DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — On a hot summer evening, class is in session at the Lake Region Budokan in Devils Lake.
It's a mixed-age group. Tanner Zander is technically a student, but serves as a teacher as well.
"Tanner taught a lot of kids you don't have to be the best. As long as you keep at it, you become the best," said instructor Rick Senger.
The 25-year-old recently got his black belt. It took nearly six years — two years longer than the average student — to earn the last of the 10 belts in the sport.
"He's persistent. He would watch me demonstrate stuff, and he would pick it up," Senger said. "Gotta hand it to someone who doesn't hear what you are doing."
Those demonstrations were the only way Tanner could learn and succeed, because Tanner is deaf.
"I was very proud of him, it was one step at a time, but we did it," said Tanner's mom, Deanna Zander.
It's believed he is just the second deaf person in North Dakota to obtain his black belt.
"He just kept continuing and going and going; it was his goal to get his black belt," Deanna said.
Tanner has a container full of boards to remind him of his progress over the years — a container of motivation on those days when he felt like giving up.
"I said 'You are going — we are going — to try, try hard. All you can do is the best you can do,'" Deanna said.
Teaching Tanner has even given Senger, who has been an instructor for 50 years, a new teaching technique.
"One night I had all the kids put plugs in their ears, then I said 'This is what it is like for Tanner,'" recalled Senger. "Just because you can't do one thing, doesn't mean you can't do things."
Deanna is proud of her son's never-give-up attitude.
"If we don't succeed the first time, we keep trying again and again," said Deanna.