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Family, friends gather to honor longtime martial arts instructor

Surrounded by former students family members Thomas Heriaud long-time martial arts instructor AurorPlano Naperville arewas given promotirare GrMaster title Saturday

Surrounded by former students and family members, Thomas Heriaud, a long-time martial arts instructor in the Aurora, Plano, Naperville area, was given the promotion of the rare Grand Master title on Saturday at Dojo Dynamics on Wells Street in Sandwich. Pictured from left: Grand Masters Otis Baker, Joe Gangi, Tom Saviano; Master Mike McNamara; Grand Masters Fred Degerberg, Tom Heriaud, Bob Zange; Master Rico Paone; Grand Masters Ron Troutman, Preston Baker; and kneeling Shihan Scott Francis. | Submitted

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Updated: January 22, 2013 6:05AM

Surrounded by former students and family members, Thomas Heriaud, a long-time martial arts instructor in the Aurora, Plano and Naperville areas, was given the promotion of the rare Grand Master title Dec. 8 at Dojo Dynamics on Wells Street in Sandwich.

True to his nature as a very humble man, upon receiving the award, Heriaud told the crowd of more than 200, while he appreciated the promotion, in his mind he is still a white belt.

“A white belt is a beginner level, simply the belt they give you when you begin in martial arts,” Scott Francis, the organizer of the event said. “It is the belt they give you to hold your uniform together.”

The Dojo Dynamics owner spent many months putting together the surprise presentation for his former instructor.

“Tom still considers himself to be a student,” Francis said.

The honor is the first for the Isshin Shorinji Ryu system of martial arts.

“Isshin Shorinji Ryu is a form of karate created here in the United States during the late ’60s, early ’70s,” Francis said. “It is a combination of several martial arts systems into one.”

The Grand Master promotion is an honor given by equal ranks within the martial arts community since there is no higher level, Francis said.

“I probably won’t see a ceremony like this in my lifetime,” he said.

He said the honor sets up a platform for good things to come.

“I sought out many other Grand Masters from other systems to sign a declaration certificate designating Heriaud, a 10th-degree Grand Master in martial arts,” he said. “I wanted to honor him for his contribution to the martial arts community. Our system has never had a level-10 Grand Master. It really creates a lineage for our system for many years to come.”

The certificate emphasizes the exemplary qualities Heriaud exhibits to receive this honor: a respectful, peaceful and understanding attitude toward his fellow man and martial artists of all styles, a respectful attitude toward those of higher grade, and understanding attitude toward those of lesser grade, consistently supporting his students in their pursuit of excellence, dedicating his life to consistently demonstrate traits that characterize the essence of a true master in the martial arts.

“These traits include discipline, honor, respect, pride, dedication, leadership, compassion and strength,” Francis said. “With much personal sacrifice he has protected, preserved and sustained life to the Isshin Shorinji Ryu system and has honored what those that came before him had started.”

Unaware that a special ceremony in his honor was to follow, Heriaud, an Oswego resident, believed he was at Dojo Dynamics to promote a student to first-degree black belt. At the completion of the first ceremony, as Heriaud’s back was to part of the room, his family started to quietly filter in, Francis said.

“His daughters, son-in-laws, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces came in,” he said. “Some flew in just for this event from all over the United States.”

Francis said the room swelled with over 60 black belts, 100 students and 50 family members filling the room to honor Heriaud.

Grand Masters from different martial arts systems all presented certificates honoring Heriaud. His daughters then presented him with a Grand Master belt from the Isshin Shorinji Ryu system of martial arts, Francis said.

At that point, he looked over his shoulder and saw all of his family there, he added.

Heriaud, who is now 67, started in 1964 in martial arts as a student of Jim Chapman.

“Chapman was a pioneer of martial arts in the Aurora area,” Francis said. “He was killed in a traffic accident in 1971, and Tom took his place and started teaching.”

“He has competed in hundreds of tournaments,” Francis said. “He has taught at the Aurora YMCA, Plano YMCA, and the American Academy of Martial Arts in Naperville. He was the arbitrator and main official at many kick boxing, full contact and karate tournaments for 30-plus years.”

“Tom was one of my first instructors. I started training with him in 1982 through the Plano YMCA,” he said.

“Throughout his 50 years involved in martial arts, he has touched so many lives, his daughter Jennifer Delaney of Oswego said.

“His legacy to the martial arts community has been huge. My dad has been a father figure to hundreds of kids.”

Stressing his far-reaching impact in the local martial arts community, Delaney said, “If my dad didn’t teach a student in our area, one of the black belts he trained did.”

“One of the greatest things about my dad is that he isn’t boastful. He isn’t one to brag,” Delaney added noting how Heriaud has lived up to the true martial arts spirit.

After the official ceremony, 170 friends and family members gathered at a banquet to further honor Heriaud’s accomplishments.

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