Photo and words by Gaige Davila
Two Laguna Madre area teens have become the lone junior karate black belts in the area, after more than six years of training.
Kirin Cantu and Joaquin Rodriguez, both 8th graders at Port Isabel Junior High, were promoted to junior black belt in karate on August 18, receiving the long-awaited promotion at SPI BJJ, where both of them started their training led by owner and head instructor (and Kirin’s father) Joseph Cantu.
The younger Cantu grew up on the mats, she said, starting her martial arts training in Brazilian jiu jitsu alongside her father before finding karate when her family moved here more than half a decade ago.
Rodriguez’s martial arts story is straight out of a movie, starting his karate journey in 6th grade after experiencing bullying in school.
“Once the bullying problem got solved I just stayed in jiu jitsu and karate, because I liked it,” Rodriguez said. “Now I’ve progressed in it and I’ve gotten a black belt.”
Rodriguez continued, “I earned this, I worked really hard for this.”
“When I got my brown belt, I was super excited to get my black belt because I’d already been helping teach the kids classes, and I hope they get their black belt, too, so it makes me feel really good that I got mine,” Cantu said. “Like Joaquin said: we earned it and it took a while.”
So, what’s next for these Laguna Madre karate kids? Besides Cantu’s tennis, volleyball and dance team, and Rodriguez’s cross country and track, a whole lifetime of martial arts.
Rodriguez wants to work on his flexibility and kicks, and Cantu wants to do more competitions. Both agree that they feel confident in knowing they can defend themselves.
“By the look of us, I don’t know if you’d tell that we’re black belts, so it’s something that we have that other people don’t usually,” Cantu said.
On top of more than six years of training, the two had to train for three months, take an exam, and practice thousands of kicks, blocks and strikes to receive their black belts. Regardless of that herculean amount of time and effort, Cantu says martial arts is still a worthwhile pursuit.
“If you’re looking to try martial arts, I would definitely say do it,” Cantu said. “It can help you a lot in the real world. Just don’t give up. I know a lot of kids who have quit and joined back. Sometimes I don’t want to go to class, because I get tired and stuff, and I know Joaquin does, too, we don’t always want to come to class. But we don’t stop. And now we’re here and we have black belts. We made it.”
For more information on kids and adults martial arts classes, visit www.spibjj.com or stop by in the late afternoons at 134 S. Shore Drive in Port Isabel.