On a Friday night in January while many people in the Brainerd lakes area were relaxing, 16-year-old Jasmine MacKenzie was at DeWitt Martial Arts preparing for the first part of a two-day test for her black belt in traditional tae kwon do.
A sophomore at Brainerd High School, MacKenzie had been working toward that goal for five years.
"I was 11 years old the first day we arrived, my mom, brother and me," she said. "I was so captivated by what the class was doing. ... (I am) still amazed at the things a human body can do with proper training."
Jasmine's mother, Lynne, earned her own black belt a year ago and helped prepare her daughter for the testing.
Jasmine MacKenzie demonstrated a move.
The process began at 5 p.m. on a Friday and continued until 2 a.m., and included heavy fitness requirements such as running, calisthenics, hundreds of kicks and demonstration of mastery of every skill that MacKenzie has learned since starting her martial arts career as a white belt.
And, that is only the pre-test. Students returned the next day for another four hours of testing. The rigorous process has earned DeWitt Martial Arts the reputation of being the "hard school" in town, but the payoff comes in the form of students who endure.
"I am more athletic than I ever thought I could be," MacKenzie said. "I've learned to persevere through the hardest times. I've also developed a lot of self-confidence and ability to stand up for myself and others."
The martial arts school has one other youth black belt. Fifteen-year-old Cora Simenstad completed her first dahn black belt testing at DMA six months ago, becoming the first junior black belt in years. Simenstad helped to judge the test while MacKenzie was on the floor.
MacKenzie excelled in her quest for her black belt despite having stomach flu the day before. Her strongest memory of the ordeal?
"Near the end of the test on Saturday I was sparring I started heaving," she said. "My mom rushed me to a trash can where all I did was dry-heave.
"I thought I needed to be done (but) I had already come so far, I had to finish. That gave me strength, along with the entire audience cheering me when I got back up."
An honor student, MacKenzie intends to continue with her martial arts training as she prepares for college and a degree in astrophysics.
"I hope to work for NASA and then eventually teach at a major university in Europe," she said.
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