My first Kenpo lesson was in September 1996, with Mr. Jace Waite at the American Kenpo Karate Academy in Tucson, Arizona. I was fourteen years old and of course I had no idea where that lesson would lead, but I knew immediately that this was something that I needed in my life.
I started lessons after my older sister had been training for a little over a year. She was struggling (a lot like me), and my parents saw how kenpo helped her build confidence, self-esteem and ability in social situations. American Kenpo Karate Academy at that time had a deal where a student could refer a friend for five free lessons, and my sister gave me one. The rest is pretty much history. The training, the relationship with my instructors and fellow students, the pain and accomplishment became nothing less than a positive addiction. This addiction was fueled by the fact that the Karate school was where I felt the most empowered and respected, something that was missing from most of my childhood.
I attended classes 5 days a week, showed up early and stayed late to just soak in a few more minutes of “that” feeling. In 1998 I tested for my first degree black belt (after a very quick courtship with kenpo), and again for second degree in 2001. During that time I was a full time student in College and worked part time, but Kenpo was always my passion. I experienced what most people experience with martial arts training (though maybe at a more intense level than people who didn’t approach is as obsessively). It starts with watching and becoming more confident when you see simple physical skills improve. Seeing those small improvements week after week gave me confidence that I could affect positive change on other aspects of my life. This confidence lead me to more passionately pursue my scholastic studies and music. It’s the secret to martial arts confidence, and it worked as well for me as it does for students every day all over the world. It also helped that I found the right teacher, at the right time. That process of iterative failure until you succeed only works with mentors who are willing to let you fail. It also served due to the fact that my childhood was difficult and painful, it was hard for me to accept correction with out feeling worthless.
We’ve all had that one coach or teacher (in some unlucky situations, it’s a parent) who expect perfection the first time. In Mr. Waite’s school, I was allowed to be awful until I wasn’t awful…He accepted exactly where I was in my training constantly and positively nudging me toward the next step, the next hurdle to overcome. I was incredibly lucky to have a teacher that was willing to celebrate even the small shifts from struggling to keeping up, to kinda getting it, all the way to not bad at all. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the patience and nurturing that kept me in the martial arts even when it was overwhelmingly hard, even terrifying in moments just to show up. The same year I tested for second degree Black Belt, Shawn Knight opened a school in Tucson. He had quite the reputation already as the youngest school owner in AKKA and had run schools and owned them before, but this was the first school that he built from the ground up. I didn’t know about it at the time, but this would change my entire world just twelve months later.
After my 2nd Degree test I took some time off from training due to a falling out with my school’s new owner, but never lost my passion. It wasn’t long before I walked into the door of Shawn’s school and met the man who would become my husband. He gave me the respect that I had originally felt when I first started kenpo, but more importantly, he gave me a home again. It was under his instruction and mentorship that I began to truly discover who I was (and was capable of being) as a martial artist and my voice and calling in life as a teacher. It was also through Shawn that I was given one of the greatest gift of my life – my stepson Louis Knight. He was only 5 years old when he entered my life, but he immediately stole my heart. I have had the privilege of watching him grow into the wonderful young man that he is today. Having recently graduated from the Air Force boot camp, I am both proud and excited to see what the next chapter of his life has in store.
I often tell my students that “I loved Shawn so much as a teacher that I married him” in response to their praises of him as a Kenpoist and coach. From the beginning he made sure I had a voice and empowerment in the school, in my training, and in our relationship. I have still to meet another man as caring, kind, funny, compassionate and driven as Shawn Knight – My husband and “my Clown Ninja”!!! Since then, it’s been Shawn and I (as well as our Kenpo family) against the world. It’s been a wild and sometimes scary ride, with lots of opportunities and accomplishments along the way. A few of them that give me tremendous pride include: Testing for 3rd degree in 2003 with AKKA Karate USA (Bill Packer’s organization) Testing for 4th degree in 2006 (AIK’s first belt promotion) Testing for 5th degree in 2011 Testing for 6th degree in 2015 (with Sigung Stephen LaBounty and AIK) Helping to found the American Institutes of Kenpo (with my husband and our business partner Andrew Pilch) an experience that can only be described as “jumping off a cliff and knitting your own parachute on the way down.” Teaching kickboxing for the City of Tucson, and as adjunct faculty at Pima Community College Becoming the highest-ranked female black belt under Sigung Stephen LaBounty, and the highest-ranked female black belt in the AIK organization. Starting a martial arts based PE curriculum for the Basis charter school in Tucson. It has expanded to be a full-time program at five locations, and changes the lives of over 1,500 students every year. Having the honor of being Louis’ Knights stepmom – 2003 to present. I put this last, because it trumps all other achievements on this list. I could no be more proud of the man that “little Louis” has become and continues to be.
People who know me know that I had a rough childhood, and I’m not talking “grew up middle class with divorced parents” rough. I spent the first ten years of my life in a religious cult in Mexico. We lived in communes, completely separated from the rest of society (when we weren’t traveling “by faith” soliciting donations and begging for food).
In addition to the physical and emotional abuse, in this group the kids were the property of the adults. I was sexually abused, victimized and totally controlled during that time, and even after we left “the group” there was a long and painful adjustment period for my parents, myself, and my seven siblings.
When I first began teaching, I would experience massive panic attacks as a symptom of PTSD. It was hard to want to put myself in a position where I might have to leave the deck suddenly when the attacks hit. But as I progressed in my training and teaching the attacks began to fade. Teaching allowed me to focus on my student’s needs instead of my insecurities, symptoms and fears of the past. Time on the mat was for them, and that shift of perspective and paradigm changed where my energy was going.
Being a Kenpo student changed my confidence and my belief in what I could accomplish. Being a Kenpo teacher showed me how I can act on those changes.
Today one of the greatest joys in my life is helping my students with their own challenges. Most of them didn’t come from quite as rough a place, but they lack confidence, or they feel helpless, or they’re broken like everybody is in some way. I get to echo my experience into that student, fight my own demons by empowering them to defeat theirs. Life is a constant process of overcoming: overcoming limitations, overcoming past experiences, overcoming illusions that hold us down. Training in and teaching kenpo is the best way I’ve experienced to continue overcoming each and every day, until my last day!
Kenpo is my career, my passion, it has given me the opportunity to meet some the most amazing people that I currently have in my life. It’s how I met my husband and my best friend and business partner Andrew Pilch. I eat sleep and breathe kenpo and the relationships that are attached to it. I am luck enough to have students that have been with us for 12 plus years, spanning Kindergarten to College. Its these relationships that afford me the biggest paycheck. A complete list of the people who form those relationships would fill a website by itself, but a few people require special mention: my husband and best friend Shawn Knight, our friend and business partner Mr. Andrew Pilch, Mr. Lee Sprague, Mr. Lee Wedlake, Sigung Stephen LaBounty, and of course my first teacher (and now one of my senior students) Mr. Jace Waite.
Through my training I have come to understand, respect and embody these wise words: “The depth of your struggle is only matched by the height of your reach” – Shawn Knight. I will strive create a resounding echo in the next generation of Kenpoists that will continue to resonate long after my feet have left the mat.
Rebecca Knight –
Professor of the Arts – Student, Teacher, & Kenpoist
It is with great pleasure to endorse Ms. Rebecca Knight as an honoree for the Kenpo Women site.
I also have the great pleasure of being her teacher and friend, and moreover, that she, without any hesitation puts forth a tremendous amount of energy for her love of the EPAK system.
Moreover, she is a business woman who cares for her students, and for those who wish to begin their training her demeanor wins every time.
Dedicated, powerful, proud of her rank, school and students, defines her to a tee..
This then, is not just my ‘pleasure’ , It is my honor to endorse my friend, and student for this powerful group of women who, without a doubt, are making history for sure.
In spirit, honor, discipline,