Black belts bring family together

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Ten years ago an employee here began martial arts training as a way to get back into shape and spend time with her two children. Those years of training have paid off for all three as each can proudly proclaim to have earned black belts in the martial arts.

Lainie Byerly, an Army veteran, currently works for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center here. She earned her first-degree black belt in 2011, while her 16-year-old daughter, Skye, earned hers in 2015. Last August, 14-year-old son Dennis Byerly earned his first-degree black belt.

Martial arts, obviously, are important to the Byerly family but Lainie did not start out with the intent of advancing so far.

“In May 2007, I went blind in my left eye and was subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in August of the same year,” she said. “I never planned on becoming a black belt, until the diagnosis. I began to view earning a black belt as a way to ‘beat’ the disease and I achieved my goal in August 2011.”

While Lainie gained experience and belts, so did Skye and Dennis. Both practice traditional martial arts (Shotokan and Tae Kwon Do karate), traditional weapons, and creative weapons.

“My kids began competing in both national and international tournaments in the National Blackbelt League (NBL) as part of Tobin’s Elite Academy of Martial Arts [in Clearfield, Utah],” said Lainie. “They’ve competed all over the U.S. and they’ve won titles at the NBL World Championships, known as ‘Super Grands,’ in three of the four they competed at from 2011 through 2016. Skye has won world titles both as an NBL ‘underbelt’ and ‘blackbelt,’ and Dennis has won as an NBL ‘underbelt.’”

While Lainie, Skye, and Dennis continue climbing the martial arts ranks, Lainie happily works overtime supporting her children.

“I travel with them and support them at these tournaments as both a parent and assistant coach/sensei,” she said, “and I volunteer as a center judge at these events to support the event promoters and the sport overall.”

Earning a black belt is no easy task, and the Byerlys have committed lots of time to perfecting their craft.

For a first-degree black belt, the physical part alone requires 200 pushups, 200 sit-ups, 200 jumping jacks, and a 2-mile run. From there, those testing must demonstrate various punches and kicks, all underbelt ‘katas’ (positions and movements), and self-defense and grappling techniques. Those testing must also break 6 boards and 1 brick, and must spar for up to 30 minutes and learn a sword form. Finally, there is a written test, which requires a 70 percent score to pass. Requirements for higher-degree black belts have many of the same elements, with more repetitions.

Spending time together remains important to the Byerlys: At the same time Dennis earned his black belt last August, Lainie advance to third-degree, while Skye advanced to second-degree.

“It required a great deal of commitment and at times deciding whether each of us would be able to test in August,” said Lainie. “It was the greatest honor to test with my kids and make it a family affair; it’s extremely rare to have three members of a family testing together, to different ranks at black belt level—but it was worth it!”