Seven-year-old Bloomingdale girl earns black belt
When Nestor Angel's oldest daughter, Jessica, decided she wanted to try her hand at karate, it came as no surprise to him.
"When she was kind of young, about 3 years old, she wanted to try everything -- baseball, soccer, tennis, ping-pong," he recalled. "So we started doing it."
By the time Jessica Angel was 4 years old, she wanted to sign up for karate. Despite her age, she was accepted in the Grandmaster Han's Martial Arts School in Glendale Heights, a rarity, according to instructor Samantha York.
"In the six years that we've been (in Glendale Heights), we've had Jessica and I think three others that have started at age 4," she said.
"We just don't normally start them at that age. We've got to find an exceptional kid that can really stay focused and pay attention to accept them into our program."
York has not been disappointed with the school's decision to accept Jessica. Not only has the Bloomingdale youngster excelled, she has set a new standard among the six Grandmaster Han schools in Illinois.
On April 5, Jessica tested for and attained her black belt at the tender age of 7.
"She is the youngest out of our schools here in Illinois," York said. "Usually, by age 10 it is more common to be trying for a black belt."
Climbing the martial arts ladder from white belt to black belt takes a lot of dedication for an adult practitioner, much less a 7-year-old. As the demands and expectations placed on the jumps, kicks and movements get higher, interest for many kids starts to wane.
"That's when you start to lose students no matter what the age," York said. "I would say Jessica's really excelled in that area. She didn't let the hard work scare her off. She was very determined."
Jessica easily passed her black belt test, but it did not come without a little drama. The Erickson School (Bloomingdale) second-grader had a slight memory lapse, but then just as quickly got back on track.
"There was this form and I forgot it," Jessica said. "I just did it from the beginning, and then I started remembering it."
You might think that earning a black belt at such an early age would indicate a child obsessed with the sport. Actually, Jessica claims that basketball is her favorite sport, but she does like the independence that comes with the martial arts.
"I like that I can practice by myself," she said. "There is something every day that is new."
Another thing she likes about the martial arts is the almost instant gratification that comes with a job well done.
"I do my form and, if I do it right, then I can test," she said. "It makes me feel real proud of myself."
It cannot get much simpler than that.
The program itself, however, is not so simple. The Grandmaster Han schools practice a style of martial arts called Youn Wha Ryu.
"It's like a mixed martial arts, so we do several different martial arts," York said. "We do karate, tae kwon do, hapkido, and judo. It's all sort of rolled into one package."
While Jessica earned her black belt, that doesn't mean she would be comparable to a 20-year-old man earning a black belt, York said.
"It's not going to be the same in the sense that they are different people and are different sizes," she said. "They are also different ages, so he's going to have strength that she doesn't have because she's so small."
There are still criteria, however, that are used to determine successful testing for a black belt, including certain kicks, punches, blocks, timing and motion. They also consider attitude.
"Do they have the proper respectful attitude?" York asked. "We have basic rules that everyone has to follow: be polite, patient, alert, brave, do your best, respect yourself and others."
York is one of three main instructors at their Glendale Heights location along with her husband, Brian, and son, Brandon, 15.
All three of them have attained their third-degree black belt. They also have locations at several elementary schools in Carpentersville, as well as locations in Lisle and Pingree Grove. For details, visit www.younwha-il.com or call (630) 307-0584.