‘We leaned on her’: Persevering is a hallmark of Gordon Martial Arts summer promotions

Brian Hughes | Special to the News Bulletin/USA TODAY NETWORK

CRESTVIEW — As Gordon Martial Arts instructor Amanda Howard explained, Robyn Fulkerson’s black belt in Combat JuJitsu “was a long time coming,” but as the academy’s owner, Tom Gordon, said, “she persevered.”

While it took Fulkerson four and a half years to attain her black belt, it certainly wasn’t for want of trying. But at last, during GMA’s July 2 belt promotion ceremony, “after several injuries, several surgeries,” Howard read out her name.

As Master Greg Bledsoe observes, Gordon Martial Arts owner Master Tom Gordon describes Robyn Fulkerson’s sometimes difficult four and a half year journey to attain her black belt during a GMA promotions ceremony July 2 in Crestview.
Gordon Martial Arts’ summer belt promotion ceremony featured more than 100 students tested for the next belt level, many of whom attended the July 2 ceremony in Crestview.

Fulkerson became the latest of 104 black belts awarded by Master Gordon’s academy in its 25 years, most of them spent on Oakdale Avenue in downtown Crestview.

“I was supposed to test in December, but back in November I had shoulder surgery and that was a setback,” Fulkerson said, one of several she would encounter.

Her daughter, Megan, had already enrolled in Gordon Martial Arts, studying both Taekwondo and Hapkido. Robyn saw how rewarding it was.

“When I retired after 26 years, I needed a hobby,” she said.

Her sometimes arduous journey to the Crestview Community Center stage Friday night was admirable and typical of many of his academy’s students, Gordon said. While not necessarily written up on the wall in the main instruction room, “perseverance” is certainly one of the students’ tenets.

“Ms. Fulkerson had all sorts of injuries, but she persevered,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean her black belt test was a breeze, nor was it a sort of trophy for just showing up.

“For an hour and a half we punished her; we leaned on her,” Gordon said. “My job as an instructor is to take her as far as she could go, and then one more step.”

Free passes, no matter how sympathetic a student’s situation may be, are not something distributed at GMA. While it looks great to be able to boast impressive stats, such as a large class of new Black Belt Club members, “gimmes” neither build character nor produce leaders. Perseverance does.

Mini Martials receiving their next degree belt include Jamiah Chatman, being assisted down the steps by Coleson Hannan, and her cousin, Miles Peoples, July 2 in Crestview.
Anyone can practice Taekwondo or Hapkido at Gordon Martial Arts, retirees Pat and Lane Watkins say. “It’s fun,” Pat said, and “It’s great exercise,” Lane added. They attended GMA's promotion ceremony July 2 in Crestview.

That’s one reason when Howard announced the July ceremony’s Black Belt Club members, only one name was called: Bryce Graham, who was presented the armful of training weapons and the respected blue uniform.

Black Belt Club members are students who aspire to earn the hard-earned black belt and its subsequent degrees.

“We look to see who’s doing what they should be doing, and being where they should be going,” Howard said.

Another such student is Coleson Hannan, 16, who received his third degree black belt, as his dad, Nicholas, also a GMA student, earned his probationary black belt in Combat JuJitsu.

Phenix Mayo receives congratulations from instructor Luke West upon receiving his second-degree black belt in Taekwondo during Gordon Martial Arts' promotion ceremony July 2 in Crestview.
Bryce Graham receives an armful of equipment and his new, blue Black Belt Club uniform. He was the only Gordon Martial Arts student admitted to the coveted club during the summer promotions July 2 in Crestview.

One of the academy’s teen leadership students, Coleson is often called on to help with keeping things such as the promotion ceremonies running smoothly.

At the July 2 ceremony, that included helping put out more chairs for an unexpectedly large attendance.

“We did not anticipate such a big turnout on the Fourth of July weekend and in the rain,” Gordon said.

For retirees Pat and Lane Watkins, there’s more to practicing Hapkido than a proper mindset.

“It’s fun! It’s a real confidence builder,” Pat said, as her husband added, “It’s also great exercise.”

Coleson Hannan, center, receives congratulations from his fellow teen leadership students Justin West, left, and Matthew Wilkerson during Gordon Martial Arts' promotion ceremony July 2 in Crestview.
Newly advanced to her first black belt, Robyn Fulkerson checks the fit of Coleson Hannan’s new third-degree black belt.  during Gordon Martial Arts' promotion ceremony July 2 in Crestview.

Like Coleson and his dad, Robyn Fulkerson, and other students, perseverance is integral to their achievements at GMA. For Coleson, that usually involves maintaining his focus.

“The hardest part is making sure I have my thoughts under control,” he said. “I tend to over-think things.”

Achieving a balance between maintaining his focus and honing his skills is typical of how Gordon Martial Arts students continue to progress. Even if it takes four-and-a-half years, as it has Robyn Fulkerson.

Gordon Martial Arts offers instruction in Taekwondo, Hapkido and Combat JuJitsu at 130 Oakdale Ave. W. in Crestview, 850-862-0720, www.gordonmartial arts.com, Facebook: facebook.com/GordonMartialArt/. Students aged 4-and-a-half to adult are welcome.