R.J. Smith (middle right) and members of Kel-West Society of Martial Arts. Photo: FaceBook

Longest running Korean martial arts school is still going strong

R.J. Smith (middle right) and members of Kel-West Society of Martial Arts.

R.J. Smith founded the Kel-West Society of Martial Arts in 1995 to bring his passion of hapkido and other Korean martial arts to his home town.

More importantly, however, it was a way to introduce holistic styles of martial arts to help not only with self-defence but also mental well-being.

Martial Arts isn’t solely about winning tournament medals and competition.

“It helps with cardio, it feels good, it’s a stress relief, helps with meditation, and you can start to feel the energy in the whole community,” said Smith.

“An important principle of martial arts is peace of mind.”

Smith is proud to have the longest running Korean martial arts school in the Okanagan Valley, but acknowledges that it hasn’t always been easy.

Whether it was lack of interest from the community, people signing up for the newest fad like MMA, or the politics of the martial arts world, Kel-West has stood the test of time celebrating its 24th anniversary in August.

“I think it’s quite an accomplishment, schools of this nature tend to come and go,” said Smith.

The school is a traditional school that follows the etiquette and original instructions of the founders.

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Smith, a third-degree black belt and national instructor who has 43 years of experience in hapkido and taekwondo, started the groundbreaking martial arts school at the former Westbank YMCA in 1995 as a not-for-profit organization, and has since moved to the Kelowna side. It’s still the only hapkido school between Vancouver and Calgary.

Since then, Smith has tried to not only provide self-defence teachings, but also to give an outlet for people who looking for fun activities and for people struggling with disabilities.

Now 60 years old, Smith has recovered from his own personal disabilities including a near-death car accident in 2012 that prohibited Smith from teaching for over a year.

Smith used martial arts to find a way back to the happiness of teaching.

“It’s important to me, as a health tonic, and it (helps me) cope with my disabilities,” said Smith.

“But it comes down to, ‘Do you enjoy your work out? Does it make you happy?’ Martial arts are about happiness.”

Kel-West Martial Arts students have collected more than 300 medals, and Smith has coached at the Canadian national taekwondo championships once. He is the first Black Belt to act as an assistant coach at the GTF World Championships twice, in 2005 and 2007.

“My accomplishments in my arts are with my students,” said Smith.

For more information on the Kel-West Society of Martial Arts can contact 250-768-1111 or instructor@kel-west.org.

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