“I told her I hadn’t had all that good an experience with women in martial arts classes,” he said. “I’d never had one to finish and some might stay in it long enough to earn a blue belt — which is about half way. They wouldn’t want to really train and get hit.
“In martial arts, it’s like when they say you can’t make an omelet if you don’t break an egg.”
He said those words did not deter Garrison, who simply told him she’d eventually become his first female student to earn a black belt.
The martial arts instructor said she kept her word, despite earning a college degree, starting a career, having two children and dealing with her own and the illness of family members.
She also earned his deep respect on the way to earning that black belt over the next 11 years.
“I’m not a belt factory,” he added. “I don’t give them away.”
Dobson said he finally retired from teaching martial arts earlier this summer, going out with Garrison, and catching his first teaching break since he began sharing his knowledge with others about martial arts in 1968.
“To be honest, if I could get four or five Tara Garrisons, I’d start teaching again,” Dobson said. “The student makes all the difference in the world in martial arts. If you don’t have the right attitude, you won’t hang in there.”
He said Garrison had such a tenacity that he considered her more like a certain battery that portrays itself in ads as never quitting. “She’s like an Ever Ready.”
Garrison is equally proud of earning that belt and she laughed about her 2001 pledge to become Dobson’s first female student to earn one.
“I wanted to take the course for self-defense,” she recalled. “I was attending Kennesaw State and taking classes at night. I wanted to feel safer.”
A lot has happened in her life since she started the course, including earning in the neighborhood of nine belts along the way. She was graduated from Kennesaw State and had two children, a daughter who is 6 and a son who is 4, with her husband, Rodney.
“We had one class a week and I tested for one of my belts while I was pregnant,” she recalled.
She added she kept taking the class through both of her pregnancies and it remained a constant in her life even when she began working full time — Garrison is the office manager at Matthews Garage, off Pinson Drive.
The classes started at the Hamilton Crossing gym but later moved to Dobson’s home, then in the Cassville area, and followed him later to his home in Floyd County, when he moved there. In addition to teaching, Dobson also worked with the Georgia State Patrol 29 years, including working out of a Cartersville office.
Garrison said she was always able to find time for the classes, and they have always been a small part of her children’s lives, too. “They knew Tuesday night’s mama was at karate,” she laughed.
The black belt student said she even took a class on a Saturday in 2005 and her daughter was born the following Tuesday.
Garrison said her desire to feel safer has also been a constant during those years, too.
“It’s for my own benefit,” she said. “If I were to be here at night, I’d feel the extra protection to take care of myself.”
She said she has no plans to compete in the sport, but did not rule out one day teaching it “later on, when I have more time.”
Garrison added she took martial arts for herself but always received encouragement from her late father.
“My dad passed away in September,” she said. “I wish he could have been here when I got my black belt.”
She said the encouragement was in different forms.
“He’d give me a hard time, say you’re getting too old, what are you doing taking the class,” she recalled. “But he always knew where I was going.”
Garrison said she takes a lot of pride in what she’s accomplished.
“I can walk out there with my head held high,” she said. “It was always on my bucket list and it’s one thing I can mark off.”