By KEVIN SAULS
There'll be a celebration Saturday at Tripp's Taekwon-Do in East Sonora as 11 students test for their black belts.
Instructor Steve Tripp will put them through their paces as they review and perform all the basic techniques they have learned in the many years of training that will culminate in the black-belt ceremony.
"They're all really balanced and grounded people," said Tripp, 46, who has been instructing in the Korean martial art for the last 20 years. "I'm the one that's fortunate to get to be around them."
The feeling is mutual among Tripp's loyal students. One of them, 28-year-old Allison Kelley, drives from Santa Cruz several times a week to be part of the class.
"I come all the way up here just to train with Mr. Tripp," Kelley said. "There's no one like Mr. Tripp."
Kelley is part of testing group that is diverse in both gender and age four females and seven males from ages 11 to 49. Tripp says that's not an unusual range in the studious, disciplined world of Taekwon-Do, which isn't about flattening 40 foes in a movie fight.
"A black belt as some kind of a warrior person is a wrong image," Tripp said. "A black belt in our school is somebody committed to four years of training ... minimum."
More than that, in many cases.
One of the 11-year-olds, Tripp's own son Mica, has been studying for seven years.
How is it training with dad?
"It works good," Mica said.
What if the belt isn't conferred, if he or any of the others don't make it?
"We WILL make it," Mica said.
"It's just a celebration," 11-year-old student Nathan Ashmead said, referring to the ceremony. "You've already done the testing (in training)."
"It's a time when they can invite their family and friends," the elder Tripp said.
But it isn't a romp, either.
"They go through the whole curriculum from all their years of training," Tripp said. "It's quite a bit of information they have to retain."