Look closer to home for meaningful champions

Brothers Preston, Prince, Khalil and Vonnie, from left, strike a defensive pose with their kickboxing coach, Craig Sylvia. Sylvia said in a social media the post that the boys were destined to be great, they just need to believe in themselves. Photos by Juanice Gray

Brothers ‘striping’ their way to physical, personal success


The Super Bowl.

Meaningless (at least to Louisiana).

Celebrity endorsements.

Who really cares?

What matters to the people of Natchitoches Parish is simply that; the people of Natchitoches Parish, their lives, their stories.

Nothing is more true than when it comes to our youth. One coach agrees and made a social media post stating that celebrity or famous athlete endorsements don’t hold a candle to recognizing the accomplishments of four brothers who attend his gym. Craig Sylvia owns Light City Marshal Arts Studio and began coaching brothers Preston, 12, and Percival “Vonnie” Bullock, 14, Prince Johnson, 9, and Khalil Whitley, 6, six month ago. “It’s the first time I’ve had four from the same family,” Sylvia said. “I made the post to promote these kids. They’re consistent and when one got his stripes, he became emotional. It really touched my heart. I feel kids need recognition for positivity and wanted to give them credit where they otherwise may not get it.”

Vonnie Bullock and Coach Sylvia work on a pummeling drill, with the goal of immobilizing their opponent.

Sylvia and fellow coach Jeff Cox offer Brazilian jiu jitsu, muay Thai kickboxing, no gi and mixed martial arts to ages 5-14 and adults. Sylvia said the path to owning the gym began 12 years ago when he began training. “I drove for UPS and worked all hours. I needed something as an outlet and began martial arts in 2007. In 2010 I got serious about it and was going to Alexandria to train. God opened doors and in hindsight I see that. There were circumstances that led to my leaving UPS.”

Khalil Whitley, 6, mirrors his coach’s movements during a martial arts demonstration of skills.

Sylvia said he felt teaching martial arts was a calling and after praying about it, another job “fell into my lap” that allowed him to pursue gym ownership. Through the gym, he made donations to the Women’s Resource Center by providing self defense classes. His students also compete in tournaments. “Martial arts are designed to be a form of self defense. Tournaments offer the students the opportunity to face an opponent, get that sense of fear you don’t get sparring with others in your gym. You have to get in the mindset of they want to hurt me, but I can handle myself the right way.”

Self defense and building confidence is where the brothers come into play. The boys had individual needs, from being bullied at school to health issues to something to occupy their time while Dad is away according to their mother, Porcia Hooper. “I’m seeing so much positive coming from their training. There’s already a big difference.”

Prince Johnson and Sylvia demonstrate the 1, 2, 3, 4 technique at the Natchitoches Times office.

Vonnie said he looks forward to going to the gym four days per week. “I’m learning new techniques and using them in class,” he said.

Prince said he likes the group atmosphere. “I like 1, 2, 3, 4 kickboxing,” he said. His favorite move to practice is the arm bar.

Preston said he can tell the benefits from regular activity. “I’m losing weight and getting in shape.”

Khalil, a little firecracker, said he likes the mirroring footwork drills where the coach moves and he has to “mirror” that movement. “I made friends with Ryan and Oliver too,” he said.

Preston Bullock delivers a kick to his martial arts coach Craig Sylvia.

The young men were eager to show their skills and demonstrated some of their moves with Coach Sylvia. One thing they all agreed on was they enjoy the classes and are benefitting from them in one way or another. “I can see them coming out of their shells,” said Patrick Johnson, Prince’s dad.

Preston summed up his emotional reaction when he received his first stripe. “I was emotional because I had doubted myself. Because the kids at school tell me I’m not good enough or they don’t want me on their team because I’m not fast enough. Because of this I thought I wasn’t going to get a stripe on my belt. That is why I was emotional when I got my stripe.”

So go ahead with the big event and the celebrities. The real champions are right here in Natchitoches, working hard every day and making a difference one life, one youth at a time.