For 23 years, Amy Everson has consistently honed and practiced her skill in traditional taekwondo at local school True Martial Arts, which is located behind the Pine Lake Shopping Center. In a ceremony on May 22, Everson became the third woman in the school’s 40-year history to earn a fifth-degree black belt from the school, and the first woman outside the founding family to do so.
The award was presented to Everson, 37, in an evening black belt class, with a few retired instructors and students in attendance to show their gratitude for Everson’s years of service as an instructor.
The criteria for earning a fifth-degree black belt is rigorous. From white belt to the third-degree black belt, students must pass physical tests, becoming significantly more difficult with each advancement in rank. Physical black belt tests require multiple hours over two consecutive days to complete. From the fourth-degree black belt onward, the spotlight is placed on the candidate’s instruction of new students.
“The main goal [of the school] is not just to make everyone black belts,” Everson said of the process. “It’s about giving back.”
When Everson began her journey in 1999 at age 13, her goal was straightforward — to earn a black belt. But time and experience allowed her to realize that her training was more than a series of kicks, punches, and forms. Advancing degrees in the black belt ranks required a great deal of personal reflection.
“When I got that black belt, I really felt like that’s when my training started. You want time to be a black belt, not just earn it. [I] learned more after I got the black belt,” Everson said.
As part of the True Martial Art’s policy of moving students to instructors, she began teaching entry rank classes, such as the white belt class. One of her earlier students, Kirsten Smith, who is now a retired fourth-degree black belt, recalls being taught by a 15-year-old Everson as an adult student in one of her first taekwondo classes.
“It took no longer than five minutes to realize she had command of the room to teach kids and adults. I could see she held everyone to a high standard, but she had a way that made you really want to work hard for yourself,” Smith said.
Everson said that being an instructor was a fun way to familiarize herself with working around other people. Overall, she credits teaching with being the most exciting experience throughout her time practicing taekwondo.
“Tying the black belt on someone else, especially if I’ve been working with them for very long, is very rewarding. It’s fun to see that they’re still around,” Everson said.
Of course, Everson faced many difficulties while climbing the ranks — the most significant of which was balancing the rest of her life with training and teaching. During her 23 years of practicing the sport, she split her time between martial arts training and other endeavors such as college and a professional career. No matter how each day went, Everson always made sure to attend her classes and train.
“Even when there are days you don’t feel like going, showing up and staying up to date can keep you motivated. If you want to achieve anything, you have to do it regularly,” Everson said.
In fact, Everson said the biggest impact of taekwondo was to improve her motivation.
“I became very studious, and I wouldn’t have had that ability without my time [training],” Everson said. “It taught me that I can do anything as long as I worked hard and never gave up… You learn to deal with losses and learn to overcome obstacles.”
Laurel Zoppi, the retired co-founder of True Martial Arts, witnessed Everson’s perseverance and dedication.
“Amy did not quit. Nothing seemed to be too hard for her. Her tenacity to earn her belts and learn her skills kept her going,” Zoppi said. “I am very proud of her.”
Even after reaching this milestone, Everson does not see herself leaving taekwondo. Though she hopes to focus more on her family in the future, she still wants to support the school and continue training students.
For those interested in learning taekwondo and dream of getting a black belt, Everson suggests giving it a try. Most schools in the region offer tryout classes where prospective students can drop in and check out the process.
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes—as long as you don’t give up, you’ll get there one day,” Everson said.