CRESTVIEW — Ethan Hunter achieved a long-time goal July 5, becoming one of three Gordon Martial Arts students to be named to the coveted Black Belt Club.

His dedication, self-control, excellent attendance record, positive attitude and respect for staff and other students caught the attention of instructor Amanda Howard.

"To get in the club, you have to have a good attitude," Howard said.

Ethan’s mom, Krista Hunter, said the achievement is another positive step in his previously "difficult" transformation.

"My son has completely changed. It’s honestly a miracle," Krista said. "It goes all the way from his grades at school to how he behaves at home.

"He’s 11. That age can be such a trying thing," she added. 

His success and that of other students who previously had discipline problems are credited GMA's family-like, supportive atmosphere.

"When he has issues he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to us about, he’ll talk to Ms. Howard or other instructors," Krista said.

"That’s what we’re all about," said Chief Master Thomas Gordon. "It’s about helping kids like Ethan be the best that they can be, and that starts with self-discipline and respect — for themselves, the other kids and the grown-ups."

GMA instructor Luke West watched as his son, Justin, 13, went through his forms to earn his red senior belt.

"He did very well," West said. "I’m proud of him."

"It was honestly kind of scary and exciting at the same time," Justin said. "It was the first time I had to do my forms all by myself. I felt elated and I also wanted to shrink into a tiny ball."

Justin said he likes how GMA "trains you for real life situations, not just sparring and points," and is eagerly anticipating advancing to the next level.

"If I pass my next belt test, I’ll get a probationary black belt," he said.

Guest speaker was Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles, who advised the students and their families that to stand out and advance, sometimes you have to be a little bit unusual.

"One thing that’s important to me is being different, being unique and being yourself," Boyles said. "It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to be yourself.

"To be number one, you have to be odd," he said.

Following GMA tradition, a bucket was passed around the room, with attendees voluntarily contributing toward the guest speaker’s selected charity. They raised $201 for the Children’s Advocacy Center.

The public may attend a free in-school tournament to learn more about GMA at 9 a.m. July 27 at the academy, 130 Oakdale Ave. W. in Crestview.