JOPLIN, Mo. —
At the age of 4, Rye Capen could be seen out in the front yard, leaping here and there, slicing the air with a plastic Darth Maul light saber.
Fast forward eight years and this South Middle School student is now one of the world’s best in martial arts sword fighting for his age group, possessing a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do.
“From the time when he was young, with those Star Wars light sabers, he took to (the sword) pretty well, practiced a lot with it,” said Rye’s father, Rex, who is a seventh-degree black belt in tae kwon do as well as master instructor of Joplin’s Team Victory Martial Arts dojo. “Even then, swords were a real natural talent for him.”
Rye spends between six and nine hours a week practicing the precise movements, using sword, fists and feet.
“I just love it all,” Rye said after spending 15 minutes going through a number of precise motions, some of which looked like a mock fight between him and unseen enemies. When he was done, he was barely out of breath.
Aside from Rex, Team Victory Martial Arts has two other adult instructors -- Mason Friend and Rick Feller. Rye serves as the fourth.
“(Rye) is my best instructor, believe it or not,” Rex said. “He teaches even the adults. If I’m here and I break off someone that’s new and I need someone to go back and work with them, I’ll give it to Rye. Even adults.
“Sometimes I’ll have to say (to the new adult recruits), ‘I know what it looks like. I know how he sounds, OK, but give him a chance.’ And so far, I’ve never had anyone come up to me who didn’t feel comfortable with him. Every one of them says, ‘Holy cow, he’s amazing.’”
Last year, while the father-son duo competed on the national circuit in Los Angeles, Rye tied for first out of 24 competitors in the 10-11 age group.
“He tied for first with the guy who had won the world title the year before,” Rex said of his son.
During the last competition of the year, Diamonds in Minnesota, Rye finished fifth in the weapons category and 10th out of 30 in form.
“And that’s the 30 best in the world,” Rex said.
Rye will be competing in the 12-14 age group next year, Rex said, “and he plans on winning first in the world.”
Rye competed in his first tournament at the age of 4. He took first place. In fact, for three years in a row, he took first and was named grand champion in his age division.
Since 2003, Rye has placed No. 1 in forms and weapons every year in the Midwest Martial Arts Association Southern Conference tournament circuit, and placed in the top 10 in the world and national circuit for 2011.
“(His success) makes me a proud papa,” Rex said. “Absolutely. I’m very proud to watch him achieve what he’s done. I don’t know a father who wouldn’t be.”