Local Martial Artists Set Kung Fu Records

Discipline, flexibility strength -- the essentials of Kung Fu.

"I practice once or twice a day," Shea Graul, 10, said. "But I come to class about three times a week. And I stay for about two hours at least."

That kind of hard work and dedication is what made Graul the youngest Black Belt among the thousands of students that have gone through the U.S. Kung Fu Exchange since 1975, when the organization was formed.

He takes private lessons with another record holder: Liz Killian, 20, the only female in the exchange to reach Black Belt, much less move beyond to earn her 2nd degree.

"I think it definitely lets women know it can be done," she said. "It's not just for men."

Both students have trained their entire careers with Master Brandon Jones: six-and-a-half years for Killian, three years for Graul, whose interest was sparked by some famous martial artists.

"Jet Li and Jackie Chan," he said.

Getting a Black Belt involves pushing your body beyond what's natural.

"You have to run three miles in 30 minutes," Graul said. "And you have to sit in the horse stance for five minutes."

And 10 minutes to get a 2nd-Degree Black Belt.

"And fight for I don't know how long, a long time," Graul said.

Thirty to 45 minutes straight, Master Jones tells me.

"You have to do a ton of forms, and it's hard," Graul said.

"It gives me confidence and it gives me more awareness, more than anything," Killian said.

"It helps me push myself to do other goals," Graul said.

Graul and Killian have set standards for their school that they hope will inspire the others.

The U.S. Kung Fu Exchange is made up of a dozen schools from all around the country: from California to New York, Louisiana to Michigan.

Killian has won several awards at various tournaments, and Graul will begin competing in the spring, now that he's gotten his Black Belt.

If you're interested in finding out more about learning Kung Fu, call Tyler Kung Fu & Fitness, located in Tyler on East 5th Street.

Julie Tam, reporting.