LAWRENCE, Kan.— While growing up, many want to play football, baseball, basketball or soccer. But in Lawrence, the youth are being attracted to a different kind of activity, an activity that involves mental toughness, persistence and skill: martial arts.
At Prime Martial Arts, 4821 W. 6th, Suite H, there are 275 students who want to learn taekwondo and out of those students, 200 of them are under the age of 12. Martial arts unlike many sports can be a family event, having brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters or any other family member who want to join in on the hard work.
Jacob Thompson, 10-years-old and is a first-degree black belt, and little brother Justin Thompson, eight-years-old and is a recommended black belt, got involved in martial arts because their family were involved in it and they wanted to join in on the activity.
“My uncle was a martial artist, and it carried down,” Jacob said. “My mom and my uncles took martial arts and they passed it down to us.”
Jacob started martial arts when he was six and his brother started when he was four. But it wasn’t just family that brought the brothers to martial arts, it was more than that.
“It’s life. It’s our life,” Jacob said. “We don’t go out and do stuff like (football or baseball), we usually come out here and practice.”
Just like any other sport, everything boils down to competition and the will to succeed. In martial arts, that chance to compete comes when they attend tournaments and get to perform in front of other people.
“When you go to your first tournament and place either first, second or third, that’s really exciting,” Jacob said.
Justin agreed with his older brother that tournaments are the most fun about martial arts. Though he may care about placing like his brother, he is one who likes to put on a show for the people in attendance.
“It’s really cool when everybody is there and you compete in front of thousands of people that are at the tournaments,” Justin said.
The two brothers get to compete next to one of their best friends as well. Riley Wheat, nine-years-old, didn’t come by because his family competed in martial arts like the Thompson brothers, he had a more simplistic reason despite him being on four-years-old when he joined.
“I usually just walked by here a lot and it looked like a lot of fun and I wanted to try it,” Riley said. “And I kept doing it.”
Riley, like Jacob, has already achieved his black belt, is one who likes the extreme aspect that can come along with taekwondo.
“Probably the extreme martial arts. It is really fun when you have the music going and you’re going super fast,” Riley said. He also said the best part about the extreme martial arts is the flipping of opponents.
Jacob achieved his black belt when he was nine and Riley got his when he was eight. Justin is on the verge of getting his and is roughly four months away from getting one just like his brother and friend.
From an adult’s eye
Being able to teach young kids can be a challenge. But if a person is willing to accept the challenge, they can have the ability to change someone’s life. In taekwondo, life lessons can be learned everyday. Chris Golden, an instructor at Prime Martial Arts, values the opportunity to have an impact on someone’s life.
“Being able to have a chance to teach a young kid something about life, like sportsmanship and respect is something that makes this job great,” Golden said. “It’s great to be able to be a positive influence in a young kid’s life.”
One of the great things about martial arts is that the whole family can participate in it. The Thompson brothers have their whole family involved which includes their mother, Michelle Thompson. She has been in martial arts for the past 17 years and she likes what martial arts offer her kids.
“Family values and everyone is respectful, plus good sportsmanship,” Thompson said. ”
Erica Wheat, Riley’s mother, said she remembers when Riley came home begging to join martial arts when he was four. Whenever she allowed him to join, she said she joined with him.
“Honestly, until I got involved with it,” Wheat said. “I never realized how hard it was to get up there in front of everyone and do the things that are expected and pass your tests.”
But like many kids, they find there niche and live and thrive in it. Martial arts can bring a lot of passion especially for young kids. Thompson said she knows her boys will be able to come back to this throughout their life.
“There passion is always taekwondo,” Thompson said. “They always come back to it.”
Youth in Lawrence:
Forms to achieve a black belt
NATHAN FORDYCE: Martial Arts is an unique sport that has developed into a popular activity among children. They strive to become black belts and must complete rigorous tests to achieve such feats. Chris Golden, who is an instructor at Prime Martial Arts in Lawrence, Kansas, introduces one of the things that a participant must do in order to be given his black belt.
CHRIS GOLDEN: So this is Jacob Thompson, he is 10-years-old. He is doing the first-degree black belt form which is 81 moves long. It goes on a certain pattern going each direction. It consists of kicks at all different levels, blocks and strikes.
FORDYCE: During this procedure, the martial artist must be able to have a precise form that demonstrates technique, strength and speed. It also must have perfect flow and no mistakes. But not only do they need to get this form down to achieve a black belt, they also must master the weapon form. Golden explains what the weapon form consists of for a martial artist.
GOLDEN: This is Riley Wheat, he is nine-years-old. He is a first degree black belt and he is performing the set first degree black belt, “Ssahng Jeol Bahngs” form, which is also known as the nunchunks. The nunchunks form for first degree black belts is 31 moves long. It goes in a straight line back and forth, displaying both the right side and the left side.
FORDYCE: The point of the weapon form is to make sure the participant can use it appropriately and be able to do so on both sides of their body. The length of time to achieve a black belt will vary depending on how long someone can pick up on these moves. This is Nathan Fordyce reporting for Sport them J’s.