Laguna Beach dojo marks 20 years of teaching martial arts

Jeff Kash, owner and head instructor of the Laguna Beach Dojo, leads school-age students through a class. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Dojo

By Stephanie Wander
As you stroll past the Laguna Greeter, it’s not uncommon to see students off all ages clad in white and black gis (martial arts uniforms) and colorful belts on their way to the Laguna Beach Dojo. And, if one sprints up the stairs past Gina’s pizza, it might be because a dozen burpees await those who are late to class.

Jeff Kash, owner and head instructor of the Laguna Beach Dojo, is celebrating 20 years teaching in the Laguna Beach community this month. In 2020, the dojo moved to its current space above Oak Restaurant. To celebrate, Kash will host a 20th birthday party at Bluebird Park from noon to 4 p.m. on June 11. All are welcome including past, present, and interested students.

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of such a great community for 20 years. I’m proud to have had a hand in helping so many Laguna Beach kids grow and develop into amazing people through their practice in martial arts,” Kash said.

Laguna Beach High School student Kate Motherway has studied with Kash since elementary school.

“The twentieth anniversary is a celebration of all the time Master Kash has dedicated to improving his students’ lives. Training with Master Kash isn’t your normal student-teacher relationship. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for him,” Motherway said.

Stephanie Byerly, an adult student at the Dojo whose children studied under Kash remarked, “He compels respect, discipline, strength, and humor in the kids. And he got my son to say ‘yes ma’am’ when I asked him to do dishes.”

The Laguna Beach Dojo combines a 2,000-year-old martial art practice, Shaolin Kempo, with modern Karate and imparts it with a laid-back, family-friendly vibe. It’s common to hear students laughing with one another as they work on “Forms” or “Kempos,” martial arts routines that have been passed down for generations.

The curriculum focuses on self-defense, fitness, and life skills including character development.

“Character may seem like an old-fashioned notion, but it’s really about developing solid habits that help every student to become the best version of themself. Ultimately, it’s how I look at teaching martial arts too, there’s no pressure to do anything other than to try your best and improve little by little,” Kash said.

The dojo’s students range from ages three to 81. Over the course of his career, Kash has trained over 2,500 students, including 37 who have made it to Blackbelt and 10 who have earned their Second-Degree Blackbelts.

Kash attained Sixth Degree Blackbelt in 2018 at a Shaolin Temple in China after becoming a Master several years prior.

One of those Second-Degree Blackbelt students is Sensei Teague Vanderbeek who studied with Kash for nearly two decades since the age of five. After a stint as a Laguna Beach Dojo instructor, Vanderbeek is leaving this month to open his own affiliated dojo in Utah.

“One of the things I enjoy the most about his teaching is that right when I think I might have something figured out, he finds a new way to get me to think about it that helps me understand it more and challenges me even more in my training and development, but it always makes me a better martial artist and person,” Vanderbeek said.

Though it might be easy to become complacent after 20 years, Kash still challenges himself. He continues to train with his own instructor and explore other martial arts.

“Honestly, more of the challenges are mental now. I have to work to accept where my body is, be more disciplined about training to maintain what I have, and I’ve had to increase my mental practices, like meditation,” Kash said.

He’s also flexed his entrepreneurial muscle by co-creating, an online teaching platform for aspiring martial artists who can’t attend a dojo in person.

Reflecting on 20 years of studying and teaching Karate, Kash said, “Those people who complete the journey of achieving Blackbelt can’t help but overcome some significant challenges and obstacles. In committing to that and seeing it through, you learn so much about yourself, what you are capable of, and really that you can take on just about any challenge that comes at you because you’ve already dealt with it in some way on the mats.”

Stephanie is a Laguna Beach resident and current student at the Laguna Beach Dojo.

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