Neil Stone student gets 7th-degree black belt
By GEORGE PELLETIER
HOLLIS – Nathan Harker of Nashua, has been promoted to Sichidan, 7th degree black belt at Neil Stone’s Karate Academy, 22 Proctor Hill Road.
Harker has been studying Uechi Ryu karate since he was five-years-old and has been a student of Stone’s for 30 years last month. Harker’s passion began after his mother was told by a doctor that he might be a hyperactive kid.
“My mom refused to put me on medication,” Harker said. “She wanted a different way to channel my energy. And the doctor recommended sports and she thought the only sport that would teach me self-control at the same time was martial arts.”
It was a shame, Harker joked, because he grew up during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle phase but has no great story about being inspired by that.
“I was just one of the kids who didn’t wasn’t to be put on Ritalin, I guess,” he said. “That’s how I got into it.”
Harker said that karate provided him with a sense of home as his parents had split up. His best friend was also a martial arts student so he had someone with which to share a common interest.
“It started out that I felt really comfortable at the karate studio,” Harker explained.
of home as his parents had split up.
“I had good friends there,” he said. “And being raised by a single mom, Mr. Stone transformed from being an instructor and a Sensei to being a father figure who was helping me through all those life challenges in school. By the time I got into college and beyond, it’s became of part of who I am.”
Wishing to continue his practice, Harker said he felt a sense of responsibility and obligation to ensure that other students got the same thing that he got out of karate.
“I wanted kids to have a place to go, like I did,” he said. “I wanted to provide some kind of mentoring to students and offer them an outpost where they could reach out to someone.”
Harker said he owes everything in terms of who he is today, to the Boy Scouts and to the martial arts.
“I was essentially raised by those two organizations,” he said. “The biggest thing with karate that I feel has helped me is that growing up, I fought through a speech impediment and various learning disabilities. And karate forced me in its way, to be comfortable in my own skin in front of large groups of people who are from a variety of backgrounds.”
Harker said that both practice and working for Stone as an instructor gave him a confidence.
“Mr. Stone got me comfortable in that position,” he said. “And because of that, I feel that I found this innate love for training and that sent me on my career path.”
As a trainer and the head of learning development for a biomanufacturing site, Harker said he doesn’t know anything about biomanufacturing or engineering, but karate gave him that confidence to stand in front of people and train them on different topics.
“I never learned that in college,” he said. “There were no classes on that. So I credit karate 100 percent for giving me that passion for training and helping people and being able to stand in front of a large audience with confidence.”
Harker has gone through several levels in accomplishing each degree in black belt training. There are ten degrees in total.
“With each rank in the black belt, after the third degree of black belt, you’re developing your character more than your techniques. I have not learned a new form in many years. What you’re doing is showing your growth and development and commitment to the other students and to the style of martial arts that dictates your eligibility and if you really deserve to hold one of the higher master ranks.”
Going from level to level varies; first to second degree might take two years and with each level, the amount of time required increases exponentially. Harker said once you’re at the sixth or seventh degree level, it could take ten years to move up to the next rank. He added that he will continue his training and hopes to achieve another level.
“My fate is in Mr. Stone’s hands,” he said. “I hope I continue to grow. I will never achieve a rank higher than my Sensei so I’ll always be one below Mr. Stone. But hopefully, I’ll be able to achieve the highest ranks under his tutelage until the day that he determines he will no longer be a Sensei.”
Throughout his years of vigorous training, Harker said he has genuinely enjoyed his karate studies.
“I love it,” he said. “Between taking classes and working for him, I’m spending 20 hours a week on the dojo or on my karate. I truly believe at this point that I want to make sure people have a home at karate and specifically with Mr. Stone.”
Said Stone of Harker, “Nathan lives and breathes the Student Creed. His commitment to his martial arts training mirror his devotion to his family, friends and colleagues.”