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Five earn black belts through dedication

June 26, 2008

They passed the test mentality and physically, and now they have a black belt to prove it.

The five participants who emerged from Jeff Obst’s jukado self-defense training this month earned that symbol of accomplishment after years of honing their skills.

Three Kappus sisters — Caroline, 13, Kristina, 12, and Katherine, 22 — plus Brian Kucaj, 42, and Keith Marquardt, 47, represented a kind of Class of 2008 in the St. Francis Recreation Department’s ongoing program of jukado, a self-defense discipline founded by Bruce Tegner that combines the martial arts of judo, karate and aikido.

All five participants were tested on their ability to defend themselves against long-range fist attacks, stick fighting, sparring, baton attacks and other assaults — all before a panel of about a dozen instructors.

All in the family

For the three sisters from Cudahy, the fighting isn’t about sibling rivalry — it has more to do with sisterly bonding, said Steve Kappus, their father.

“It’s been a long road for them all, but it’s also been a learning experience,” said Kappus, who has another daughter — Mary, 20 — who holds a black belt as well.

Mastering the jukado practice has taught them endurance and ambition as well as to not be quitters, he added.

Kristina, a seventh-grader at Cudahy Middle School, was the youngest in the group to earn a black belt, which she had been working toward for the past eight years.

Being awarded a black belt means “to have the courage and the knowledge to defend myself in certain situations, and the self-discipline to walk away,” she said.

For Caroline, an eighth-grader at CMS, a black belt means reaching a degree of expertise.

“It has been a long hard journey,” she said. “But my journey is not done yet. It will keep going.”

Earning a black belt is a mental benchmark, as well, Caroline said, “because, after all, a black belt is not something you wear, it is the person and state of mind you become.”

For Katherine, a Cudahy High School graduate and the oldest of six children, earning a black belt means courage, endurance, patience and strength.

“For me, my black belt is one of my first great athletic accomplishments,” she said. “I look forward to expanding my knowledge and skill of this art even more, because it is only the beginning.”

Becoming role models

Kucaj, a Bay View resident, was determined to earn his black belt despite undergoing brain surgery for a benign brain tumor. Earning a black belt is a never-ending journey and a big responsibility, he said.

“As brown belts, we learn to teach as a part of our training,” he said. “Students look up to us and watch every move we make, duplicating them almost to a T. In a small way a couple of nights each week, we are role models to them and their families.”

Marquardt, a Milwaukee resident, became motivated to earn his black belt after his son, Lucas, introduced him to karate.

Being a black belt is more than just another rank in karate, he said.

“We become role models to the students and hopefully make a positive impact on their lives,” he said. “A black belt is a person you become, not a rank, and it is a responsibility that never ends.”

Expert instruction

Their instructor is a living example of that idea. Obst, a St. Francis resident and police officer, has been teaching jukado self-defense since 1973 and has been a black belt since 1974.

He earned his black belt under the Rev. Alan Sommer, who began his martial arts training while enrolled in the St. Francis Seminary.

Obst has taught the practice to students at police academies, YMCAs, school districts, Marquette University, Milwaukee Area Technical College, the Jewish Community Center and Boys and Girls Scout camps, among other venues.

A score of 90 percent is needed to earn the black belt, which is based on one’s technique, proficiency in the art and the student’s personality and attitude, according to distributed information.

Each student received a black belt and a trophy, honoring their achievement.

Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.

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