BETHESDA, Md. - Dylan Oliver is a 9-year-old who is kicking his way to the top of Taekwondo and is teaching others along the way.
"He is very disciplined, flexible, can jump off the walls, very athletic,” said Michael Coles, the owner of Coles Martial Arts Academy in Bethesda. "He really sets an example for humility in a black belt. You’re powerful, but you don’t let it go to your head.”
Oliver is a fourth grader who is a Taekwondo savant by achieving the art's most esteemed strip at an age when most kids are just getting started with Little League.
“You had to be at least 15 or more before you were considered to be a black belt,” said Coles. “I look at it as if you can do what we ask you to do if you carry yourself in a very mature fashion, then you can earn your black belt and he has done that.”
Achieving a black belt at his age sounds like a big deal, but to Oliver’s friends, they don’t care, he said.
Becoming a black belt brings with it a level of responsibility. Not just being responsible for your fighting skills, but being responsible for entire classes. Yes, this 9-year-old is a Taekwondo instructor for kids and adults.
“The biggest surprise is that he didn’t get nervous,” Coles said.
“Since they are adults, they get it and they know that the information that I am giving them is correct because I'm a black belt,” Oliver said.
He started Taekwondo when he was 5 years old after seeing his older brother Ryan, also a black belt, take up the sport. Martial arts are a family affair for Dylan and Ryan. They are both instructors at Coles Martial Arts Academy and their prized pupil is their mom.
These brothers are living out every kid's dream power trip. In this dojo, they are in charge.
"It's in a backwards parallel universe,” said Dylan.
"They enjoy at least having one area in their realm where they can tell me what to do,” said their mother, Melissa Marquez, who currently holds a red belt.
Dylan said teaching her at first was awkward, especially telling her what she did wrong. But he quickly got over that awkwardness.
“He was pretty stern,” said Marquez.
Being the mother of two black belts could possibly make her the safest mother in Montgomery County.
“Ryan in one class was being asked to demonstrate a couple of kicks all in a row while Master Coles was holding a really small pad, kind of the size of a head," she explained. "I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. If anything ever happened on the street and he were to do that, and Dylan can do it too, that would give someone a concussion and knock them out.'”
In martial arts, a black belt is not the end of your education. It is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning, a lifetime of sharpening your skills and your discipline.
A black belt at just 9 years old, Dylan has just begun exceeding expectations on the mat and in life.
"I just want to keep on getting more stripes,” he said. “I see eight stripes. I did the math and to get eight stripes, you need about 45 years.”
"I think he's going to be President of the United States,” said Master Coles. “I really believe that.”
However, Dylan is not so sure about that.
“I cannot be president,” the 9-year-old said. “Way too much responsibility.”