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England: from sixth-grade at FMS to sixth-degree Isshin-Ryu with students

In today’s society, you are more likely to hear a Chuck Norris joke when walking down the street than almost anything else.

This obsession with Norris and martial arts in general aside, many are unaware of the martial arts occurrences here in East Tennessee.

Recently, some of the most accomplished martial artists from around the country brought their schools, called dojos, to compete in the annual Isshin-Ryu Hall of Fame Tournament.

One of the dojos that convened at the Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg was from The University of Tennessee. With two competitors, Jessye Shortall and David Henderson, the dojo brought home four trophies from the most difficult tournament in Isshin-Ryu.

Their success is due to hard work and training, but also to their sensei – local science teacher Lance England.

A sixth-grade science teacher at Farragut Middle School and member of UT Faculty, Master England was honored at the Tournament by being promoted to Roku-Dan (sixth degree black belt) by his instructor, Grandmaster Phil Little.

“He is first class,” Little said of England. “First rate.”

Shortall added, “I am so very proud of him. It is a well deserved recognition for all his dedication and hard work.”

These sentiments are shared by the entire dojo, making the weekend an emotional time for all in attendance.

“[This promotion] is by no means an end,” England said. “We all want to continue to grow and improve.”

England considers this promotion a milestone in his life, but also a stepping stone to bigger and greater things.

Master England has had his fair share of awards, including an induction into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame for his contributions to his style as well as Weapons Instructor of the Year.

England shared his experiences in achieving his latest promotion with his students and encourages those interested in martial arts to give it a try.

“The hardest step is that first step through the door of the dojo,” he said. “The next thing is don’t stop.”

Master England had some words of wisdom for practitioners of martial arts as well as the average citizen.

“There will be people in life who say you can’t. You need to keep your eyes on your goal and what you want to do,” he said. “If I had quit every time somebody told me I couldn’t then I never would have achieved anything.”

This advice clearly paid off for Master England. But while he has enjoyed success at competitions, he prefers to watch his students perform.

England was not disappointed this past Saturday. Shortall, a first time competitor, walked away with third-place in kumite (sparring).

It is rare than a novice competitor earns a place during a tournament such as the Hall of Fame, making Shortall’s already excellent achievement extraordinary. She left the match pumped, asking, “Can I go again?”

One of these more experienced students is Henderson, the other competitor from Master England’s dojo. Henderson, very active in competitions in the early 90’s in Tai Kwon Do and Tai K, is responsible for the other three trophies, having competed in three events.

Along with a kumite match similar to Shortall’s, Henderson competed in the kata division.

Henderson performed both an open handed kata and a weapons kata. The first event of Henderson’s day was the weapons kata in which he selected a bo kata (long staff set to regulation length and weight). Placing third, Henderson collected the first of three awards.

The next division was the open handed kata. This competition was more fierce, as these are not optional katas for students of his rank – orange belt. He placed second in this event, and began preparing for his final event.

To close out the tourney, Henderson fought through a serious ankle injury to finish fourth.

Referring to Shortall and Henderson, “They are quality martial artists,” England said.


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