CLEARWATER — Rev. Dr. Bryant Keith Harrell Sr. is a minister who also holds a 9th degree red belt in Japanese and Korean karate. An enthusiast of this centuries old martial arts form since the age of five, he has taken his years of experience and knowledge to develop programs that not only teaches the moves and punches, but also incorporates a philosophy of positive thinking and healthy living.
Presently, he is a sensei (master instructor) at High Point Neighborhood Family Center, 5812 150th Ave. N in Clearwater. Called the High Point Pouncers, there are 60 children ranging in age from 5-12. They are taught katas, which is a Japanese word describing detailed patterns of movements practiced solo or in pairs, hand and eye coordination and self-control.
“It’s also about character building, self-worth and community appreciation,” Harrell said. “It’s bigger than kicking and punching.”
He is a mentor to the kids emphasizing that schoolwork comes first, even reviewing their report cards. He uses part of their practice sessions to include the study of the body structure, organs, introductions to different cultures and even conversational Japanese and Korean.
At age 12, Harrell received a black belt in Hapkido from Grandmaster Joseph Harrell. At age 21, Harrell became the youngest master in The Jade Dragons, a worldwide organization. In 1996 he became a Senior Master Obi 8th dan in Japanese Zen Nippon Karate Do. He received senior master rank from Grand Master Peter Pernagani and Sifu Karen Schalacter in Sun Moon Fist kung fu.
Harrell graduated from Liberty Baptist Bible College in Statesville, N.C., and then obtained his doctorate from the Shinja University in Sarasota for Martial Arts Sciences, along with a promotion to 9th degree black belt.
A former U.S. Naval Special Force member of November Company, an anti-terrorist group based in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1988 he formed and trained the first and only Naval-sponsored martial arts team in sports karate, the USS Kitty Hawk Fighting Team. He was the team president and founder of the World Hapkido Alliance and the US Military Combative Order.
He’s now the pastor and founder of Fists of Faith Ministries, which has an outreach ministry called the Worship Warriors that reaches out to the youth of the community. For his work in the community, he was awarded the Pinellas County Sheriff Department Community Award and was inducted into the World Christian Martial Arts Hall of Fame, in recognition for his dedication to the youth.
It’s been a long road to becoming a 9th degree red belt and Harrell credits three people for paving the way. His uncle Joe, who is a Vietnam vet and his first sensei, introduced him to the sport. Karen Schalacter for encouraging him to continue to be the best teacher and student and to never give up and head dean and founder of Shinja University Dr. John Enge, who he credits for “pulling the gift out of him” and for helping to get him established.
The one person who has been by his side for more than 25 years is his wife Leotte-Keiva. They are both ministers at The Worship Center in Pinellas Park, under Apostle Dan Bolin.
“She encourages me to do what I love to do,” he said.
Leotte-Keiva has a 2nd degree black belt in karate and is the director and senior instructor of the Women and Self Preservation karate Program (W.A.S.P.). This busy lady is a full-time pre-k teacher, professional singer/actor and is proud of the work her husband does with the kids.
“I can see the change in their self-esteem and self-worth,” she stated.
“God gives each of us a talent,” Harrell stated. “It’s not where you are, but where you’re going and how you handle yourself when you get there.”
Each class is ended with positive affirmations: “I am a champion. I am a winner.”