Wiley Borof stands in position during his black belt test, as family and friends watch. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Borof)

Telluride High School senior Wiley Borof earned his black belt in American Kenpo karate recently, which is no easy task.

Borof’s instructor, Eric Nepsky, studied under Grandmaster Bob White, of Costa Mesa, California, for over 25 years and has taught Borof since the third grade.

“The Bob White school has produced 220 black belts. Only 15 of those 220 are from Telluride. Wiley has now joined that group,” Nepsky said of his student.

He added that approximately 70,000 students have gone through White’s school in an attempt to receive their black belt.

Borof first started taking karate lessons in kindergarten under the tutelage of Andrea Pfefer-Trombi. But unlike his peers who left the art after a few years, Borof continued.

“I started in kindergarten, and I was some spazzy little kid who couldn’t stand still,” Borof said. “My friends and I started karate because it sounded cool, but I just kept going back, and eventually, I was committed. It didn’t feel like I could quit.”

He referred to karate as “one of the biggest commitments of his life.” Twelve years since he first began, Borof tested for and received his black belt on Sept. 18.

His mom, Wendy Borof, recalled watching her son during the black belt test. She was astonished at his ability to remember all the complicated requirements and moves.

“It was really, really impressive,” she said.

Grandparents, friends and other black belt teachers showed up to watch the ceremony as well.

This time last year, with his black belt just around the corner, Borof attended a world-class kayaking academy out of state for his junior year of high school, which delayed his black belt test a year. When he returned to Telluride for his senior year, he knew he had to complete his black belt journey.

“It’s been 11 years, let’s crank out the twelfth,” Borof said of his commitment to karate.

Nepsky said he was most impressed by Borof’s tenacity and determination to continue with the art after being away for a year.

“Even if a person has put in six or seven years, they don’t always return,” he said. “American Kenpo karate is one of the most challenging activities someone can practice.

To receive a black belt in American Kenpo, Nepsky explained, a participant must succeed in four major tests throughout the ceremony. The first is curriculum and knowledge of the art; the second is the physical element; the third is a thesis paper explaining how the art has changed their life; and the fourth is a personal black belt form that places the participant in the role of a stunt coordinator during a fight.

“The art is tailored to each student. In every aspect of mind and body and spirit, each student will be challenged,” Nepsky added.

Borof’s thesis was about how karate has influenced and aided him in his other passions.

“It was about how karate has helped me in every other aspect of skiing, and kayaking and life in general,” he said. “It was not only the physical part, but the mental part. That mindset has been with me in every other sport I do.”

This past year, the mentality of karate came into play when Borof hiked six miles lugging a kayak over his shoulders. He thought back to what he had learned from karate, and even though his shoulders were aching and numb, he pushed to the end of the trail. The route ended up being the most rewarding river he had ever kayaked.

“Karate has given me the mental knowledge that I can keep going,” he said.

Everybody starts the art for a different reason, Nepsky explained, whether it’s for the mental benefits to learn self-defense or for the fitness aspect of it.

Not always the biggest kid in his class, Borof joined because he wanted to prove that the little guy could be powerful and do whatever he puts his mind to doing.

“Karate has always made me feel bigger and stronger,” he added. “I am not the biggest dude. … It feels really nice that I can have that confidence to protect myself.”

Borof believes the most challenging obstacle to overcome on his journey to becoming a black belt was the level of commitment required.

“It’s a lot of time and the most commitment I’ve put into anything in my life,” he said.

After a 12-year journey, Borof is proud and “content” with his black belt.

“The reason why this art is 3,000 years old is that it’s transformative,” Nepsky said. “It changes the way people live and view the world. Changes you mentally, physically and spiritually.”