Karate success gives student goals, discipline

Have you ever wished you could chop a plank of wood with your bare hand? You can. In fact, anyone has the ability, said Rodney Harrison.

Harrison, a 15-year-old sophomore at Cox Mill High School, has chopped enough blocks of wood in the 2 1/2years he's studied karate to feed a fireplace for the winter.

"The secret is inner strength," he said. "If you can capitalize and perfect your inner strength, you can do anything."

Harrison has apparently done just that. In the short time he's studied martial arts, he's harnessed nine championship titles, including the North American Sport Karate Association's 2011 Dixieland Nationals in Myrtle Beach where he beat a competitor two years older. (Opponents are usually matched by rank and age.)

It's a little more than inner strength, though. Harrison trains four times a week for at least an hour each session at Allison American Karate Academy in Concord. That's why he can tie a purple belt around himself after just a few years in the sport.

The quick pace probably also has something to do with boxing, the sport he took up in California before learning karate. Harrison was born in Statesville, but moved to California shortly after his first birthday.

When his family moved to Concord a few years ago, he couldn't find a boxing academy, so he decided to switch to karate. The change clicked from the start.

"I'm not going to stop doing karate," he said. "I was meant to do this."

There are similarities between the sports, he said, but karate challenges him more. "In boxing, it's a punch. In karate, it's an elbow, knee, kick, punch - everything you have to look out for," he said. "It's more physically demanding than boxing."

Both have taught him discipline, something that has benefited other aspects of his life. Harrison takes honors classes and consistently makes the honor roll at school.

That discipline also has kept him from using the skills he's been taught in the wrong circumstances.

"Everybody, when they find out you do karate, they want to see what you know, or how tough you are, and some of them try to provoke you," he said. "But you always have to remember, you can't be provoked. You can't give in to peer pressure. You can't just fight. That's unacceptable."

Instead, he turns his energy toward helping others, one of the most important lessons he's taken from his instructors.

On Saturdays he often helps run classes, teaching young karate students what he's learned in the past few years. He hopes they will look at him as a role model.

"A lot of people these days, like boxers, football players, basketball players, don't set a good example," he said. "I think it's neat that I can teach a lot of kids and share a lot of valuable lessons."

The most important one he shares has helped him accomplish his goals, too:

"If you believe you can do it, no matter your pursuit, you will be able to do it."