2nd degree black belt Antonia Mahony started Kenpo in December of 1990, which for any American Kenpoist is a date that is etched in our minds. Just a few weeks after starting, Mr. Parker died and American Kenpo Karate entered a new phase. During this time, Antonia began a journey that would shape her life in the years to come. She was nearly 12 years old and had been heavily influenced by her older brother James Rodriguez, who had obtained his purple belt before emigrating to New Zealand.
Antonia started her martial arts journey with Mr. Graham Lelliot at Les Quennevais Kenpo Karate Club in Jersey, Channel Islands, and she consumed karate like her life depended on it. She traveled to Sweden in May of 1996 and obtained her black belt. Then, she stepped back from her training for a few years while concentrating on her professional career in accounting, but she always took part in training camps or special events to keep the connections and art alive.
In 2004 she traveled to Ireland from Jersey to take part in the annual European Training Camp which was held in Portumna, County Galway. Little did she know this trip was literally going to change her life. Antonia met her now-husband at that camp and promptly moved to Ireland. In 2005 they left Ireland to travel around South America, New Zealand, and Australia. They plotted all of their trips around Kenpo schools, sometimes teaching, sometimes training, but always having the best fun with their extended Kenpo family. Antonia and her husband even ended up on the front page of a Sunday newspaper in Bolivia. From Bolivia to Argentina to Chile, they met life-long friends and strengthened the bond they already had with Kenpo.
In 2006 they returned to Ireland engaged to be married, and they settled in the midlands of Ireland, County Laois. There was a local club in the nearest town and the timing was right for them to take it over; in 2007, they started Portlaoise Kenpo Karate Club in its current form. Initially teaching in halls, they progressed to their own premises in 2009, and from that date to early 2021, Antonia and her husband had hundreds of students pass through their doors.
Unfortunately, the COVID crisis hit them hard, and they could not continue to hold onto their premises which had been the home of their club. They handed back the keys and stripped their beloved dojo back to its concrete walls, storing all the equipment with another good friend of their club and fellow Kenpo brother.
In September 2021 they started again. They went back to their humble beginnings of teaching in a hall, and many of their students returned. They now have three more budding Kenpoists, with two daughters and a son who we hope will continue their journey, ever conscious not to push them too hard.
For Antonia, Kenpo has provided her with a quiet confidence – though maybe not so quiet sometimes – that she has carried throughout her life. At 43, she can say confidently that it has a part to play in every interaction she has with people in work and in her personal life.
Her three children – Ellie (11) Cillian (10) and Molly (6) – enjoy their Kenpo. As a junior blue belt, Ellie has taken part in many competitions in Ireland. She has been successful in forms and sparring and often helps to teach some of the younger members of the club which works really well as they can relate to her so easily. Cillian, a junior orange belt, enjoys the physical side of each class and not so much the forms. Molly is just starting as a white belt with black stripe, and karate is just fun for her at this stage.
The challenge Antonia and her husband face is trying not to hold them to a higher standard just because they are their children. They do misbehave sometimes, as Daddy and Mummy are their instructors, and they do have to have “the chat” before and after some training sessions. At this age, though, they try to keep the whole thing light while promoting the importance of being strong physically and mentally. As COVID restrictions subside, they hope kids competitions open up, and they look forward to taking the children when they can, so the children can experience that environment.