When Danika Petit PZ ’25 isn’t hitting and blocking volleyballs, she’s performing hits and blocks of a different variety — the Pomona-Pitzer women’s middle blocker is also a recognized champion in karate.
Petit specializes in American Kenpo, a style of karate that emphasizes street self-defense. She said the discipline is “more eclectic” than other forms of martial arts.
“I’ve been with my teacher for 11 plus years now, doing [American Kenpo] since I was seven, and it’s been an amazing experience,” she said.
Her karate journey started when she watched her younger brother engage in the martial art several years ago. After “just watching from the sidelines,” Petit fell in love with the art and eventually began performing it.
“I really enjoyed watching other students do martial arts,” she said. “Then my current teacher at the time came over and just grabbed my shoulders and put me in the line, instructing me to copy everybody else.”
Petit also picked up the activity to “gain a basis of self-protection,” coming from a small-town background in Telluride, Colorado.
“Unlike Telluride, I just wanted to be able to defend myself in a larger city or setting,” she said. “But I never knew [American Kenpo] would be developed into more of a lifestyle, like the experience of traveling to championships.”
In June, Petit attended the USA World Championships in Las Vegas and won in two divisions: form and self-defense.
The former involves executing a routine of moves and techniques, while the latter includes performers acting out a choreographed three minute long fight scene.
“I perform the black belt form, which is much more traditional in style compared to lower levels,” Petit said. ”I’d pretty much take 20-25 techniques, and piece it together into a form that works all angles and all directions.”
In the self-defense portion, the champion had a unique experience in which her brother performed a scene with her.
“My teacher and my brother were both the attackers, and I was the defender in our routine,” Petit said. “We go slow once, and then go fast all in full contact for the judges.”
More than just tournament wins, American Kenpo brought additional benefits to her athletic career. Three summers ago, Petit trained with Shaolin monks at the Shaolin Monastery in China, waking up at five in the morning to train in Qigong, martial arts, and kung fu.
“That [experience] changed my perspective on a lot of things, because of the way that they train,” Petit said. “One of the main things I did take away and use day to day is working on being present rather than focusing on the future or past.”
These lessons have greatly influenced her mindset when it comes to her maturity.
“Martial arts taught me to be super coachable, take instructions from my coaches well, and be able to make changes quickly,” Petit said. “Martial arts is not just about hitting someone; it’s more about the mind aspect of it and being able to have discipline.”
American Kenpo has also changed her personality.
“It really just comes down to being a nice person,” she said. “Karate teaches you to be there for others and to have a strong spirit.”