Karate Kids Get Black Belts


Almost four years ago, at the ages of 7 and 5, local Sag Harbor kids Max and Harrison Yardley took their first karate class. What started out as a hobby has become a passion for the Yardley boys; and in a world where children have grown up in a society that values immediate satisfaction, their level of dedication to their sport is a rarity.

On Saturday, January 10, Max and Harrison, now 12 and 10 respectively, were rewarded for their years of hard work when they both earned black belt certification during a ceremony at the Southampton Town Recreation Center along with seven other East End children and two adults. Upon receiving their black belts, the boys, who began with SYS when the karate program started, were recognized for learning the basic technique of the Shotokan karate style. However, this is only the first step to become a Sensei, or karate teacher, says the boys’ Sensei, Helene Ely.

The black belt tied snugly around their waists represented the five years they worked with Ely at SYS to perfect their technique, the hours spent at karate seminars, and all of the time their parents have spent helping them reach this goal.

Ely believes her teaching style and theory helped the kids return to the class year after year.

“When children feel they are learning something you retain their interest,” she said. Ely teaches her students about biomechanics, and claims this deepens their practice of karate and boosts their confidence. Her methods seem to be working. All of the advanced level students, including Max and Harrison, attend class three times a week. Ely said the students who earned black belts showed up at every single class over the years, except when they were ill.

Sticking to a rigid karate schedule was challenging for Harrison, but ultimately worth the effort. 

“You have all of these opportunities to go to other places, and it took a lot to blow them off and go to karate,” he said.

Ely’s Sensei, Armondo Kemmott, traveled to SYS from California to administer the black belt tests. Kemmott, a seventh degree black belt, is the national director of the International Traditional Karate Institute. He also holds Karate seminars at SYS a couple of times a year. As part of the test, the children wrote an essay detailing why they studied karate, what they had learned from Ely, and how Kemmott had inspired their practice. They were also tested on the history of Shotokan and performed 13 Katas — a Kata is a combination of moves.

Passing the black belt certification, however, is just the first step in their black belt training.

“Shodon is the first degree of black belt and it means the beginning,” said Ely. “Once you are a black belt you have mastered the basics then the real study of the black belt begins.”

Max said that he looks forward to learning more advanced moves, and becoming closer to his goal of teaching karate.

Both boys believe that their diligence to Shotokan has changed who they are for the better.

“It taught me how to push myself,” said Max, “and stick with something.”


Above: Harrison Yardley excitedly anticipates his black belt.