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Elite Combat Martial Arts in Galax has won 45 world titles and Grand Master Dean Pyles, owner and instructor of the studio, has won 12 world titles and performed in movies.
His newest accomplishment is being inducted as into the Action Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Goodwill Ambassador.
Last month, Pyles traveled with his family and his mixed martial arts fighters to Atlantic City's Tropicana Casino & Resort, where he was presented with a sword, a ring, a trophy, a gold pendant and a patch by two of his heroes — Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Olando Rivera, both kickboxing champs.
Wilson is considered the greatest kickboxing champion in the sport's history, said Pyles.
“Being in the biggest [martial arts] hall of fame, it's a huge deal,” said Pyles, after returning home to Galax. “Over 3,000 attended, along with some action movie stars — Michael Jai White, Joe Lewis, Shonie Carter and Stephen Hayes.”
Pyles was one of 34 chosen to be inducted into this year's hall of fame. To be inducted as Goodwill Ambassador, “it takes becoming the face of martial arts and bringing something to the sport. You have to make an impact on martial arts,” said Pyles, noting that his students travel all over to compete and earn awards and titles.
Last year, Pyles was also inducted into the Action Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Outstanding Contributor to the Martial Arts. He was chosen for that spot because he designed some of the techniques used today in martial arts, he said.
Pyles has been inducted into five other prestigious martial arts halls of fame, including the Battle of Atlanta Hall of Fame and the Universal Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
Pyles, who has been involved in martial arts for 36 years, began when he was just five years old, when he saw his neighbor performing martial arts.
And when he saw the “Billy Jack” film series, he recalls trying to be just like the main character — a Vietnam War veteran, hapkido master and gunslinger.
“I loved the aspect of being able to protect myself and others, and the respect and honor that came from being a martial artist,” said Pyles. “It takes dedication, commitment and hard work. You put out a lot of sweat in this sport. It feels great to have made it this far.”
Pyles opened the martial arts studio in Galax in 1994 with his wife, Heather, a master. Pyles' students — including his two daughters, Alex, 13, and Whittany, 19 — have helped to accumulate 45 world titles for his studio.
His youngest daughter, Hylea, 7, has been named Junior Competitor of the Year for North and South Carolina and placed third in the world in fighting when she was just four.
Pyles teaches everything from strength training to cardio to fighting techniques at the studio. Pyles said the training provided at Elite Combat has an exceptional reputation, and some students drive six hours on weekends just to train at his facility — including those who own other martial arts studios.
Alex, along with several others from Elite Combat, were featured in 2008 on NBC's “America's Got Talent” show, performing martial arts stunts. Alex, who was 11 at the time, beat out more than 200,000 other talented individuals in the first round of auditions for “America's Got Talent,” and then became a semi-finalist in Los Angeles.
Since Elite's appearance on the show, Pyles' studio has become widely recognized. It has led to Pyles and his students appearing in films, such as the martial arts flick “The Warrior” with Nick Nolte. The movie, which comes out Sept. 9, features Pyles as a trainer for one of the actors.
Pyles also performs some of the stunts for the movie.
Pyles and his family will also start filming “Fighting for Family” on May 9 in Georgia, with Dean Pyles in the lead role.
A year ago, Pyles begun satellite studios in Pennsylvania and South Carolina. He then opened a 5,000-square-foot studio in Florida, and he will establish a studio in Texas this year.
Pyles will be dividing up his time between the studios in Galax, Florida and Texas.
• The Elite Combat studio is located at 306 Grant St. in Galax. For more information, call 233-4106.