From left, Eric Nepsky, Danika Petit and Colton Petit, all of Telluride Karate Studio, at this year’s world championships in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo courtesy of Father Mariusz Wirkowski)

For the Nepskys, karate is a way of life. Father and son Eric and David, who are both black belts in American Kenpo, have competed in numerous competitions over the years, including this year’s world championships in Las Vegas, Nevada.

While the younger Nepsky served as coach during the event, Eric Nepsky — who is a fifth-degree black belt and founder of Telluride Karate Studio — won the Men's Black Belt Traditional American Kenpo Karate Forms Division. Eric Nepsky and his two students — siblings Danika and Colton Petit — then claimed first place in the Open Self-Defense Black Belt Division.

The studio wasn’t done collecting medals, though, as Danika Petit went on to win the Women's Black Belt Traditional American Kenpo Karate Forms Division, and her mother Annette Petit, a brown belt, won the Women's Brown Belt Traditional American Kenpo Karate Forms Division. Rounding out the studio’s stellar showing was Colton Petit who took home second place in both the Brown Belt Creative Weapons and Brown Belt Traditional American Kenpo Karate Forms divisions.

“Firstly, my expectations for my students are always high. I told them ‘You're going to win.’ You have to have that mindset going into a tournament,” said David Nepsky, who is a third-degree black belt and has won a couple world titles himself. “This is an international tournament that we've been attending for over the past two decades. I won first-place world championships consecutively in 2003 and 2004 in traditional Kenpo forms at this same tournament. And I wasn’t surprised at all that my team swept the tournament. The martial artists that come out of Telluride Karate Studio are the best of the best. It must be the high altitude training.”

The Nepskys, including Eric’s wife and former San Miguel County public health director June, aren’t the only karate-obsessed family in Telluride, however, as it’s more common than one may think for parents and siblings to sign up for classes and reach the black belt level. The Petits are another example of this David Nepsky, who is also the Town of Telluride public information officer, explained, as well as the Kruegers.

“We’re one big karate family. It’s something we’ll always have. It’s been the greatest opportunity to share with my boys,” Megan Krueger told the Daily Planet in 2017, when her sons Flynn and Cody Krueger took their black belt tests in 2017. “This whole program is such a gift to the community. Eric’s just the best instructor and has nothing but the best intentions for everyone that walks through the door.”

Like everything else, the pandemic has altered the studio’s offerings, but preparations for regular classes, starting Aug. 24, are underway.

“Telluride Karate Studio is still running strong with regular classes resuming when school starts again as summer season transitions to fall. You can find our new schedule posted online at our Facebook page (Telluride Karate Studio). We are always accepting new students of all ages and abilities,” David Nepsky said.

Head instructor Eric Nepsky has studied under Grandmaster Bob White, of Costa Mesa, California, for over 25 years, and White regularly conducts the studio’s black belt tests, which the elder Nepsky has called “a huge honor” to have him certify local students.

White my be the most well-known instructor in the world. He choreographed the fight scenes for the original “Karate Kid” (1984) movie, in which he appeared as one of the referees. His studio is the longest-running Kenpo karate studio in North America, at over 50 years of service. White is also a World Martial Arts Masters Association Hall of Fame member, along with his wife, Barbara.

“Grandmaster Bob White is one of the most recognized karate masters in the world. He’s taught on every continent, and is well sought after,” Eric Nepsky has previously told the Planet.

A discipline steeped in tradition, students must complete 10 years of training, two years of teaching, a thesis and compete in tournaments outside of the state in order to even test for a black belt. Students also must choreograph a fight scene in order to showcase necessary self-defense skills.

One tradition all successful black belt students must also complete is the “Kiss of the Dragon,” which means, after passing the test, the student must take a punch or kick to the gut by every other black belt holder in the room. It’s a painful 500-year-old tradition that symbolizes passing on one’s knowledge. Not so painful is the tradition that the student must wear their black belt for 24 hours after receiving it.