By Darien Times on June 14, 2014

Nicole Nason went from sparring a courtroom to sparring in the dojo, and after four years of work, she has earned a black belt.

Nason’s life in Washington, D.C. was anything but ordinary. On Capitol Hill, she advised various committees, such as the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, and the secretive Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Nason, a Darien resident and mother of three, later transitioned to senior-level executive branch roles at the U.S. Customs Services and the Department of Transportation, culminating in a U.S. Senate-confirmed role running the National Highway Safety Administration.

Distinguishing herself as an accomplished Congressional lawyer and raising to the top of a government agency, Nason soon found herself in the position of student — of karate.

Shortly after she resigned from her post in D.C., her family left their Virginia home and moved to Darien. Still orienting herself with her new surroundings, she wanted to introduce her children to the local culture so she began looking for a karate program where her girls could continue what they had started in Virginia. That’s when she came across Andrew Scala at the Darien Martial Arts Academy.

The first conversation was no different than many others Scala had had over the years. A mother wanted information about a karate program for her children and was interested in learning more about the program.

Intrigued by Scala’s background, who had lived and trained in Japan for eight years, Nason enrolled her girls in his program and quickly became interested in pursuing private training for herself, Scala said. While the academy offered no adult training at the time, Scala suggested a short series of self-defense classes.

“The conversation mostly consisted of him attempting to dissuade me from pursuing private training,” Nason said with a laugh. Undeterred, Nason was convinced that she was serious about studying martial arts, learning the discipline and progressing to the coveted black belt. Scala hadn’t seen the last of Nason’s drive.

“Outside of bringing the children back and forth to their classes I really didn’t expect to see her,” Scala said, adding that her “persistence was admirable, and having convinced me the level of difficulty wouldn’t deter her, I agreed to train her.”

Like anyone else, Nason began as a white belt — one hour a day in basic kicks, punches and forms. Her children were amused and reminded her regularly that they outranked her, she said. The first year was toughest, she said. Learning what seemed like endless fundamentals she would spend her entire first year as a white belt.

After her first year, improvements were faster but belt progression was elusive, Scala said. Using Japanese principles in his program, Scala said he scrutinizes every detail. The training requires both physical and mental focus.

No stranger to a challenge and hard work, Nason was willing to dedicate the time. She advanced her training to four days per week. It wasn’t long before the entire Nason clan, including her husband, David, was a part of the academy’s program.

To achieve a black belt at the academy, Scala evaluates fundamentals, as well as the students’ ability to use their skills in a self-defense context several months before the actual black belt test is considered. Speed, power and accuracy all serve as examples validating the status of black belt, Scala said. More importantly, however, the student must develop a conviction which ultimately translates into a superior self defense IQ and competence, he said. A student cannot achieve black belt until both criteria of the mental and physical standard are satisfied.

In April, Nason became a certified martial arts instructor at the Darien Martial Arts Academy — she passed her test on the first attempt. Adding to the difficulty of her test, Nason didn’t know exactly when she would test. The only information she received was to be prepared to test each time she came in for training.

Her daughter, and student, Alex, is following in her mom’s footsteps.

“I am so proud of my mom; her dedication and focus make me want to work harder,” Alex said. Alex also spends her Saturday mornings helping her mom teach at the academy, Scala said.

As a result of her achievement and her competence as a martial artist and instructor, Scala and Nason are in the process of developing a program designed specifically for women.