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Karate Kids: Three Elk Mound youths earn black belts

by Marlys Kruger

ELK MOUND — Working your way up the ladder of colored belts to reach the black belt on the top rung in the karate system is hard enough for most adults, but three youngsters from Elk Mound reached that goal this spring. Jared Strand, age 14, Seth Hazen age 12 and Joseph Javanovich, age 10, all trained at the Karate America studio in Elk Mound under Master Josh Linberg for many years and put plenty of hours and sweat into the process at both the Elk Mound and Altoona studios before completing the final training and passing all of the tests required to earn a black belt.

According to various websites, there are different colors of the belt system but the one used by Karate America starts with the beginner students earning white, gold and orange belts. Intermediates progress to green, purple and purple striped and advanced students wear blue, blue striped, red, red striped, brown and brown striped before reaching the black belt level. Belts are earned by taking a grading exam of practical skills and at the higher levels oral and written exams are also given.

Joseph has been in karate since the age of four and was able to progress through the colored belt system while playing other seasonal sports such as football, basketball, baseball and swimming while keeping up with his studies at school. Once he achieved his green belt he decided to keep moving on to earn a black belt and he needed to give up several activities for five months in order to train for it.

“Joseph has always been a very determined kid who wanted to do his best at whatever he did,” his mother Karin Javanovich said. “ He has learned so many life lessons through karate including respect, discipline, sacrifice, teamwork, patience, perseverance, how to defend himself and what it means to work really hard for something. He never complained even when the training became very hard and he gave a 100 % effort. He also made some very good friends that he enjoys practicing with,” she added.

Seth started karate at age six and according to his mother Natalie Hazen, she did not expect him to continue all the way to the black belt level. But after attending classes twice a week with Master Linberg, he decided to go as far as possible.

“The actual black belt training included a lot of intense cardio workouts along with all the traditional karate instruction,” Natalie said. “There were three endurance days incorporated into their training. These days were meant to push them to their physical and mental limit. The message was to never give up because if you are ever in a situation where you need to defend your life, this perseverance will be crucial. Along with the self defense skills, Seth has learned so many important life lessons such as discipline, respect, responsibility, leadership and teamwork. The three boys have really developed a close bond throughout this whole process. It has been fun to watch each of them grow into true martial artists,” she concluded.

Jared is the eldest of the three and he apparently is a quick learner as he has been taking karate for just under four years. He also began his training at the Elk Mound studio and completed things in Altoona.

“The experience taught me the more effort you put into something, the greater the reward,” Jared said. “I put in a lot of hard work and we had lots of driving time to get to the training sessions,” he added.

Master Linberg, a fourth degree master head instructor, explained what the boys needed to do for their testing.

“Luke Smith, a fifth degree master head instructor who owns the Altoona studio, ran the test at Trinity Church in Eau Claire for our three boys as well as nine others from his studio,” he said. “There was a panel of about 25 black belts there and the test consisted of the training the students started in January where they practiced every technique they have ever learned, including punches, kicks, forms and self defense and they perfect each one. There are a lot of new techniques they master along the way and there is a significant amount of cardiovascular and strength training involved. Sometimes they ran four miles then did a Navy Seal type workout. There are questions they have to answer throughout the process culminating in a verbal test the day of the black belt test. The questions range from what part of the hand do you use in a specific punch to who is the father of modern karate. They also have to write two reports, one on the history of the martial arts and one on what the martial arts has done for them. The entire test lasted about five hours which is about average the average time. I am very proud of their accomplishments and honored to have been and continue to be their instructor. They are very deserving of this and have exceeded my highest expectations,” he added.

All three boys plan on continuing on with Linberg and earning a second degree black belt and helping him teach his classes which are currently being held in the Elk Mound Community Center on Tuesdays and Fridays.

“Given the fact they want to stick around, I would expect them to continue to amaze me,” Linberg concluded.