Jesse Seibel stands out among his classmates at John Muir Middle
Despite being different, the energetic young man has been able to
capitalize on his skills, and he strives to be just like the rest of
his fellow students.
However, there are only a select few 12-year-olds who can break a
board with their hands, execute a pin-point accurate roundhouse kick
or perform the intricate moves needed to perfect the ancient martial
art of taekwondo.
Seibel, who trains at Andre’s Martial Arts in Burbank, will get a
chance to put three-and-a-half years of hard work, training and
sacrifice to work today when he obtains his black belt in a
qualifying test at the studio.
That’s what is so special about Seibel.
Although his skills as an accomplished martial artist make Seibel
unique, he is used to being a little different. Seibel was born with
autism, a developmental disability that affects the functioning of
Vincent Rodricks, who owns Andrew’s Martial Arts, and who is a
grandmaster and eighth-degree black belt, said in spite of his
disability, Seibel has been able to thrive in taekwondo.
“Most of the kids in the class, especially when their young, if
they’re not interested, they’re never going to get better,” Rodricks
said. “You have to have an interest. Jesse has shown an amazing
amount of interest and he wants to progress and get better.”
One of the common characteristics of autism is a propensity for
memory and an uncanny ability to deal with numbers. Rodricks said
Seibel’s ability to memorize lessons and the fundamentals of
taekwondo has been invaluable in the student’s success in the sport.
“There is something about Jesse that is amazing,” Rodricks said.
“You have to teach him something twice. But once he gets it, you can
ask him a year from then what he was taught and he can remember it
perfectly. He has a very good memory.
“I never have to worry about Jesse remembering what I have taught
him. When there is a belt test coming up, I have to ask the other
kids ‘Do you remember what you have to do?’ Most of them forget a
little of what they’ve learned. But not Jesse. He never forgets and
he is always ready.”
Jesse’s mother, Cheryl, said she is constantly impressed by her
son’s acute memory.
“He can tell me what day of the week it was when he first went to
Disneyland. I can’t even remember that but he knows it,” Cheryl
Jesse said he used a mathematical equation in figuring out how far
he had to go to attain his black belt.
“When I got my blue belt, it made me think of a fraction. Do you
know what that fraction is? One over two. Because master Vincent said
when you’re a blue belt, you’re halfway through getting your black
belt. That’s how I thought of it.”
Seibel first became involved in taekwondo at the urging of
Vincent, a family friend. Vincent thought the exercise would be good
for the young man, and he could also benefit from the discipline and
attention to detail the sport requires.
Since his induction into the class, Seibel has been able to
progress through the belt stages of the martial art, with the
eventual goal of reaching the pinnacle of black belt.
Along with his student’s remarkable ability to learn, Vincent said
Seibel keeps up with the other athletes his age and needs no extra
time to perfect his lessons.
“He can now do things that I never thought he was going to be able
to do,” Vincent said. “I thought I would be able to bring him to a
certain stage and we wouldn’t be able to go any farther. But he has
gone past all my expectations.
“When he gets that black belt, it is something that will make me
proud. It is an achievement he deserves and he has worked so hard to
“Along with being very good in martial arts, Jesse is one of the
nicest kids you will ever meet, he really is. He is well-mannered,
very polite and he cares about people.”
Getting ready for his black-belt testing, Seibel isn’t worried
about whether is going to pass the test. With more than three years
of study under his belt, he said he is ready.
“I have a big file about it in my brain. I just have to remember
it all,” he said.”
Seibel doesn’t suffer from a sever form of autism and isn’t
plagued with some of the motor problems and difficulties that someone
with a severe form of the disorder has to endure.
Although his speech is slightly slurred, Seibel has no trouble
communicating or getting his point across. As a mater of fact, his
mom said Jesse can be quite the exaggerator.
That is evident when he talks about how much work it has been for
him to work his way up to a black belt.
“I can think of about 400 things that have been tough for me,” he
said. “I have been here for three-and-a-half years and there have
been a lot of tough things.”
But with all the tough times, Seibel has also had a lot of fun
learning taekwondo. One of his favorite things to do during class
involves a certain drill.
“There is a kicking bag, and sometimes I ask the instructor to
take it out. And when he does, I just keep kicking it,” he said. “A
lot of times, what I like to do is do a side-kick on the bag, and I
always knock it down. Well, almost always.”
When it was first suggested to his mother that it might be a good
idea for Jesse to take up martial arts, Cheryl was not keen on the
Like any protective mother -- especially one with a special-needs
child -- Cheryl wanted to protect Jesse from any harm he might
encounter in the class.
“I was really hesitant at first, because I thought that no
instructor is going to have the patience for Jesse,” she said. “I
thought he would feel excluded, or I wondered if it was going to be a
good thing for his self-esteem.”
However, Cheryl changed her mind and allowed Jesse to join the
class. She said it is one of the best things she has ever done for
“It has been just the opposite of what I thought it was going to
be for Jesse,” she said.
“It’s been an amazing thing for him. His self-esteem has gone up,
he is more confident and his strength has improved a lot. He is also
significantly more flexible and a lot more coordinated.”
During the first few months under Vincent’s instruction, Cheryl
came to every class, in order to keep an watchful eye on her son.
However, there was a point when she figured it would be better if she
wasn’t present at the sessions.
“At first I watched, but it was hard because Jesse wouldn’t pay
attention and he wasn’t focused with me there,” she said. “But I had
to stop coming because it was too distracting having me there.
“But I really get amazed when I come to his belt tests, and that’s
when I really get a chance to watch him and what he can do. Some of
the things he can do are amazing.”
The amazing journey of earning a black belt in taekwondo is an
monumental accomplishment for Seibel. And that is what is most
special about him.