CRESTVIEW — The "dobok" — the loose-fitting Korean martial arts uniform — was the fashionable attire of the day April 6 as nearly 140 Gordon Martial Arts students advanced to the next level of their arts.
"It wasn’t our biggest group, but it was close," academy owner and instructor Chief Master Tom Gordon said. "We’re proud of them."
During 15 demonstrations by age group and experience, involving everything from basic forms to takedowns that shook the Crestview Community Center stage, the students demonstrated their prowess and the right to earn the next belt signifying their rank in their respective arts.
Students started as young as 4 years old — the academy’s "Mini Martials" — yet deftly went through their forms, occasionally punctuating their moves with a hissing "whoosh" that, Master Gordon explained, helps them control breathing and focus on their moves.
Some of the kids were so small that ascending and descending the stairs was a bit of a stretch, but once on stage the awkwardness vanished and they performed their forms effortlessly.
Among the major tenets of Gordon Martial Arts instruction are respect and discipline, attributes younger students take home to appreciative parents when they leave the Oakdale Avenue studio.
During the ceremony, students greeted directions from instructors including Amanda Howard — who tested last June for her fourth-degree black belt — and Master Greg Bledsoe — who will test for his seventh-degree black belt this fall — with choruses of "Yes, ma’am!" and "yes, sir!" followed by a rapid patter of little bare feet trotting into position as directed.
While the younger students demonstrated their expertise in Taekwondo, some of the teens and adults also gave demonstrations of Hapkido and combat Jiu-Jitsu, the latter being a Japanese martial art.
"Taekwondo is a striking art, with kicking and punching," Master Gordon said. "Hapkido is a form self-defense that uses joint locks, grappling and throwing techniques."
Guest speakers traditionally offer students and their families in the audience inspiring and practical advice during Gordon Martial Arts’ promotion ceremonies. On Friday, Christie Cadenhead of Community Bank and president of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce, encouraged the young martial artists to increase their financial literacy and start savings accounts. But that’s not all.
"As young people, it is important to give back to the community," she said.
Jokingly, Master Gordon observed, "I know that bankers can count, so why is it when I go in the bank there are eight windows but only two tellers?’
The jest gave Cadenhead the opportunity to explain that modern banking includes electronic and digital services that make it even easier to conduct personal banking without having to go to the bank, thus creating less need for a full complement of tellers.
As is tradition at the academy’s promotion ceremony, guest speakers name a non-profit to benefit from voluntary cash contributions. Attendees donated $153.40 to the Crestview High School Key Club after Cadenhead's remarks.
After students received their new belts, several also received special recognition, advancing under Bledsoe’s tutelage and Howard’s announcement to coveted membership in the academy’s Black Belt Club, and the Masters Club. The first is for students who aspire to achieve the highest colored belt, and the second is for advanced leadership positions.
Student Joshua Rushton was one of two students named to the Black Belt Club, along with Samantha Murray.
"It felt good," he said when Howard called his name and presented to him a pile of combat equipment and the new blue dobok that will replace his white uniform.
"I want to get the black belt soon," Rushton said.