James Reed doesn’t exactly fit the part of a martial arts master. With a small frame, easy smile and a pair of glasses, Reed isn’t someone to be confused with Chuck Norris.
But once he begins teaching, one can see why other black belts speak of him in hushed tones. The glasses come off, and his hands and feet move with such blinding speed that it’s easy to understand how this man, at age 24, became the youngest sixth-degree black belt in the history of the United States, a recent inductee to the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and an inductee to the International Martial Arts Council’s Hall of Fame last year.
Above, James Reed shows some of his moves to his martial arts class Tuesday. Reed was recently inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame and was an inductee to the International Martial Arts Council’s Hall of Fame last year. Below, Reed demonstrates a block during class and preps his students before a round of sparring. Reed was the youngest sixth-degree black belt in the U.S., and plans on becoming the youngest seventh-degree in due time. His martial arts class on Larch Road consists of about 250 students. Enrique Gutierrez/Tracy Press
“This is a big honor,” said Reed, who was the recipient of the Tae Kwon Do Black Belt of the Year. “A goal of mine is to get into one or two more hall of fames.”
Reed has been training for nearly 21 years, since he was 5 years old, and has been competing since he was 6. Dominating in tournament after tournament, Reed retired from competition at age 22, and the proof lines his studio walls. The plaques and trophies are too numerous to count, in such excess that there isn’t enough room to display them all.
Reed opened his local Larch Road studio three years ago and now teaches about 250 students. Reed’s name is renowned among martial artists, and it is a draw for those familiar with him.
Besides being a part of the competitive circuit for longer than nearly anyone else when he was almost 17 years old, Reed is particularly revered for his weapons skills, especially for his expertise with a bo staff, a 6-foot-long fighting stick.
“People mostly hear about us through word of mouth,” said James’ father, Jim Reed. “We have a family coming down here all the way from Lathrop (to take classes).”
Reed began helping his instructor teach when he was 8 years old, after he attained a red belt level, and has helped both younger students and peers ever since.
He earned his first black belt when he was 9 years old and began training for his second-degree black belt when he was 15. Most begin training at 16, because the techniques are too advanced for the younger kids and can in some cases be dangerous. But Reed’s instructor made an exception for him.
“I turned 16 in November, and testing was in October,” Reed said. “So my instructor made an exception instead of making me wait another six months for the next testing session.”
He rapidly climbed the ranks to reach the level he holds today and is training to become a seventh-degree black belt, despite having injured his knee three years ago in a demonstration.
He will have surgery later this month to repair the knee and is expected to be at 100 percent soon afterward. If and when he does attain this seventh-degree black belt, it is expected that he will be the youngest ever with that status.
But for James Reed, anything else would be a surprise.