Local girl, Clara Robinson, 6, earns black belt
When Clara Robinson was almost 5 years old, she approached her grandparents, Skip and Kathy Robinson, about learning International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) Taekwon-Do at New Dragon Martial Arts and becoming a student of the nearly half-century-old discipline.
The Robinsons, both black-belts themselves, were delighted to hear that Clara was interested in learning, and she began to remind them of their son Josh — the very reason they became students of the discipline. Kathy Robinson had some worries about Clara’s age and whether she was too young.
“At first, I have to say, I was thinking she was too young — way too young. But she really took to it like a duck to water,” Kathy Robinson said about Clara’s first experience.
Clara quickly blossomed as a student and began fast-tracking herself to the first of nine degrees of black belt an ITF Taekwon-Do student can obtain. According to her teacher, Shaun Wasserman, it usually takes an adult ITF Taekwon-Do student around two to three years of training to obtain their first black belt and, for children, about a year or two longer than that. Clara earned her first belt in 14 months, beginning at 4, and officially earned the honor at age 6.
“I worked really hard on my patterns to get it,” Clara proudly proclaimed of how she earned her black belt well before most students do.
Clara seems years older in her temperament both on and off of the mat, as well as what she said about her accomplishments — the young black-belt also recently won first place in the Ocean City (Md.) ITF Classic. Clara has a cool confidence when doing routines and has an intense focus that helps her to obtain a near-perfect balance when executing extremely difficult kicks and spins.
Clara channeled the veteran professionalism of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, saying, “I practice sometimes at home. I watch little tapes and videos to learn my patterns. The pattern we just did — the black-belt pattern — is my favorite, because I like to do all of the spins.”
The black-belt pattern is one the ITF Taekwon-Do student must demonstrate, in front of a panel of judges, in order to receive the prestigious honor of first-degree black belt. It is a pattern that exhibits the five points of training; “kihap” (spirit), focus of sight, “balone” (stance), speed and power. The pattern includes quick arm strikes, aggressive blocks, fast spins and powerful kicks, and requires a tremendous amount of skill.
Wasserman had a lot of praise to give when asked about his young black-belt student,
“She is extremely positive. She is never unhappy. She always tries hard, and she’ll help anyone, which is very unusual for her age. She also has an intelligence, a developed mind, far above her own age, and I think that’s what allows her to do well.”
During the training period of the session, Clara remains focused on executing the moves Wasserman instructs the class to perform and demonstrates an eagerness to learn that has allowed her to achieve the milestones she has set and improve her skill without plateauing or becoming content with the status quo.
Shortly before they begin sparring, which is the students’ favorite time of class, Clara is asked by Wasserman to recite the five tenants of ITF Taekwon-Do to the class.
“Courtesy! Integrity! Perseverance! Self-control! Indomitable spirit!”
The class then breaks, and the five black-belts in the class — Clara and her grandparents being three of them — choose their partners for the one-on-one combat using the ITF Taekwon-Do moves the students would use in a real-life situation requiring self-defense.
Self-defense is a point of emphasis in ITF Taekwon-Do, and the students are told repeatedly that the moves they learn are to only be used in self-defense and never as an act of aggression against another person.
Sparring brings out a side of Clara yet to be seen during the lesson — the competitor dwelling within the 6-year-old black-belt. She challenges the biggest of the opposing students and, seeing that, Wasserman asks the class to then match up according to size. Clara now has an opponent who is completely overmatched, as the green belt around the challenger’s waist indicates the lopsided nature of the battle.
Clara is aggressive — very aggressive — from the moment the whistle blows, and she has her opponent (a student three to five years older than her) backing up on his heels to begin the match.
Headshot after headshot is followed by a knee or kick and a quick retreat to defend herself from retaliation, leaving no one questioning who would be the victor in the matchup. Another round of sparring begins minutes later, ending in the same result: Clara aggressively striking her opponents, all while keeping her own body protected and coming out victorious.
Earning her first-degree black-belt is just the beginning for Clara, as her ultimate goal is to achieve a ninth-degree black-belt — the highest degree an ITF Taekwon-Do student can achieve — and continue to teach others and learn as much as she can.
Clara’s mom, Stacy Robinson, is very proud of what her daughter has achieved and wants to continue to achieve.
“I’m so incredibly proud of her. It’s not something, you know, when she first started, that I thought she would do. I just thought, ‘She wants to do Taekwon-Do with her grandparents, and she really had an aptitude for it. … She is very respectful of people and looks at others in a much more compassionate way. She really looks out for ‘the other guy’ a lot more.”
At 6, Clara demonstrates that, when one sets goals and is willing to work hard, anything is possible, regardless of age.