You’re The Best

Students Overcome Obstacles To Earn Black Belt

From left, are Holley’s Fighting Systems members Neil Flagella, first-degree black belt; Adam Kester, third-degree black belt; David Dunn, third-degree black belt; and Grandmaster Paul Holley, owner of Holley’s Fighting Systems and ninth-degree red belt. The pupils are students of the Red Dragon System of HaBushiDo Karate. Submitted photo

In addition to training its students in mixed martial arts, Holley’s Fighting Systems is also providing its pupils with physical and mental healing.

Such is the case with the Jamestown-based martial arts school’s recent round of black belt promotions for three practitioners of the Red Dragon System of HaBushiDo Karate: David Dunn, Adam Kester and Neil Flagella. With the recent elevation of Dunn and Kester to third-degree black belt and Flagella to first-degree black belt, the school — located at 85 Jones and Gifford Ave. — is recognizing the pupils for their dedication to the art as well as their perseverance in overcoming several personal obstacles to reach their newfound belt status.

“We are so proud of all of our students,” said Grandmaster Paul Holley, owner of Holley’s Fighting Systems and ninth-degree red belt. “They have great determination and a desire to learn and grow as martial artists.”

Dunn is a military veteran who was injured during an attack in Iraq more than 10 years ago and suffers from lingering post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. However, he said his studies with Holley over the past five years have helped to alleviate some of his PTSD symptoms and have given him a more positive mental attitude.

“I was stationed in Baghdad in 2004-05 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was diagnosed with PTSD during that time,” Dunn said. “Most of it comes through as depression and I have some bad dreams, insomnia and sleep apnea. There are times when I’m kind of difficult to be around, but upon starting my martial arts training with Paul I noticed that I was feeling calmer and more focused. I wasn’t getting as upset about things as I used to.”

“I also teach some of the other students at the school and that has helped me learn to better myself and better deal with people,” he continued. “I used to isolate myself from others, but teaching has forced me to overcome that and interact with others.”

Regarding his black belt promotion, Dunn said: “The biggest thing is that this process has proved to me that I’m worthwhile. I accomplished a great many things while I was in the military and got a bunch of awards, but since I’ve gotten a higher black belt and had multiple grandmasters tell me I’m doing a great job, it re-emphasizes that I’m accomplishing things outside the military as well.”

Kester has likewise experienced physical and mental benefits via his training at Holley’s Fighting Systems. In 2011, Kester was injured while fighting a fire as a volunteer member of the Panama Fire Department. As a result, he was confined to a wheelchair and, following rehab, returned to training in the martial arts and has started to assist with teaching.

Cumulatively he has been studying martial arts for almost 30 years, having begun his training as a child, and he said returning to the practice was crucial to his recovery from his injuries.

“I believe my martial arts training, which I’ve been doing since I was 6 years old, has helped me with my recovery and rehab,” he said. “The discipline (it requires) helps keep me motivated and has helped me progress to the point where I am now. (This experience has taught me to) keep a positive attitude and to not let anything hold you back from doing what you want to do.”

Dunn said his involvement with Holley’s Fighting Systems also aligns with his work at Aspire WNY in that it is administering its services to students with disabilities. He said the school currently has two students with autism.

For more information about Holley’s Fighting Systems, call 487-3296, visit or find “Holley’s Fighting Systems Martial Arts School” on Facebook.