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Bringing new karate to Mitchell: Longtime martial arts leader opens Kyokushin school in town

“When we train, we train very hard. It’s a very hard system. We do some crazy stuff,” said black belt sensei David Sheets, who opened SoDak Kyokushin Karate school in September.

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DJ Sheets throws a side kick during SoDak Kyokushin Karate class on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, at the Davison County Fairgrounds.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Karate has taught David Sheets some of the most valuable life lessons he’s ever learned.

Discipline, philosophy and learning about oneself, are the hallmarks of Kyokushin karate that have guided Sheets' way of life. Now, the black belt sensei is passing his karate wisdom on to the Mitchell area one class at a time.

“The intensity of it teaches you a lot about yourself. You learn your limitations, and Kyokushin pushes you beyond your limits. I want to pass on what I know,” said Sheets, who recently moved from New York with his wife and kids.

After spending the past four decades perfecting front kicks and straight punches, Sheets felt a calling to open SoDak Kyokushin Karate school and spread the art of Kyokushin – one of the most popular forms of martial arts.

In its first month of existence, Sheets' karate school has experienced rapid growth. He’s teaching a little over a dozen budding karate students on Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Davison County 4-H Fairgrounds.

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While training his students to become skilled in karate is a main focus for Sheets, providing a welcoming community for budding karate enthusiasts to be a part of is just as important, he said.

“When a student walks in, they need to feel a part of the dojo. When you get into this, like really get into this, you become a part of a family. That’s super important to me,” Sheets said. “When you walk in a room, there aren’t handshakes, it’s hugs.”

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Sensei David Sheets demonstrates how to throw a side kick during SoDak Kyokushin Karate on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, at the Davison County Fairgrounds.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

With a number of karate styles out there, Sheets said Kyokushin has been dubbed as the “strongest karate.” Since its inception in 1964, Kyokushin karate has spread across the globe. Over 120 countries have welcomed the karate style.

“When we train, we train very hard. It’s a very hard system. We do some crazy stuff,” he said.

From breaking stacks of ice slabs to wooden baseball bats, Sheets said the Kyokushin style tests the physical and mental strength of each martial artist.

For anyone who's interested yet nervous to take up karate, Sheets can relate.

He was all but 7 years old when his journey into karate began in Rochester, New York. Sheets vividly remembers the first few training sessions, going up against experienced adults and building his skills in defeat.

“I was the first child student my instructor trained. Going to get beat up by a bunch of adults at 7 years old wasn’t what I thought would be my idea of fun at the time, but I felt everything it was teaching me,” he said, noting he was the first in his family to take up karate.

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Despite the early challenges of training in Kyokushin karate, Sheets was hooked. His passion for karate was backed with skill, as he became a black belt – a coveted award among martial artists – when he was 11.

Through the years, he’s risen to fourth-degree black belt status. For Sheets, becoming a black belt was a mark that signified his beginning.

“Once you’ve earned the black belt, you start learning the philosophy of why the stuff you did before is important. When you become a black belt, it’s definitely a right of passage. It takes about 4 years to get to that level,” Sheets said.

The Japanese-Korean founder of Kyokushin karate, Mas Oyama, had a mission to spread the style of karate across the world. And Sheets is “proud” to continue honoring the karate legend’s legacy by spreading Kyokushin in South Dakota.

Over the past few decades, Sheets has been a vital part of spreading the Kyokushin style. He’s an active committee member of the International Federation of Karate and oversees testing for Kyokoushin karate schools throughout the nation.

Although Sheets didn’t set out to open a karate school when he and his family moved to Mitchell a couple years ago, his dedication and spiritual connection to Kyokushin took hold of him. With a goal to grow class sizes and transform a building into a designated training facility, Sheets' passion for karate hasn't faded a bit since relocating to the Midwest.

“Kyokushin is something you believe in your heart. Anyone I’ve ever been in contact with who has trained in Kyokushin, they’ve never left it for a different one,” Sheets said.

Related Topics: MITCHELL
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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