Above: Beaufort’s Chuck Elias appears with Chuck Norris on July 17 at the annual United Fighting Arts Federation (UFAF) International Training Conference in Las Vegas.
By Ron Marcell
Beaufort karate instructor Chuck Elias was promoted to ninth degree black belt in July by none other than Chuck Norris, while a Ridgeland karate family was breaking records.
Elias, owner and head instructor at Club Karate on Lady’s Island, was in Las Vegas for the annual United Fighting Arts Federation (UFAF) International Training Conference where he received the rare ninth degree rank from Norris during a dinner and awards ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of the South Point Hotel and Casino.
Promoted alongside Elias was his longtime friend and training partner Steven Hammersley of New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Though the two Masters made their first degree black belt on different dates, they have promoted together for every other rank all the way to ninth degree. Testing together meant being partners as they demonstrated their expert skills before boards of Master instructors – fighting each other, executing self-defense techniques, and all the while building a deep respect for one another’s abilities.
UFAF is a worldwide martial arts membership organization founded by Norris and is the governing body of the Chuck Norris System, UFAF Krav Maga and UFAF Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, overseeing the growth, development, and certification in these dynamic styles.
UFAF’s official charity, Kickstart Kids, is an award winning in-school character development program that uses karate to teach life-changing values to thousands of middle school and high school students.
There are more than 80 schools associated with the Chuck Norris System, including schools in Mexico and Norway. There are three 10th degree black belts in the UFAF Chuck Norris System – Norris (founder), his brother Aaron Norris (CEO), and Ken Gallagher (President).
Counting Elias and Hammersley, there are only 10 ninth degree black belts in the system.
The annual conference spans five days, and includes presentations to help school owners manage the business and marketing aspects of teaching karate, an opening ceremony, instructor development series presentations, a Master rank induction ceremony for those advancing to fifth degree black belt, a pool party, hands-on seminars, demonstration team exhibitions, two days of World Championship tournament competitions in fighting, kata, and weapons, and the gala dinner and awards ceremony.
This was the 20th year that Elias was the Director for the annual World Championship karate tournament portion of the conference. He also coaches the UFAF Competition Team. Master Elias is a member of the prestigious South Carolina Black Belt Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Legends of Carolina Martial Arts in 2017.
This year’s Master rank induction ceremony included 17 phenomenal martial artists advancing to fifth degree black belt (roughly twice as many as a normal year, since the 2020 ITC was limited to virtual seminars due to COVID-19 restrictions).
A notable inductee to Master rank this year was Carole McComas Taylor, who after 15 years of training donned her fifth degree at age 83.
UFAF’s Region 7 encompasses South Carolina and the southeast United States. Region 7 had two other promotions to high-ranking black belt at the Las Vegas ceremony.
Master Alice McCleary, owner and chief instructor at Premier Martial Arts in Power Springs, Ga., promoted to eighth degree. And Master Lindy Woods, owner and chief instructor at Dunamis Karate in Ridgeland, promoted to seventh degree. Woods is also the Chair for the Southeast region.
World Champions in the UFAF system are awarded the Norris Cup, a trophy earned by the top competitors in each tournament division. Age, gender, and competitive categories are such that there are 10 Norris Cups.
Elias took home the Norris Cup in Men’s Senior Fighting at age 64 in 2017, the oldest person to ever win a Norris Cup. This year, fifth degree Master Andi Lynn Woods (daughter of Lindy Woods), dominated her three divisions (kata, weapons, and fighting) to take a record three Norris Cups back home to Ridgeland. In 2008, Andi Lynn Woods won Youth Forms Grand Champion to win her first Norris Cup. Now, she has eight Norris Cup wins on her record.
Ron Marcell is a freelance writer and amateur historian living in Beaufort He holds a second degree black belt in the Chuck Norris System, and a black belt in Wado Ryu. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.