BARRACKVILLE, W.Va. – The Fairmont School of Martial Arts (FSMA) competed in a national tournament in Detroit, Michigan in June, and three of its students received a spot on “Team USA” and got their tickets stamped to go to Ireland.

Loralai Grant, age 14, Adam Williamson, age 18, and Isabella Phillips, age 13, will be representing the state of West Virginia in the tournament that will be happening in October.

Their journey started in December of 2021, which was a pre-qualifier for national teams in Pittsburgh. Then, some of his students wanted to try to pre-qualify for the United States National Team in Detroit, Michigan. Students had to place within the top four in order to qualify for “Team USA.” After competing with the best of the country, only three young people from West Virginia will represent the United States on “Team USA.”

Adam Williamson went up against a three-time world champion and still placed in the top three in his division. The trio have been preparing at the school and “training their tails off,” as Erik Stevens, Head Instructor and owner of FSMA said, to be one of the best of the best. He mentioned that for his students be on “Team USA” is an incredible honor to represent both the state and country.

“Martial arts does not get as much recognition in West Virginia, due to baseball, football and soccer getting all the attention,” he said. Stevens added that people do not realize the martial arts history within West Virginia. Because the athletes may have not had the opportunity to leave the state and country without the tournament, the experience is very exciting for them.

Erik Stevens said he is a bit nervous, possibly even more nervous than his students, but is thrilled for his students. He said, “They’re putting in the effort and taking my advice and my teachings to heart to get them where they need to be. So on top of that, like, there are three amazing martial artists and they—they’re doing such an amazing job and again, it’s like a proud dad moment, you know what I mean? Or your niece or your nephew kind of deal is like, there’s so many emotions, its hard for me to express it all.”

Adam Williamson and Isabella Phillips with their metals and their “Team USA” gear. (Courtesy: Erik Stevens)

Practices have been intense since they came back from the tournament in June, but once they get into October, it is game time, or as they are saying, “time to represent the country and bring back some medals.” They have been having four practices a week, in which some run from two-and-a-half to three hours. The head instructor wants to still keep it a bit playful so the students do not get burnt out. Karate is their first passion; their second is going to tournaments and doing well, but he doesn’t want their passion to fizzle out.

Every year, they will have to pre-qualify. If students make it one year, they are not guaranteed to make it the next. After the World Karate Championship in October, students will start over in their pre-qualifying tournament in December.

Isabella Phillips said she feels wonderful. She never thought she would get this experience and said being known as “one of the best in the world” amazes her. She started Karate more than eight years ago, and it has been a big passion to get her to where she is today. Phillips believes it is important, not only for the students but for youth in the community too. She said, “I think this is important to show that even though you’re young, you can still do some of the best things that are possible for you. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do this, you know, because everybody else is older than me, but I’m the youngest out of West Virginia doing this, so that is a big for me.”

If anybody would like to join the karate dojo, Phillips wants people to know that even if they are not good at first, the more they practice and get the hang of it, they can eventually do it too! “Make sure you have a good mindset, if you keep bringing yourself down, you won’t make it.” She said if she was feeling that way in the ring, she would not have gotten the placement she did. The dojo is accepting new students between the ages of 4 and 53.

FSMA has a GoFundMe set up to help pay for their trip. If interested in donating or joining the dojo, you can find more information here. Stevens mentioned that any amount will help. He is also very appreciative of Fairmont, because a lot of people have reached out and donated, as well as congratulated them.