LUMBERTON — One would be advised to think twice before picking a fight with Lacy Green.
The 56-year-old martial arts instructor holds a ninth-degree black belt in karate — the second highest rank possible — and has several world championship titles to his name.
In addition to being a retired staff sergeant and paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. military, he’s a two-time Marital Arts Hall of Fame inductee who was mentored by kickboxing pioneer Vic Moore — a man who sparred with such famous fighters as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
A native of Dillon, S.C., Green has been teaching karate, taekwondo, jujitsu and other styles of martial art across North Carolina and South Carolina since he was a teen. Over the past two decades, he even developed a new style with fellow martial artist Yoki Nakachi called “The Universal Elite Fighting System.”
Suffice to say, he’s got chops.
“I really got into martial arts after spending some time visiting my uncle in New York City when I was 9 years old ,” Green said. “When I was there, a great thing happened to me that was also the worst: I got jumped by a local gang that was looking for recruits.”
That gang was Brooklyn’s infamous Tomahawks club. Green told them he wanted no part of it, and ended up spending three days in the hospital as a result.
“My uncle came to visit me in the hospital and said, ‘if you’re going to stay in New York, you’ve got to learn how to fight’.”
Last month, Green opened Thunder Zone Karate, a studio located at 1390 Linkhaw Road in Lumberton. He acquired the building, which was previously home to Fins, Furs and Feathers Pet Center, in August.
“As you can imagine, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. We spent months renovating the place,” he said.
Where there were once tanks filled with tropical fish, the walls of the building are now lined with the dozens of trophies Green has collected from various martial arts competitions across the country. Over the next few months, he plans to install a full-size boxing ring and other amenities.
Before opening Thunder Zone, Green taught a series of mixed martial arts classes at Total Elite Fitness on Fayetteville Road. The classes proved popular and Green eventually decided that it was time to expand.
“We wanted to do our own thing,” he said. “The biggest reason we moved was because we needed more room.”
Thunder Zone is the second martial arts studio to open in Lumberton, following Dojo Knights on West 27th Street. Green said he doesn’t view the nearby business as competition.
“The owner, Richard Campbell, is one of my good friends. We’ve known each other for years,” he said. “I believe there’s enough students around here for both of us.”
Green’s staff of instructors includes his children, Angelica, Xzavier and Marcus — all of whom are proficient martial artists, according to their father. For the past two months, volunteer Marvin Locklear has also been teaching taekwondo at the studio.
“It’s been pretty good,” Locklear said. “Out of my 30 years of doing this, I’d say this has been my top experience.”
There are currently about 20 students enrolled at Thunder Zone, including 14-year-old Gustavo Sosa.
“Karate is a great way to learn to defend yourself and stay in shape,” said Sosa, who has been Green’s student for three years and has won several tournaments under his direction.”He’s a great teacher and has a lot of patience with students when they’re starting out.”
Lakeisha Merritt said she is also impressed with Green’s abilities as an instructor. Her two children, 8-year-old Aniya and 6-year-old Jacob, have been attending his classes since 2011.
“They are doing exceedingly well in their academics, and karate has helped them learn self-discipline and stay focused in school,” she said. “There’s a lot of bullying in schools and I think that karate gives kids the confidence to handle those kinds of confrontations.”
Todd Green said he appreciates the challenge the classes provide his 6-year old son, Logan.
“It’s not a school where you buy your belts, Lacy’s students really have to earn them,” he said. “My son loves coming here, and his behavior and grades have both improved since he started the classes.”
Thunder Zone is currently seeking sponsors for a mixed martial arts competition that is scheduled to take place on April 19 at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Center in Lumberton. The studio also hopes to establish a scholarship program that will cover the cost of lessons and equipment for underprivileged children throughout Robeson County.
Donations to the scholarship fund can be made at gofundme.com/tzkcares.
Though he already boasts an extensive list of accolades, Green said he hopes to rack up a few more.
“I’m looking for a third induction to the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, if I live that long,” he said jokingly.