Reaching the rank of black belt at Outlaw Martial Arts is no small achievement. It recognizes not only a high level of skill in taekwondo, it also reflects commitment, dedication, discipline and fortitude.

This fall, several students at Outlaw Martial Arts reached the level of black belt for the first time, or achieved a higher ranking.

The decade-old dojo in Sisters has evolved from its roots in taekwondo. Brazilian jiu jitsu is now an integral part of the program, and founder Marty Kaczmarek, better known as Master K, has handed the reins to skilled martial artist and teacher Tony Gonzalez.

“We’ve really switched to a mixed martial arts school over the years, but honoring our roots and tradition has been very important to me,” Kaczmarek told The Nugget. “And Tony knows that as well.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the school to adapt, as have programs of all kinds across the nation. The ethic that lies at the bedrock of the school positions Outlaw Martial Arts to weather the storm.

“Perseverance is a true tenet that people can rally behind,” Kaczmarek said.

Perseverance is a hallmark quality for the Buller family, who have practiced martial arts at the school for most of the time it has been in existence in Sisters. Angela, Emmitt, and Kathryn Buller each earned their black belt this fall, and Jeremy Buller achieved the rank of 2nd Dan Black Belt.

Emmitt started very early — as a youngster who had a lot of anxiety about separation from his parents.

“He didn’t want to start,” his mother Angela said. “We put him into martial arts. He needed more structure.”

Emmitt, his family, and Master K all acknowledge that it was a rough start, but Emmitt persevered and hit his first turning point.

“When I turned 6, I wanted to be in the big kid class,” he recalled.

And now, at age 11, he is a black belt — a status Master K says was well-earned. He says his favorite aspects of training are board-breaking and boxing.

His sister Kathryn, 14, has found a high level of poise and confidence through martial arts. She has learned to take criticism and she has learned to teach and support others.

“I started teaching the Tiny Tigers and that really helped bring out my voice and stuff,” she said. “I’m going to try to put on a (self-defense) class for high-school girls.”

Gonzalez is impressed with Kathryn’s development as a martial artist.

“She’s got power and speed,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to have a whole family who are black belts in the community.”

Angela noted that the martial arts training has improved both of the children’s body awareness and coachability.

“It has helped both of their athletics all the way around,” she said.

She said the practice has also helped her.

“I love that full-body movement,” she said.

She and Jeremy both work in nursing, and the fitness, strength, and body awareness help them cope with the physicality of that work. And, Jeremy notes, it feels good to be prepared in the event something goes bad in the emergency room.

“You never know what’s going to come in,” he said.

There are other, less tangible benefits to participating as a family.

Angela thinks that it’s vital to “show your kids as an adult it’s OK to do something new and fail lots of times and still keep going.”

Jaymie Kaczmarek has kept going for many years now, recently earning master status as a 4th Dan Black Belt.

For her, martial arts is less about personal achievement than it is about supporting and encouraging others, which has always been a bedrock principle for both her and Marty. Over the years, she has seen many people benefit profoundly from their involvement in the martial arts.

“It provides structure, consistency, builds trust between people,” she said. “I’ve seen behavior change over time with students who … didn’t have a direction in life.”

As a mental-health therapist for children and families, she sees the qualities encouraged by the martial arts as essential tools for success and well-being. She has created a martial arts program within her practice to inculcate skills and values that translate across all aspects of life.

“It’s all interconnected with my personal and professional life — and it’s all connected to martial arts,” she said.

Jaymie Kaczmarek said that Outlaw Martial Arts has survived over a long haul and built a real legacy in Sisters — one that she hopes to see continue as Gonzalez steps into the leadership role.

“I’m really, really hoping that happens,” she said.

As Outlaw Martial Arts enters a new phase in challenging times, its patrons will continue to apply themselves with the ethic they practice on the dojo floor — an ethic of respect, discipline, perseverance and always giving their best.