Jonathan Leong, Profile Editor, Rob Shanholtz, Online Editor and Rob Shanholtz, Online Editor

Most teenagers will tell you that they spend their Friday nights going to parties or seeing movies. Instead, close friends and seniors Maureen Gray and Lisa Swanson train for the Illinois Shotokan Karate Club, one of the largest karate clubs in the nation.

Gray and Swanson met when Swanson moved to Naperville during third grade. Not only did Swanson register at the same school but she signed up at the same karate club as Gray.

“The best part of karate is the friends and community involved with it,” Swanson said.

Gray agrees.

“When I go to class on Friday nights, instead of going out like a normal teenage girl, there’s a bunch of teenage kids and we’re all great friends,” Gray said.

On the other hand, karate isn’t just a walk in the park.

According to Gray, at first she hated karate because the sport was awkward for her. Eventually, she learned that “karate takes hard work” and now that she is a black belt, she loves it.

In addition, the athletes have to find time to stay on top of their homework and academics. Swanson practices six hours a week and still is able to lead Naperville Central’s Junior Statesmen of America club.

Her practices involve fighting and strength training. Swanson, also a black belt, spends time teaching beginners between four and 40 years old.

In September, Swanson was able to put in enough time and effort to compete in the Karate World Championship tournament (KWCT) hosted by the World Shotokan Karate Association in Chicago. Swanson placed third in the junior ladies division behind contestants from South Africa and England.

Although Gray and Swanson both share the love of karate, they nonetheless have their differences.

“I do Kumite [and] Lisa is the Kata girl,” Gray said, explaining the different events the friends compete in.

Kumite is a part of karate in which you train against an adversary. Gray and Swanson both went to the Junior Olympics in April, where Gray won first in Kumite. Kata is a combination of karate positions and movements set for defending oneself against several attackers.

According to the girls, their karate careers are far from over. Next semester, they plan on going to Las Vegas for the Junior Olympics and the U.S. Open again. In two years, they also plan on competing in London.

“Maybe I’ll compete in nationals next year…depends on how much I suck,” Gray said.

However, the girls say they are not basing their college decisions on karate but they both plan on looking for a martial arts club and a sparring partner wherever they go. In the future, Gray and Swanson both want to become teachers.

Most people have an image of karate as just breaking bricks, but for black-belt-buddies Gray and Swanson, it’s more than that. It’s about discipline, effort and a great way to hang out with your best friends.