Black belt ranks awarded to five Chatham martial artists

Aug. 11, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

Five South Eastern Karate Association martial artists, with a wide range of age and experience, received their black belt ranks in a ceremony earlier this summer.

Belts and certificates were presented by Master Instructor Peggy Jolly, a seventh-degree black belt, or Seventh Dan, who owns the school and has been teaching martial arts in Siler City for more than three decades.

The highest rank of the day was awarded to Kirby Pate, of Pittsboro, who was promoted to Fourth Dan. Pate, 18, will be attending New York University this fall. He credits martial arts training since age five for helping him overcome difficult challenges, on and off the training floor.

He still recalls one moment early in his training when he was sparring a particularly daunting opponent.

“It was difficult because I was afraid, but that’s when I learned to trust what I was taught and what I can do,” Pate said. “After that, I just threw myself into it and stopped being so reserved.”

Joel Jolly, of Siler City, was awarded the rank of Third Dan Instructor. The 55-year-old draws on years of military experience to motivate young students in class who love his old-school exercises and upbeat style.

“I feel like I do help motivate people and that’s important when they’re doing something that they’re not used to doing.” said Jolly.

“Learning motivation is good not just in karate and school, but in the work environment,” he said.

Three students received their black belts and were awarded first-degree ranks.

Harley Phillips, of Siler City, received the rank of First Dan. Phillips, 19, uses the self-discipline taught in martial arts to build his patience and mental focus, something that helps him succeed as a student at Sandhills Community College.

Christian Aguiluz-Saldana and Davis Neff, both 10 years old, received the rank of First Dan Junior. The “Junior” designation is used for all black belts awarded to students under the age of 18.

Aguiluz-Saldana, who lives in Siler City, began training because he thought karate looked interesting. Over more than three years of training, he practiced at home to learn the more difficult forms — choreographed patterns of techniques which help martial artists develop their skills.

The most important thing he’s learned is how to defend himself. But it’s not always been easy. “It’s hard,” he said, “because you need to kick hard and punch hard and do everything right.”

Neff, who lives in Moncure, began training about three years ago at another school before moving to South Eastern Karate. He’s worked especially hard to refine details in some of the longer, more-complex forms — something that isn’t easy for younger martial artists learning forms that were created for adults.

“I had to spend a lot of time on my red belt form,” he said. “When I started, I was shaking when I did a low block. But I stretched at home so I could stop.”

“Some people think martial arts are only for young people — and maybe even just young men — but that’s not true,” said Master Jolly. “Martial arts are designed to improve yourself, no matter what your age or level of ability might be.

“We emphasize four things: self-defense, self-discipline, fitness and confidence. And all of those can give you a better life,” said said.

Classes are held in Siler City on Tuesdays and Thursdays — with one class primarily for children from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and another class primarily for adults from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Classes in Liberty are Mondays and Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Details are available at