By Rochelle Brenner
Jaden never planned on getting a black belt like this. Jaden was not planning on ever getting a Black Belt at Action Karate. Last year, he was a standout at a competing martial arts school a few miles away, Kim’s Karate under the direction of Master Ed.
Ed saw Jaden’s potential and pegged him as an apprentice instructor. Jaden thrived through 7 years of training. In February 2020, Jaden passed his Black Belt pre-test and the high school student had visions of working for Master Ed one day.
But then. The first shutdown. That was okay. Jaden figured he would be back. But remember summer 2020 was a lion’s den of uncertainty. Social unrest. Political upheaval. Hiding from a virus.
When Master Ed started to reopen his place, it wasn’t the same: the masks, the social distancing, the dwindling attendance. Ed was old school and didn’t glom on to Zoom. A thought that had been floating in his head about the near future had become a thudding decision: it was time to close. Ed wasn’t unique in making that call. By some estimates, 40 percent of martial arts academies closed during the pandemic. Ed decided to focus his energy on other elements of his business such as security and bouncer training.
Ed reached out to his once-competitor a few miles away at Action Karate Mt. Airy. After a few phone calls and a promise to honor the rank of anyone who transferred, Action became the preferred landing place for Ed’s students.
Jaden could’ve quit then. He was 17, he had a good run, had a budding interest in being a sculptor and had virtual school to get to. But Master Ed’s karate had planted a seed that Jaden wasn’t ready to mow over. He had fallen in love with martial arts.
Jaden and his mom explained he was the equivalent of the belt before black. He had even passed the black belt pre-test, but the closure happened before the final.
It was an unusual time, it was a pandemic, so Action gave him an opportunity that no one has gotten before or likely will again. A class of students was set to graduate in 16 weeks. If he trained with them and passed every element of the test, he could earn his Junior Black Belt. He would have to use every ounce of endurance and determination he learned from Master Ed plus a suite of new combinations and techniques.
It’s hard to imagine anyone would be that motivated to speed through an entire system of martial arts socially distanced wearing a mask. But there were enough similarities in the curriculum and Jaden was no ordinary student.
By the time of the final test, Philly was entering another shutdown. Jaden could imagine his Black Belt slip from his fingers yet again. The test got delayed a week, then another week. Finally, the Black Belt candidates were all called to a once-in-a-lifetime test. Outside. In a never-been-worn white uniform. Ten miles from the karate school. The weather was mild for winter, the ground was muddy. The mask was stifling.
He passed. He started the journey to begin teaching martial arts. He’s working part-time at Action over the summer. He’s training for his Senior Black Belt next.