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Greenville & Hockessin Life

The unlikely martial artist

Jan 05, 2015 06:40PM ● By Kerigan Butt

Marti Williams has now earned a second-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do after studying martial arts for the last six years. The Hockessin resident is involved in many forms of active recreation.

(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Winter 2013 edition.)

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

Don’t ask Marti Williams if she knows who got eliminated on last night’s episode of "The Voice." She didn’t tune in to the series finale of "Breaking Bad" and don’t bother asking if she’s seen the most recent episode of "Parks and Recreation."

In Williams’ active life, there is no time for television. She describes skiing as a passion. Her parents were both instructors and avid skiers when she was growing up. A native of southern California, she loves to jet ski and wind surf. She rides dirt bikes and goes paddle boarding whenever she gets a chance. She loves to hike near her family’s home in Hockessin. She races Ariel Atoms cars in excess of 120 miles an hour at the Virginia International Raceway.

“Those are things I do all the time,” she explained during an interview in October. “I’ll see somebody doing something and think that that looks like fun. I’ll want to try it. And I have a quiet belief that I can do it, and if I do it hard enough and long enough, I believe I can become proficient at it.”

Over the course of the last six years, Williams has become more than proficient at martial arts, mastering the techniques and skills necessary to advance to the level of second-degree black belt.

She admits that she’s a little surprised that she likes martial arts as much as she does.

“I knew I’d like it because it is active, but I didn’t know that I’d like it this much,” she said.

Williams’ introduction came when her son, James, was in kindergarten, and he started taking martial arts classes. Even though she and her husband, John, are both very active in sports and recreation, neither one felt an immediate urge to take up martial arts with James. The husband and wife tandem own and operate Limestone Veterinary Hospital in Hockessin. They are both doctors in veterinary medicine and they focused on their work to expand the business.

“It’s the perfect mix of art and the science of medicine,” Williams said. “I feel downright blessed to have a job that I enjoy this much.”

James continued to advance in his martial arts studies at the Korean Martial Arts Institute. Then, in 2007, looking for a way to improve her flexibility, Williams found herself choosing between martial arts or yoga. She chose martial arts. Her husband and daughter, Katie, also started taking classes.

“It was fun,” Williams said of having the whole family study martial arts. “It made for some nice evenings.”

James is now a sophomore at the University of Delaware and stopped pursuing martial arts after he earned a second-degree black belt. John and Katie no longer take classes. But, six years later, Williams has now earned a second-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean Martial Art that is a more traditional form that focuses on individual abilities and places a higher emphasis on kicking.

An unlikely martial artist Williams may be, but she is also a highly competent one.

Rob Kloss, the head instructor at the Korean Martial Arts Institute, said that Williams’ strengths as a martial arts student are her tenacity, her perseverance, her ability to focus, and the thoughtfulness that she gives to understanding a technique or concept.

“Marti is an intensely focused learner, someone who takes the time to really break things down, deconstruct them, and tenaciously practice until she gets them down,” said Kloss. “She seeks depth of information, not breadth of information. She has a certain calm and focus that is not as common as you would think with adult students.”

Considering the enormous responsibility of her day job, it’s not surprising that she would be calm practicing martial arts. She does admit to having some jitters before grueling black belt tests.

“I do get nervous before my tests,” she said.

Those tests include a written exam, where students must demonstrate their knowledge of Korean terminology and history, and physical challenges, such as performing combinations of moves and specific self-defense techniques. She is proud of the fact that she has become adept at breaking boards, one of the biggest physical challenges for her. There is also an endurance component to these tests, and the physical part of the second-degree black belt test lasted five hours. With her extensive athletic background, endurance is not a problem for Williams and she was able to endure the tests.

She is currently working on her third-degree black belt, an endeavor that will take about three years to complete. She’s also studying Hapkido, a form of self-defense that uses traditional weapons, joint locks, and techniques of other martial arts.

Williams’ straight forward personality is well-suited to the martial arts, as is her level-headed temperament. There is no place for showing off or disrespecting an opponent.

“One nice thing about martial arts,” Williams explained, “is that there is no gloating.”

The Korean Martial Arts Institute in Hockessin is one of eight owned by Master John Godwin. Williams said that she likes how these schools are run. There is a high level of respect between instructors and students. Black-belt holders bow to more advanced black belts. Everyone is referred to as “sir” or “ma’am.” Students are always encouraged to help one another, and the camaraderie that the instructors and students have with each other is one of the things that Williams likes best.

“That’s definitely one of my highlights,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to come to class.”

Kloss said that Williams is a friend to her classmates and is always offering them encouragement. She and some of the other ladies at the studio formed the women warriors group that trains together and plans outside activities.

“We’ve become close-knit and very supportive of each other,” she said of the group, which includes a total of about a dozen women.

Williams said that all the women warriors are very precise with their sparring and are able to practice while keeping injuries to a minimum. The only real injuries that she’s suffered during her six years of martial arts training are exacerbations of lingering aches and pains.

Williams will likely obtain her third-degree black belt in two years or so and after that she probably won’t reach the next level because it can take up to ten years to complete the training to become a fourth-degree black belt. Even so, she doesn’t foresee stopping her martial arts training any time soon.

“I want to keep going until injuries keep me from doing it,” she said. “I think most people stop because they get bored or because of a lifestyle change such as moving away. I don’t see myself getting bored.”

While she’s proud that she has been able to become a black belt, Williams said that what she is most proud of is the progress that she makes performing specific moves or combinations. She can now do kicking combinations that she couldn’t do even a year ago.

According to Williams, Godwin once said that it takes 10,000 times practicing a strike or kick to master the technique. She doggedly practices hour after hour four or five nights a week, working her way toward mastering the necessary skills.

She also stays busy with her other recreational pursuits, such as autocross racing, which differs from road racing and oval racing in that there is usually just one car on the track racing against the clock rather than other cars. Cones are set up and drivers must maneuver their cars through tight turns.

“It’s really the corners that are a challenge—the exactness of taking a line through the corner,” she said. “It’s exciting to make a ninety-degree turn at fifty miles an hour.”

Then there’s skiing or hiking or paddle boarding, or some other activity that a family member suggests and wants to try.

How does she find time to fit all these pursuits into an already busy schedule?

Williams said that she once read a quote by basketball great Bill Walton about how Californians are very careful to plan out their recreation. So maybe making plans is ingrained in this southern Californian. She strongly believes that if she didn’t plan out the activities she would miss out on them.

“Recreation doesn’t just happen by accident,” she said. “I plan for them. There are no television shows that I watch all the time. I’m not into Pinterest or Instagram anymore because I felt like I was living somebody else’s life and not my own.”

Kloss is not surprised that Williams has persevered to reach the level of second-degree black belt, and is pursuing a third-degree black belt.

“She is more tenacious than many, not giving up when others might have—and some did,” Kloss explained. “While she is an athlete for certain, she was not a natural to what we do here, yet she didn’t let that discourage her. In a world of people afraid to be themselves, afraid to leave their comfort zones, Marti has no such issues.”

When you consider her multi-layered athletic background and factor in her determination and work ethic, maybe Williams isn’t such an unlikely martial artist after all.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, e-mail [email protected].

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