Two area youths attain karate junior black belts

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Dan Finnerty

Before sunrise on Saturday morning, Nov. 4, Franklin area youngsters Cooper Rodgers, 13, and Kaitlyn Hubbs, 11, began a long and grueling day to cap their multiyear journey to achieve karate junior black belt status. A six-hour process resulted in the honor of qualifying for their belts and the ceremonial steps that accompanied the feat. However, the process is about much more than just physical prowess with martial arts.

Rodgers began learning karate at the Danny Antoine Karate Academy in 2014, while Hubbs began in 2015. Both were around four years old when first entering “Tiny Tigers,” which is comprised of youths up to eight or nine years old. Students qualify through various belt levels and curriculum.

The next age group (from about nine years old into teens) requires more to learn per belt level in the “Tigers” group, but in both cases the undertaking is arduous. As for belt progression, students begin by qualifying for white, yellow, and orange beginner belts. Next comes an intermediate phase, which includes, purple, blue, and then green. After that, brown, red, and senior red belts round out advance-level qualifications.

Black belt Danny Antoine established his academy in 1994 and has seen hundreds of youths and adults begin the process over the years. Few, however, achieve junior black belt status. Antoine estimates 30 kids started out training with Rodgers and Hubbs – but on Nov. 4, at the final test for their junior black belts, they were the only two still working toward their goals.

While the curriculum is standardized, Antoine pointed out that the process is also unique to each situation and individual. He has seen many qualify all the way to the senior red belt test, and then quit because the intensity of the junior black belt level challenges scares them.

“It’s a lot mental,” he said. “Every challenge and everything that we put there for them, whether an exercise or obstacle, it’s all geared toward pushing them past what they think they can endure. The whole point of the different levels is for them to have an opportunity to display how they deal with pressure in life.”

Each belt level involves a testing out period and every increment includes demonstrating the previous skills learned at the lower belt levels. Every time a student tests, he or she has to repeat procedures on all the information previously learned and tested on. The overall goal is to put students under pressure in unusual ways.

“Look at Kaitlyn (Hubbs),” said Antoine. “How much she pushed through sparring (during the final blackbelt qualification) and we kept waiting to see if she was going to give up.”

Hubbs did not give up. 

COOPER RODGERS and Kaitlyn Hubbs demonstrate moves during the junior black belt qualification process on Nov. 4.

“To see what that little girl went through or to see Cooper (Rodgers) transition from a shy boy to one of my best fighters is very gratifying,” beamed Antoine.

In fact, Rodgers is the next student in line that the academy is working to get onto the National Karate Team.

When receiving a junior black belt, students are reminded to think about everything they had to give up while attending classes and progressing through the various levels of qualification, including all the pain endured throughout the journey.

COOPER RODGERS and Kaitlyn Hubbs received certificates before final junior black belt testing.

“My job is to get them to a place where they understand that no matter how chaotic things get around you, you know you have God on your side, first of all. Then they learn how to calm down and focus, instead of just freaking out,” added Antoine.

While the academy trains both youths and adults, the larger contingent of students by far is children, according to Antoine. He pointed out that for most Tiny Tiger classes, the size averages around 50 students at the outset.

“The people that have come through the academy over the years regard each other as family and for the most part do what they can to stay in touch and rely on what they learned in the academy to help them cope with life’s highs and lows,” said Antoine.

Antoine also pointed out how integral and important a role his wife, Mary, plays in helping to guide students – especially female ones. “I want to give a big shout out to my wife. My name is on the door but there’s no ‘Danny’s karate academy’ without Mary and all that she does.”

Antoine envisions Rodgers continuing a karate lifestyle and mindset into his later teens and young adult life. As for Hubbs, he believes that because she is involved in dancing and theater – as evidenced by her recent part in

Overlook Theatre Co.’s “The Wizard of Oz” – that she will take what she learned in karate and apply it in a more theatrical approach to her life.

Regardless of the paths they choose, going through all they did to attain status as junior karate black belts, Rodgers and Hubbs are now equipped with memories gained and lessons learned to assist them “in whatever the future throws at them,” explained Antoine.