By Eileen Persike
An 18-year old Crandon High School senior has accomplished something sooner than any other woman in the Northwoods. Autumn Lyons is the youngest female in the area to earn a black belt in goshin karate. Perhaps it helps that Lyons began studying martial arts at the young age of five.
“I was born in Mole Lake, but when I was five my grandma and grandpa adopted me and brought me to live in Crandon,” Lyons said of her early years. “My grandma always told me that I had a bad attitude, and needed to learn discipline and respect. She thought karate would help.”
Under the direction of Sensei (Japanese word meaning teacher) Al Klaver and the late Shihan (Japanese honorific title for expert or senior instructor) Paul Dean in Rhinelander she took to martial arts easily; considered a natural by her instructors. Not only did Autumn enjoy her lessons, it taught her what her grandmother had hoped it would.
“I learned respect, how to treat others, dedication, patience —all of that,” Lyons said. “And structure; the practicing and weekly training really added structure to my life.”
Karate became a family project about six years ago when Autumn’s younger sister, 13-year old Anjelina and her grandmother, Sally Lyons, began training with her. After receiving her black belt, Autumn had the honor of presenting Sally with her brown belt.
There are many styles of martial arts. Autumn Lyons described Go Shin as a “hard” style, which is solid, crisp, exacting; moves that are seen, for example, in self defense. In contrast, she said, Kung fu is based on animal movements that are more fluid. One of her biggest role models is mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Rhonda Rousey. Rousey is a former UFC champion, and was the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in Judo.
“Ever since she began fighting, it’s something my dad and I would watch,” said Lyons. “We’d get the fights on pay-per-view and watch on the couch together.”
Becoming an MMC fighter is a path Lyons said she would consider taking. It would be a bit of a departure from her first martial arts competitions at age ten or eleven. It’s something sensei Klaver thought would benefit her.
“It was nerve wracking, but a good experience to see the different ways people fight,” Lyons recalled. “And it was good to see the different styles, like jujitsu, taekwondo and kung fu.”
In the meantime, Sensei Autumn Lyons will continue getting good grades in school, and begin applying for college. Her plan is to get a business degree while continuing to learn and master the different styles of martial arts.
“After that I’d like to open up a small studio somewhere and teach, then hand that off to one of my students,” Lyons said. “Then I’d open another one, and another one.”
Karate gave a young Autumn Lyons the patience and discipline for a fresh start in life. Those same character traits continue to guide her through her fresh start into adulthood.