Lennis Darby, owner and lead instructor of Enterprise’s MojuKai Karate-Kobudo, would have stopped teaching karate several years ago if not for family.
On Monday night, Darby celebrated alongside his family as he tied a black belt around his daughter, Blayde, who became the fourth member of the family to attain a black belt.
Alongside his wife, Stacey, Darby owned and operated seven karate schools in the 90s. When those schools closed, Darby said he thought he was done teaching forever.
“Things happened and events unfolded,” Darby told students and parents at a special promotions and awards ceremony at MojuKai Karate on Monday night. “We wound up closing the schools. Back in those days, (current instructor) Michael Pearson was actually a student of ours.”
For years, Darby quit teaching karate and would train and work out alone. It took some “pestering” from Darby’s son Stone and his friend Nate Walls, who is now a close friend of the whole family.
“(I told them) no,” said Darby. “I told them they wouldn’t do it the way I wanted them to do it. They said, ‘Yes we will.’ I said, ‘No, you won’t.’ They said, ‘Yes we will.’ I finally told Stacey one day that I was going to test them. I told them be ready at 6 a.m. to work out, and I knew there was no way two 17 year old boys were going to do that. Well guess what -- they did.”
At first, Darby said he gave them “crazy tasks that had almost nothing to do with karate” such as “moving railroad ties up and down” a hill.
“It would sleet, and I would make them go run,” said Darby. “They just kept coming.”
Months later, the two trainees decided they wanted to compete in a karate tournament. After some initial resistance, Darby agreed to enter them into a tournament but said they should not fight in their own division because he knew how capable they were. Fighting up to adults in yellow and green belts, the pair ended up sparring for first place.
“That was the day I went, ‘We’re going to do this again,’ Darby said.
Blayde’s participation in karate, however, was more of a surprise.
“I did not expect her to want to do it,” Darby said. “Let me paint this picture of Ms. Blayde that nobody knows. Ya’ll know, as Junior (Foster, current student) said the other day when Blayde walked into the room -- ‘scary woman.’ But Ms. Blayde was this chunky little, uncoordinated, couldn’t-walk-with-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other little girl. No confidence. Didn’t believe she could do anything. In four years, she has turned herself from that little girl into, well, scary woman. To say that I’m a proud instructor -- not even close.”
Blayde was 14 years old when she got involved with karate because it was the “family thing, the family business.”
“I grew up hearing how cool it was,” Blayde said. “When I got the chance and I was ready to do it, I did. I liked it pretty much right off the bat. We don’t get to hit things very much in society, so it’s a good release.”
She said she is excited to be a black belt, but anxious about starting at the bottom of a new division.
“Black belt is a whole different world from what I’ve been doing the last few years,” said Blayde, who is moving to Tuskegee to pursue her master’s degree in veterinary medicine. “I’m excited for the challenge.”
She also said she wants girls and women to consider joining the martial arts.
“This is something that every woman should do at least once in her life,” Blayde said. “It’s so important to get that confidence from knowing how to defend yourself. Just understand as far as competing there are going to be losses in the beginning, but as long as you’re persevering and learning what you’re supposed to learn, you’re growing. Personal growth is the most important thing we gain from the martial arts and, as in all aspects of life, if you persevere and enjoy the ride you will reach your goals.”