CLAIM TO FAME
Johnny Camillucci, 10, has been practicing tae kwon do since he was three years old. At seven, he earned his black belt, the second youngest to do so in his school's 15-dojo, tri-state system. On Sept. 6, he earned his second-degree black belt, the youngest in the system to do so.
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The black belt is a symbol of a martial artist's dedication, skill and mastery. It's not a common sight in a fifth-grader's closet, but at 10, Johnny Camillucci has earned one, two times over.
Johnny passed the exam for his black belt in tae kwon do (a Korean martial art) at age 7. He was the second youngest in the 15-school, three-state United Karate Studio system to earn the distinction.
On Sept. 6, he set a new record as the system's youngest student to receive a second-degree black belt.
In the exam to earn the base black belt, students at United Karate are moved to a closed room, where they spend hours demonstrating endurance and mastery of more than 700 techniques. Because of the rigors of the test, Johnny said passing the exam was one of the proudest moments of his studies, which began just before his 4th birthday.
"It felt really good," Johnny said. "The black-belt test runs forever. You get water breaks, but other than that, you're doing nonstop things for six to seven hours."
The second-degree black-belt test was much shorter, but no less intensive, Johnny added.
"That test was seven and a half hours crammed into 20 minutes," he said. "I almost passed out when I walked out the door."
Johnny began studying martial arts when his family was still living in Cooper City, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale. After watching his 3-year-old son casually kick at the camera during a home movie, John Camillucci enrolled Johnny at a neighborhood tae kwon do studio. Within weeks of taking up his studies, Johnny said, going to the dojo became a welcome part of his daily routine.
In tae kwon do, as in many martial arts, a black belt is preceded by belts of other colors to distinguish a student's mastery of increasingly advanced forms. Before the Camillucci family relocated to North Georgia, Johnny had attained his brown belt, a mid-level rank.
At the United Karate Studio in Ringgold, Ga., students learn techniques differently, however, and Johnny was given the option of starting over or relearning the techniques at his new school before he was allowed to move on. He opted to relearn the techniques, a decision which impressed his chief instructor, Jessie Thornton.
"This was a six-year-old telling me that," Thornton said. "In less than six months, he had learned two years worth of training."
When the time came about a year later for Johnny to work toward a black belt, he started an intensive training program with his father.
For six months, Johnny would come home from school and run five miles, practice more than 400 techniques and perform exercises with heavy punching bags, medicine balls and jump ropes. The training lasted 3-4 hours, after which he would attend a class at his dojo.
Although he was forbidden by tradition from witnessing the exam first hand, Camillucci said he wasn't worried when Johnny entered the testing room.
"I knew he was going to blow them away because everyone knew how hard he was working," Camillucci said. "We knew what Johnny did, so we went in knowing he was going to do it, not wondering if he would do it."
After he successfully attained his second degree black belt, United Karate founder Ben Kiker told Johnny he was on track to be the first junior age third-degree black belt since the school's foundation more than 30 years ago.
Although Johnny will not be allowed to attempt the test until he is at least 14, Thornton said he is confident Johnny will be up to the task when the time comes.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Thornton said. "Johnny is very special. He has the drive of a 30- or 40-year-old, someone who knows what they want and goes out and gets it.
"In martial, he's, bar none, one of the best I've ever seen at his age."