Phillips Fights All the Way to Black Belt



Lisa Patrick

The Ashland Beacon


   Olivia Phillips is a 13-year-old who will soon begin her eighth grade year at Boyd County Middle School. She started taking karate lessons at Phil Clark’s Martial Arts Academy at the age of six. Despite a couple of setbacks, one of which included her small size, she earned her black belt in May.

   Olivia’s father, Ryan Phillips, enrolled her in the Martial Arts Academy because he wanted her to learn both self-defense skills and the “discipline that goes with martial arts.” She began in the Little Dragons class and worked her way through five belt levels while in class with the smaller students. Ryan kept her in the Little Dragons class until she was almost nine because “she was tiny” and the older class does sparring every Thursday. She just wasn’t ready to “mix it up with bigger kids,” he said.

   When Olivia finally did get to move up to the Intermediate Tae Kwon Do class, she faced a challenge bigger than her size. She lost all of her belt levels and had to start back at the beginning with her white belt. At Phil Clark’s, students cannot test to earn their black belt until they are at least 13. Ryan Phillips said that this is because “in the year between 12 and 13, the students grow so much more in strength and in confidence. They start understanding of what comes with getting a black belt is more than what’s wrapped around your waist. It’s more about how you carry yourself and how you represent the academy. Students have to grow into that.”

   The academy and Olivia’s parents created a program that would make sure that she earned at least one belt level per year. They didn’t want her to get bored in her training while she was waiting to be the right age to test for her black belt.

   Olivia began competing in some tournaments outside the academy but her small size was a hindrance. She had to fight girls that were much bigger than she was because, in karate, competitors fight according to belt level and not according to size. So she took a break and waited for a growth spurt. Now that she has earned her black belt and has hit a height of about five feet, Olivia plans to start competing again and has been invited to participate in the Competition Team at the Academy.

   Olivia’s black belt test on May 16 took about two hours. She completed her test in front of a board of five black belts, including Academy owner Phil Clark. Olivia said that she was “definitely nervous but I was confident in my ability that I could pass it.” The test was all-encompassing and completely random. She had no idea which of her skills she would be called upon to demonstrate during the test. Clark called out commands in Korean and the testing students had to follow them. These included different combinations of kicks, punches, self-defense moves, takedowns, and counter punches and kicks.

   She displayed her knowledge of katas. She knew that she would have to demonstrate the black belt kata that she had been working on all year but the others were performed upon command at the testing site with no prior knowledge. She also had to demonstrate self-defense moves that she had learned with her bo staff.

   Another part of the black belt test was the breaking of a flaming board. This wasn’t a requirement but it was available if a student wanted to try. Olivia had seen another girl break a flaming board as part of her test the year before and thought that it was “really cool.” So she gave it a try and was successful in breaking it without any injury.

   Olivia has not always been so successful at not injuring herself during karate practice - she has broken a couple of fingers. The young lady plays piano at Aspire Conservatory and, unfortunately, she broke the ring finger on her left hand three days before a recital. She had to quickly learn how to play her music without using that finger.

   Outside of karate and piano, Olivia runs for the Boyd County Cross Country Team and is a member of the Boyd County Varsity Track Team. She participates in the long jump, the triple jump, the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and occasionally does some relays. She is also a member of her church’s youth group and has participated in the Academic Team at Boyd County Middle School for the past two years. This year the team came in eighth in the state even though they were competing through Zoom calls.

   Olivia plans to stay with karate and is already making plans to work toward her second-degree black belt. She is going to start teaching classes and helping with all the white belt students and with the students in the Little Dragons class. Both of her parents, Ryan and Katie Phillips, are “just so proud of her.” Ryan hopes that other kids will join the Martial Arts Academy and “get to experience this. Karate builds self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-discipline. Every kid should learn self-defense.”