Opinion: Martial arts grapple with local problems

Rodrigo Gracie teaches at Midnight Blue Martial Arts on Aug. 20.
Rodrigo Gracie teaches at Midnight Blue Martial Arts.

“Karate is the best thing you can do for your child.” At least Chuck Norris thinks so, according to the signed poster on the Midnight Blue Martial Arts Web site. He’s not alone in this belief; though the picture of your average librarian does not involve breaking boards or bowing to your sensei (martial arts instructor) after a successful knockout, this librarian and martial arts student thinks karate does great things for children, teens and adults alike.

Let me introduce you to some of the artists in the system. Though Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee only ever visit Midnight Blue in poster form, the Henderson dojo has held seminars taught by several big names in the martial arts simply because of the disciplines it teaches. Grandmaster Jack Hogan teaches, among other arts, ryukyo kempo (pressure point fighting) and small-circle jujitsu (using the wrist to gain leverage on your opponent). It’s always something to see the short Grandmaster Hogan lead a man twice his size around the room simply by twisting his fingers and wrist — and, no, the man was not intending to cooperate!

Visiting instructor Rodrigo Gracie works with children at Midnight Blue.
Visiting instructor Rodrigo Gracie works with children at Midnight Blue Martial Arts on Aug. 20.

More exciting still, Midnight Blue received a visit Aug. 20 from Rodrigo Gracie, a son of the formidable Gracie family, who brought the art of Brazilian jujitsu (grappling on the ground) to America. Rodrigo taught a seminar for adults and children, showing several takedowns and grappling techniques. Once everyone was exhausted, he made the class grapple in pairs for half an hour (in 5-to-10-minute increments). At the conclusion, Rodrigo gave out many stripes on colored belts (symbols of progress) and one or two new belts as students gained a level in rank. Faces of all ages lighted up and gleamed when he called students forward (though possibly that was simply the sweat pouring down everyone).

Finally, one has to meet Master Steve Gupton, Midnight Blue’s head instructor, who brings so much punching, kicking, twisting, rolling on the ground and self-confidence to the children (and adults) of Vance County. His own children are his students, and all benefit not only from the self-defense techniques they learn, but from Gupton’s consistent emphasis on self-respect, good grades, and, perhaps most important, self-control and character. Midnight Blue students learn not only how to punch but when not to, which is most of the time. A “Star Wars” fan, Gupton turns out small Jedis who “use (their) force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

Martial arts, as taught by Gupton and many others, are hopeful and useful in a county and city in which grocery-store conversation includes the areas in town where even the police refuse to go and in which some of the most amusing commentary on the Henderson blog points a razor-tipped finger at Henderson’s violence, noise and ignorance. Henderson and Vance County may have those problems, which young people sadly sometimes learn to accept as unbeatable, but at the library, in the schools and in the martial arts studios, people are doing something about those issues.

— Written by Claire Ramsey, head of youth services at the H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library