WOOD DALE – Ten years ago Sensei Michael Pearce took his first karate class through Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association (NEDSRA).
Last month he earned his black belt.
“We’ve been practicing blocks, kicks, punches and other stuff,” said Pearce, 35, about preparing for his black belt test Nov. 16.
In humble fashion, Pearce didn’t brag much about his accomplishment, but the side smile on his face said it all. Dressed in his gi and black belt, Pearce demonstrated some of his karate skills with NEDSRA Recreation Coordinator Paul Fasano a few weeks after the big day.
NEDSRA, located in Addison, works with area park districts and municipalities to provide recreational opportunities and community services to individuals with disabilities.
Pearce’s training at Sensei Steve’s Karate Center in Villa Park focused on defensive moves and stances. Under Sensei Larry Elmore, Pearce and fellow NEDSRA participant Yvonne Blais of Villa Park received their first-degree black belts after an hour-long test of their skills and knowledge. With his black belt, Pearce is now a sensei.
A third NEDSRA karate participant, James Woods, 65, of Villa Park, earned his second-degree, or nidan, black belt the same day.
While the karate center does not usually allow spectators for testing, Nov. 16 was different. Pearce was lucky enough to have family and friends around to support him, and they all celebrated the participants’ success with a cake cut by a samurai sword.
“They were excited,” Pearce said about his family and friends who watched him earn his black belt.
Blais’ mother, Sue Martellotta, Administrative Services Manager at NEDSRA, explained that the black belt test consisted of not only physical tests, but questions that each participant need to answer in English and sometimes Japanese about the history of karate.
“I was so incredibly proud,” Martellotta said.
Pearce grew up with two older sisters and two younger sisters. When the four girls began dating and going to parties, Pearce found his place in sports. A loyal Cubs fan, Pearce loves to watch baseball. The sports fan plays everything from bocce ball to track and field.
When he isn’t playing or watching sports, Pearce works at Jewel-Osco collecting carts, a job he’s held for 10 years.
In addition to the skills he’s mastered like the double push down and crane pose, Pearce said he’s learned other life skills like confidence and respect through Sensei Elmore’s instruction.
Even though he loves other sports, Pearce is committed to developing his karate skills. As one of the first NEDSRA participants, Pearce doesn’t see his black belt as the end of his karate journey. He plans to pursue his second-degree black belt next when the weekly karate classes begin again in January.