Self-discipline and grit: Laguna Beach Dojo Master Jeff Kash marks 20 years teaching karate

There may not be a singular way to measure the impact of a teacher, but when students return, that serves as a fair indicator of past and present success.

Two decades after he started instruction at Laguna Beach Dojo, Master Jeff Kash continues to see students — young and old — walk through the doors and onto the mats.

Kash, 46, who recently achieved the level of sixth-degree black belt, teaches Shaolin Kempo karate, a style that studies the ways of five animals — the crane, tiger, snake, leopard and dragon. As a mythical creature, Kash said the dragon is the most adaptable, and he has tried to be that with new groups of students.

“I try to teach the kids discipline, respect, focus, follow through — all those things — in a fun way,” Kash said. “I want it to be something that they want to come to class for.

“Old-school style is very strict, very disciplined, and while I respect it, and at times, I think there’s a time and place for it, I think in today’s world, we’re not in the same environment anymore, and so there’s got to be a new approach to how we teach those things.”

Master Jeff Kash works with student Loki Mansukhani at the Laguna Beach Dojo.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In celebration of his 20th anniversary of instruction, some current students at Laguna Beach Dojo have planned to mark Kash’s milestone with a party at Bluebird Park, 772 Cress St., on Saturday, June 11 from noon to 4 pm Kash hopes many alumni will attend .

What has made his work especially meaningful to him are the relationships he has formed and the life lessons he has taught, even with the students he thought he could never get through to.

Kash, a Costa Mesa resident, reminisced about one former student who he said played the part of the class clown particularly well.

Aside from a disproportionate assignment of pushups and burpees, Kash said that when the student’s training sessions were over, he was unsure if he had taught him anything, but he was “floored” when the student came back and mentioned to him that he continues to use martial arts by metaphorically getting into a fighting position whenever an everyday challenge presents itself.

The training likely will not apply to the same set of challenges for most students, but Kash is certain that the lessons learned on the mat prove vital in real-world situations.

Master Jeff Kash stands next to a collection of swords in his Laguna Beach Dojo studio in Laguna Beach.

Master Jeff Kash stands next to a collection of swords in his Laguna Beach Dojo studio in Laguna Beach.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Self-discipline, consistency, grit in the face of adversity, those are things that can be learned, and that’s what we teach and develop here,” Kash said. “Those are the life skills aspects that we try to instill in all of our students, and our goal is to help everyone achieve black belt.

“Not everyone does. Obviously, it’s a very small percentage that actually make it all the way through, but in that journey, you can’t help but overcome just a myriad of different challenges.”

Loki Mansukhani, 17, who just completed his junior year at Sage Hill School, has been taking classes with Kash since he was 5. Down the line, he became equipped with the skills to teach, which has lent opportunities to gain new perspective.

Mansukhani, himself a black belt, has led some classes at the dojo, and he said he will be serving as a counselor at a summer camp.

Master Jeff Kash, a sixth-degree black belt, left, stands with star student Loki Mansukhani.

Master Jeff Kash, a sixth-degree black belt, left, stands with star student Loki Mansukhani.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I think that being in a dojo is more than just learning to protect yourself,” Mansukhani said. “You learn that, obviously, that’s what the class is for and such, but you build these vital relationships with people. There’s a level of respect that you kind of learn by being here, even with little things like calling people sir and ma’am and that kind of thing. You kind of learn the basic manners.

“I really think that’s been important in developing who I am, just as someone who’s respectful and does things with a purpose. This has served as more than just wanting to defend myself but also molding me into a person that’s a good person.”

Lisa Vanderbeek has a son named Teague who is now in the process of opening his own martial arts studio in St. George, Utah. Kash, then operating under the title of sensei, taught Teague beginning in 2002 for roughly 10 years.

They then worked together for some time, and in 2019, Kash was a groomsman in Teague’s wedding. Teague is now a second-degree sensei.

“Master Kash was always a positive influence on our son and continues to be so,” Vanderbeek said.

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