Fall 2019 Black Belt Promotions

Black Belt promotions were held at Rising Sun Martial Arts in Newport on Saturday, October 25th.  Calla Baker of Newport, George Dube of Goshen, Amelia Gallup of Sunapee and Jett Larrimore of Lempster were recognized for their years of study and outstanding performances on their recent evaluations.

By international standard, one cannot be considered a full Black Belt until the age of sixteen.  Junior Black Belt levels (denoted by a colored stripe running the length of the belt) allow younger students who have reached this level to continue progressing in the arts.  Calla Baker, age 13, was awarded her 4th Level Junior Black Belt.  Baker has been training since 2009 and has been both a Divisional and Double-Crown State Champion on the Twin State Martial Arts Association tournament circuit.  She also holds 1st Level Black Belt in Kobudo (traditional weapons) and the teaching title of Sempai (Assistant Instructor).

When a Junior Black Belt reaches the age of sixteen, he or she is eligible to test for the equivalent level of Adult Black Belt.  The level of adult grade that a student transitions to is based on their Junior Black Belt level, their total class hours and years of training, the curriculum material they have mastered, and their overall growth and maturity.  Based on these criteria, George Dube was promoted to 3rd Level Black Belt.  He has been training in karate since 2013 and is a Triple-Crown State Champion on the Twin State tournament circuit.  He also holds 1st Level Black Belt in Kobudo (traditional weapons) and the teaching title of Sempai (Assistant Instructor).

Many consider Black Belt to be the pinnacle of martial arts achievement.  In a traditional school, it is the beginning of a lifelong journey – everything before that is simply “getting ready.”  There are ten levels, or “degrees”, of Black Belt.  Having started karate in 2014, Jett Larrimore was promoted to 1st Level Black Belt.

The title of “Sensei” means “instructor.”  To become a licensed karate instructor at Rising Sun Martial Arts, a student must complete a two-year teaching apprenticeship and a three-year assistantship.  Amelia Gallup earned the title of Sensei in 2012.  At the recent ceremony, she was promoted to the teaching grade of Renshi (Senior Instructor).  Gallup, who has been training since 2002, is the first person to earn this title at Rising Sun Martial Arts.  She has been a Twin State Champion twice and has competed across the US in such places as Pennsylvania, New Mexico and California.  Gallup has been named a Competitor of the Year for 2018 by the International Karate Kobudo Federation.

Students testing for their first level of Black Belt are asked to write a Black Belt Essay, reflecting on their years of training.  Jett Larrimore concluded his thus: “Rising Sun Martial Arts, and the study of Goju ryu Karate-do, has been an integral part of my journey into adulthood.  In the half-decade I’ve been part of this community, I’ve made friends and matured as an individual.  I’ve learned the true value of focus and respect, and I’ve gained confidence in myself and my capabilities.  As a Black Belt, I am part of a centuries-old lineage.  The knowledge of our discipline is passed down from teacher to student, with each progressive generation seeking to educate and encourage the next.  It is my duty, and my honor, to join this line, so that one day I may be to a Kohai (younger student) what my instructors were to me.”

(l-r) Jett Larrimore, Sempai Calla Baker and Sempai George Dube were honored at a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 25th, in which they received their next levels of Black Belt.

Fall 2015 Black Belt Promotions

17 Oct 2015 ceremony

(l-r) Tim Cunningham, Griffin LaBrie, Calla Baker, Joseph Renaud, Michael Hebert. At the recent Black Belt promotion ceremony, Griffin was promoted to 5th Degree Junior Black Belt. He and Tim were both awarded the teaching level of Sempai (assistant instructor). Joseph and Michael earned their adult-grade 1st Degree Black Belt, and Calla earned her 1st Degree Junior Black Belt. All train at Rising Sun Martial Arts in Newport, NH.

Friends and families gathered on Saturday to witness four students earn Black Belt ranking at Rising Sun Martial Arts. At a gathering of martial artists representing over 80 years of combined experience in the martial arts, Calla Baker and Michael Hebert of Newport, Griffin LaBrie of Claremont, and Joseph Renaud of Weathersfield, VT, received promotions based on years of hard work and dedication.

Griffin LaBrie has been training since April of 2007. He was promoted to 5th Degree Junior Black Belt; only the third person at Rising Sun Martial Arts to attain this level. “Karate has enabled me to realize that reaching high levels of achievement are within my reach and I can accomplish anything I set my mind and spirit to by keeping my focus and determination,” said Griffin, when asked what karate training has done for him. He was also recognized for his commitment and skill in teaching karate. Kyoshi Brent Baker, director and lead instructor at Rising Sun, mentioned how LaBrie was his “strong right arm” in teaching the Juniors’ classes throughout the summer months and how the younger students looked up to him as a positive role model. Griffin was awarded the teaching level of Sempai (Assistant Instructor) – a step up from the Apprentice Instructor level that he had previously held. In response to the question of what a Black Belt means to him, LaBrie replied, “It means [taking] responsibility for not just me, but others too.”

The youngest of the group who were tested on the 10th (in an exhaustive three-hour examination), Calla Baker was promoted to the level of 1st Degree Junior Black Belt. A fifth grader, Calla has been training since the age of three, moving up from the school’s “Little Ninjas” preschool program to the Juniors program. Now, after six years of training, she is finally allowed to wear a Black Belt. “I take karate because it teaches me how to defend myself,” she explained. “It lets me stop thinking about what a terrible day I’ve had or how mean someone was. I can just learn, be with nice people and friends, doing something I love – something that it fun and gives me a challenge.” When asked about the Black Belt test, Calla replied, “I had to work hard. I had to push myself harder than I ever did and I passed! It was all worth it!” In addition to studying karate, Calla assists in teaching the Little Ninjas preschool karate program.

By international standard, one must be at least sixteen years old in order to wear an adult-grade Black Belt. Statistically, less than 2% of all the people who start training in karate reach this goal. Michael Hebert and Joseph Renaud are two young men who beat those odds, earning the level of 1st Degree Black Belt. With approximately seven years of training between them, Joseph and Michael trained hard and remained committed, overcoming obstacles and pushing back their limits. In terms of what being a Black Belt means to him, Michael states, “The lower ranks look up to you. You should have patience and a will to get the best out of yourself. You need to have proper respect and discipline for what you are and [for] those around you.” Joseph echoed this sentiment: “When I look at the lower belts, it encourages me to keep going as I am an example to them.”

In addition to those students earning their Black Belt ranking, Timothy Cunningham of New London was also recognized for his work as an instructor at Rising Sun Martial Arts, and for being a positive role model – especially for the students coming up the ranks behind him. Tim was upgraded from the level of Shidoin (Apprentice Instructor) to that of Sempai (Assistant Instructor). The next teaching level Tim and Griffin will be eligible for is that of full Sensei (Instructor).

The feeling at the end of the ceremony was one of joy and accomplishment. Each of these young people is aware of the responsibility that comes with wearing a Black Belt, but their teachers have no doubt that they will live up to this responsibility. And how does it feel to earn one’s Black Belt? Calla summed it up in just one word: “Amazing!”


Congratulations, New Kobudo Black Belts!

Two students tested for the level of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Kobudo (traditional weapons) at the International Karate Kobudo Federation’s 31st Annual Training, July 10-12, 2015.

Shidoin Timothy Cunningham and Sempai John Cunningham were evaluated for rank on Friday evening, after a six-hour seminar.  The young men were required to demonstrate eight different kata (forms), across four different weapons (bo, tunfa, sai, and nunchaku).  They were then expected to perform bunkai for a kata of their choice.  The term “bunkai” means “analysis” – the testing candidate is expected to study his/her kata and develop a reasonable idea of how the techniques within the form could be applied in a self-defense situation, and then demonstrate his/her analysis against a partner.  For their bunkai kata, Tim selected the kata Odo no Nunchaku and John chose the kata Ko Bo.

(l-r) Sempai John Cunningham, Sensei Amelia Gallup, Shidoin Timothy Cunningham at the IKKF Annual Training Banquet. Tim and John are holding their Shodan rank certificates.


On Saturday evening, at the Annual Banquet, Tim and John were promoted to the level of Shodan by Hanshi C. Bruce Heilman, the president of the IKKF.  They received their official rank certificates and a patch for their Black Belts to indicate their status in Kobudo.

(l-r) Shidoin Tim Cunningham, Hanshi C. Bruce Heilman, Hanshi Ann-Marie Heilman.

(l-r) Shidoin Tim Cunningham, Hanshi C. Bruce Heilman, Hanshi Ann-Marie Heilman.

(l-r) Sempai John Cunningham, Hanshi C. Bruce Heilman, Hanshi Ann-Marie Heilman.

(l-r) Sempai John Cunningham, Hanshi C. Bruce Heilman, Hanshi Ann-Marie Heilman.

Both Tim and John have been leaders in our dojo, often teaching on both karate and kobudo.  They are both athletes, honor-roll students, and excellent role models for the lower ranks.  We are very proud of them both!

Congratulations, Tim and John!!


Spring 2015 Black Belt Promotions

(l-r) Sempai John Cunningham, Zach Belisle, Shidoin Tim Cunningham, Evan Miller, Shidoin Griffin LaBrie, Shidoin Susannah Colby.


Last Saturday, March 28, saw three young men complete an exhaustive examination of their knowledge of traditional karate.  Timothy Cunningham, 16, of New London, Zachary Belisle, 12, of Sunapee, and Evan Miller, 12, of Bradford were awarded Black Belt ranking on Saturday, April 4th.

Tim Cunningham has trained in karate at Rising Sun since he started in late 2004.  In 2009, he earned his Junior Black Belt.  (International standards prohibit anyone below the age of sixteen from holding the full Black Belt certification.)  At this ceremony, Tim transitioned from 4th Degree Junior Black Belt to 3rd Degree Adult Black Belt, one of only a handful of students to reach this level.  He was also awarded the title of Shidoin (Apprentice Instructor), in recognition of his work as a teaching assistant.  When asked what earning his Black Belt meant to him, Tim responded, “Black Belt, to me, is a symbol of growth in a positive manner.  Through my eleven years of training, I have been taught to use karate not only as a method of self-defense, but as a tool to enhance one’s character.  Self-control, mental discipline, respect – all things that were previously unattainable to me – are now embedded in my lifestyle.  Where once I had problems with anger and motivation, I now find patience and positive spirit – taught through physical conditioning and learned through mental honing.”

Zach Belisle and Evan Miller were promoted to the level of 1st Degree Junior Black Belt.  Between them, they have almost a decade of experience in karate.  As Zach put it, “A Black Belt is more than just a belt on you; it shows how much hard work you have put into karate and that you are disciplined.”  But, while earning a Black Belt means attaining a long-term goal, neither of them see this as the end of their study.  “To me,” explains Evan, “being a Black Belt is a symbol of how far I have come and how far I will go.”  Both young men are regular fixtures at the school, and often assist in teaching the lower belts.

Also recognized at the ceremony were Griffin LaBrie and Susannah Colby, who were awarded the level of Apprentice Instructor, and John Cunningham who was promoted from Shidoin to Sempai (Assistant Instructor).

Congratulations, Sensei Gallione!

Congratulations to Cathryn Gallione upon earning the teaching grade of Sensei (instructor) and the rank of Yondan-ho (probationary 4th Degree Black Belt).  This is a dojo record, and is the highest level that Kyoshi Baker has promoted any student to in all of his 25 years of teaching karate!

When an individual approaches this level, they are asked to write a “Black Belt Thesis” – a reflection of their journey in the martial arts and what it has meant to them.  With her permission, Sensei Gallione’s essay is as follows…

Through the years I have learned so much from karate – from the time I first walked into an intro with my parents as a seven-year old till now, over ten years later. Martial arts has taught me many important lessons, like not to give up easily – to keep fighting, no matter how difficult it is to fix an issue with my technique, to stay down in Shikodachi, to do one more push-up. It’s taught me to respect the teachers and higher ranks in authority positions over me –  to just shut up and listen whether I agree or not, to do as I’m told whether I want to or not without arguing or making excuses. It’s taught me to be strong – to take a hard hit without making a big deal about it, that it’s totally fine to sweat a little (okay, maybe a lot), that I really can keep going when I feel like I just can’t. There’s always a little more in me that I can give, and I’ve got to give it. It’s taught me that it’s all right not to be perfect at everything but that I always need to try. I’m going to make mistakes; the important thing is to have a good attitude and give it my best. It’s taught me to be humble and that I should work as hard as I can no matter what I’ve earned because hard work is what helped me get there in the first place, and there’s always the possibility of a person in the row behind me showing me up if I don’t stick with it. It’s taught me how to be a leader – that sometimes the best way to lead is just by example, by being an example of a good student, respecting the one teaching and practicing hard and that sometimes I need to step up and take the teaching position. Teaching can mean different things at different times: it can mean being firm and correcting a student when he’s out of line; it can mean being gentle and encouraging to someone who’s learning; it can mean taking the initiative to be strong and make decisions.

Beyond all that karate has taught me though, is a world of things it has given me. It’s given me, most of all, a dojo family that I’ll always treasure in my heart, a whole group full of guys and girls, men and women, who’ve all given to me in their own way, whether it be inspiration, instruction, challenge, encouragement, friendship –  all these things that have been so essential to my karate life. Karate has given me the thrill of feeling power surge through me as I send a technique rocketing through the air, the satisfaction of feeling the thud of a punch or kick landing squarely on a sparring partner’s stomach, the joy of nailing a kata at tournament, the fascination with all sorts of partner-work, joint locks, and take-downs, just all the great things I enjoy about the art itself. It’s given me a challenge – a drive and an opportunity to compete, not only in tournament but in every class – competing with myself to get that stance low, that punch strong, that kick fast, that technique right – and competing against others in class, which, though silent and possibly only known by me, is so important. Karate has given me goals to work towards, to try to reach. It’s stretched me and helped me grow in determination and resolve.

I know I’ve got a ways to go. There’s always room for my effort, attitude, and technique to improve, but the experiences I’ve been blessed to have with Rising Sun Martial Arts have played a major role in helping me to get to where I am today.

Fall 2013 Black Belt Promotions

Fall 2013 BB_014

(l-r): Sensei Jill Chastenay, Sempai Cathryn Gallione, Tim Cunningham, Shidoin John Cunningham, Isaiah Stephens.

Rising Sun Martial Arts in Newport, NH, held their semi-annual Black Belt promotion ceremony on Saturday, October 12, 2013.  This followed an intensive examination on Saturday, October 5th.  Six individuals from Claremont, Newport and New London were awarded degrees of Black Belt or teaching grades.

Those honored included the following:

  • Jill Chastenay – Sandan (Third Degree Black Belt) & Sensei (Licensed Instructor)
  • John Cunningham – Joshu-Yonban (Fourth Degree Junior Black Belt) & Shidoin (Apprentice Instructor)
  • Timothy Cunningham – Joshu-Yonban (Fourth Degree Junior Black Belt)
  • Isaiah Stephens – Joshu-Shoban (First Degree Junior Black Belt)
  • Cathryn Gallione – Sempai (Assistant Instructor)
  • John Hall – Shidoin (Apprentice Instructor)

According to school director, Brent Baker, these are significant accomplishments that were years in the making.  “It takes a minimum of three years to make a [First Degree] Junior Black Belt, four years for a fully licensed adult Black Belt.  And these belts are not gifts.  They don’t get them just for showing up to class; they work hard to earn them.  To see people reaching adult Third Degree and Junior Fourth Degree Black Belts says something about their level of commitment and dedication.”

This event was significant for the school, as well.  “I have taught karate for a little over twenty-four years now,” said Baker.  “Jill is only my third student to earn the title of Sensei, and she’s my fourth Sandan.”  And only two of his students, aside from the Cunningham brothers, have reached the level of Junior Fourth Degree Black Belt.  The small numbers are not unusual – statistically, only a small number of those who join a karate school stick with it long enough to earn their Black Belts.  And the higher the standards are, the lower these numbers tend to be.

Baker is quite proud of his students.  “They are quality people.  Their positive attitudes and great work ethics have served them well both in the dojo and in their lives outside the dojo walls.”


Media Link: Article in the New England Flame