One Ahwatukee Foothills resident is poised to become the youngest black belt in the history of a local martial arts academy.

Nine-year-old Mayari Merchant is preparing for her black belt test that will be administered on June 23 at JB Martial Arts Academy in Chandler. The workout regiment is rigorous and has been since conditioning began in January.

Currently a top-level brown belt, Merchant will try to make the leap to the next level later this month. But she believes her hard work has paid off.

“The testing is really hard and when you are going through it, you can tell they look for the attitude of not giving up,” she said. “I feel shaky and nervous (about the test). But I feel that I am going to pass.”

The test is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the candidates are tested in endurance, strength, conditioning and even their mental skills. In addition to the physical aspects, Merchant and the others have to write an essay and give a speech about what tae kwon do has done for them.

Her parents say that it is an example of how the owners and instructors at the academy want a well-rounded student in all aspects of life. In order to qualify for the black, she also has to maintain a B-average in school.

“They feel proud of themselves because they work hard,” said her mother Sarika Merchant. “We have seen a big change in her confidence. They instill the thought of, ‘I can do it if I try and I want to do it.’”

Mayari started with the academy two years ago and, if she is successful in her test, will have achieved black belt in two years, the fastest one can reach that accolade, her mom said. There are benchmarks along the way and the instructors told her last summer that she was already on her way, but that she would need to reach brown belt by December 2011.

Merchant passed that test and now is ready for the next challenge.

“What I like about it is that it’s not easy,” she said. “You have to work hard for what you want to do. They don’t ever let you off easy. I like it because we all have a friendship. We are all different ages, but we practice together and we are there for each other.”

To find out more about JB Martial Arts Academy, 5865 W. Ray Road in Chandler, visit or call (480) 855-5262.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

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