Gaymon earns black belt through taekwondo club
Senior went from white belt as a freshman to black belt as a senior
The journey is completed by few, which makes the reward at the end so coveted and recognizable: a black belt. The honor was recently acquired by Grand Valley State senior Michael Gaymon.
While the achievement by itself is extraordinary, Gaymon gets the distinct recognition as the first member of GVSU’s taekwondo club to begin at the bottom with a white belt as a freshman and work his way up through the ranks to earn his black belt before graduating.
“(It) makes me proud of myself,” Gaymon said. “It gives me confidence more than anything else. Most of those who start taekwondo don’t make it all the way to black belt.”
The taekwondo club, established five years ago, provides training sessions twice a week at the GVSU Fieldhouse to teach students different aspects of the Korean art form. Gaymon and club president Steven Bonczyk hold the responsibility of co-teaching the club.
Boncyzk, a sophomore who previously held a third degree black belt before joining the club, only got to witness the last half of Gaymon’s journey, but acknowledged how much Gaymon had matured since their first meeting.
“(Gaymon) has become someone to look up to for people thinking of starting taekwondo – they are like ‘I don’t know, it’s just four years,’ but this where you can get in four years,” Bonczyk said. “He’s been working so hard and dedicated his whole life to taekwondo. I absolutely know he earned it.”
Obtaining a first degree black belt typically takes three to six years, relying heavily on the determination of the participate to reach the end goal, as the majority end up dropping out.
Roughly one in every 100 students to start with a white belt will go on to earn a black belt, Bonczyk said.
Various tests are used to evaluate the student’s technique and knowledge in order for them to advance to the next belt in the nine-tier color system. Degrees, also called dan grades, are used after the color system to differentiate the experience between black belt holders.
The belt promotion tests, which the club does every month at its “mother school,” Lakeshore Taekwondo Academy in Hudsonville, Michigan, are standardized to meet specific requirements needed to reach the next level.
The tests begin relatively easily with simple moves and the courtesy (one of the five disciplines taekwondo teaches) to exhibit the correct etiquette and manners at all times, but get progressively harder.
“You start off with a basic front kick and then do a combination of kicks which involves turning and jumping,” Bonczyk said. “And then also forms – which is something I specialize in – a sequence of moves that are used to summarize everything you have learned in taekwondo. They are demonstrational and semi-practical.
“There are eight forms for the color belts and each black belt has one specific form to it.”
Perfecting the forms requires integrity and patience. Whereas technique and possessing an indomitable spirit is more important than using brute force when it comes to board breaking or sparring – fighting in a controlled environment.
“A lot of the times it’s not about strength, but mentality,” Bonczyk said.
If the physical aspects weren’t draining enough, students have to learn some Korean terminology and history as well.
Put everything together and the process is extremely grueling, which is why many who start don’t finish. So, unquestionably, Gaymon persevered through at times.
“When I got my red belt with black stripe, which is the one before black belt, I got to the point where I thought I wasn’t going to be able to continue taekwondo,” he said. “I just had a lot of stuff going on in my life and it became a struggle to keep up with everything. But, my friends in the club helped me stick with it and get through it.”
One of his friends and training partners, vice president Brandon Nguyen, was with Gaymon nearly every step of the way -- most notably as they displayed self-control when sparring.
“When I first started, (Gaymon) was only like a yellow belt or green stripe – we were very beginning – and I grew up with him along the ranks,” Nguyen said. “We were the sparring people as we both specialized in the fighting aspect. We would go out to the tournaments and I could see his growth by the opponents he had to face.”
Thus, in his quest to obtain his black belt, Gaymon has admirably embodied the five pillars or disciplines of taekwondo: courtesy, integrity, indomitable spirit, perseverance and self-control.
“Michael (Gaymon) is now a black belt because of his commitment through the club,” Nguyen said. “He made time for the club, helped shaped it and has made a lasting impact at Grand Valley.”