Tara Van Deusen has been studying Kenpo since 1998, though she started karate at the age of 4 years old! She is a 5th Degree Black belt in Kenpo Karate, 9 time National Black Belt League World Champion, 1 time National Association Sport Karate (NASKA) World Champion and won the overall Woman’s Grand Champion Irish Open in 2003, an event that had 69 fighters from 33 Countries. She also has over 160 National Wins, was a 4 time Compete national overall grand champ, as well as the Australian ISKA Open and England Open champion. She has won over 36 women’s over all grand championships from Nationally and Internationally rated tournaments and has a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a Jr Black Belt in Butokukan Karate.
Tara is the President of the Power of One Martial Arts & Fitness Studios, currently opening their 3rd and 4th locations, and a proud mother of three children.
Q & A
How did you get started in Kenpo and in what year?
Although one of my earlier instructors had a black belt in Kenpo, our system was more of a traditional mixed martial arts so I would have to say that my training under Colin Van Deusen starting in 1998 was when I really began Kenpo.
What has been your driving force in your training and teaching Kenpo?
Martial arts changed my life in many ways, starting at the young age of 4, and I wanted to share the benefits with as many people as possible. In all of my training, I enjoyed the practical self defense and angle aspects of Kenpo. It was after my training with Colin where I had earned a deeper appreciation for angles that i started to really dominate in the sport martial arts fighting world.
What advice can you offer to women and girls starting out in Kenpo?
Congratulations is what I would say. Making or taking that first step to learning the martial arts is difficult for some women or young girls, and even men for that matter, but the rewards are numerous. Keep your eyes open and your hands up and remember, as ladies we have much more strength then we give ourselves credit for. But we have to believe in ourselves before we can ask others too.
What is your thought that because men are in general stronger, that they have a tendency to want to hold back in partner work, training or sparring out of fear that they might hurt you. Has this happened to you? ?
I would expect the same from a man of 250lbs working with a lower ranking 150lb man, in the end it all comes down to respect. I have fought with people from all over the world, male and female alike and they all seem to give as good as they get – in other words, if I kick them up the head, then male or female, if they had the ability to kick me back, they would. The only men who treat me different is maybe a beginner, but they too will forget that I’m a girl after a while. Raymond Daniels, Mike Pombeiro, Jack Felton, Jadi Tention, they have all kicked or fought me harder then some men they have fought yet would hit each other harder then they would I. As training partners I respect and trust them to know how much to push me.
There are only 2 women out of 24 high ranking black belts in the Journey and one in the International Journey, what are your thoughts on the lack of female presence?
I think times have changed a lot. Back when those women started training, and even when I first started 3 decades ago, there were only a few women in classes. Now we have a 50/50 ratio at most locations. With fewer females training, the odds were against them getting honored in the Journey with how few progressed to that level. In 50 years time I think we will see a big difference as there are a lot of strong, committed females these days.
Getting hit is the nature of the game in Karate, have you had odd reactions from family and friends when your arms were black and blue? Reaction from strangers and possibly judged by strangers? Do you have a story about it?
Ha ha!! I remember when my mother was called into the school when I was 8 or 9 years old because I had bruises all over my arms. But now a days girls are much more active in sports and warrior bruises are much more the norm and even expected or praised just as a boys. At least I know my girls brag about their new bruise from soccer or grappling. It shows were enjoying life as much as the next.
Have you ever felt you’ve had to compensate for “less” physical strength during training?
Martial arts is all about adapting. Adapting to your surroundings, adapting to fighting someone who is faster, or has longer legs. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. My arms are definitely a weakness where strength is concerned, buy my legs are quite strong. Instead of saying “compensate” for lack of physical strength, I would have to say that although I preferred the exercises that utilized my strengths to my advantage I had to appreciate those that were focused on my weaknesses as in the back of my mind I understood this is how one grows.
Did you feel you had to compensate for being a part of the “fairer” sex… men thinking you weren’t mentally strong enough, women by nature are more susceptible to emotional issues where as men are not. if so, how did you over come that?
I’m not sure it was ever a problem for me. As I started at a very young age, all of my instructors took on a fatherly role in my life. They pumped me up and pushed me to expect to work just as hard as those around me, and yes, most around me were boys. In Canada, on the west coast, girls competed against boys until 17 years. At the same time, because I was surrounded by so many males and being raised by a strong single woman, it is safe to say that I didn’t display many “emotional issues” for them to treat me different over.
What advantages do you think being a woman gives you in relation to martial arts?
Women tend to be more flexible and rely on distance and timing a little more than strength and this I find to be an advantage. We also are forced to rely on martial intelligence from earlier on and this too I feel works as an advantage.
What are some of the contributions you have made to the Kenpo community and the art that you are most proud of?
I am very proud of our students, I have had the opportunity to watch many people grow into wonderful human beings ready to tackle any challenge or obstacle along the way. I have watched many of these students achieve greatness in a variety of different sport activities including martial arts competitions and others become great mentors and instructors themselves. But over all it is the Confidence that we help instill and develop that truly allows people from all walks to achieve happiness or balance that I feel most proud of.
Are there things you would have done differently in your Kenpo Career?
Martial arts has been a part of my life since the age of 4 and will continue to be until the day I die. In other words, my Kenpo career is not at an end and will still have many ups and downs along the way..
Have you experience sexual harassment in the martial arts?
No, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by instructors, coaches and friends who respected my skill as a martial artist and who value the importance in women learning the arts enough so to make it a conducive environment. I did meet my now husband at a martial arts tournament but to all others, I was just a fellow martial artist.
How has karate and attitude changed towards women since you started karate?
Perhaps due to my young age at the beginning of my career I did not observe negative attitudes towards females, however, I have noticed a change in numbers. Our facilities have equal female to male students and instructors as well. My mother who observed my classes as a child would probably have a different view to how females were treated at my first dojo, but I think it was just because there were so few.
Not necessarily in Martial arts, who are some of your role models?
My mother was a great role model who was a teenage, single women who didn’t let anything stop her or slow her down. She taught me a a very young age the difference between “can’t” and “won’t”. My husband has been a great role model since I first met him at a martial arts competition 15 years ago. While being my number 1 fan, he made sure my belief in myself never wavered and continues to help me find a “balance” in life. Overall, I have had some great coaches in my life. Some Martial Arts, some basketball and soccer, and some simply a school teacher who took special notice or gave me good advice over the years. It is a combination of all of them whom have helped me get to where I am today and for that I look up to them all and hope to have the same effect on others around me.