Ryan, 9, and Kyle, 6, both began studying Choi Kang Do when they were 3 years old, at a school in Canton operated by Jonathan Cruzado. Ryan, who received his first-degree black belt when he was 6, tested for his second-degree black belt over the weekend. Kyle successfully tested for his first black belt at the same time.
Cruzado said it is unusual for a student to receive a black belt at such a young age because it takes three years to earn. He said it is even more impressive that the brothers did it together.
“We don’t have many kids that achieve that mark at that age,” Cruzado said. “It takes a lot of focus.”
Cruzado said both boys were members of the black-belt club and had their belts hanging on the wall, waiting for the boys to earn it.
“That was their goal,” said Cruzado, who said there are 70 or 80 belts hanging on the wall. “Those belts represent people who have made the commitment to earn their black belt.”
The boys’ parents, Brian and Jennifer McSparron, initially got Ryan involved in Choi Kwang Do — a martial art developed in the 1980s by a former instructor of taekwondo — after a couple of other boys in his play group started taking lessons. Kyle would sit and watch his brother during lessons, and as soon as he was old enough, he joined, too.
“We kept it consistent,” Brian McSparron said. “Especially in the early years — when they were 3 or 4 they wouldn’t always want to go, but we just kept taking them and it really just became part of their life I guess. They really don’t know anything other than doing that two days a week, I guess.
“Once Ryan received his black belt, he was looking forward to his second degree. Kyle kept on watching his brother achieve what he was achieving and he knew that he could do it too if he applied himself as well.”
Brian McSparron said that it is nice to have the boys involved in an activity together. They attend class twice a week, but are in the same session, so it makes scheduling a bit easier.
Martial arts isn’t the only interest for either boy. Ryan runs track and cross country through the Creekview youth track program, while Kyle just finished up his first basketball season at Avery Elementary, where both boys attend school. They also play tennis in their neighborhood.
Cruzado said there are a number of benefits to getting kids involved in martial arts. It can develop focus, discipline and respect.
“In addition to being a good athletic activity where they are running around and punching and kicking, they learn other things,” said Cruzado, who first learned Choi Kwang Do in 1996, at the age of 11. “They have to sit up straight with their legs criss-crossed and hands on their knees, or they have to stand up straight while their instructor is giving them directions. We teach them to look at the eyes when someone is talking to them. There are a lot of values that kids learn by coming to martial arts.”
The values are reflected in the promise that students recite before each class. Among the vows are never giving up, obeying parents and teachers, telling the truth, being polite and never misusing what is learned in classes.
Cruzado added that students learn ways to deal with being bullied without resorting to physical action.
“We go over these things so they learn how to be more respectful, more focused at school,” he said. “We talk about keeping their hands to themselves and using their words. It helps them a whole lot with discipline and behavior outside of our school.”
McSparron said he isn’t sure how long his sons will continue to follow martial arts, but neither has plans to quit.
“They enjoy reaching their goals,” he said. “They will keep it up as long as they have the desire.”