By Jessica Blondell
Only 3 – 5% percent of martial arts students across the globe ever receive a black belt. Between training for upwards of six years multiple days a week, needing strong determination, and sacrificing a lot of time and energy, earning a black belt is no small feat that many who start practicing martial arts don’t achieve.
Juan Carlos Lopez, an attendee of The Arc Wayne’s Day Habilitation and prevocational programs, received an invitation to earn his black belt this year and potentially become part of the 3 – 5% of people who can claim that title. When he was just 12 years old, Juan began karate at Premier Martial Arts in Newark and has been going ever since. Now, at 27 years old, Juan still loves stepping onto the mat and honing his skills.
With the help of his loving parents and his many leaders, Juan thrived throughout the years and improved not just his karate skills, but also his physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Teachers such as Sensei Z, Sensei Steiner, Sensei Ben, Sensei Conner, Sensei Josh, Sensei Spencer, Sensei Dakota, Sensei Jennifer, Sensei Isaiah, Chief Todd, and Hanshi Lee made Juan feel at home every time he entered the studio – or attended an online class during the pandemic.
“I am accepted in this great karate school,” Juan said. “I am autistic and appreciated here.”
An autism diagnosis never slowed Juan down from his achieving his goals growing up. When he discovered his love of karate 15 years ago, it was evident that it would be a great way to refine his gross motor skills, understand respect for himself and others, practice obedience, and learn self-defense. With his mother by his side helping him in each class and inspirational pep talks from his father, Juan found something he loved.
“I like karate because it feels good to finish each class,” Juan said. “I like meeting people there. It is hard sometimes. Hard to do what they show you. Karate does help my body grow and helps my mind. Sometimes at karate, they give me help and advice about life.”
The all-encompassing nature of martial arts makes it easy to see how practicing karate affects all areas of someone’s life. A large part of Juan’s life is his faith, and he continues to watch that grow as he goes farther into his training.
“I am thankful to God for karate and all the help I have had,” Juan said. “I am glad I do not give up because God helps me.”
It’s important for Juan and his family to lean on God, especially during this season of training for something that so few people complete. Juan’s test for his black belt is on December 17 and 18, 2021. Until then, he continues to train with karate boot camp every Saturday and at least two classes during the week.
Katie Anderson, Day Habilitation Team Supervisor at The Arc Wayne, submitted a character letter on Juan’s behalf. “I did not realize how much work went into this,” Katie said. “He has to take a fitness test, submit character witness letters, as well as the physical ability portion of this just to get his black belt. It is something that takes a considerable amount of dedication, and I am so proud of him.”
As Juan continues to train through December, everyone at The Arc Wayne wishes him the best of luck. The staff and other individuals are incredibly blessed to have someone with such amazing character, determination, and joy attending programs.
Jessica Blondell, our Development Coordinator, writes all of our blog posts to keep everyone who supports The Arc Wayne up-to-date with what the agency is doing in the community. Enjoy!