CRESTVIEW — About 120 Gordon Martial Arts students advanced to their next martial arts belt levels April 5.

"I’ve learned a lot in the three months I’ve been doing Taekwon-Do," Teresa O’Connor, a Crestview mother, said. "I mainly signed up for exercise and self-defense."

Acquiring discipline, whether one’s own or for one’s children, is another motivator, GMA owner Master Tom Gordon said.

Parents have also commented on how the respect their children acquire at GMA for their instructors, elders and each other carries over to home.

"Master Gordon and his staff are wonderful," one mother said after the ceremony. "I’ve seen a definite improvement in my kids’ behavior since they’ve been coming here."

Many students achieved impressive levels of accomplishment. Jeremy Morgan attained his fifth-degree black belt in Taekwon-Do, a feat Master Gordon said happens to only about one in 2,000 practitioners of the discipline when they start as white belts.

Master Greg Bledsoe, a long-time GMA instructor, was awarded his seventh-degree black belt, an even more rare accomplishment. He was presented a pair of chevrons for his new uniform by guest instructor Master Michael Munyon of Michigan. He and several other masters visited to teach a three-day International Taekwan-do instructors course.

Three teen students, Trent Tucker, Asline Heringer and Phenix Mayo, received their first-degree black belts in Taekwon-Do, and adult Matt Young received his first-degree black belt in hapkido.

Landen Daves, Lillie Dale and Sydney Rosnick received the blue uniforms and equipment of Black Belt Club students.

Gordon, a former adult league football player, said the way students continue to attain higher ranks long into adulthood sets martial arts apart from most other sports.

"In almost all other sports, as you get older, you get benched. In martial arts, you get more respect."

And that, said new Crestview Mayor JB Whitten, is a matter of perseverance. During motivational remarks to the students and audience, he likened his political career to striving for a black belt.

"The first time I tried (for public office), I got beaten," he said. "But I didn’t go home and cry. I tried again, and that time, I got elected. You always have to keep trying."

Following his remarks, as is tradition for GMA guest speakers, a bucket was passed and raised $232.50 from the audience for his choice of non-profit: the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless.

Whitten’s comments came as validation to Teresa O’Connor’s efforts, who was awarded her yellow belt that night.

"When I first came to Gordon Martial Arts, I couldn’t get off the floor," she said. "Now I got this (belt), and I’m making friends. And I lost weight!"