Jace Himes, nearly a month removed from earning seven gold medals at the 2019 World Martial Arts Games in London, calmly reflects on his time in martial arts and remembers how it started.
When he was 6 years old and just beginning, he saw a trophy.
“I’m walking in to the dojo for one of the first times ever and I see this trophy, probably 5- or 6-feet tall, and I remember thinking, ‘I want to win that trophy,’” Himes said. “It was all about wanting to get that trophy — wanting to get something to show what I did and the work I put into it.”
In other words, Himes says, it was about winning.
Himes, now 13, is heading into a bit of an offseason until February 2020. He’s happy, of course, to have won seven medals — five gold, one silver and one bronze — to bring his cumulative total to 16 while competing for Team USA, which recruited him to join the team. In 2017, at 11, he competed in the World Martial Arts Games in Orlando, Florida, and earned two gold, five silver and two bronze medals.
Since starting martial arts, he has traveled to various competitions around the country and gained valuable experience. Typically, he does around seven to eight competitions — they can total as many as 14 — a year, according to his father, Brett Himes.
He gained his black belt on May 21, 2016.
Jace has certainly done plenty of winning in his career, but he says it’s not about winning anymore — and that’s been the greatest change for him personally since he was five years old and inspired to enter the martial arts world after watching “The Karate Kid” starring Jaden Smith.
“With winning now, it’s something I enjoy doing, but it’s not at the top of my list,” Himes says, searching for a way to explain his competitor’s mindset. “I’m there to compete and let the judges see what I do so I know where I can improve. My whole goal isn’t to win — it’s to compete with the other kids and give them a harder time than an easy walk.”
This year’s games were held from Oct. 25-27, but Himes arrived in London earlier with his parents as Team USA had to be there Oct. 20. On Oct. 25, Himes competed in three kata — or forms — competitions and two weapons. On Oct. 27, he competed in sparring as one of over a hundred athletes from around the country on Team USA.
Through the competition, Himes — according to his father’s recounting of the trip — conducted himself well as judges, parents and opposing teams routinely complimented him. A total of 22 teams from around the world were represented at the games, and around 300-400 competitors were in attendance. Most of the compliments were about his demeanor, his attitude and his “black belt control.”
“That means if he needs to exert more to get his point across, he can, but if he needs to do only what it takes to meet the demands of a fight, then he does,” Brett says. “The judges are looking for how you control yourself when somebody hits you after they say ‘Stop.’ How you present yourself, how you gather yourself, how you respect the rank.”
In the past few weeks, the black-belt fighter has certainly demonstrated control as his accomplishments have been celebrated around the city. He had a sit-down at Enterprise City Hall with Enterprise Mayor Bill Cooper in recent days and explained his trip — what he enjoyed most about the experience and about London.
Last Tuesday, Himes was invited before the Enterprise City Council and received a certificate of achievement in recognition of his medals.
“It’s not very often that we have a young man or young lady to go international and do the things this young man has done,” Cooper said at that meeting, adding that Jace was being recognized for his outstanding ability and skill. “Continue doing what you’re doing. You have really paved the way for a lot of young men and young women to continue in martial arts.”
Himes, next to his family, accepted his certificate with a, “Thank you, sir.” As he stood before the crowd, he didn’t fidget and he didn’t run from the cameras. He seemed, in a word, calm.
It’s what you might call black belt control.
As far as the competition itself, Himes says he enjoyed getting to compete and to see London.
“I met some competitors that were pretty cool,” he says. “I had a lot of respect for the kids that were fighting up in (belt) divisions. My favorite part of being over there, though, was probably seeing the cultural differences. It’s kind of similar, but in its own way it’s kind of separate. Like a day-to-day soda is different in the way it tastes. Like their McDonald’s and the way people dress — it’s simple stuff like that. Simple, but different, and I liked seeing that.”
“It’s a different world over there,” his mother, Sherry, says. “We did the crash course of touring. We had a week, but because there was so much going on we only got to spend a couple of days of quick touring. It was neat, and it was interesting.”
She adds that Jace’s career — his parents say they officially call it a career now — has afforded him several opportunities in many places.
“(They come with) how far he’s gone and how hard he’s worked,” she says.
“His career has really caused us to be able to ruin the mileage on vehicles very quickly,” Brett jokes. “Because of his opportunities and the way he works, we’ve been across the street from the Trump Plaza, to Chicago, all up and down the East Coast and now international.”
To stay in shape, Himes always practices and enjoys playing football, baseball and basketball. Last year, he ran cross-country and track.
He says martial arts have helped him be more self-aware in other areas of his life, and the plan is to continue the journey. He’s focused on getting better, not trophies.
“It’s just a part of my life now,” he says. “Moving forward, I’m still going to continue to get better. That’s the only thing you can do unless you just stop.”
Jace trains at Conley’s Keichu-Do in Enterprise.