FAIRMONT — The disciplines of martial arts are alive and well in Fairmont.
The students of Fairmont School of Martial Arts took to Martinsburg on April 23 for “Karate Wars,” a tournament where 10 martial arts schools from multiple states competed against one another at a wide variety of age groups. Fairmont did well, capturing 27 trophies at the event among their competitors. Thirteen of the trophies were for first-place finishes, and one karate student earned the title of grand champion in their age group.
Isabella Phillips, Adam Williamson, Allison Phillips, Carston Dodson, Ryker Dodson, Max Shuck, and Guerin Rowe represented Fairmont School of Martial Arts at Karate Wars, with Isabella Phillips capturing four first-place finishes, and Ryker Dodson earning his spot as grand champion .
The dojo was also awarded the “Most Supportive School” trophy at the tournament as well.
“They were super excited,” Fairmont School of Martial Arts owner and instructor Erik Stevens said. “Our last tournament that they went to was all the way back in December of last year. The kids were itching to get back into it. We’re a very competitive school, all my kids love to compete and they were itching to get back to it. They were getting tired of fighting each other, they wanted to get back to competition.”
Stevens’ students range in age from four to 18, and more competition is on the way soon. Four of his young martial artists — Loralai Grant, Isabella Phillips, Adam Williamson, and Hayden Schneider — qualified to compete in a national karate tournament in Detroit next month. The stakes will be high then, as the top four to qualify from that national tournament will go on to represent the US on the world stage in an international tournament in Dublin, Ireland.
The students of Fairmont School of Martial Arts vary in age, but not in dedication. Stevens’ classes go on three days a week, and do not lack in intensity.
“Like I said, we’re a very competitive school, so we’re very spar-heavy,” Stevens said. “We fight every night. We exercise at the beginning, then we do warm-ups, and then we’ll break up and do Katas, which is Japanese for ‘open-hand,’ and it’s a sequence of moves that replicates a fight, an invisible fight. It’s to help the kids’ coordination and technique.
“It’s intense stuff. We work on that, we spar with pretty much full-on contact, the kids work hard when they’re in here.”
Stevens has been practicing martial arts for 27 years, and was instructed by Ralph Sumlin, a Fairmont resident who was recognized by the International Martial Arts Society as having founded his own system of karate, and who was recently awarded his 10th-degree black belt.
Stevens came into martial arts by unconventional means, but soon discovered the virtues it entails.
“My sister and I would always fight, so finally my mother said ‘You know what, I’m going to put you into something that will also teach you self-respect and honor, and not just beating up on each other,'” Stevens said. “So she stuck my sister and I in karate.”
As for how he came into operating his own karate school, it started as a co-project between him and his friend Lacey Fox, a local paramedic. Stevens credits Fox for getting him back into karate, and after Fox passed away two years ago, he carried on with the school.
“After she passed away, I took on the karate school to keep her legacy alive and to continue teaching martial arts to our students,” Stevens said.
After eight years of operation, the school is still bringing the unique benefits of martial arts to the community, and instilling values that go beyond the fighting skills its students attain.
“In the same way that I started martial arts — you don’t start martial arts just to learn how to beat up somebody,” Stevens said. “That’s the biggest thing that my instructors have taught me. Martial arts is about self-positivity, how you represent yourself as a person — with self-respect, confidence, honor, discipline. Not only does it help you learn how to defend yourself against people in today’s society, but it teaches you how to be a better person in today’s society as well.”
With Karate Wars as their latest chapter, it has been quite a journey for the students at the school. Fairmont School of Martial Arts has 14 tournaments on the books during this period of time that Stevens has dubbed “tournament season,” and his students have competed all around West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan and New York in the past.
Discipline and self-respect can help in enduring the long travels and long hours of training, and it’s an example of the type of skills that Stevens says martial arts can help nurture inside his students for the rest of their lives and something that they must be careful to avoid abusing outside class.
“They’re wonderful kids, I’ve never had to deal with bullying or any issues like that,” Stevens said. “That’s something that I don’t put up with and something that my instructor never put up with. I give them all a rule — if I ever hear that you’re using what I teach you outside of this dojo — for any reason besides self-defense — then they’re no longer going to be taught here. If someone’s trying to hurt them, then absolutely I want them to use it. But just to be a mean-spirited person, not so much.
“You have to have structure, and it teaches you structure and goals too. I feel like a lot of times, kids don’t have goals these days, and that’s what I love about martial arts. You’re only limited by how much you want to push yourself. If you set a goal, say you want to become a black-belt, or a green belt, brown belt. It teaches kids how to set goals and accomplish those goals.”