I Get a Kick Out of You
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - As you watch him stand motionless in the cavernous workout room at Traditional ATA Martial Arts, you realize there's dedication and then there's Dyllan Blimka.
A voice in the room says, "Hold right there."
It's Dyllan's instructor, Nate Brain, walking slowly around his student, whose leg is held parallel to the floor, to observe his form, if not his concentration.
Dyllan is only a sixth-grader, but everyone here calls him "sir."
The boy later explains, "Once you reach black belt, they call you sir."
Nate, who's 25, is used to the curiosity it creates.
"People think it's strange," he says, "that you call a 12-year-old 'Mister.' Yes, he's earned that right and he's every bit as humble and awesome for it."
Nate is a sensei here, a "Mr. Miyagi" for those familiar with the movie "Karate Kid," and, for those who aren't, a mentor and moral compass for Dyllan, maybe more.
"When he came here, " explains Nate, "he was a pretty shy guy and nowadays you just couldn't tell."
Dyllan freely admits Nate has helped him open up and it's clear a bond has developed between the two.
"He's really funny," the boy says, "but at the same time, he's pretty serious, too."
Nate puts Dyllan through a sequence that combines hand and leg movements. It's a stricter form of choreography than you would see in dance, but requires the same precision.
"C reverse, axe kick, outside low."
Nate executes the moves like a pro and expects Dyllan to match him at every turn. Then he pats him on the shoulder.
"Awesome. That was much better. Need a drink of water?"
Dyllan is grateful to take a short break.
Away from karate, the tow-headed sixth-grader spends his free time playing videogames and mentions he's a fan of baseball. But he's like few other 12-year-old's.
Karate has given him a suitcase full of medals and enough trophies to fill a large bookcase. And the framed awards on the wall of his bedroom certify him as a three-time state champion in his age group, as well as a Northwest District champion in four categories.
And yet he still isn't satisfied.
Nate says, "I've seen him at tournaments and he'll compete his heart out. I'll see him do his material better than any other time I've seen him do it and he's still like 'Oh, I didn't do that right.'"
But you won't see that self-doubt in class.
Dyllan and Nate suit up with helmets and pads to do a little sparring. It looks like a modified version of ultimate fighting, with nothing at stake but a release of raw energy.
His sensei is quick to point out that difference.
"He can throw a fast and hard kick and he'll stop it before it gets to hurt anyone."
All by itself it's quite an accomplishment, but even more so when you learn Dyllan suffers from asthma.
"Sometimes I'll take breaks," he says modestly, "but most of the time I'll persevere through."
Nate is still astonished at his young charge's courage.
"For somebody to come out here with asthma and do a cardio-active sport and do what he's done with it is quite phenomenal."
Looking on from the bleachers at the edge of the room, Dyllan's grandmother, Carolyn, beams at her boy.
She's like a mother hen, making sure there's an appropriate balance in his young life, and keeping watch for any signs of asthmatic distress.
"He's an over-achiever in everything," she says. "He gets good grades in school. He's a good kid."
The feeling is mutual.
Dyllan smiles as he says with affection, "Everything she does for me is appreciated and it's really cool."
But that support system would be a waste of time if Dyllan didn't take the sport seriously.
"I want to reach the highest I can go. I also want to win a world championship."
He finished in the top ten at the last world championships in Little Rock, Arkansas. A return to that venue is almost guaranteed.
But for now he seems satisfied that he's making progress with a first-rate teacher, a teacher who's the first to acknowledge that he himself is getting something in return.
"It makes me want to do it more," says Nate. "I've been watching him and it's like I almost want to get back out there and do it myself."
There's a delicate balance at work here, and it begs the question: who's the better motivator?
"He just loves this so much. He's so passionate about it. He's his own motivation."
It kind of leaves you breathless.