Black belts just a step on the path

"A black belt is a white belt that never quit."

That’s one of Sifu Torrie Miller’s favourite adages, and one that has stuck with James Luckhurst throughout his kung fu training. It paid off for Luckhurst last month as he was one of three Valley View Martial Arts students who were awarded their black belts.

Luckhurst, 14, was joined by Charlotte Mackeil, 15, and 59-year-old Elizabeth Cox in receiving black belts.

Two more Valley View students – Samantha Furlonger and Elsa Quinlan, both 17- who were integral in mentoring those black belts, received their green sashes – the Teacher’s Sash – representing that they mentored a white belt on the path to becoming a black belt.

All five were among the first students at Valley View when Torrie Miller and his wife, Wendy, started the school five years ago. Luckhurst, Mackeil, Furlonger and Quinlan moved from another studio where Miller taught.

Furlonger and Quinlan have both been training with Miller for about 11 years, starting kung fu within a couple of months of each other.

"I’m proud of myself for sticking with it and achieving my goals," Furlonger said.

Cox started her training four and a half years ago at the age of 54 to get in shape. She was hooked after two months, and was quickly achieving her fitness goals, losing 20 pounds in the first four months.

"I wish I had discovered this 30 years ago," she said.

When she started, she never dreamed of achieving her black belt. Now that she has, she realizes it’s still just the beginning of the journey.

"I thought, oh my god, I’m never going to get my black belt," she said. "Now I feel like I don’t know anything. It used to be my end goal, but now it’s not."

Luckhurst has a similar mindset. "There are so many things I don’t know," he said. "It’s mind-boggling to think how much more there could be."

The respect all five have for Miller is obvious, and not just because most of them changed schools to work with him.

"He’s a great teacher," Luckhurst said.

"He’s devoted to what he does. He’s a role model."

The respect, they feel, is mutual. "It isn’t just a job," Quinlan said. "He takes time to teach us all. Even the fouryear-olds, he sits with them and talks to them."

Miller also has exacting standards, and his students don’t feel that they are part of a "belt factory."

"I knew I earned every belt I got," Cox said.

There is also an emphasis on what the belts signify, and it’s not power over the other students.

"Torrie says a higher belt doesn’t mean you’re stronger or better," Furlonger said. It means you’re more of a leader."

Until recently, Furlonger had been training the Flying Tigers, Valley View’s fourand five-year-olds, and Wendy Miller credits both her and Quinlan with helping to make the school what it is.

"They’ve been a huge part of our success and our community," she said.

Furlonger and Quinlan are both easing up on their martial arts training as they prepare for Grade 12 at Frances Kelsey Secondary. Furlonger is going to China this summer to build a school and work in an orphanage. She will be starting college credit courses next year, and has the goal of being accepted into McGill University, while Quinlan is aiming for the University of British Columbia.

Neither one is ready to let go of kung fu altogether.

"I’d like to work towards my red sash, the Warrior Sash, but that’s another five years, at least," Furlonger said. "Martial arts is part of my life. I can’t let it go."