Laguna Beach dojo marks 20 years of teaching martial arts

Jeff Kash, owner and head trainer of the Laguna Beach Dojo, guides 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 of all ages in white and black gis (martial arts uniforms) and brightly colored belts making their way to the Laguna Beach Dojo. And if someone sprints up the stairs past Gina’s pizza, maybe it’s because there are a dozen burpees waiting for those who are late for class.

Jeff Kash, owner and Principal Instructor of the Laguna Beach Dojo, celebrates 20 years as a teacher in the Laguna Beach community this month. In 2020 the dojo moved to its current premises above the Oak Restaurant. To celebrate, Kash is hosting a 20th Anniversary Party at Bluebird Park on June 11th from 12pm to 4pm. All are welcome, including past, current and interested students.

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

Laguna Beach High School student Kate Motherway has been studying at Kash since elementary school.

“The twentieth anniversary is a celebration of all the time Master Kash has devoted to improving the lives of his students. Training with Master Kash is not a normal student-teacher relationship. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him,” Motherway said.

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

The Laguna Beach Dojo combines a 2,000-year-old martial arts practice, Shaolin Kempo, with modern karate, giving it a relaxed, family-friendly vibe. It’s common to hear students laughing together 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 might seem like an old-fashioned term, but it’s really about developing solid habits that help each student become the best version of themselves. Ultimately, that’s how I view teaching martial arts, there’s no pressure to do anything other than do your best and improve bit by bit,” Kash said.

The students of the dojo are between three and 81 years old. Over the course of his career, Kash has coached over 2,500 students, including 37 who have progressed to black belt and 10 who have earned their second degree black belt.

Kash earned a sixth degree black belt in a Shaolin temple in China in 2018, after becoming a master a few years earlier.

One of these second degree black belt students is Sensei Teague Vanderbeek, who has studied with Kash for nearly two decades since she was five. After a stint as an instructor at the Laguna Beach Dojo, Vanderbeek is leaving this month to open his own affiliated dojo in Utah.

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

While it may be easy to get complacent after 20 years, Kash still challenges himself. He continues to train with his own instructor and research other martial arts.

“Honestly, more of the challenges are mental now. I have to work on accepting where my body is, be more disciplined in training to maintain what I have and I have had to improve my mental exercises like meditation,” Kash said.

He has also demonstrated his entrepreneurial skills by starting reachmartialartsacademy.com, an online teaching platform for aspiring martial artists who cannot attend a dojo in person.

Looking back on 20 years of studying and teaching karate, Kash said, “Those people who complete the journey to attaining black belt cannot help but overcome some significant challenges and obstacles. By embracing it and going through with it, you learn so much about yourself, what you are capable of, and really, that you can take on almost any challenge that comes your way because you’ve already dealt with it in some way or another at mats .”

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

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