Blind Camp Verde teen to earn black belt Family and 12 others get ready for Tae Kwon Do test in Sedona

When a 16-year old Camp Verde 10th-grader, his brother and mom walked in to join a class at Tae Kwon Do Unlimited a few years ago, many would never have thought they could get to where they are today ­ on the cusp of earning tae kwon do black belts.

That doesn't sound so hard to believe, except when you introduce yourself to the tall muscular guy in cool sunglasses, you realize he can't see -- not a thing.

Blake Tucker has been blind since birth. His blindness certainly hasn't stopped him from accomplishing many tough goals in his life. He even owns a car, which is a Tucker family tradition upon turning 16-years-old.

On Saturday, May 27, at the Radisson Poco Diablo in Sedona, Blake, his mother, brother and 12 others get to put their years of hard work to the test at TKD Unlimited of Cottonwood's Black Belt Exam. At noon the candidates will be asked to demonstrate for the audience, their forms, kicks, combinations, sparring and self-defense techniques, as well as speak publicly on the subject of "What Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do Has Done for Me."

The three-hour exam is the final step in an intensive training program. They were also required to complete a two-day pre-test exam a few weeks ago, and throughout the last 6-months, a rigorous schedule of teaching two days per week, running a 6-mile mountain course two days a week and attending regular tae kwon do classes three times per week.

"It certainly wasn't easy over the last months for me and my boys, but I couldn't be prouder of my sons and everyone who's made it this far," said Kathy Tucker, Blake's mom.

Presiding over the testing is world-renowned martial artist and speaker, 10-degree Grand Master Jhoon Rhee, who is known best as the "Father of American Tae Kwon Do."

Grand Master Jhoon Rhee is traveling here from Washington, D.C., where he is the highest ranking member and founder of Jhoon Rhee International, a system of modern tae kwon do of which TKD Unlimited is a part and in which "honesty, respect, and friendship" are the main tenets.

Jhoon Rhee has taught martial arts to senators, congressman, and has trained with Muhammed Ali and Bruce Lee to name only a few. Well known for his contributions to American educational programs, he is the creator of the National Teacher Appreciation Day that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Other students testing for black belt include TKD Unlimited Instructors Caleb Labarda (age 21), going for third degree, and Karen Conover (age 35) and Charlie Labarda (age 49) going for second degree. In addition, student members at TKD Unlimited going for second degree are brothers, Craig (age 14) and Daniel Prendiville (age 16), and Sabrina Ortiz (age 13). A record nine other student members of the school are testing for first-degree black belt.

They include: Blake Tucker (age 16), Chad Tucker (age 12), Kathy Tucker (age 41), Chuck Conover (Age 41), Noel Lindhurst (Age 26), Nate Hetrick (Age 18), Ember Rusco (Age 18), Kim Ward (Age 16), and Ricky Hernandez (Age 14).

"This is a great group, the biggest and most diverse we've ever had at a black belt test. Having Grand Master Rhee test us is such an honor, and we will never forget this opportunity in our lives. Anyone interested in supporting us or hearing Grand Master Jhoon Rhee speak should come and join us. It's going to be amazing," says Charlie Labarda, owner and instructor at TKD Unlimited.

Anyone can call 649-1530 for more information on purchasing tickets for the event.

The black belt candidates at TKD Unlimited would like to thank the following businesses and individuals who have so generously donated funds to help bring Grand Master Rhee to Arizona: Aero Bear Aviation, Jerome Jewelry Market, Coldwell Banker Mabery Real Estate, Arts Painting and Elastometrics,

Yavapai Broadcasting, Dr. Robert Gagliano and Family, and A.D. Hill Landscape Materials, among many, many others.

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