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Visitors earn black belt promotions

Northeast Taekwondo students from Washington D.C. demonstrate their skills Saturday at the Saranac Lake Baptist Church. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — There was a family gathering at the Saranac Lake Baptist Church on Saturday, but it wasn’t necessarily a church-related event.

The occasion was the advancement of 20 students of the Northeast Taekwondo school to higher black belt levels.

Nineteen members of the Northeast Taekwondo school in Washington D.C. traveled to Saranac Lake for the event and were joined by one member of the Saranac Lake-based school: Lidia O’Kelly. All 20 were promoted from third- to sixth-degree black belts based on their years of involvement and progress in the martial art.

They are all students of Grandmaster Jon O’Kelly, who owns both schools and travels between Saranac Lake and Washington D.C. on a regular basis.

O’Kelly said that the students from Washington D.C. were originally scheduled for their promotions this October but they were hoping it could happen earlier, as a large group of them were heading off to college. O’Kelly said he made a deal with them; stating if they wanted to do it earlier they would have to come to Saranac Lake for the promotions.

Students from the Saranac Lake Northeast Taekwondo school perform a sword pattern during Saturday’s black belt promotion event at the Saranac Lake Baptist Church. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

So, with their families present on Saturday in a festive and intense atmosphere, the students displayed some of their abilities and what they learned in front of a packed gymnasium at the church. On hand was O’Kelly’s teacher from New Jersey, Grandmaster Bai, as well as some special guests who were seated at a long table in the front of the gym.

O’Kelly said all the students had already fulfilled their requirements for the promotions during years of training, and likened Saturday’s testing to “final exams.” He said the 20 who were promoted have combined for hundreds of years of experience in Taekwondo.

Local Northeast Taekwondo students also took part in Saturday’s event, presenting a sword pattern to Grandmaster Bai and the rest of those in attendance.

“Grandmaster Bai was happy,” O’Kelly said. “He loved the demo, he loved the tests. It couldn’t have been a better day.”

On Friday, the students from D.C. joined those from Saranac Lake for a meet and greet, as well as a workout at the school in the village.

“Taekwondo is a family, and it was great seeing everyone come together,” O’Kelly said. “A lot of the students from Washington and their familes made this a summer vacation.”