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A knot tied with karate belt

At first it sounded like one of those freak-show assignments, which, in a career filled with nude hot-tub stuffing, pole sitting, pudding wrestling and worm-eating contests, one comes to expect.

It was to be a karate wedding, in a roller rink complete with a multifaceted revolving glass ball and music from The Karate Kid, Part II.

I went to gawk, or to goof as my northern friends say, and came away impressed after watching Marty and Mary Betts exchange vows in front of about 250 friends whose black and brown belts tied together probably would have stretched from New Port Richey to Brooksville.

But I left impressed with the solemnity of the event, the beauty of the ancient Japanese tea ceremony and the sure knowledge that there is a time and a place to make bad jokes, and that a wedding in a room full of emotional martial arts experts is neither.

That was three years ago.

So how did it work out?

"Great," said Marty and Mary over lunch at Ryan's Steak House in Hudson.

Mary, who was a brown belt and who competed in a contact tournament immediately before the ceremony, is now a first-degree black belt and has almost completed the requirements for second degree.

Marty, a full-time karate instructor with a T-shirt business on the side, continues to rack up state championships.

I had to ask.

"So . . . what are your fights like?"

"We really don't argue much," said Marty. "We get along very well, but I don't like to compete against her on the mat _ she's too aggressive."

Actually, a marriage that survived the Bettses' courtship was destined to succeed. Both of Mary's brothers are black belts, as are two of her nephews and other relatives.

"Meeting the family," says Marty with a slightly strained smile, "was an experience, but we all get along well."

Marty actually had proposed to Mary, over the loudspeaker, at a karate meet a year before their 1989 wedding, and friends helped them put together their unusual wedding ceremony, which was performed by karate master Richard Hunt of Orlando.

Since then the couple has built a home at River Ridge where they live with Matthew Villei, Mary's son by a prior marriage. Matthew has had an introduction to martial arts, but his primary interest right now is soccer, which he plays for Gulf High School.

Mary works as a radiological technician for Radiology Associates, and both support EPAR (Enraged People Against Rape), where they help with self-defense instruction.

"One of the things we feel in common is a need to help people and this is a way we can do it," said Mary.

Karate still occupies a significant part of their lives, "but it works out well, because we support each other and we're each interested in what the other is doing. We're very close."

"Yeah," said Marty, "sometimes it's scary. It's like she can . . ."

". . . read his mind," Mary finishes for him.

There's a marriage for you. Two people who can read each other's minds and have potentially lethal skills and are still married, alive and in love.

Who says fairy tales don't have happy endings?

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