Arria Graves gets a kick out of beating the girls -- and men 15-year-old wins kick-boxing debut


There's a house at 2924 Rock Rose Ave. that is kicking, and at least three days a week, 15-year-old Arria Graves is in the middle of the action.

The East Baltimore home of a city police officer, converted into Gary Best's Hapkido Karate School, is where the Walbrook High freshman goes for a unique way of cooling her temper. She engages in fierce sparring sessions with men -- some two or even three times her age.

"I go three- to four-minute rounds of competitive sparring with guys who are 23 to 42," said Graves, a professional kick-boxer who has a green belt in karate. "Usually, it's my 60 percent to their 40 percent, but sometimes I go full blast and sometimes they don't hold back. It all depends on how hard I hit them."

Graves, a sturdily built 5 feet 6 1/2 , 155 pounds, is 1-0 as a professional, having won a bloody, three-round decision over 19-year-old Melissa Martin in her Sept. 17 pro debut at the Pikesville Armory.

She turned 15 just three days ago, yet already expects her next fight in late November or early December.

Graves' weekly workout includes running four miles. Her daily routine includes three two-minute rounds of jumping rope, shadow-boxing and shadow-kicking, and doing 150 sit-ups and "regular push-ups, not the kind girls do off of your knees."

In her second year of martial arts, Graves is one of seven students of Best, a Baltimore police officer who has been involved in Hapkido and karate for 12 years.

"I met Arria in the neighborhood, just like a lot of the kids I try to help keep out of trouble," said Best, a fifth-degree black belt. "You have to know Arria's makeup; she comes from a single-parent home, and when she got into fights growing up, she only fought the boys. She was very rebellious, and this is her way of channeling it."

Graves, who has two older brothers and an older sister, said, "It's a mental discipline as well."

"If I'm angry about something, I can go and work my anger out," said Graves, a B student. "Then when I'm at school during the day, or dealing with my friends, I can be more relaxed."

Her mother, Carmen Ramos, said, "It's kind of difficult watching your daughter get out there and fight, knowing she's not going to win them all. I just try to take the fights one at a time."

Ramos said the karate training has helped Graves focus positively on other aspects of her life. Graves is involved in Walbrook's ROTC program, while pursuing her dream of a singing career as a member of a two-member group called "Attitude."

"She's mostly into En Vogue type of music, but she recently performed at an oldies-but-goodies show," said Ramos.

Graves said she had always been a tomboy when at age 12 she began working with Best.

"I played catch, a little football, climbed trees and played with worms," said Graves. "But I was also a little fighter.

"I had a very bad temper. My mom could deal with me, but she doesn't believe in beating and banging on kids. I needed more discipline, so she talked to Mr. Best and signed me up."

Ramos said, "I mostly signed her up and got her motivated," but Graves didn't need much of that after her first session.

"When I got into karate, being big for my age, I had to fight with the boys," said Graves. "I wasn't supposed to be hitting them in the face, but I was kicking them in the face, knocking them down and almost knocking their heads off."

After a year and two months, Graves' ferocity was simply too overwhelming for her opponents.

"I told Gary I needed something more physical," she said. "I'm a girl, but I have the strength of a guy."

That didn't make her pro debut any easier against Martin, who said in a televised interview before the bout: "I'm not scared of [Graves]. There's nothing she can do that any other girl hasn't tried."

Martin entered the matchup with three knockouts in as many fights, but that information was withheld from Graves until just before the combatants entered the ring.

Graves said the two competitors spent the first minute of the fight circling and "trying to figure out each other's style."

"But with a minute to go, I gave her a right-side kick to the face, then a left jab and a hook-right hand that broke her nose," said Graves. "I think the right hand is what did it, because when I knocked her mouthpiece out with 10 seconds to go, I could see that her nose was busted pretty badly."

Graves pressed more in the second round. She used her weight advantage to bull Martin into the ropes, and bludgeoned Martin with "uppercuts to the ribs and hook-jabs to the face." Graves covered up well, taking only an occasional punch to the face while receiving several kicks to the legs.

"I got in my hits in the third round," said Graves. "But then I got winded, and she came after me and went for what she knew. She hit me three times in the face and once in the temple, but I backed her into the corner for the last 10 seconds."

After the decision was announced, the fighters had displayed their mutual respect with a post-fight hug.

"There were no bad feelings toward each other, but you could tell she didn't like losing to a first-time fighter," said Graves. "And the look we gave each other was like, 'There's gonna be a rematch.' "

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