Sixteen-year-old black belt pursues performing arts education

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Elayna Simon, left, thinks of her karate instructors Nancy and Jerry Trowbridge, right, as a second set of parents. She earned her black belt in April. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Sixteen-year-old Elayna Simon, daughter of Mike and Dr. Janette Simon of Guttenberg, recently took a three-hour test. “And that was just the physical part,” said Simon, who has been practicing Tang Soo Do since she was four years old. She earned her black belt in April after taking an oral exam, writing a 2000-word essay, sparring against two black belts simultaneously and completing a four-way board break. “I broke one with my hand, and then I broke one with my foot. Then I turned around and broke one with my hand again, and then the last one I broke two boards at the same time with a kick,” she told The Press. 

Simon has been a member of the Guttenberg Karate Club since she started practicing, and she considers instructors Jerry and Nancy Trowbridge to be like a second set of parents. “They’re my biggest role models. They have taught me so much and I feel like they have made me stronger, not just physically but mentally,” said Simon, who is the Trowbridge’s first student to start with them as a white belt and progress through all 17 degrees to black belt. 

“Karate is a great co-parent,” said Simon’s mother, Janette. “It teaches self control, respect, and focus.”

At first, Simon said, her parents motivated her to keep going to classes – but she kept going back because she became excited about the training.  “I fell in love with it. It was actually a safe place. I had no trouble getting along with anyone, I made a lot of new friends, and my instructors have raised me in the do jang. I feel like it’s made me into the person I am today.”

Just who is that person? Most 16-year-olds wouldn’t be able to answer that question, but thanks to her 12 years of karate training, Simon is poised and self-assured enough to know. “I’m  very determined. I can be focused. I know I can set a goal and if I put my mind to it I’ll achieve it, and I’ll have self control,” she said. “Being able to protect myself lets me be more independent as well.”

“We are proud of Elayna and relieved to know she can defend herself,” said her father Mike.

Simon started learning to teach karate several belts ago, and as a black belt she’s allowed to teach full classes to lower belt levels. “I help teach the adult class,” she said. “It can be weird because outside, the students are the parents of my friends and get to see me as a teenager. In the do jang, they have to call me Miss Simon and listen to me.”

Last April, instructor Jerry Trowbridge was given the Golden Life Award by the U.S.A. Martial Arts Hall of Fame for his 41 years in practice. Instructors who have devoted their lives to teaching martial arts may be nominated for the hall of fame and honored for their commitment. Trowbridge is a sixth degree black belt in Tang Soo Do and has spent a combined three decades teaching in Dubuque, Monona, and Guttenberg. His son, Josh, is an internationally certified

7th Degree Master Instructor in Tang Soo Do and the winner of the 2016 U.S.A. Martial Arts Hall of Fame Jiu-jitsu Black Belt of the Year, among many honors. He’s also an actor, stunt man, and fight choreographer. 

“He got a big break in the acting world, and now plays a villain in a movie and is a part of other movies as well, and had a video game made of him,” said Simon, who hopes her karate training will play a role in her future acting career. Now that she’s a black belt, her next big goal is to become an actress. “Karate has helped me to be determined, so I’m very determined to be an actress,” she smiled. In just a few weeks, Simon will have finished her sophomore year of high school at Clayton Ridge and will move to Arlington, Va., where she’ll live with her aunt and uncle and will attend a performing arts high school. 

“I started theater in third grade and fell in love with it, and again it made me into the person I am today – more open, more social. I was always a shy, reserved kid, but karate and acting brought me out of my bubble. I feel like karate will help me in acting too, to become a strong female lead in movies. In action movies, I can do my own stunts.”

The popular style of karate near Arlington is Tae Kwon Do, so she’d have to start over as a white belt to continue practicing in a new style. “I’m going out to Arlington to focus on what I really want to do,” she told The Press, meaning that she’ll be committing to acting full time - but she'll always be a black belt. “Karate is year-round. You’re a part of a team. It’s not a hobby, it’s a dedication.” And that dedication, surely, will help this young woman succeed.

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