DISTANT – The martial arts have become a family affair for one local household, as they prepare to welcome youngest child into the ranks of black belt in the coming weeks.

Already boasting three black belts obtained through the American Karate Academy in Distant, the Houser family of Dayton is gearing up for one more.

The path for Jill Houser and her three children, all adopted from China, began in 2012 when she saw a flyer advertising a “stranger danger” class through Master Winterhawk’s academy, which was then located at a church in Hawthorn.

Houser said that she went to the class and signed herself up for karate classes along with her two oldest children, Martina and Clayton, now age 14 and 13 respectively.

“It was a lot out of my comfort zone,” Houser said of the early days of martial arts training. While the three attended classes twice a week and began working their way up the ranks of various colored belts, Houser’s youngest daughter, Jilissa, was too young at the time to take part.

“She would come along to the classes, and watch us, and sit and read,” Houser said, noting that when Winterhawk began training her at age six, she picked it up very quickly.

After five years of training, Jill, Martina and Clayton Houser each earned their black belts.

Now, at age 10, Jilissa is preparing for her black belt test within the next few weeks at the Distant Baptist Church gymnasium, where classes are held.

A fifth-grader at Dayton Elementary School, Jilissa not only excels at karate, but does very well academically, attends gifted classes, plays the piano and trumpet, and is involved in other activities.

“They’re all great students,” Houser said of her three children, noting that they all take piano lessons, along with other instruments.

She and her husband, Heath, made three trips to China, in 2004, 2006 and 2009, to adopt the three children as babies. They each come from different parts of China, she said.

The martial arts classes have been a good way to stay fit, while at the same time learning self defense, disciple and other skills, she said.

There are eight different levels leading up to black belt, Houser explained, with testing at each level. In between the levels, they also earn various stripes for their belts.

The testing consists of doing a variety of moves, performing a “form,” sparring, and then breaking a board with their foot. The black belt test is longer than the others, she said, noting that it could last at least 45 minutes.

The family has enjoyed the training and time together.

“It’s enjoyable to watch them,” Houser said.

“It’s fun to learn different things,” Jilissa added, noting that she likes being able to defend herself. She said her favorite part is sparring, which is not as brutal as it sounds. The classes are “no contact,” so the sparring involves working with a partner to practice various moves.

Winterhawk, who has been teaching classes in the Redbank Valley for 17 years, said the courses are designed to teach discipline, structure and respect.

“The physical part is easy,” he said, noting that the structure is similar to that used in the military.

He said that he does not look at the student’s age, but rather their maturity level and attention span. He also works with people with disabilities to help them do what their bodies are capable of doing.

Winterhawk said he usually has about 10 people in each class, which are held twice a week.

For more information about American Karate Academy classes, call (724) 868-2771.

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