Robert Valentine has noticed a difference in Ashley Wilson.
"When she first came here, she was timid and close-shelled. She had low self-esteem and low confidence," said Valentine, the owner and instructor at Southern Tang Soo Do Martial Arts Studio in Augusta.
Valentine has instructed Ashley, a North Augusta High School junior, for the past three years.
"The martial arts have made a huge change in how she looks at the world," he said. "Her personality has become funner."
Ashley said she had been interested in martial arts long before she got involved in the sport.
When she was in elementary school, she said, she took ballet at Tip, Toes and Taps in North Augusta. A karate studio was next door, and Ashley found herself dreaming of karate kicks instead of ballet.
Along with her karate classes, Ashley is a member of the Southern Tang Soo Do Martial Arts Studio's demonstration team, which performs choreographed martial arts moves at area festivals.
Ashley said her favorite part of martial arts is grappling.
"We don't get to do too much grappling," she said.
Recently, she started learning the art of fighting with a samurai sword.
"I went to the flea market and bought a cheap sword," she said. "I've been doing more and more (sword-fighting moves). It's really cool."
Ashley said she enjoys martial arts because of the benefits.
"It's great physical training and great mental training," she said. "It makes you more confident, and you learn a lot more respect."
Ashley has found that her martial arts experience can be useful in other arenas - especially as a member of her high school drama club.
"I've learned how to fall and not get hurt. That helps a lot," she said.
Ashley's biggest goal in martial arts is to earn all the belts.
"I'm trying to get my black belt before I graduate," she said.
She hopes to become be a martial arts instructor after attending college, where she will major in Spanish or education.
"I'd like to help kids in South America," she said.
Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at firstname.lastname@example.org.