Chris Meyer, 29, stood — socially distanced, of course — alongside a roomful of other martial artists during a graduation ceremony held during the U.S. Chung Do Kwan Association’s National Championships July 24 at the Daytona Beach Oceanfront resort.
In that moment, he was feeling wave after wave of emotions as he reflected on what was happening.
The art — or in his case, lifestyle — of taekwondo always has been his passion, but when he was awarded his fifth-degree black belt and his master’s degree on that day, he knew his hard work had paid off.
“I was nervous to do it,” Meyer said. “(But) I thought it was great, and I was very excited to do it. I felt like it was a dream come true, because it was one of my dreams to attain a master’s degree — it was one of my big accomplishments.”
The ceremony also honored three other martial artists — Nicholas Rolland, who earned his second-degree black belt; Russell MacGregor, first-degree black belt; and Michael Escano, first-degree black belt. All have trained under the sister duo of Chief Master Nickie Wisdom and Chief Master Annika Thomas, who have taught taekwondo at the Dr. Phillips YMCA for nearly three decades.
Although each level requires different components, for Meyer, the fifth-degree black belt and master’s degree are the culmination of five years of work. Meyer logged in more than 90 hours just completing the project portion for the degree. He also took a three-and-one-half hour exam that tested not only what Meyer had learned over the past five years but also everything he had learned since he started as a white belt in 2001. Furthermore, he had to demonstrate his forms and participate in no-contact sparring.
And he did all of this despite the complications brought about by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has kept the classes from being hosted at the Dr. Phillips YMCA like normal.
“We didn’t have live classes, so I was so proud of all the four-testing candidates, because they didn’t let COVID slow them down from testing,” Thomas said. “These guys, they did Zoom classes, they did meetings online, and a couple of times we met at the park just to make sure they’re polished. Hats off to them for being driven and committed to this testing.”
Linda Meyer — Chris Meyer’s mother — saw his effort throughout this year.
“When we were all shut in and we couldn’t leave home, he actually devoted a lot of time to his master’s project,” she said. “He actually studied all the DVDs that the U.S. Chung Do Kwan Association has. … He wrote charts — step-by-step movements of eye direction, movement direction and what the movement is — and it’s like a 50-page booklet.”
Although receiving his fifth-degree black belt is a huge step as a martial artist, his move from associate master to master really is a source of pride, Chris Meyer said.
Chris Meyer begin to dabble in instruction back in 2006 before becoming a full-fledged instructor in 2008. He became a head instructor in 2014 before taking on his previous role as associate master in 2018.
“I wanted to share my taekwondo knowledge with others and be a service to the USCDKA (U.S. Chung Do Kwan Association),” Chris Meyer said. “I’ve learned confidence through teaching while helping others to achieve their black belts and their goals.”
As Chris Meyer continues through his own martial arts journey, it continues to be teaching others about taekwondo that remains an important aspect for him. And for those looking to get into the sport he loves, Chris Meyer has some simple advice.
“Never give up, and train hard,” Chris Meyer said. “In my taekwondo class, we have a motto: ‘A black belt is a white belt that never quits.’”