Jason Gatts has a plan:

Graduate from North Carroll High School on June 10.


Turn 18 on June 18.

Enter the Marines July 3.


Then, after serving his country for four years, he says, he will open a school of self-defense.

He already gives informal lessons to fellow Marine recruits at his home -- at no charge, he says, because he isn't licensed.

"I do this because I enjoy teaching," he said. "I started to teach my friends a year and a half ago, then I started to teach anybody who was into it."

Jason has been studying martial arts since he was 6 and took karate while growing up in the Pittsburgh suburbs. He learned the "deep stances and straight-on attacks" of karate.

By 14, he was studying what is now his preferred art, the Korean tae kwon do.

He studies now with William Buckley of Upperco, at the Hampstead Fire Hall.

"It's a defensive art. We stress a lot of high kicks and kicks to the head," Jason said. "I also take jujitsu, which is Japanese. It's similar to judo, which is the sport aspect of jujitsu."

In tae kwon do, Jason wears a red belt with a black stripe and will take the test for a black belt in December.


He placed first this year in the fighting category of the national Christian Black Belt Association competition in South Carolina.

His mother, Judy Parks, credits the discipline her son has learned through martial arts for his success in school.

He maintains a B average, has been listed in Who's Who in American High School Students, and he attended Boys State last summer at the U.S. Naval Academy.

He also attended a National Youth Leadership Forum on security and defense, held at the Pentagon in February.

He agrees that the qualities he has attained through martial arts have made him a better student.

"I think it's just discipline; it helps you concentrate and have respect for elders and teachers and stuff," Jason said. "It keeps you out of trouble."


Added his mother, "They have a leader who's strict, they have to be very respectful.

"It's not just fighting, it's learning how not to fight, to keep yourself out of trouble, to pay better attention."

Jason will join the Marines as a cook, an area in which he has experience.

He and his mother live in Millers at River Valley Ranch, a Western-style Christian summer camp that also has weekend retreats year-round for churches from around the country.

Ms. Parks is a cook there and Jason has been assistant cook, though not for his mother.

He has helped prepare meals for 165.


Jason also hopes to qualify for a boxing team while in the Marines.

"In tae kwon do, we use our feet a lot. I'd like my hands to catch up with where my feet are," he said.

He has no plans to go to college, he said, because he knows what he wants, and it doesn't require a bachelor's degree.

"I think it would be a waste of time, really, because I want to open my own school of self-defense," he said.

Why not go straight into martial arts, instead of a four-year stopover in the Marines?

"I feel you should have an obligation to help your country, whether it's in the Marine Corps or any other branch of the service," he said.


"I'm not saying it because he's mine, but everybody loves this kid," Ms. Parks said.

"He's just learned that to get far in life, you have to follow the rules and try hard. I credit it with our faith in God, of course."