August 6, 2014- She steps onto the mat and waits patiently for her name to be called. With one hand grasping a staff and the other in her salute position, she begins to feel a quivering in her free hand. “Hopefully, no one will notice,” she thinks to herself. The cue to begin has been given and with that all her hard work comes into play as she begins to fly into her staff form.
Cassie Sterling is a 14 year old local Duluth native and a brand new freshman at Duluth High School this year. Yet behind her smiling face and pigtails, there is a story of strength and determination. No one would ever know that she has been training in martial arts for nine years. “I started on the martial arts path when I was five years old and being bullied at school,” says Sterling. “I began going to classes at a Tang Soo Do studio where I moved up through the ranks quickly even though I was often the youngest and the smallest. I earned my second degree black belt by the time I was eleven and had won numerous awards, but I knew there was more to learn. I knew that I could be even greater.”
Even though Karate was not the path she was intending, Sterling admits that it was The Karate Kid where everything seemed to “click.” “Martial arts, and specifically Kung-Fu, is not only about the physical movements. It’s something bigger, greater, and although I was still training in Tang Soo Do, I could not get Kung-Fu out of my mind.” For two years Sterling oftentimes found herself dreaming of Kung fu and wondering if she could ever get involved until a chance meeting at the Duluth Fall Festival. “I stumbled upon a booth for the Shaolin Institute and saw a kind looking, older man dressed in a yellow outfit which I immediately decided I liked, sitting at a table. Shifu took one look at me and smiled from ear to ear. It was like he knew I was supposed to meet him that day and he was excited that I was there.” A descendent of the Shaolin Temple, Shi DeRu (known as Shifu at the Shaolin Institute) began to tell Sterling and her family about Kung –Fu and his school. Eventually, Shifu invited Cassie and her family to visit the school. There, Shifu asked Sterling to show him what she had learned in Tang Soo Do. “I was so nervous!” recalls Sterling. “I chose a staff form that I was very comfortable with and although I did what I thought was a great job, Shifu shook his head and said ‘you are very good but I can help you be even better. You can do so much more than this and you have it in you.’ One look at Shifu and I knew he was right.”
As a condition of her beginning her training with Shifu, Cassie had to work on raising her grades in school first. She took the rest of the term to improve her grades which she successfully accomplished and thus began training with Shifu at the beginning of 2012. Recently Sterling went on to compete in an international Kung Fu competition in Dallas, TX where she came home with one gold, one silver, and one bronze medal . Earlier this summer, Sterling also competed in Mobile, Alabama where she brought home several first place recognitions. When asked what Sterling has learned in her short Kung Fu career so far, she responded “I have learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. I have become determined, focused, and strong. My Qi, my heart, and my mind are one. I have formed friendships that will last a lifetime and have become part of a family of teachers and students from all walks of life and from around the world. I am Kung Fu.”