CLAYTON — To spend time together, some couples go on walks; others watch a favorite TV show. Richard and Angela Rayburn chose something different.
For four years now, the Rayburns have been taking martial arts classes together at Parker’s Self Defense in Smithfield. Six nights a week, the couple and their 10-year-old daughter put on traditional robes, hop in their car and head to the studio.
“I keep teasing (the owner), saying if he had dormitories, I could save on housing and gas,” Richard Rayburn said.
Earlier this summer, Richard earned the title of World Champion in two sports – one in which he fights using two machetes and another in which he uses double fans, a traditional weapon. He also earned a world ranking in mixed martial arts.
During the day, Richard and his wife work as chef managers. They wake up around 4 a.m. and leave their house at 5 a.m. Angela goes to Knightdale to work at Schneider Electric; Richard heads to Quintiles in Morrisville.
They get off work between 4 and 5 p.m., have dinner as a family, and then go to Parker’s until about 9 p.m.
“For me, it’s very calming,” Richard said. “I come from the chaos of a kitchen, where everything happens at once. And then I can go on that floor, and it’s just a breath of fresh air.”
The couple has partnered with each other a couple times to do sparring.
“We all have something to look forward to, and we know how each other is doing,” Angela said. “We encourage each other and give constructive criticism.”
Their daily routine took a turn four years ago, when the Rayburns signed their daughter up for a martial arts class. After a month of watching their daughter, mom and dad signed up.
Richard had done kung fu before, but Angela was new to it.
“Before we started, I had no desire to do it,” Angela said. She said she was shy and didn’t talk to many other people at the studio. And the idea of competing never crossed her mind.
Last month, however, she entered the U.S. Open tournament and competed in two events – traditional open hand and traditional weapon. She placed third place in traditional weapon – an iron fan.
The couple is now in the black sash club, which means they’ve committed to getting their black belts, a process that takes at least four years.
If Richard stays on track, by this time next year he will be on the cusp of his black belt. Before he does, though, he’ll have to do 100 random acts of kindness and perform charity work, a requirement of all black belts. He’ll then face the six months of testing.
James Parker opened Parker’s Self Defense in 1985. He now has two studios – one in Clayton and one in Smithfield.
Richard said Parker’s approach is what drew him to the sport. “What’s unique about him – and what I really like – is the focus on giving back,” Richard said. “It’s not just about kicking and punching.”
And while he’s working toward his black belt, that’s not what matters most, Richard said. “I don’t care about the belts; as long as I’m learning, I’m happy,” he said.
When he started taking kung fu lessons, Richard was out of shape. Working as a chef manager, he had gained weight and was under a lot of stress.
“I blew up like a blimp,” he said.
He reached about 355 pounds, but in the past four years, he’s lost 70 pounds through martial arts.
“I want to keep doing this ’til I’m in a wheelchair, and then I’ll still do it,” Richard said.