9 Mar 2011
Even though I was certain Carroll could bring me down before I had the chance to blink, when I spoke to him privately, he looked me directly in the eye and never stopped smiling.
Carroll called me a few weeks back to invite me to Castle Rock Martial Arts June 6 in Castle Rock when Master Mike Murphy, a sixth-degree black belt out of Dallas, was flying in to test the multiple-martial arts instructor on received his fifth-degree black belt. The same day, others from Carroll’s school would be tested for promotion as well.
I’d never seen one of these before. I’d seen some martial arts competitions, but never anyone testing to prove their rank. Carroll said there is promotional testing at his school about every two months; however, sometimes it could be a year or four before a student can be promoted.
As I sat through the testing of some of Carroll’s students, I found it amusing that spectators — since the thing was open to the public — were allowed to cheer and shout their support for the martial artists who were being tested. One, it gave the event a family atmosphere that was endearing. Two, it made watching what to an inexperienced eye appeared to be simply just a bunch of punches and kicks exciting to keep track of. I can imagine anyone who tested that day reading this and saying, “You think that was simple?”
Believe me, I know it’s not. I know what kind of cardio it takes to go through one of those tests. Heck, I get winded just playing my Playstation.
Carroll said he had trouble adjusting to the altitude when he and his wife Cheryl Strong-Carroll moved to the area from Missouri. He knew coming to the Mile High State was going to be a challenge, coming from an area that was 400 feet in elevation, so he trained for seven hours a day accordingly. Even at that, he had trouble when he first got to Castle Rock in 2003 with the intent of opening martial arts academies in Douglas County.
“When I got out here I couldn’t run half a mile, and now, cardio conditioning is no problem,” Carroll told me after Master Mike Humphrey of Dallas promoted him to a fifth-degree black belt.
It took Carroll 11 years to reach the level of martial arts master, certified by the American Martial Arts Masters out of Dallas. He and Master Mike Humphrey, who was Carroll’s instructor, have known each other about 10 years. Carroll said it would take him another five years to reach a sixth-degree level in the Youn Wha Ryu style, the all encompassing martial arts style.
Carroll actually advanced to the level of fifth degree faster than the average artist.
“I was training three hours a night, five days a week,” he said. “Up until black belt, I didn’t take a day off. … We’ve been blessed to have a full time job doing what we love.”
Strong-Carroll, a division leader in their academy, is a second-degree black belt. As Carroll started to date Strong-Carroll, she wanted to learn martial arts but was too nervous to try.
“I started to train her a little but, and then she started to take the classes,” Carroll told me. “Now, she’s my right hand. She’s a second-degree black belt and helps me every step of the way.”
When Carroll received his AMMA certification from Master Mike Humphrey, which is a proper way to address someone who reaches the fifth-degree level of black belt, Humphrey told the students, instructors and spectators on hand that he was fifth-degree black belt No. 4. I asked Carroll what that meant.
Apparently, when one is assigned a number with the certification it is telling of where in the line the artist is from that particular instructor. The lower the number, the closer Carroll is to the certifying Master and getting a more direct feed of training.
“The higher the number, you don’t really know whose grading your tests,” Carroll explained. “So, if you’re the 400th person, it’s kind of a factory. If you’re the fourth, that’s a pretty high honor.”
Belts, certification and degrees aside, Carroll has one goal for his role in martial arts training — to make his students better than himself, both as an artist and as a person.
“Martial arts its such a journey,” he said. “Anybody can learn how to punch and kick. Teaching somebody to be a leader, teaching somebody who has no confidence to become confident, teaching somebody to look somebody in the eye and then smile, that’s something people might struggle with. But if you teach them to be better than you, that’s the kind of teacher I want to be.
“I want my students to have the success I didn’t have, or I won’t have. I want them to be better and give them everything I’ve got.”
More information on Carroll, his wife and Castle Rock Martial Arts is available at www.castlerockmartialarts.com. The pair has opened nine academies in Douglas County since coming to Colorado in 2003.
I may have to suit up, kick of my shoes and see what training I can get myself into. Maybe then I won’t feel so out of breath the next time I reach for the peanut butter.
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