Lots of people have memorable childhood birthdays, but Zoey Wadsworth’s 9th birthday might just take the cake.
The Richmond Hill girl earned her junior black belt on March 18 — the day she turned 9 — and in England, no less. On top of that she passed with “honours,” becoming the youngest black belt ever in the World Ju-Jitsu Federation.
“It was amazing!” the home-schooled third grader said of testing for her black belt and the 10-day family trip to England and Ireland that went with it.
“I enrolled her in dance when she was younger because I thought that’s what little girls did and she was bored out of her mind,” said Zoey’s mother, Danielle. “Then I thought maybe some sort of martial arts would be good because they teach self-defense and she just loved it. She was focused right from the beginning.”
Zoey started training under John Glimmerveen at the Richmond Hill Ju-Jitsu Center when she was 6 and began moving up through the ranks. Glimmerveen, 63, has been teaching for 39 years, the last 10 in Richmond Hill.
“It takes about three to five years to reach that level, so it is rare but not unheard of,” Glimmerveen said. “She is an exceptional student.”
Danielle said neither she nor husband Todd have ever been involved in any of the martial arts, but Zoey took to it right away. Glimmerveen said he quickly noticed her potential.
“For some people, they find it is their niche in life and you could see that enthusiasm in Zoey right away,” he said.
The trip to England came about because Glimmerveen was going to the WJJF headquarters in Liverpool to test for an advanced black belt level with Robert Clark, the federation’s founder, and knew Zoey was getting close to her junior black belt test.
“I mentioned it to Danielle and Todd and they said ‘yes’ right away,” he said. “It was a very neat opportunity.”
To pass with “honours,” Zoey had to be able to recall any technique asked of her and perform the moves flawlessly.
“You can pass with merit or with honours,” Danielle said. “It’s just something that’s embedded in her.”
Zoey said one of her favorite school subjects is science, which is a good thing because part of passing the black belt test is a knowledge of human anatomy.
“They have to learn about bones and tendons and pressure points,” Danielle said.
For now, Zoey can continue earning gold tabs on her junior black belt until age 16, then convert to an adult black belt.
“For juniors who reach that level, they can study things like weaponry and advanced techniques that people who start as adults aren’t exposed to,” said Glimmerveen. “It’s all about keeping them interested.”
Zoey is also starting to help teach youth classes, and younger brother Trae, 6, has now gotten involved.
“I would recommend it for all kids,” Zoey said. “It’s a lot of fun!”