Belfast. The University of Maine Hutchinson Center in Belfast attracts students from all walks of life and ages, ranging from 16 to 92 years old. The Hutchinson Center is entering its tenth year since opening its doors and offering college courses and degrees from UMaine (as well as from the other UMS campuses).
This fall semester, the Hutchinson Center Scholarship Committee awarded 18 scholarships to enrolled students. Among the winners were UMaine freshman Jennifer Ditano and her sister, UMaine Aspirations student Rebecca Ditano. They are truly exceptional students and plan to continue their education at the Hutchinson Center as well as the University of Maine, saying they love their experiences at the Hutchinson Center. The Scholarship Committee recognized their commitment to education and their high aspirations and abilities.
Excelling beyond their classroom, both Ditanos recently earned their 3rd Degree Black Belts in the art of Hensen Ryu Karate. Jennifer and Rebecca Ditano have been involved in the martial arts for over 8 years. They began their martial arts careers in 2001, when they joined the Club Naha Karate Program at the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA in Waterville, Maine. They quickly rose through the ranks and, in 2004, underwent a grueling 3 day test to earn their Black Belts: an intense, physical and mental challenge designed to push the candidates to the very limits of their endurance. Their quest began with a brisk, pre-dawn five mile run followed immediately by participation in a Native American sweat lodge ceremony performed at the Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation in Point Pleasant – a physically and emotionally demanding experience but one which both students say they are grateful for and honored to have been invited to paricipate in.Other aspects of their test included an additional 15 miles of running and hiking in mountainous terrain, 3,000 push-ups , 3,000 sit-ups and a punishing, daylong workout during which they were required to perform all of their martial arts techniques perfectly followed immediately by 21 rounds of fighting against senior Club Naha Black Belts.
Soon after achieving their 1st Degree Black Belts, Jennifer and Rebecca earned the title, “Sensei” (teacher) and were offered the opportunity to teach a satellite karate program at the George J. Mitchell Elementary School in Waterville, ME. They eagerly accepted and ran the program at the school for over two years, training many students including several that went on to become State Champions in the Martial Arts. In 2006, the girls were promoted to 2nd Degree Black Belts, the youngest Club Naha students to ever hold the rank. Having built the George J. Mitchell School Karate Class into a strong, productive program, they decided it was time to hand the reins over to a fellow Club Naha Black Belt and open their own Dojo (karate school). In February of 2008, Jennifer and Rebecca opened their first Dojo at the Bay Area Fitness Gym in Belfast, ME. The school was an immediate success and continued to grow over the next year. In the Spring of 2009, Jennifer and Rebecca opened their second Dojo in Unity, Maine, in the Old Mill Plaza Studio. Enrollment at both schools has steadily increased with a current combined membership of nearly fifty students!
In October 2009, Jennifer and Rebecca were invited to test for their 3rd Degree Black Belts. They were instructed to perform three separate tasks. First, compile a written portfolio which included all of their martial arts knowledge, a business plan for their karate school and a summary of their career goals and life philosophies. It is important to note that a Club Naha Black Belt must commit to memory all the moves of over 30 Kata (forms), along with a myriad of blocks, strikes, throws and self-defense techniques. For the portfolio, the girls were required to detail all of these katas and techniques. Accuracy was important, as these Black Belt portfolios are meant to be used as a teaching reference and intended to be handed down from instructor to instructor. Second, complete a Vision Quest ( a Native American ritual where an individual journeys into nature for a time of personal reflection and revelation). Jennifer and Rebecca embarked on their Vision Quest in late September when they kayaked to Indian Island on China Lake. There they spent a weekend alone, compiling notes on their career goals, life philosophies and contemplating their responsibilities as 3rd Degree Black Belts. Finally, on October 17th, Jennifer and Rebecca underwent the last stage of their ordeal – an intensive, non-stop cardio workout which included running, jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, mountain climbers, falls, throws, grappling, fighting, bag work, and more followed by drills on various Kata and self-defense techniques. Following the workout, they were drilled on various Kata and self-defense techniques and invited to perform their Black belt Kata and Bunkai (application of Kata). As a final challenge, Jennifer and Rebecca were asked to speak before the other Club Naha Black Belts in order to share their philosophies on various aspects of life. Having then met all the criteria for promotion to 3rd Degree Black Belt, Jennifer and Rebecca were awarded their Black Belts in a ceremony performed by their instructor, Renshi Craig Sargent and the founder of Club Naha, Shihan Ken Walsh.
In the Fall of 2009, Jennifer was accepted to the University of Maine in Orono, and Rebecca was accepted as a UMaine Aspiration student. Both have continued to teach children’s karate at their two Dojo’s throughout their first year of college and have recently begun teaching karate courses in the After School Programs at both the Frankfort and Searsport Elementary Schools.
Both Jennifer and Rebecca have also been invited to speak at the Hutchinson Center’s Student Scholarship Recognition Luncheon on December 10th, highlighting both their academic and personal achievements and growth. For more information about the Hutchinson Center, please contact 207-338-8000 or visit our website at www.hutchinsoncenter.umaine.edu