Martial Arts Family Fitness, a family-owned and operated school dedicated to improving lives through martial arts, announced Monday that Grandmaster Dave Wheaton promoted six students to the rank of fifth dan (degree) black belts at the semi-annual black belt test and promotion in the art of dynamic circle hapkido.

The announcement caught all six masters by surprise during the black belt exam and promotion that was held Saturday at the Santa Barbara school’s facility, 122 E. Gutierrez St.

“The six students that were promoted to fifth dan are all masters in our art,” said Wheaton, founder and owner of Martial Arts Family Fitness. “The six tested together for their fourth dan in hapkido, which makes them a master of our art a few years ago, and each has continued to lead and support our school in many ways. Their contribution to dynamic circle hapkido is appreciated, and all are very deserving of this honor.”

The students promoted to fifth dan are Master Paul Cassidy, Master Austin Curtis, Master Garret Curtis, Master Mike Hieshima, Master Melodee Meyer and Master Bruce Williams.

In what was an emotional presentation before students testing for their second dan, first dan, in-rank advancement and other martial artists and family members, Grandmaster Wheaton thanked each of the six students for their contributions to the growth of the school.

“Each of our fifth dan black belts is special in his or her own way,” Wheaton said. “Master Garret, who works in the film industry, still finds time to work out and teach in Los Angeles. His brother, Master Austin, is spearheading the school’s summer camp program and teaches in our school, as do Master Mike, Master Paul and Master Bruce. Master Melodee runs our fitness programs and was recognized with the Outstanding Contribution to the Martial Arts Award by the Martial Arts Hall of Honors in January. Each of these students deserves this honor.”

— Alex Rodriguez represents Martial Arts Family Fitness.