CRESTVIEW — At Gordon Martial Arts, there’s only one way to fail—that’s to give up, Master Tom Gordon said. Gordon started the downtown academy in 2003.

"I learned more from my failures than from my successes," he said before the summer promotions ceremony July 6 at the Crestview Community Center.  "We don’t set people up to fail. The only people who fail are the people who don’t come back to try again."

Multiple rounds of forms demonstrations — including a few stunning throws and falls — followed some inspirational words by guest speaker Ronald Daves, CEO of North Okaloosa Medical Center.

The demos led to a promenade of successful taekwondo and hapkido students who crossed the stage, bowing to their masters and instructors, and proudly but with humility accepted the next belt as they advanced in their art.

Among the black belt recipients was Jeremy Morgan, whom Gordon described as "a quiet man but a heck of a technician and instructor." Morgan earned a promotion to fifth degree, which is master level. 

"From what I can tell, there’s about a 4 percent chance a white belt holder (beginner) will earn their first degree black belt. I’d venture to guess only one out of 2,000 white belts makes it to fifth degree," Gordon said.

Something they enjoy 

"It’s neat to see everybody here, from different ages, from young to old, all accomplishing something they enjoy," Daves said.

"I started when I was 5," junior black belt recipient Jackson Bayless, 10, said. Today he wears the black dobok — uniform — of a GMA leadership student, and offered this advice to new students of any age: "Listen to your instructors because they will help you. And have the precision you need to have in your forms (patterns)."

Jaedyn Williams, 7, was surprised when instructor Amanda Howard selected him to come up on the stage and receive the equipment provided only to members of the Black Belt Club, an elite cadre of students who accept the challenge to advance to black belt.

"It’s good, but sometimes it’s hard," Jaedyn said.

"It’s difficult, but it’s worth it," 13-year-old Jayde Bradley, also sporting the black leadership dobok, said. "Practice at home because as Mrs. Howard says, ‘Practice makes permanent.’"

The family center

Gordon Martial Arts calls itself a "family center," and that’s not just due to the crowd of supportive moms, dads, siblings and grandparents who turned out to cheer as each student received his or her next belt.

Several belt recipients are parents who participate in the disciplines with their kids.

Luke West retired from the Air Force, moved home to the Fort Walton Beach area, and then "spent a long time looking for a good (martial arts) school for my sons."

After enrolling Justin (12) and Patrick (10) at Gordon Martial Arts, Luke realized he missed participating in the art himself. Friday evening he achieved his fourth-degree taekwondo black belt, accompanied by teaching certification.

"Now they have to deal with their dad being an actual instructor," Luke said, chuckling.

"Yeah, we have the greatest dad!" Justin said, and he and his brother gave their father a massive bear hug.

"We’re enjoying it," Luke said. "We’re having great fun. It’s something we can all do together."

Stephanie Lynch and her son, Patrick, 16, agreed.

"It’s fun having my mom there," he said.

"It really has been fun," Stephanie agreed. "It started out on a bet. I told him if he made first-degree black belt, I’d join, and I did."

Many benefits

Justin West added the study of taekwondo has been a benefit in more ways than quality family time.

"I have ADHD," he said. "Taekwondo helps manage my levels of bouncing off the walls. I’m able to focus. I want to pursue all the way to black belt like my dad."

For families, GMA is an affordable academy. After the first two family members pay the usual fee, any subsequent family members join for free.

"So, you have a family of eight, two pay," Gordon said.

For adult student Scott Williams, who moved to GMA from another academy, instructors like Amanda Howard helped him find his niche while achieving his taekwondo goals. That he is deaf makes it important that he has an understanding, patient instructor, who teaches him partially in sign language.

"Mrs. Howard is an incredible teacher," he said. "I was excited to come here (to GMA) because I wanted to learn more. I want to test for third-degree in December."

His students’ comments are music to Master Gordon’s ears.

"That’s what this is all about," he said. "People challenging themselves, and having fun while they do it, in a friendly, nurturing, supportive atmosphere."