Us : Area Students Earn Black Belts, Learn Life Lessons From Karate

Area students earn black belts, learn life lessons from karateWhen she was a child growing up in Japan, Susan Snyder walked past karate dojos and glanced at the students in class through the open windows.
Years later, when her son, Samuel, was born, she thought it would be a good sport for him to try.

“I was just impressed with the sense of presence that I see in the martial arts,” Susan said. “There’s a sense of presence in a room. I’m impressed by that. In some ways, I’m awed by it. Not cocky, not heavy-handed, just confident. That’s what I wanted for my son, to go through life and walk into a room and be confident there.”
Samuel, who turned 12 on Saturday, started practicing karate when he was 4 years old, and his sister, Abigail, now 16, followed a year later. Susan called around area dojos until settling on Georgia Karate Academy in Watkinsville.
In July, Samuel earned a first-degree junior black belt. In the last 30 years, only 15 11-year-olds have earned first degree black belts from the American JKA Karate Association International. Abigail also earned a first-degree junior black belt. Oconee resident Zack McGee earned a second-degree junior black belt.
Sensei David Gomez, a fifth-degree black belt, teaches most of the classes at Georgia Karate Association, which emphasizes budo (which Gomez equates to courtesy, etiquette and sportsmanship), physical education, sport and general education.
“It is a package deal,” Gomez said. “Anybody can be taught how to fight, but knowing how to use what you have in a way to better yourself and others, that’s the emphasis of martial arts.”
Samuel and his counterparts proved that last month. There’s no specific timeline for how quickly students progress through the ranks, although you must be 18 or older to be a third-degree black belt or above.
“He was able to do it so young because he stayed at it consistently for those eight years and that made it a huge difference,” Gomez said. “There are a lot of kids that have done it for eight years like him and are not even halfway up the ladder.”
And in Shotokan karate, the sensei determines if and when a student is ready to test for a belt.
“He has worked hard and there have been difficult moments along the way,” Susan said. “There was a long wait between some of the belts.”
Said Samuel: “It takes a long time. One of our association’s rules is that they don’t just give away the belt. You have to earn them.”
And once they’ve earned them, they pass their knowledge along to other students. Samuel, who also plays soccer and runs cross country at Westminster Christian, often trains with teenagers.
“It’s an encouragement for the kids to see, wow, he started off just like we did,” Gomez said. “... It’s a good thing for the other students and that’s the thing about the martial arts. As you advance and you get better, it’s your responsibility now to start imparting to the younger ones.”
As Susan sees her children move through the ranks, she’s seen them grow in confidence, and in ability to take instruction and coaching.