Jaiden Noblezada discovered martial arts while flipping through channels on the television set a few years ago.

“A Bruce Lee movie was on and I said to my dad, ‘I want to do that,’” Jaiden, 12, said Saturday.

He began taking martial arts classes then – about five years ago – but recently discovered Lake Norman Muay Thai and has become proficient enough in a few months to be part of a quartet of owner J.T. Smith’s students to head to a competition this weekend.

Jaiden, Omar Raza, 11, Manny Walden, 10, and Ronnie Stewart – the old pro at 40 – are going to participate in a Muay Thai/kickboxing tournament in New Bern this weekend.

This will be the fifth fight for Jaiden and the second for Manny but it’s a first for Stewart and Omar.

Stewart is not new to martial arts. He’s been taking part in some form of martial arts for two decades.

“I got into martial arts when I was a kid because I was being bullied,” he said. Stewart gained more than the skills to defend himself. He gained confidence and that led to a lifetime of love for martial arts.

He and Smith are long-time friends and when Smith opened Lake Norman Muay Thai Stewart came on board to train.

Stewart said he’s now taking part in Muay Thai as a means of physical fitness. He attends the training sessions with his son and it’s a bonding exercise for both.

He said he’s excited to be taking part in his first fight.

Despite his young age, Jaiden is the veteran of the fight circuit. He took part in a tournament in Winston-Salem and can give a blow-by-blow description of his fights. He lost a couple but came out the winner on one fight.

He said he still looks at Bruce Lee as a mentor in the sport.

Manny will be taking part in his second fight in a sport he’s been working at for more than a year. He found Muay Thai offered him something other sports couldn’t. “I couldn’t find any sports I loved,” he said. “I like Muay Thai. I started it and I love it,” he said.

Like Stewart, Omar is traveling for his first fight. He discovered Muay Thai through Jaiden and started four months ago. He caught onto the sport right away and is now preparing to represent Lake Norman Muay Thai. “I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I’m a little nervous. I hope I can win.”

Smith said he believes his quartet of students stand a great chance of winning at the tournament. It will be a tough competition, he said, featuring Muay Thai students from all over the state.   

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