Dojo With Mojo
By Kerri Regan
Scott Halsey's Kenpp Karate in Downtown Redding
Story: Kerri Regan photo: Kara Stewart
Scott Halsey is a study in symbolism.
His karate uniform is cinched with a black belt that represents more than 30 years of dedication to an art.
On his hand, a gold band represents his commitment to his wife of 14 years and their two children – the grounding force in his life.
Around his ankle, a hemp rope represents his influence on troubled youth who need a strong mentor in their lives.
People of every shape and size, from toddlers through senior citizens, are challenged to be their best at Scott Halsey’s Kenpo Karate in downtown Redding. Introduced to karate at age 4, Halsey was just 15 – a high school sophomore – when he, his father and a partner opened their studio. “I was pretty driven,” he says.
At age 16, he became one of the nation’s youngest black belts after passing the test administered by the late Ed Parker, founder of the International Kenpo Karate Association. Now a sixth-degree black belt, Halsey continues to study under Parker student and Kenpo grand master Richard “Huk” Planas of New Orleans.
“If you’re trying to learn a lot, he’s the guy,” Halsey says.
In his dojo, his old belts hang on the wall – faded, nearly threadbare symbols of years of drive, focus, commitment, hard work. It is these qualities that he aims to instill in his 200-plus students, each of whom he knows by name after their first lesson.
Though most students train at his downtown studio, he also runs a small club in Burney and teaches classes at Monarch Charter School and French Gulch School. He also instructs at the Educational Resource Center and Oasis School for at-risk youth. “I love teaching those classes,” he says of the students that many teachers find intimidating. “There kids have the potential to be really good kids.”
He proudly wears a hemp rope anklet that was gifted by a student who hasn’t connected well with other adults in the past. “He and I hit it off right away,” Halsey says. He also enjoys the opportunity to work with foster youth through various partnerships.
His clientele has gotten younger over the years - his youngest student is 2. “I’m not trying to get them to be black belts,” Halsey says. “We’re working on coordination, skills and learning how to learn.”
And although he’s never had formal training as an educator, he has a knack for tailoring his instruction for every student. Most thrive on positive reinforcement. Some need a tougher approach. “If you’re nice, they see it as weakness and take advantage of that,” Halsey explains.
He understands that there’s no such thing as a one-sizefits-all approach. He attended Shasta College, but “college just wasn’t my gig,” he says. “Nobody made a living teaching karate back then… but I thought, ‘I’m gonna try karate.’”
Two decades later, some of his early students are bringing their own children into his studio. They train alongside the children of Halsey and his wife, Lisa, who both attended Shasta Meadows Elementary School but didn’t begin dating until she was in college; her mother lived next door to Halsey’s parents.
“She was literally the girl next door,” Halsey says of the woman who handles the business’ bookkeeping and recently graduated from nursing school.
Their 8-year-old daughter, Claire, is a purple belt (the fourth of ten steps toward a black belt). Their son Taylor, 12, is a brown belt (he’s mastered the skills he needs to advance, but junior black belts must be at least 13). “They learned how to count here by doing leg lifts,” Halsey says, referring to the count-out-loud calisthenics that are part of every lesson’s series of warmups.
In the dojo, Halsey’s goal isn’t to train students to be the toughest kids in class. “I hope they learn longterm commitment,” Halsey says. “Martial artists make great fathers and husbands because they understand commitment. They can translate that from the mat to real life.”
The ideal karate student isn’t necessarily the most athletic person in class. “I have all the patience in the world for someone who’s uncoordinated if they have that go-get-it personality,” Halsey says. “Drive is more important than talent.”
And although he’s won numerous international championships, he hopes to never lose his own drive to improve himself and his students.
“I hope I’ll be on the mat ‘til I’m 80 or 90,” Halsey says. “I like seeing the difference it makes in people’s lives.”