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Black Saturday

Three Kenshin School students pass black belt examinations

Viviana Aguila isn’t the quiet type, but her friends at Cabin John Middle School are still surprised that she takes karate. “They just say, ‘Oh, you don’t seem like that kind of a person,” Aguila said. “I tell them, you can come to a class and just watch.”

More than 30 people came to watch Aguila and two other candidates receive their black belts after an examination at the Kenshin Karate School on Saturday, May 8. Aguila, 14; Taylor Crimmel, 13; and Noah Sees, 11; trained from five to seven years each before earning their black belts.

“For a child to have that kind of dedication? Unheard of,” Kenshin School instructor Neil Tyra told the students. “Hopefully you will continue to challenge yourself the rest of your life the way you do in karate.”

Saturday’s examination included 18 different katas, which Tyra describes as “a series of dance-like moves that simulates fighting multiple attackers.” The black-belt candidates also performed pre-arranged sparring combinations of kicks, punches and blocks, called ippon kurnite, before sparring with Kenshin’s red-belt and black-belt students.

The black-belt examination actually began two weeks before Saturday, as Tyra and his assistants evaluated the students on their mental and physical mastery of their katas. “The final step is when we invite them to demonstrate it before the public,” Tyra said. The two-hour public demonstration “is kind of like running two 10-K’s, and then having to go 12 rounds boxing.”

Black-belt Kenshin student Ben Parzow, a 6th-grader at Robert Frost, sparred against the three candidates in the examination, but he welcomed them to the club afterward. “In the beginning, we were all the same,” Parzow said. “It’s fun to watch how they got better and better as they got older.”

Occasional jokes from Tyra prevented the atmosphere from growing too somber at the examination. When the black-belt candidates performed their katas, Tyra urged them to go “full blast, with a blood-curdling yell.” As the candidates defended themselves in sparring matches, Tyra instructed them to pay a Mother’s Day tribute to the moms in attendance, screaming, “You said what about my mother?” to their attackers.

But Tyra also asked candidates to recite facts about gujuryu, the Japanese form of karate Tyra teaches at Kenshin School. “I try to have them understand the traditional underpinnings of [gujuryu],” he said.