She wasn’t the tallest student to walk into Providence Star Martial Arts on a recent evening for class. She wasn’t the fastest either, usually finishing third or fourth in sprints to the wall and back.
Six-year-old Natalia Silk was easily one of the most gifted, though, having just earned her first-degree black belt in taekwondo.
Basically, that means Silk has mastered the fundamentals of taekwondo, a rare accomplishment for a 6-year old.
The class instructor, Marcus Clancy — or “Master Marcus” if you’re a student — has been teaching taekwondo for about 10 years and said Silk is the youngest black belt he’s ever produced.
There isn’t a reliable way to track taekwondo students who earn black belts, but research suggests Silk could be the youngest female black belt in taekwondo in Indiana.
“It’s amazing to see someone that young with skills like that,” Clancy said.
It took Silk about 2 1/2 years to get her first-degree black belt, and Clancy, a sixth-degree black belt, said she’s learning taekwondo more quickly than many adults.
The highest level is a ninth-degree black belt, which signifies a grand master. Clancy said it took him more than 20 years to get his sixth-degree black belt.
Silk, who will turn 7 in February, said she likes taekwondo because “we get to fight a lot.” Not fight each other, but kicking pads and a punching bag hanging from the wall. Students also wear chest pads and get to lightly kick each other.
Silk was mild-mannered talking about what it was like to get her first-degree black belt, but her grandparents said taekwondo has helped her gain more confidence socially. She used to be really shy, according to her grandmother, Loraine Jackson, but now Silk has no problem introducing herself to strangers.
On some days, when Clancy can’t start the class right away, it might be up to Silk to get everyone organized and warmed up because she’s one of the highest ranks.
Terry Jackson, her grandfather, said he and his wife wanted to get Silk into taekwondo because they know the benefits go beyond learning a new sport and gaining good health habits.
“We wanted her to be able to know what life’s about,” he said. “Taekwondo is a way of life.”
Neither of Silk’s grandparents have done taekwondo but have learned a lot about the sport by watching the classes twice a week and practicing with Silk at home, where they have a floor mat and punching bag.
In the class, Clancy is in a position where he can see his students’ potential and knows how much they can accomplish if they stay focused and dedicated, and he said he’s especially excited to see how far Silk can go.
“When you need some form of motivation as an instructor, I look toward students to help you out and get that extra boost that you might need,” he said. “She’s definitely one of those that helps me continue to grow in my martial arts.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.