As far as Baton Rouge resident Lee Harris is concerned, nothing brings a family closer together than a perfectly executed roundhouse kick or groin punch.
Harris — along with his father, Richard, and two sons Austin and Mason — successfully earned the distinction of first-degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do last week, making claim to the philosophy that the family that fights together, stays together.
“It’s a whole lot better than what other people do,” 15-year-old Austin Harris joked.
The trek of the Harris family fighters began four years ago when Lee Harris wanted to find a way to spend time with his sons without being relegated to the sidelines of some little league park. Watching his children grow up wasn’t good enough — he wanted to be in the middle of the action.
That’s when Lee Harris remembered what brought he and his father together in the wake of his mother’s death nearly 30 years ago. The father and son found solace in a small karate studio where they studied the martial art of Shotokan.
The eldest Harris described it as an outlet for frustrations and gave focus on something other than the problems of life.
Unfortunately, life did eventually get in the way, as Richard Harris was forced to complete his training without his son by his side when Lee Harris left his training only weeks before his final test to find a job following his college graduation.
Richard Harris would go on to earn a black belt in Akido karate after reaching the highest rank in Shotokan, but Lee Harris was still without completion of his training.
“It was like going through four years of college and quitting before your final exam,” Lee Harris said.
After that, the decision was simple: the Harrises — all of them — would become trained in the ancient martial art of Tang Soo Do.
“I could bring (my grandchildren) fishing, but they won’t remember that,” Richard Harris said. “They’ll remember the four years we spent here with blood, sweat and tears. It built a better bond between me and my grandsons.”
Austin teased his 81-year-old grandfather about not wanting to hit him too hard for fear of hurting him in his age, but the symbolism of the matter isn’t wasted on the youth.
Austin and his 13-year-old brother, Mason, understand what the training means to their father and grandfather and they know the black belt they wear is more than just a way to separate ranks.
“(The black belt) is a symbol of my pap-pap for when he passes away,” Austin Harris said as he grabbed hold of his grandfather’s belt. “I can have that and remember that through these four years of training in Tang Soo Do, that I was able to do this with my pap-pap.”
PKSA instructor Michael Tullier, a Tan Soo Do master who own PKSA Karate, said he’s seen the dedication and togetherness the Harris clan has demonstrated in class.
“They have a great sense of family pride and you can tell the grandchildren are there to be with their grandfather,” Tullier said. “They’re very special because they have a lot of dedication and, when they’re here, they’re here with their whole heart and mind.”
The Harrises said they don’t have any plans to find a new discipline just yet now that they’ve reached black belt status, but don’t seem to mind where they are as long as they’re together.
“It’s come to the point where it creates a family legacy,” Lee Harris said.
“When (my father) passes on, his grandsons will remember the time on that mat training with their grandfather and they’ll be able to hold that black belt in their hand and remember him.”