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December 18, 2014

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Martial Arts:

Students endure grueling challenges to earn black belt

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Home News

Geordie Ryder, 17, demonstrates various movements with fellow black belts during a practice session inside the Dojang martial arts studio.

Inside the Dojang martial arts studio

Soraya Peron tosses Geordie Ryder to the mat during a self-defense demonstration inside the martial arts studio, The Dojang. Launch slideshow »

When Geordie Ryder began his martial arts training four years ago, visions of Bruce Lee action movies filled his head.

To earn his black belt, Ryder figured he would have to win some kind of street fight or break a stone with his foot.

The testing he would actually endure was much greater.

Ryder, 17, spent three days fasting, 12 hours meditating and another day of testing his forms to get his tae kwon do black belt in December.

"It's not as bad as it sounds at first," he said. "But near the end, when you start to see food, every minute seems like an hour."

Ryder, a senior at Liberty, was one of five students who earned black belts in December at The DoJang martial arts studio, 9550 S. Eastern Ave.

Dan Jackson, the studio's owner, requires students to complete the four-day testing before earning the higher degree belt.

The emphasis on fasting and meditation makes the studio unique to Henderson, Jackson said.

"We're more of a holistic training center," he said. "A lot of places focus on winning. We certainly don't teach them how to fail, just how to recognize defeat."

The other students who completed the testing were Soraya Peron, 13, Ryan Schefris, 12, Dominic Raffinello, 12, and Bryant Dilks, 8. They received junior black belts because they are younger than 16.

Some of the younger students were required only one day of without solid foods and eight hours of meditation, still more than most studios require.

Dominic's mother, Katie Raffinello, was initially nervous about the testing but was reassured by a doctor who said fasting in moderation would not be harmful.

"You just have to make sure they are hydrated," she said. "Dominic would pack chicken broth and tea to school."

With the intensity of the testing, it's no wonder Jackson does not allow his students to do it alone.

Jackson, who went through a similar initiation 30 years ago, said this was the most students to complete the testing.

"It says a lot that these individuals had the determination and were able to stick with it all the way through," he said. "It's not easy. Less than 5 percent of people make it to black belt at our studio."

Ryan, a seventh grader at Charles Silvestri Middle School, said the fasting cleanses the body and teaches self discipline, leaving him feeling rejuvinated.

"I think it would be good for a lot of people to try," he said.

Going three days without solid food may have been difficult, but remaining in a seated position 12 hours was excruciating, Dominic said.

The students met at the studio on the final day of their fast to meditate together. They only had short breaks between sitting still with their eyes closed for the meditation.

"You just think about how good the food is going to taste after everything," said Dominic, a Jack L. Schofield Middle School seventh grader. "When you get up, it's painful to your legs."

To Soraya, a Barbara and Hank Greenspun Junior High School seventh grader, the five-hour forms test following the fast was the most challenging.

Each student demonstrates about 40 tae kwon do forms.

"It felt really good, though, after you're done," Peron said. "I thought, 'Wow, I can't believe I could do this.'"

Sean Ammerman can be reached at 990-2661 or [email protected].

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