Patience and practice pay off for martial artists

Two karate students earn higher black belt ranks

Try this next time you’re standing on a forgiving surface: raise one foot, kick to the front, then side and then back.


Now do that four more times.

Now imagine having to do other sets of punches, kicks and blocks before a panel of scrutinizing judges who do those moves better than you.

That’s a taste of what 51-year-old Stacey Poulson, a Nugget Alaskan Outfitter employee, and 42-year-old Maraiya Gentili, Juneau School District staff member, underwent in August at an International Shotokan Karate Federation-sanctioned testing outside of Anchorage.

There, they were tested in three areas of the sport: kihon, kata and kumite. Kihon consists of basic stances, kicks and punches put into combinations. Kimite is sparring or self-defense with a partner. Finally, kata is various patterns of movement.

Poulson passed her examination to become a Sandan, or third-degree black belt.

Gentili also passed her examination and is now a Nidan, or second-degree black belt.

“They’ll tell you it’s just another training, but it’s so not true,” Gentili said about the testing, who described the weekend as a test of fortitude.

For Poulson, attaining the rank of Sandan has been a long endeavor.

“A lot of people want to be black belt but it takes so much to get there; you have to have a can-do attitude to stick with it,” said Poulson, whose started in Shotokan in 2003.

She finds inner-strength by having a firm handle on her body’s ability to protect itself, and also knowing that physical force is a last resort to a conflict. It’s what’s kept her in Shotokan for so long.

“It works on your whole body, your spirit, how you treat other people, your balance, your coordination, your awareness of the world,” she said. “It works on everything.”

There is a mandatory three-year waiting period after one becomes a Nidan to test for Sandan. As a Shodan, Poulson will have a mandatory four-year waiting period before she can test up to earn the rank of Yondan, or fourth-degree black belt.

Poulson said it can be rare for Nidans to pass their Sandan evaluation on the first try.

“This time, I took more years in between testing for this particular rank and I felt ready. Before the test, another karateka (person in karate) came up to me and he asked what rank I was testing for and he said, ‘Don’t go up there and test for your Sandan, go up there and show them you’re a Sandan,’” Poulson said. “And that just clicked with me.”

As for Gentili, who started Shotokan in 2011 after she enrolled her kids, it was her second testing in two years. Gentili, along with three other karatekas from Juneau, earned the rank Shodan three years ago.

“It was surreal when I passed my test. I was waiting for them to say, ‘Good job — six-month re-test,’” she said.

Both Poulson and Gentili have found one of the most rewarding parts of the sport is keeping the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun.

ISKF Chief Instructor Teruyuki Okazaki said Master Gichin Funakoshi, who founded the martial arts, “gave us the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun to help guide us along the path of becoming peaceful human beings. He knew that with modern technology quickly advancing it would be easy to forget our basic core of humanity and how to relate to one another.”

Seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor, respect others and refrain from violent behavior are the five principles of the Dojo Kun.

The Niju Kun contains 20 principles that relate more specifically how one is to conduct themselves in karate. Two examples of this include: “never attack first” and “move accordingly to your opponent.”

Gentili says the recitation of the Dojo Kun, conducted before the beginning of every Saturday class, serves as the inspiration for everything that follows.

“I do like it that you’re not just learning how to hurt people but you’re actually learning control over yourself, over your emotions over how you interact with people over how you learn your sport,” she said.


Want to try it yourself?

For more information on Juneau Shotokan Karate, call chief instructor, Diana Stevens at 723-6165 or Juneau Shotokan Karate is located at 9447 LaPerouse Avenue.



• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or




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