Family members achieve Master status together in martial arts


Training is passed down through generations starting with the Grand Master who passes information to the Master instructors, who in turn, pass the training on to the black belts and junior ranked students. This is a time-honored tradition that remains alive in the United Tang Soo Do Federation from Grandmaster Song Ki Pak to Master Bill DeGrafft and recently promoted Master Clarissa DeGrafft and Master Leila DeGrafft.

It's not often when parents and children promote together at this level. Master Bill DeGrafft, school owner, applied his past five years of training to achieve his fifth-degree black belt.

“Continuing to earn rank at 62 years old was very important to me, personally,” he said. “It shows adults that you are never too old to start, and it shows younger students that you never quit, despite the challenges you face.”

DeGrafft knows perseverance, having opening Ponte Vedra Martial Arts Academy more than eight years ago and navigating the relocation of the school at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It was a challenging time for the community as a whole, and we knew many families that were adversely affected by the virus,” he said. “Surviving the challenges required creativity and focusing on what was important for our members, providing a first-class training experience. We learned a lot of lessons; the most important was to not give up.”

Master Clarissa and Master Leila earned their fourth-degree black belts and were also promoted with him. Third-degree black belts prepare for a minimum of four years to take the promotional test, which is a combination or physical, mental and spiritual challenges that demonstrate their understanding of the style as well as their understanding of instructional trends and how to get the best results from each student.

Master Clarissa has been the academy’s director of instruction for the last two years. She uses her experience as a Florida certified teacher combined with her background of more than 20 years of martial arts training and instruction delivering innovative training sessions and afterschool camps.

Master Leila returned to the dojang last year to help deliver training to the black belts. She was instrumental in the teen program prior to taking a break for college.

Pak, president of the United Tang Soo Do Federation, expressed his pleasure seeing the DeGraffts promote together.

“I am so happy to see this family advance to Master ranks,” he said. “The quality of the school is witnessed in the students that joined in the promotion today.”

He is “looking forward to seeing big things from this school.”

In attendance for the event were, Grandmaster Philip Williams, Grandmaster Ronnie Fergusson, Grandmaster Mitch Kramer, Senior Master Rick Sixkiller, Senior Master Russ Carter, Master Tammy Carter, Master Aaron Curtis and Master Chris Peacock.

Several black belts attended to assist with the event, including Caleb Hobbs, Kayla Shreve, Morgan Shreve, Jocelyn Eagan, Anya Sanghvi, John Hamilton, Manu Nair and Sophie Eagan.

Ponte Vedra Martial Arts Academy is located in a large warehouse behind the Cronin ACE Hardware on U.S. 1, just south of Valley Ridge Parkway. They specialize in traditional tang soo do martial arts, COBRA self-defense, camps and afterschool enrichment.

For further information, go to or call 904-829-8087.