CRESTVIEW — More than 100 martial artists of all ages attended a ceremony Friday night at the Crestview Community Center.

Gordon Martial Arts academy owner and Master Instructor Tom Gordon said his school’s quarterly promotion ceremonies include more than conferring the next belt level on a student.

Students and their families socialize following the event, further reinforcing GMA’s "The Family Center" motto, while guest speakers and a voluntary fundraiser for a community organization instill valuable life lessons in his students, according to Gordon.

"Promotions are a big event for us," he said.

State Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, was the evening’s first guest speaker. During his remarks he challenged the young martial artists who sat before him to not only continue to succeed at their chosen art, but also to encourage the success of others.

"Other classmates, other students, if they’re working hard, turn around and say, ‘Hey, great job,’" Ponder said. "For each new belt, for each new goal you achieve, first give thanks for that. Be grateful for that, and keep pressing hard to achieve the next level. But look behind you and see who’s coming behind you, and turn around and tell them, ‘You can do it as well.’"

Providing voluntary donations to guest speakers’ chosen charities "is a great tool for parents to explain to their children that the world is bigger than them," Gordon said. "It should instill a grateful heart and help them develop empathy as they understand that many people have it much worse than they do. Helping others is a fundamental when teaching leadership through servanthood."

Friday night, Ponder chose COPS: Concerns of Police Survivors as his preferred charity, with GMA families raising more than $200 for the organization’s Northwest Florida chapter. COPS helps local families of law enforcement officers who have been slain while on duty.

Choosing who will speak at his academy’s ceremonies involves sometimes treading a delicate balance of local politics, community leadership and moral character, Gordon said. 

"I avoid bringing people campaigning for office, but I do want the students exposed to our local public officials," he said. "I invited Rep. Mel Ponder because he is very active in our community, works diligently representing us in Tallahassee, and has a servant’s heart."

The evening’s other speaker, Ju-Jitsu Soke (grand master heir) Michael DePasquale Jr., teaches martial arts, produces anti-crime videos and training films, has authored several books, and provides martial artist actors for film and television. He instructed a combat Ju-Jitsu seminar at Gordon Martial Arts over the weekend.

For the strength and concentration required to succeed in martial arts, DePasquale advised students to look within themselves.

"Self-confidence, self-discipline, control, self-esteem comes from within yourself," he said.

"The first place it comes from is how you respect your parents."