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Rare sixth degree black belt awarded by South Eastern Karate

Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2011

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Siler City, NC - Mark Ellington, a resident of Siler City and head instructor of South Eastern Karate's school in Liberty, was awarded the rank of Sixth Dan Instructor last month, when South Eastern Karate Association held its quarterly promotion exams.

Sixth Dan, or sixth-degree black belt, is a very rare rank in martial arts. To qualify, students train a minimum of 24 years, but usually far longer. Not only must they demonstrate technical skill, but all are required to contribute significantly to preserving the art and serving the school through teaching, directing projects and providing leadership.

Master Instructor Peggy Jolly, a seventh-degree black belt who has been teaching martial arts in Siler City for almost three decades, says few people ever reach the rank and it's the first time a sixth-degree black belt has been awarded in Siler City.

Like many youth at the time, Ellington, now 47, began training after watching martial arts TV shows, which were still fairly new and exotic to American audiences in the '70s. His interest was sealed when his parents gave him a karate book one Christmas.

"I read it until I read the front and back cover off of it," he recalls. "There were no schools to train in over here at that time, so I just had a fascination."

Eventually, he did find a school in Greensboro and enrolled as a shy teenager. When a new branch opened in Siler City, Ellington began training closer to home. The smaller classes, he says, brought him out of his shell and helped his technique improve.

What he didn't know at the time was that the local school would eventually become independent and be run by Master Jolly as South Eastern Karate - or that he would eventually operate one of South Eastern Karate's own branch schools in Liberty.

Many people train just a few years. Others want to earn the black belt and leave after achieving their goal. Some even continue to train as black belts. But few ever attain the sixth-degree rank.

Ellington says he continued for so long because the school remains true to the core values and traditional technique that has survived the test of time - and because of his teacher.

"Master Jolly cares about students and cares about them on an individual level," he says. "She wants people to grow as persons. She's outlasted many schools over the years. How was she able to do that? It's because she honestly cares. It's not about the money; it's about the people - the students."

Despite reaching rarefied air, Ellington has no plans to slow down. He's trying to take the lessons he's learned from his teacher and instill them in his own students. One of those lessons is that there's a lot to learn from the martial arts other than kicking and punching.

A lot of people don't understand that martial arts train both the body and the mind. Developing confidence and an inner strength helps people overcome difficulties as well as mental and physical barriers. "We have barriers in life that we need to push through," he says, "and how you deal with those is a reflection of you as a martial artist."

It was an unusual awards presentation for other reasons, as well.

Daniel Francis of Liberty received the rank of First Dan after previously earning a first-degree black belt in jujitsu and a second-degree black belt in judo. He even operated a school before having to close it several years ago.

He was in Liberty one night when he saw students in uniform headed to the karate school. That's all the urging he needed. "I rushed home, got my old uniform and belt and showed up at class," he says. "Mr. Ellington asked if I would have any problem starting all over. I said, 'Absolutely not.' I'm in martial arts for the passion."

Some black belts might have scoffed at the idea, but Francis, 55, said he expected to begin anew and was honored to begin his training. His expertise in jujitsu and judo helped at times. But those styles, which emphasize trapping and takedowns, also use a different approach that occasionally complicated learning the more-direct Korean style.

He doesn't regret the decision. "I wanted to do something different and broaden my martial arts experience," he says. "I love it. I'm committed to it."

Just to round out the atypical presentation, a special award was presented to Tristan Bland of Pittsboro as Most Improved. Special awards also are rarely presented in the school, but Master Jolly says the 11-year-old, who earned his Second Dan Junior rank in March, has trained with the adults and worked especially hard to refine his skills.

Not all students reach the black belt level, but that doesn't mean karate can't help. Master Jolly says some of the school's proudest moments come from taking younger students who wouldn't even participate in class at first and watching them learn and achieve.

"It shows what karate can do for people," she says. "One day, you have children who won't do anything but lie on the floor during class and eventually you see them start to get involved. Some end up as leaders."

Classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Siler City - with a class primarily for children from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and another class primarily for adults from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Liberty classes are Mondays and Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Related info:
South Eastern Karate
e-mail E-mail this page
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Rare sixth degree black belt awarded by South Eastern Karate

Related info:
South Eastern Karate

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