Mason Di Leta surveyed his audience, took a deep breath and headed out onto the vast expanse of the martial arts stage prepared for him and countless other combatants.
The youngest Prince Rupert resident ever to obtain a taekwondo black belt was testing in Summerland in front of five masters of the art and one grand- master — a usually unheard of gathering of top martial artists to spectate a promotion test.
“In normal tournaments, they [proceed] from the lowest degree, like white belt first, all the way up to black belt, but in this tournament it was different because they wanted to show [the audience] what higher belts looked like … so I got called up first,” said the 11-year-old Di Leta.
“I did my first two patterns; I was breathing heavily and I was losing my control, but after the second or third pattern I kind of went with it and it was alright.”
Included in the audience were Master Paul Bozman, Kendall-Leigh Beal, an ex-Rupert citizen who moved to Osooyos to head her own club, and Grandmaster Jay Park, who mentored Bozman in Alberta years earlier.
Di Leta had a chance to speak to Park before he took to the floor, as they happened to stay at the same hotel as each other in Summerland.
“He said ‘Don’t get too nervous because that could throw you off your game’ and to just take your time,” said Di Leta.
There are many youngsters who want to rise through the ranks quickly in the art, and it’s possible to do so, but Di Leta is a special kind of youngster.
Starting in taekwondo at the ripe age of five and advancing to his current designation, second-degree black belt, Di Leta has eclipsed all expectations placed on him by Bozman, Rupert’s resident taekwondo expert and teacher.
His ability to break boards, perform jumping and spinning kicks and endure rigorous physical testing, which include multiple series of push-ups, has given Di Leta the fortitude to exercise the art as someone well beyond his years might.
The skills he’s picked up have helped him in school and various other aspects of his young life. That includes trap shooting, a sport introduced to him by his grandfather Sal.
“[It teaches me] how to defend myself, my flexibility, my speed, my listening and focus and also my stamina and reaction time,” said Mason.
Di Leta’s introduction to the martial arts couldn’t have come more innocuously.
“One day I was just sitting at home and [my grandparents] said ‘Mason, come on’ so I just went in the car and they took me to this place called ‘taekwondo’,” said Di Leta.
And its seeming differences from traditional North American team or individualized sports aren’t barriers to entry for the Annunciation
“It gets you really into the sporting mood. Some kids, they won’t do sports because it conflicts with their time in their schedule to do other things, like hang out with their friends. But taekwondo – it gets you disciplined and improves your flexibility … so it keeps you really active all the time,” he said.
Sal likes to practice with his grandson’s reaction time when the two of them go trap shooting, and Sal credits Mason’s extraordinary ability to locate and shoot down the discs almost relentlessly to Mason’s disciplined and studious training in taekwondo.
It will be another couple years before Di Leta can try for his third-degree black belt, but he’s already well on his way.
“I train at home, and whenever I can,” he said.
“I want to be there in the Summer Olympics in taekwondo very soon.”