On the first day of April in 1999, Sensei Don Roe opened the doors at Kenpo Karate. Twenty years later, he continues to run the school at its original location below Smitty’s restaurant on Comox Avenue.
“When I first came out here, there were quite a few schools teaching here, plus people at rec centres, but there was nobody in Comox,” Roe said. “I specialize in private instruction, and we emphasize self-defence, not sport karate.”
That said, the school has fared well at major tournaments such as the Tiger Balm Internationals. Over the years, students who have trained under Roe have won 98 gold medals, 93 silvers, 66 bronze medals, and 11 grand championship trophies. Two of his students won gold medals at world championships.
Roe — who didn’t pick up martial arts until age 29 — has qualified numerous times for the Canadian international team. He holds numerous belts: a sixth degree black belt in kenpo, a second degree black belt in pankration, a first degree black belt in submission arts wrestling and a blue belt in Brazilian jujitsu. He also has more than 15 years experience in kickboxing.
He works one-on-one with students, whose ages range from eight to 66 years. Some live out-of-town. He makes a point of working around his students’ lifestyles, not vice-versa.
“Not everybody works nine to five Monday to Friday,” Roe said. “It takes up a lot of my time, but I love what I do. It started out as a hobby, now it’s a way of life.”
With his competitive days behind him, Roe now serves as a centre judge at the Coastal Martial Arts Open in Port Alberni.
But teaching remains his favourite aspect of martial arts.
“I tell a lot of my students when they’re struggling with a technique, or a weapons form, ‘If I can do this, anybody can do this. Have patience with yourself’.”
The most rewarding moments happen when students are promoted to their next belt, be it yellow, orange, brown or black.
“That’s the best gratification I get. The surprise and smile on their face when they’ve achieved their next belt…You’re going forward.”
The dojo is located at 1747 A Comox Ave.