Cream rises to the top

Published 3:35 pm Sunday, May 16, 2010

AHOSKIE – Four years ago, Latrina Powell of Ahoskie reached a critical period in her young life – that of becoming a teenager.

According to her mom, Katrina Lee, Latrina seemed to have problems getting along with others….“This was partially due to her trying to fit in,” said Lee.

Now, four years later, Powell owes a dramatic turnaround in her life to William Burke. It was under Burke’s watchful eye that the young girl has transformed into a Martial Arts champion.

Recently, Powell became the first female in the state of North Carolina to earn a Black Belt in the Go-Ju-Shorin style of Karate. Powell, a senior at Hertford County High School, gained that distinction at the ripe young age of 17.

Her rapid ascension up the ladder of martial arts has also earned Powell a spot in the National Karate Hall of Fame. She has been invited to attend that induction ceremony, scheduled for November in Ohio.

“Latrina deserves the rank of Black Belt,” said Burke who operates the Jakara School of Martial Arts in Ahoskie. “She has been one of my top students since she first enrolled in my class. She became very active, very involved in wanting to learn every thing about martial arts. I am extremely proud of the discipline and hard work she has put forth to reach the status of a Black Belt.”

Powell’s mother was equally as proud.

“When Master Burke started his martial arts school here in Ahoskie and Latrina enrolled, I started to observe a change in her,” Lee said. “Latrina started to become a leader and a stronger-minded person.”

Initially, the mother doubted her daughter’s dedication to the effort to learn martial arts.

“However, as time progressed, I observed her grow in many areas,” Lee noted. “She began to learn how to control her attitude. She learned that being a leader was a far greater attribute than being a follower.”

In Lee’s eyes, the saving grace for her daughter was William Burke.

“I would like to give a heartfelt thanks to Master Burke for the strong dedication and devotion he has given to the children in this community, especially my daughter,” Lee stressed.

As with all his rookie students, Burke said that Powell came up through the ranks of martial arts in a normal fashion – beginning by earning her White Belt.

Burke explained that transition, going from White, to Orange, to Green, to Blue, then Red and a double-training stint to earn a 1st and 2nd Degree Brown Belt.

“My students start by learning two basic techniques, each with 10 sub-techniques,” Burke said. “Then for each subsequent progression of belts, a student must add two more techniques, again with each containing 10 sub-techniques.”

As an example, Burke said a basic technique was to learn how to handle an attacker that comes at you from the front. Then, a student learns how to handle that same attack from behind.

“It grows to a point where a student learns to handle an attacker from where ever they launch an attack,” Burke said.

The training also encompasses the use of “carters” – martial arts weapons.

Additionally, there are mental and spiritual aspects of the training regime.

“There is book work to learn,” he noted. “I also teach discipline and prayer…we close each practice with a group prayer.”

Now that Powell has reached Black Belt status, her training is far from over.

“Part of becoming a Black Belt is you now have to learn how to teach martial arts to a child,” Burke said. “Not only do you have to teach the physical skills, you must teach the discipline as well. In Latrina’s case, she too has to maintain a level of discipline. It takes a lot of discipline to teach a young child.”

Sensei Powell (a title bestowed upon reaching Black Belt status) can strive to increase her level of martial arts. Burke said she could rise in the ranks of Black Belt (1st Degree, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.).

“Once you become a 5th Degree Black Belt, you earn the title of Master,” said Burke who has now reached that level. “To move up is a tough task…it takes a lot of dedication.”

Burke teaches Go-Ju-Shorin Karate, which he describes as mixed martial arts, at the old Ahoskie High School Band Room on West Main Street. There are 50 students currently enrolled in his classes – 39 youth and 11 adults. They learn Kick Boxing, Taekwondo, Grappling and Tansudo.

What separates Burke’s teachings from others is that he performs this service at no charge.

“All I ask is for these young people, these adults to go out and give something back to their community,” Burke said. “I think that’s a fair asking price.”

One such series of free lessons turned Latrina Powell from a teen trying to find her place in life into a Martial Arts champion.