Seven years of training will all boil down to Saturday afternoon for three South Tahoe residents.
Karl Koeppen, Dori Escobar and Corey “The White Mamba” Carlson will all test for their black belts today at Escobar Training Grounds. The test will cover everything the three students have mastered during nearly seven years of training at Escobar. The test will take 4-5 hours and must be preformed in the traditional, and heavy, full karate gi in front of a seven-judge panel. The panel will be comprised of some of the most decorated karate figures in the world.
Cory Escobar, who is third-degree black belt and owner of Escobar Training Grounds, will be one of the judges. Cory’s dad, Joey Escobar, will also be on the panel and is an eight-degree black belt. The nine-time full contact karate world champion was also trained by Chuck Norris and is a former U.S. team coach.
“It’s just nice that the things my dad passed on to me translate so well into MMA and self defense,” Cory said.
To put this accomplishment into context, one in every 100 white belts becomes a black belt. One in every 1,000 black belts advance to second degree, and so on. Intimidating odds, but Cory said his fighters are taking the test because they are ready.
“It’s taken them six years to get to this point, and I think each one of them has accomplished so much,” Cory said.
The process will test each student’s power, speed and technique. There will be some sparing and all this will be done in a full gi.
“You don’t normally train in a full gi, so five hours of that is going to be a test in itself,” Carlson said.
In preparation, Carlson, Koeppen and Dori have focused on extra cardio training, and at noon today they will put to the test.
“We wouldn’t be put into this opportunity unless we were ready,” Dori said. “So it’s a time of pride and showing and saying look what I did these past seven years.”
The dedicated firefighter
Koeppen, a shift commander with the South Tahoe Fire Department, has lived in Tahoe for 15 years. For him, karate is a family affair.
Koeppen trains with his wife Kellee Koeppen, and two children Karlee Koeppen and Kade Koeppen, who are both well on their way to black belts of their own.
“I got into this to protect my family and myself if it ever comes down to it,” Koeppen said, “and it helps with the job too.”
Plus, who hasn’t dreamed of becoming a black belt in karate?
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was little and I never could afford it,” Koeppen said.
The black belt is about more than just knowing how to fight though.
“Commitment is the big thing. They don’t just give black belts out,” Koeppen said. “It’s something that we’ve been working for that seemed so far away and it’s finally here. It’s going to be one of my greatest accomplishments.”
The loving mom and wife
Dori started training at Joey Escobar’s gym about seven years ago in Southern California, and she’s still learning every day.
“I love the mental challenge as well as the physical challenge,” Dori said.
Perhaps the biggest benefit that’s come with seven years of training, however, is confidence.
“I can speak in front of people and stand up for what I believe in,” Dori said. “I feel confident with being able to protect myself. In those places where women would feel vulnerable I really don’t.”
The training has also made her coordinated.
“I was always the person would jam my hip on the side of the counter or walk into a pole, very clumsy, so being able to have coordination in anything I do is big,” Dori said. “It’s not just martial arts. If I want to go wakeboarding or skiing or climb a mountain I have skills. Even though I don’t practice those particular things, it translates over.”
Quite honestly, she also doesn’t mind the bikini benefits either.
“I’m also really happy with my body. As a woman it’s everything that I wanted. I’ve always been skinny, but this has helped me develop the areas that I wanted to develop,” Dori said. “It’s bikini season and now I love my abs, and my arms always look really toned. It’s those little things that I’m really pleased with.”
The promising pro fighter
Carlson actually earned a MMA championship belt before a black belt.
“There pretty similar because they’re both a representation of how long it took to get good at something and how hard work pays off,” Carlson said. “As far as my black belt goes, I’ve done it three times as long as I’ve been training to fight.”
Nicknamed the White Mamba in the cage, Carlson started training at Escobar almost seven years ago.
“When I met him he was 19 years old,” Cory said. “People always say, fighting is dangerous, well being 19 is dangerous.”
Carlson can’t imagine his life with mixed martial arts.
“Not only has it helped me be able to defend myself in a physical way, but also it’s helped me figure out life and how to get through the hard times,” Carlson said. “Martial arts are a direct reflection of people struggling with life and their jobs.”
Carlson will fight in his last amateur MMA fight in July before he makes the jump to pro.
“I can’t wait to wear my black gi and my black belt and walk out for a fight,” Carlson said. “It will just be a great accomplishment. When I started, I had nothing else to do. I don’t know how my life would be without it. I can’t imagine.”