On Sunday, April 11, Seth Lazar and Akiva Lewitan, two fourth-grade boys from Teaneck, received black belts in taekwondo. The two friends have been taking taekwondo classes at American Korean Tae Kwon Do on Teaneck Road with Master James Koh since July 2017.
Seth and Akiva have been friends since they were in preschool, even though they attend different schools; Seth goes to Yavneh Academy and Akiva goes to Yeshivat Noam. The Lazars and Lewitans first became friends when they kept running into each other at preschool open houses, and both families also daven at Congregation Beth Aaron. When Laura Lazar was considering signing Seth up for taekwondo, she called Brooke Lewitan and asked if Akiva would like to do it with him. At that time, Master James had just taken over the dojo and was offering a two-week trial to encourage new students. Akiva and Seth went for the trial and have not left since.
Since July 2017, Seth and Akiva have been committed to studying taekwondo, working hard to balance the classes with school and homework even as they progressed through the belts and went from having class two times a week to three. When COVID hit, Master James continued to teach full-length classes over Zoom, and Akiva and Seth continued to progress. They even had a belt test over Zoom, which was done the same way that it would have been done in person, and the boys were able to prepare for and take the test with the same amount of focus that they had in person.
All of the belt tests cost money and the black belt test was the most expensive by far, at $650. The Lewitans felt that it would be good for Akiva to try and raise $300 for the test himself, and he decided to bake brownies to sell for his cause. The community was incredibly supportive, with many people buying multiple trays and some even donating money without taking any brownies. From these sales, Akiva was able to raise over $400, more than enough to cover his share of the test.
The black belt test, since it is the highest belt color, is a very rigorous process. On March 14, Seth and Akiva took a written test to demonstrate their knowledge of certain numbers and phrases in Korean and had to meditate for a full hour. Additionally, the boys each had to write a three-page essay on one of two taekwondo-related topics, which was a challenge since essay writing is not something that is usually taught in school at such a young age. Almost a month later, on April 11, Akiva and Seth were tested on their form, breaking wood, punching, kicking and endurance. The evaluation of their skill level was performed both by Master James and another official who was flown in from Korea specifically for their test.
Almost four years of hard work paid off and both Seth and Akiva passed all the parts of the black belt test, were given their black belts and became members of the International Taekwondo Federation. The boys were very excited to reach this new level, and proud of how far they had come. This is not the end of Akiva and Seth’s taekwondo studies, however, and the boys will continue to study with Master James to progress in the black belt levels.