More than two decades ago, Maria Fournier, 24, took her first karate lesson from her father, Antonio. She was just 3 and her father’s karate studio was in its infancy. Today, 21 years later, Maria Fournier is a black belt, triple-crown champion and the family name is synonymous with karate instruction in the region. It’s a progression that Fournier couldn’t be happier about.
With her first black belt earned at age 10, Fournier became a sensei – a second degree black belt and teacher – at 18. As she pursues her third degree black belt (there are 10 degrees in all) and competes regularly, she aspires one day to take over the family business, Fournier’s Leadership Karate Centers. But even with all the accolades she has tallied, she says she likes teaching the best.
That’s not to diminish the accomplishments, which reached a new height in 2011 when she won the karate triple crown. It’s as impressive as it sounds: First place for the year in all three competition divisions – forms, weapons and fighting. Fournier faces competitors from throughout New England, and although she topped them all that year, she says it’s the friendships that make her enjoy karate “more than other sports I’ve competed in.”
Of the three components of competition, Fournier says weapons are her favorite. She specializes in nunchaku, wooden sticks connected with a chain.
“They’re an extension of the body,” she says.
Other weapons include bo, sword and kama.
Fournier competes in the female, ages 18 to 34, black belt division. In her most recent competition – worked in between moving and planning her wedding – she placed third in forms and first in weapons and fighting.
Competitions are all-age events in which black belts volunteer to judge the children’s division during the day and then compete against each other in the evening “while the kids watch,” Fournier says.
But despite her success in competition, it’s the teaching that most keeps Fournier attached to the sport.
“I love teaching more than competing,” Fournier says. “I love working with my dad.”
It was a logical choice, therefore, when she returned to Portland after she earned an economics degree at the University of Maine in 2011. Today, she teaches youngsters between the ages of 7 and 12. Fournier says she most enjoys watching kids advance through the belt ranks.
“I like seeing them go from white to black – how it affects them,” she says.
Progression through the ranks includes a scoring process that calls on input from parents and school teachers, as well as karate instructors. Children are ranked on a scale from 1 to 5 in categories that include focus, teamwork and interactions.
“We try to make sure they’re a well-rounded person,” she says. “When they walk out they are still a black belt.” And on their way to that black belt, kids truly transform, Fournier says.
“I like seeing them get better. I like it when something clicks with them,” she says. “I get so excited.”
As she embarks on a whole life – an upcoming marriage, a thriving family business, and a passion for work and competition – Maria Fournier says it herself: “You’re never not a black belt.”