
It usually requires three to four years of training to earn the black belt — which can seem like a long time, especially for students who are just 9- to 11-years old. Master Jolly is pleased when students decide to work hard over that many years, but is particularly encouraged when they develop the mental strength required to be a good martial artist. That includes things her black belts have learned — like changing your thinking and approach to difficult situations, developing self-discipline and understanding when and how the art should be used.
“That was always very important to Master Yu,” says Master Jolly, who trained for decades under Grandmaster Young Yu in Greensboro. “A lot of people see martial arts now as only a sport or a way to get exercise. You definitely do get exercise and you can learn a lot from the sport approach, but I think along the way we’ve lost a lot of the important things traditional martial arts have always taught.
“We’ve tried to hold onto those core values of fitness, confidence, self-discipline and self-defense. It’s good to see that all of our students, especially the younger ones, understand how important they are in 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.