Jacob Madsen, 9, enters a circle of human bodies to face his opponent. Each is wearing a padded helmet, gloves and foot guards, and they are soon punching and kicking each other and blocking blows. Before he knows it, Jacob, a Fairfax Station resident, is battling against three opponents and holding his own.
It is just one of the tests over a three-day period the 10 black-belt candidates at Carl Runk's World Karate in Fairfax must pass on Saturday. And after 2 1/2 hours of demonstrating they know their forms, kicks, blocks and punches, and after breaking boards and sparring with others with a wide-range of belts, the candidates, ranging in age from 5 to 30 years old, get their black belts.
"I was really excited and happy," said Jacob afterward. "I plan to continue until I get all my degrees."
Jacob said he began taking martial arts three years ago because he thought it would be fun.
FOR SOME CHILDREN, martial arts is the after-school activity of choice. So popular in fact, some centers are providing a total after-school program.
"We pick up the children from the local school, and while they are here, they finish their homework," said H. K. Lee, owner of H. K. Lee's Tae Kwon Do in Herndon. "At the same time the students do different activities and are learning the self-defense of tae kwon do."
The reasons children are turning to the martial arts vary. "You learn discipline. It builds self-confidence. You lose weight," said Stella Lee, owner of Yong In Martial Arts Academy in Burke. "About 7 percent of our parents bring their children just for the discipline."
While there are several types of martial arts available, the most prevalent in this area seems to be tae kwon do, which Stella Lee said is a Korean martial art that does not use weapons. According to Encarta Encyclopedia, it means "the art of hand and foot fighting."
"Traditional tae kwon do from Korea has three parts. Tae is the foot, kwon is the fist and do is the philosophy," said Jung Ho Shin, a master at United Martial Arts Academy in Fairfax. "It's about controlling one’s self."
Shin said the martial arts are about teaching focus and control. Tae kwon do does that through the various forms, which are choreographed kicks and punches. But not only do the students learn the forms, they learn why those particular movements are used in that order, and through the discipline, the students learn other life lessons.
"They have to learn what the movements are about. They have to understand why they use that form," Shin said. "We teach the kids to be a better person. Martial arts will make them strong physically, but it will also make them strong mentally, which is very important."
WHILE THE MARTIAL ARTS teach discipline, they also require a degree of self-discipline, especially for those who wish to progress and improve.
"If they are not disciplined enough, we cannot give them the knowledge they need," said H. K. Lee. "To become an expert, a person must have self-discipline."
For that reason, Carl Runk, owner of Carl Runk's World Karate in Fairfax, offers a "tots" class for the littlest learners, which is half the time of a regular class and concentrates on teaching the youngsters to just listen.
"We don't do a whole lot technique-wise," Runk said. "Instead we work on developing listening skills. There are no belts or ribbons in the tots class."
The martial arts also require a commitment from the parents. Shin said the dedication of the parents to bring their children to class every time is key. "It has to be consistent," he said.
Runk said he has had parents relieved their child has decided to drop the class. But, he said, there are benefits for the entire family, especial if the parents become involved as well.
"It's very empowering experience for the kids to do something with their parents or the other adults," Runk said. "The kids are used to being told what to do by their parents, and in this case they are on equal footing."
In addition, being part of a structured after-school program helps create more family time in the evenings, he said.