If there's one mantra that Deema Elchoufi lives by, it has to be that self-discipline pays off.
For Deema, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Augusta Preparatory Day School in Martinez, self-discipline is a major driving force in her life. She learned years ago that she could gain self-esteem, confidence, respect and loyalty from practicing self-discipline. It was as a student at Martial Arts America four years ago that she grasped the concept.
Today, after only one attempt, Deema holds a junior black belt.
"I started karate because of an older cousin who lives in Pennsylvania," said Deema, who also enjoys playing the piano and running cross country and track at APDS. "I tried to imitate him a lot and I also wanted to take up a sport, so I tried karate. I really got into it, and it has been my passion ever since."
The daughter of Alarabi and Ghada Elchoufi, of Martinez, Deema takes her karate seriously. She is a member of the STORM team at Martial Arts America, where she assists instructors in getting students warmed up for class and helps to demonstrate specific techniques.
"Most people believe martial arts training is for males and yes, most of those who participate are male," said J. Blanchard, the manager of the Evans location of Martial Arts America and Deema's head instructor. "However, there are a good many young ladies who take martial arts. It's not unusual in our school to get females that take it, many starting at the age of 4. Across the arts in general, the number of young ladies such as Deema who get to the level of black belt testing that Deema just passed, are in a minority."
Deema Elchoufi, a middle school pupil at Augusta Prep, works as an assistant karate instructor. She helps instructors get students prepared for class and demonstrates techniques. She started karate to imitate her cousin and has since earned her black belt.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Deema trained religiously for the three-part black belt testing, which included a physical contest where she was required to complete a certain number of sit-ups and push-ups in a specified time, as well as run a mile. The second phase consisted of a pre-black belt test where she was judged by a panel of black belts who made the recommendation that she should proceed to the third, and final, phase of testing.
In the final phase, Deema had to show that she could perform the necessary kicks and punches expected for her age.
"Clearly Deema has all the skills she needs and she has the desire to reach it," Blanchard said before Deema's final test.
"I'm convinced we will put a black belt around her waist."
While much of the testing is physical, the student must also be prepared mentally.
"They have to set a goal and achieve it," Blanchard said. "They try for the black belt when everything falls into place. A large portion of Deema's black belt process is the mental training she's developed in herself. She has a will to continue on despite the physical conditioning."
Blanchard says, and Deema agrees, that as the student acquires confidence, they learn a very valuable life skill of setting a large goal with smaller goals along the way.
"Obtaining the black belt, of course, is not easy," Blanchard said. "It says a lot about the initial stick-to-itiveness of the person to attain the goal."
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