BAKERSVILLE – Richie Jarrett walks into the Bakersville Fire Department, flips on the lights and lays out padded mats. Several young people dressed in martial arts attire walk through the door and each one is greeted with a bow.
It’s the first night in a new dojo for Jarrett and his martial arts class, which meets every Tuesday night. The new dojo – located at the Bakersville Fire Department – is different and exciting for the students, who had grown accustomed to meeting at Dick’s Carpets and Interiors.
Jarrett takes time to explain the rules of the new dojo – respecting the space and thanking the Bakersville Fire Department for its generosity are at the top of his list.
That’s because for Jarrett, practicing martial arts is about more than just combat.
“Teaching kids is the best part of it,” Jarrett said. “Other than being saved and my family, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Jarrett has been practicing martial arts for nearly 40 years. His range of experiences led him to develop his own martial arts discipline called Yama Dashiete, which is a blend of martial arts unique to the Appalachian region. Yama Dashiete was accepted and recognized by the World Head of Family Sokeship Council in 2019 and now, Jarrett passes on what he knows to his students.
Jarrett, who is a fourth-degree Kenpo and a first-degree Shito-Ryu, said he loves molding the students in Mitchell County. Under him, he has 13 blackbelts and a handful of young, highly decorated martial artists who help his students spar and offer one-on-one instruction.
“People take it for granted that we are here,” Jarrett said. “There are some other classes around the area, but we feel like we’re the only class on the Bakersville end. A lot of people have come through here and a lot of them have stuck with it.”
Typically, Jarrett’s classes feature 15-20 students each week. Seeing the young, eager learners sometimes conjures up memories of when he started practicing martial arts, Jarrett said.
He earned his blackbelt under another local martial arts instructor and longtime friend, Rick Sparks.
Sparks, a fifth degree black belt in both Shito-Ryu and Kenpo Style, trained Jarrett to the point of earning his blackbelt – his first pupil to earn the honor.
After Jarrett’s promotion, Sparks invited Jarrett into his practice as an instructor. What was once Sparks Self Defense officially became Sparks-Jarrett Self Defense.
Sparks-Jarrett operated out of several locations in Mitchell for more than 30 years. Recently, the two split their teaching, with Jarrett teaching weekly at his dojo in Bakersville and Sparks teaching private weekly lessons on Thursdays in the Altapass area.
Although they now teach separately, the two are still close and regularly consult each other and share ideas.
Jarrett recalls fond memories of working with Sparks as a young martial artist and said many of his philosophies and tendencies are a direct result of his teachings.
“I spent every weekend with him,” Jarrett recalls. “I traveled all over with him and he always paid for everything. He’s super. When I got out of line, he would whoop my butt.”
Sparks has about 10 regular students he works with, but added the number fluctuates based on the time of year. He has a few students who, within the next couple of weeks, are expected to be promoted to blackbelt.
Sparks said whether martial arts students in Mitchell County are taught by himself or Jarrett, his longtime and former partner, they’re getting similar lessons, which are based around becoming a good person first, and a good fighter second.
“It’s not all about punching and kicking,” Sparks said. “That’s a minor part of it. We’ve really had success molding a lot of lives. There’s nothing any better other than martial arts training other than teaching kids about the Lord. It builds respect and that’s what we try to teach – the first things are respect and discipline.”