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MEET THE BLACK BELTS AT Z-ULTIMATE- LONG BEACH

By John Grossi

Photo by Monique Kuhlman


Who becomes a Black Belt? What type of person thrives in the practice of martial arts? That’s what we set out to find by interviewing eight Black Belts at Z-Ultimate, a highly popular dojo in Long Beach. Our interviews revealed that Kempo Karate is truly for anyone - anyone, that is, with the motivation to join a community and prove something extraordinary to themselves!



James Cabral, 24 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate?

It was sort of two reasons. I loved Dragon Ball Z as a kid, and I had a small incident with some bullying. My parents encouraged me to join here to gain confidence and build strength.

What about Martial Arts clicked?

The calming environment is what clicked for me. I was just immediately comfortable with the friendly people and environment. This quickly became my home away from home. No matter what else was going on, I could calm myself in this studio.

What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

Even though it’s an individual activity, becoming a Black Belt most helped me to communicate with others and become much more social. I was very introverted when I was younger. Training here and eventually becoming an instructor made it easier for me to become more friendly and talkative even outside the studio.

Daniel Timberlake, 21 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate?

My parents were trying to get me to do team sports which were not my thing. But when I tried martial arts, it was a really good fit.


What about Martial Arts clicked?

It was the sense of community I felt. I made a lot of friends here. Z-Ultimate is very group-oriented, which I find unique for an individual sport. There’s a combination of group and personal training. You’re training alone to focus but you’re training with others too and that’s reassuring.


What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

Getting to my Black Belt was a big confidence booster. Even today I’m still an anxious person, but when I was a kid I was very, very anxious. Getting to Black Belt and then 2nd degree Black Belt has helped to prove my self-worth.

Peter Garry, 26 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate?

I joined when I was in 8th grade because I had a friend here at the studio and I thought it sounded really fun.


What about Martial Arts clicked?

When you start, it’s so cool. In a way it was kind of like being in an action movie. You’re learning all these new techniques with cool exotic names. Then you become part of this community and that’s what brings you back.


What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

Being a Black Belt has given me a degree of confidence about myself. Both in being able to defend myself if I ever needed to, and just knowing that once I set my mind to something I was able to achieve it.


Aubrey Jamison, 16 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate and what clicked?

My parents put me in when I was six years old, and I loved it. I like how physically in tune with your mind it makes you. You sync part of your personality to just focus on how you move, physically. I also like that I got to add my own touches to the curriculum, and I got to express myself through martial arts. I’ve always been really into physical performance and the art of moving your body and how intricate your movements can be.


What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

Knowing how far I can push myself physically and mentally has also helped me achieve things outside of the studio. For example, when I picked up Marching Band just two years ago. I wasn’t that great at music when I started, but since then I’ve been able to progress to a higher leadership spot. I’ve become the captain of part of the percussion group. I think part of how I got there was because I was able to see how far I could push myself [at Z-Ultimate].

Emily Timberlake, 19 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate?

I started technically when I was really young, but I quit at Yellow Belt. And then I returned a few years later because I really wanted to get back into it. And eventually became a Black Belt.

What about Martial Arts clicked?

I think, weirdly enough, even though it’s a very individualized sport, it still feels very much like a family. I feel very connected to the students, the senseis, and my fellow classmates. It’s just always been a welcoming environment that I liked being a part of.

What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

I’ve had the opportunity to look up to senseis, who have become my role models. Sensei LaDarius I’ve known since I was little. He has always been so light-hearted but can also engage people. He has always encouraged me to be the best version of myself.


Gazwan Kahwaji, 16 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate and what clicked?

My parents put me in when I was 6 years old. I loved the community at Z-Ultimate. It really is a family. Everyone’s really supportive but when work needs to get done, we get serious.


What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

It has taught me discipline and to challenge myself. When I finally got to Black Belt I felt so accomplished and then just had a hunger to learn more and see how much I can push myself.

Madelynn Dodds, 24 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate and what clicked?

I started when I was 7 years old. The overall confidence it gave me is what I liked the most. It’s done wonders for my mental health. And the people are what kept me coming back. It is warm here and very friendly. If I don’t come to class for a couple of weeks people definitely notice and ask me where I’ve been.


What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

I started here when I was 7 and now I’m 24. I’ve grown so much in every area of my life here. It’s by far the best atmosphere here out of any extracurricular activity I’ve ever tried.


Elijah Williams, 17 years-old

Why did you join Z-Ultimate?

Growing up I loved martial arts. I actually asked my mom if I could join this dojo when I was 12 because I heard about it from a friend.


Why did you join Z-Ultimate?

I immediately loved it. The people push you, but not too much. They push you just to what your limit can go. Then next time, they push you just a little bit higher.

What do you think becoming a Black Belt has done for you?

I’ve gotten so many friends here because the people here understand your goals and want to help you get to the next level. Training here is sort of like a group effort.

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