More than 30 local Tae Kwon Do black belts gathered in Nelson last week to take part in a special instructors course.
The event was organized by Dean Siminoff, senior instructor of Kootenay Christian Martial Arts. Born and raised in Nelson, Siminoff has been running the school for the past 13 years.
There are four dojos in the area, including Nelson, Castlegar, the Junction and Balfour, consisting of about 185 students.
“All our black belts in the school, even though they’ve passed to black belt level, we go the additional step and give them extra training to be good instructors,” he explained.
Along with local participants, students from Turner Valley, Alberta and Swift Current, Saskatchewan — both sister schools — came to Nelson to participate in the training.
While it is rare to have this many students take the course, Siminoff said it is more rare to see a school like this continue to be successful.
“It’s rare in most communities to even have a martial arts school that consistently keeps its doors open for 13 years. A lot of them come and go, people move and so our longevity speaks a lot.”
And because the local group has been around for more than a decade, and retained a large portion of its students, those students have managed to graduate to higher and higher levels.
“After this weekend, our total testing was 23 black belts, 15 first degree, seven second degree and one fourth degree. But since I opened the doors of the school, I have promoted over 70 black belts.”
Siminoff said the students can range in age from under 10 to retirees.
“The curriculum is friendly for any age. We modify it for younger and older, but its the same curriculum.”
The instructor training is in addition to the normal routine.
“It’s one thing to be a student, it’s another thing to actually teach it. This course goes into the depth and philosophy behind the teaching… we don’t just have average black belts, we have good instructors,” explained Siminoff.
In order to ensure that his students get the best training possible, Siminoff brought in a special instructor from Florida to run the course. He does it every year so his students know they are being tested by the best.
“I put everything back into the school, so we invest a lot into it,” said Siminoff.
Grand Master Mark Begley, a seventh degree black belt, flew in for the weekend in order to teach the local students. He is a big believer in learning, saying it never stops until death.
“I’m here to witness the black belt graduation and encourage the students and help them move forward,” he said.
And to test and teach them.
Begley said he has taught dozens upon dozens of courses across North America and the students span various age groups.
“The average age to start a child is usually around five, there have been exceptions, even down to three or four. Their brains are like sponges at that time. But you are also never too old.”
He said he’s had students as young as six testing for black belts and as old as their 80s.
“We have a master in Florida right now and she is 85 and still going,” he said.
Begley said it was his family that attracted him to Tae Kwon Do. His sister is a grand master as well. But what kept him doing it was knowledge.
“It’s a non-stop learning process. There’s always something new. You are always moving forward. It keeps it exciting and never boring. There’s always something new to learn.”
For more information on the local group, visit kootenaymartialarts.com.