Vernon Valley Karate holds black belt ceremony

Vernon. Vernon Valley Karate Academy promotes 13 black-belt students at ceremony that was postponed from May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Owner and sensei Thomas Shull was promoted to seventh-degree black belt.

| 17 Aug 2020 | 02:09

“Belts on. Group shot with masks on,” announced Sensei Tom Shull at the end of the first Vernon Valley Karate Academy (VVKA) COVID-19 black belt testing and promotion ceremony with social distancing.

At last, 13 VVKA students tested for their black belts behind the Police Action League (PAL) building, outside, in the beginning of August. Originally, the test was scheduled for May, but COVID-19 prevented the event for around three months. Students were promoted to first-degree black belt up to, and including, fourth-degree black belt.

As a surprise, following the promotion of the 13 students, Sensei Chuck Ercolano promoted Sensei Tom Shull to seventh-degree black belt – nanadan – in the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate system. Ercolano is the ninth-degree black belt student under recently deceased 10th-degree black belt Sensei Robert Herten.

Shull, co-owner of VVKA with his wife, Trudy, said he and Ercolano have trained together for about 46 years and have been friends ever since.

“After all these years,” Shull said, “it was a big honor to be promoted by such a good friend.”

The seventh degree black belt – nanadan - is equivalent to a full professorship. Shull explained that the “nanadan” also comes with a teaching title – Kyoshi – teacher of teachers, advanced teacher.

Promotion ceremony surprise

Ercolano told the story of a black belt he and Shull knew who continually crossed his name off of the testing list because he did not think he was good enough to be shodan – first degree black belt – that which is first. Finally, the friend was told it was not up to him anymore, and “Here is your belt.”

Similarly, Ercolano said Shull should have been a seventh-degree black belt, but he kept on refusing.

“He is not going to be able to refuse it anymore, because I am going to promote him tonight to seventh-degree black belt,” Ercolano said.

Parents and students enthusiastically applauded.

Shull said thank you, and “It was very much unexpected.” He said it had been a long time since he had tested. Additionally, he said, “This is a tremendous honor because it comes from somebody that I respect more than anyone in the world in martial arts.”

Later, he said, he was supposed to be promoted to the seventh degree black belt in 2005. He said no, because he did not think he was ready, and it would not have been right for him to have accepted it at that time.

Currently, the Vernon Valley Karate Academy offers classes behind the PAL building for $10 a class:
Tuesday and Thursday
6 -6:45 p.m. - Juniors: Ages 7-14
7 -8 p.m., Adults: 15 to older.
9 - 9:45 a.m. - Rangers: Ages 4-6.