For peace and protection: UK’s Kempo Club teaches important lessons in self-defense


Olivia Walton

Instructor Chip Sebastian smiles with members of the UK Self-Defense club on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the University of Kentucky Alumni Gym in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Olivia Walton | Kentucky Kernel

Olivia Walton, Reporter

Walk past the small room that sits under the weightlifting floor of Alumni Gym on a Monday evening, and one might see a group of students kicking, rolling and throwing each other all over the blue and black mats.

There is no need to be alarmed — after every move is completed and after all punches have been thrown, sparring partners bow to each other, and their meeting adjourns with a series of hugs.

The UK Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Martial Arts Club, otherwise known as UK Kempo Club or UK Self-Defense Club, was originally founded in 1993 by Matt Dolan and John Curtis, two students interested in learning self-defense.

Chip Sebastian was a student at the time of the club’s invention. He had been training in martial arts for about nine years when the club formed. Sebastian took over after Dolan and Curtis graduated in 1997, giving instruction and presiding over meetings until 2001. The club was run by multiple students until 2008, when it stopped existing altogether.

That was until last October, when Sebastian decided to reach out to the university and attempt to start club meetings again. He said he wanted to create a space for students that was dedicated to self-defense instruction after noticing a rise in crime in Lexington.

Unfortunately, his observation is not mere speculation.

According to city crime data published by the Lexington Police Department, there has been an increase in reports of forcible rape and aggravated assault since 2020. For instance, in the data published in 2022 thus far, there have been 381 reports of aggravated assault. That is 30 more cases of aggravated assault than the total number recorded at the end of last year.

Sebastian is determined to teach students, especially those more likely to be attacked, the skills and techniques necessary to protect themselves in dangerous situations.

“We train so that if violence happens to us, we can do something and stop the violence,” he said.

Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei is a self-defense system founded in Frankfort, Kentucky, by grandmaster William Durbin. According to the organization’s website, this system is based on 10 principles and their respective physical martial arts movements, as well as a philosophy of peace, patience and nonviolence.

Training in the way of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei is not meant to encourage aggression but rather prepare students for whatever situation they may encounter.

The UK Kempo Club meets from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays in the multipurpose room at Alumni Gym in the Gatton Student Center. A typical club meeting starts with warm-up exercises and casual conversation. The group then transitions into instruction time, which is when Sebastian introduces the new skill for the week.

Students in the UK Kempo Club begin by learning basic movements, including throws, chokes, kicks and rolls.

For club president and sophomore Ashley Powers, a hospitality management and tourism major, mastering these seemingly simple movements gave her a sense of confidence.

She said that she feels secure in her ability to protect herself at all times because of the techniques she has learned from being a member of the club.

“I walked yesterday at 2:30 in the morning, completely around campus, not worrying about my safety one bit,” she said. “I’ve only been doing it for six months now, but I had no doubt in myself that I can handle it.”

Powers was first interested in self-defense as a way to cope with depression that occurred after she was sexually assaulted. She decided to try Kempo Club in February 2022, and she officially joined in March 2022.

She believes self-defense is something every college-aged female needs to learn. And for anyone wanting to join the Kempo Club, she highly suggests trying it more than once.

“If you’re wanting to learn self-defense, if you’re wanting to expand your workout routine, come in at least three times,” she said. “It took me that third time knowing that I really wanted to do it.”

Sebastian hopes to make all students welcome in his classes by maintaining a welcoming atmosphere.

“I keep a very lighthearted class,” he said.

Like Powers, he also stressed that anyone interested in the club should start by just attending a meeting without expecting any pressure to join.

“Come in and try it. There isn’t any commitment,” Sebastian said.