Area students with special needs earn first martial arts belts

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SPRING GROVE – After months of training, five McHenry County students with special needs on Tuesday received their first martial arts belts.

Students from the Special Education District of McHenry County have trained at the Flying Dragon Martial Arts Studio in Spring Grove since September and were awarded first-level karate belts.

Bonnie Thiel, owner of Flying Dragon, said the day was a tremendous achievement for the students after months of hard work.

“Today was a very special day,” Thiel said. “They had to work so hard with all of this. ... I’m so glad I could be a part of it.”

The students, competing in a group known as the Special Dragons, performed various kicking and punching drills, as well as sword exercises, and running and kicking drills.

“Keeping them active and physically fit is really important for special needs kids,” said Sue Dietz, whose daughter was in Tuesday’s class. “It’s good for motion and coordination.”

Sharon White, teacher at the SEDOM center, said the karate classes have been beneficial to the students’ development.

“Karate is a life skill that they can take with them after they graduate,” White said.

“What I see mostly is the self-confidence. How they feel afterward when they accomplish something, and respect for each other and for everybody else. Those are huge things that have happened.”

Before Tuesday’s class, the Special Dragons got a demonstration from three black belts, including 82-year-old Bill Robinson and his special needs son, Bill Jr., who started karate lessons 13 years ago. Robinson thought taking the classes with his son would bring the two closer.

“It’s been a pretty good bonding experience because we get to practice together,” Robinson said. “It’s something to do together and it keeps us both out of mischief.”

Robinson said his son wears his belt any chance he gets, and the two are working toward their second-degree black belt.

“It’s had quite an impact on him,” Robinson said. “Once he got his black belt, he was really proud.”

Thiel said the students initially would sometimes get frustrated with the training as they adapted to the program. But Thiel said that once the students felt comfortable and began to trust her, they quickly improved.

“A year after I started [Special Dragons], I found out my granddaughter was special needs,” she said. “I think of her every time I teach these kids. I hope that she has teachers that feel the same way and really know how special they are. They’re really God’s gift to us.”

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