SOQUEL — A little more than six years ago, triplets Kevin, David and Jason Gonzalez and their brother Flavio walked into Sanford’s Martial Arts in Soquel for the first time, tied the white belt of a novice around their waist and began a journey that has required years of work, focus and dedication.
Through the years, the Watsonville residents learned the series of moves and techniques that allowed them to move up through the ranks, respectively earning their yellow, orange, blue, green, purple and brown belts.
The triplet brothers earned their black belts together, four years after they began. Although that is the highest-ranking color, their journey is far from over.
They plan on continuing their training after they graduate this year, and throughout their lives.
“A black belt is always learning,” David said. “We’re always improving ourselves.”
Kevin and Jason are seniors at Pajaro Valley High School. David attends Pacific Coast Charter School, which he said offers him a respite from the hustle and bustle of the larger school.
Flavio, 16, stopped training for a year after he was sidelined by a pelvis fracture.
Still, he has since earned his brown belt, just one step from black.
“I like the discipline, and how it teaches you not just self control, but to be self-aware,” Flavio said. “You’re always aware of your surroundings.”
Kevin said he started karate because it was the only sport that caught his interest. Through the years, however, the brothers discovered that the activity had evolved into a lifestyle.
“I wanted a sport that would develop myself to become a well-rounded person,” he said. “You strive to become the best version of yourself.”
This has proven to be true in more ways than just the physical sense. All three have earned at least 4.0 GPAs.
“And this is truly because of martial arts,” Kevin said.
David said that performing the series of moves called katas — often in front of audiences and always in front of their teachers — has given him a self-assurance that inspired him to try acting. All have performed in several stage productions.
“It has given me self confidence in everything I do,” he said. “I get control for the mind and body.”
“It allows me to improve not just mentally and physically, but as a whole person,” he said. “It gives me a desire to self-improve constantly.”
The brothers also say they have gained life skills as they evolved from students into teachers.
The trio volunteered for years at the dojo helping to teach the younger students, racking up more than 400 community service hours, far surpassing the 40 hours required by Pajaro Valley Unified School District for graduation.
They became dojo employees in January.
“They have been awesome students, and they have been great influential role models,” said manager and head instructor Sean Sanford, whose father Rod Sanford founded the dojo.
Although they learn punches and kicks, and learn to use various weapons, students at Sanford Martial Arts practice Shorinji Ryu, a style of karate that does not focus on fighting. Instead, adherents learn hundreds of self-defense moves, which lies at the core of the dojo’s philosophy.
Students learn such concepts as perseverance and self-control, and to be kind and helpful. They are also taught that it is far better to avoid conflict, and that fighting is a last resort.
“It’s more about character development,” Sanford said.
For the young students, that means a “mat chat” during each class, where the teacher — known as the sensei — leads discussions on such life skills as self-discipline and effectively dealing with bullying.
The boys’ mother Veronica Gonzalez started her sons in martial arts when she saw how much bullying some students endure in school.
“I didn’t want them to go through that,” she said. “I wanted them to learn self defense.”
Veronica Gonzalez said that participation in karate has built her sons into responsible, patient, respectful young men.
“I’m very proud of them, and very happy,” she said. “It hasn’t been easy, but they are good sons and good students.”
In the summer following their junior year, the brothers went to Watsonville’s Digital NEST, where they bolstered their video production skills.
They took those back to school with plans to revamp Pajaro Valley High’s Grizzly News, which at that time was merely a way for teachers to relay information to students.
The rebranded Grizzly Entertainment Channel is now a student-led service that features interviews with teachers and community news, among other things.
That channel can be viewed at tinyurl.com/y8luk4fy.
“They drive it and bring the ideas and make the magic happen,” said technology teacher Kristie Jud. “They are super enthusiastic, really excited to learn, and so creative.”
Jud said she hopes the project will continue under the leadership of other students after the Gonzalez brothers graduate.
PVHS drama teacher Gabriel Robledo praised the brothers’ work ethic, and said they have been involved in some capacity with every stage production for the past two years.
“If they are not working lights, they are onstage or directing,” Robledo said. “They are excellent students, they are very respectful and very happy.”
Kevin, David and Jason plan to continue pursuing drama at California Polytechnic State University in Pomona, where they start in the fall. All will major in business and drama.
Never was it an option to go to different colleges, Jason said.
“We’re stronger when we’re together,” he said.