Blind man earns black belt after two years of training

NILES, Mich. (WNDU) Ricky Gillis started taking taekwondo lessons two years ago for one reason.

“I needed to lose more weight,” Gillis said.

And his favorite exercise is using his gumdo sword.

“It gets stuff off my mind when I’m striking,” Gillis said.

In fact, there’s a lot on Gillis’ mind all of the time. He carries an oxygen tank for his shortness or breath, experiences muscle skeletal degeneration and on top of it all – Gillis is blind.

“I can see flashes,” Gillis said. “Camera flashes, bright light. But that’s pretty much all.”

However, he hasn’t thought once about stopping.

“Just cause I’m blind don’t mean I can’t do it,” Gillis said. “If I put my mind to it, I can do anything.”

His instructor Grandmaster Hong, who has a ninth-degree black belt, says Gillis put the ability in disability.

“He’s into it son,” Hong said. “Every time he come, he never give up. He just goes on and on. What I teach he does second, twice much. I teach second, he does three times more.”

Gillis’ extra effort paid off. In June, he was promoted to the rank of first-degree black belt.

“I felt like I was on cloud nine,” Gillis said. “Beautiful.”

And just because Gillis earned his black belt, it doesn’t mean his hard work in taekwondo is complete.

“I would like to try and go higher,” Gillis said. “Try and catch up with Grandmaster Hong but it might be impossible.”

“He like to accomplish,” Hong said. “To set up the goal to someday be like I am. To achieve all the way to ninth-degree black belt. That’s what he’s shooting for.”

Gillis says he’ll reach that goal in no time.

“Just keep on going,” Gillis said,” Nobody can stop me. They can slow me down a little but they can’t stop me.”

Gillis hopes he can teach taekwondo lessons to the physically disabled. Just like his instructor, Grandmaster Hong.