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Tempe Prep Sophomore learns life lessons earning Taekwondo Black Belt

Respect. Honor. Discipline. All are skills Tempe Prep sophomore Sierra Smith has learned from the past nine years of taking Taekwondo. Starting at age 6, Sierra worked diligently to earn one of the highest honors Tae­kwondo has to offer… a black belt. On October 14, Sierra passed her exam and was awarded her belt.

Earning a black belt is a huge accom­plishment requiring extensive amounts of time, energy, and work. To actually earn a black belt, students must first pass a pre-test before they move on to the test itself. At this stage, competitors display their knowledge at a state test, being judged by over 50 instructors.

“My black belt test was the best day of my life,” Sierra explains. It makes sense too, given the effort and discomfort she poured into the sport. She explains, “I’ve been in points where I’ve broken down crying while sparring, have hyperventi­lated while going through training, and have genuinely questioned my decision in joining this sport.” However, returning home after practice with bruised arms and bloody knuckles gives Sierra confidence, seeing each wound as a “sign of accom­plishment.”

Additionally, having become a black belt, Sierra now acts as a leader in her dojo. All students are expected to address black belts as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and bow to them upon entry.

However, this praised, respected, and downright cool position does not get to Sierra’s head. She still bows to other black belts and continues to learn respect and honor. “I equate showing respect to being honorable,” she says. Additionally, she does not see this award as an end, but a mere landmark, saying, “The love of your sport and a desire to carry on tradition to younger students carries on our desire to stick with it. I’ll continue to work toward my second degree and will be competing in the state championships this upcoming summer.” She even has the opportunity to judge and train other students.

Sierra also has a pretty good reason to revere others in her dojo, especially her teacher, or Shihan: “I respect the black belts around me and my Shihan because they have gone through so much to get where they are, especially my Shihan.” She has been under her same instruc­tor, Shihan Mike Mclaughlin, since the day she began self-defense. Her Shihan was trained two of Bruce Lee’s students, and now Sierra receives the same quality instruction.

Ultimately, the skills Sierra learned from Taekwondo are incomparable. Now, hav­ing earned a black belt, she knows how much she has grown and the opportuni­ties that await her still. Sierra urges that “anyone thinking of joining martial arts, do it.” In addition to self-defense, “Tae­kwondo has taught me discipline, respect, and honor.” Working hard like Tempe Prep sophomore Sierra Smith can yield educa­tion, skill, success, and even a black belt.

Article by Clara Moffitt, a student staff writer and editor-in-chief for De Equitibus, Tempe Preparatory Academy’s student newspaper.

About Tempe Prep: Tempe Preparatory Academy is a tuition-free public charter school in Tempe for students in grades 6-12 that provides a nationally acclaimed liberal arts education based on the Great Books of Western Civilization with an exceptional math, science, foreign language, humanities, and fine arts curriculum. Tempe Prep has been recognized by the Arizona Board of Regents as having the highest percentage of college graduates in the state and has been named the #1 high school in Arizona by Newsweek (America’s Top High Schools 2016). For more information about enrolling at Tempe Prep, visit the school’s website at

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