Coach Spotlight: Jeff Doss, Flexibility and Kicking Expert

With 33 years of sport karate experience, Jeff Doss explains how he was able to achieve huge success despite tough beginnings.

Jeff began his martial arts journey at the age of four in Rustburg, Virginia, and started competing when he was only five years old. While Jeff admits competition wasn’t easy for him at the beginning, by surrounding himself with the right people, doubling down on his strengths, and having a relentless work ethic, he has won world titles in almost every division in every league. Jeff is known for his rare flexibility and kicking skills. He is the only person to win 5 Super Grands Overall grand championships 3 open style (musical forms) 2 traditional (Korean).

What inspired you to start competing?

It was encouraged by my instructors. When I went to my first event I was inspired by competitors who electrified the audience like Jon Valera, Seneca Luther, and self-defense competitors! I then went on to learn from Jon Valera years later and he was my coach for 6 years.

Did competition come easy to you?

Competing was super fun and motivating for me but it was not easy. I was known as a competitor in my local area but I was not the best. I didn’t consistently start winning until I was a black belt and was competing nationally. The years of hard work and relentlessness to develop myself were what made my black belt and national career so consistent.

Did you have any influential coaches or people that inspired you?

My family first believed in me and pointed me in the right direction of getting great coaches. My instructor, Lawrence Arthur inspired me because he always encouraged me but pushed me. Then Jon Valera gave me the formula to be a champion and how to train like a champion. Sean Elliott was the top fighter in my town, his excitement and support for me throughout the years always helped me to do the same for other competitors. Johnny Watkins was a friend and adult Competitor that supported me and then taught me Shotokan karate and my martial arts ability grew. He has mentored me throughout my years and still does as a friend and coach. Mike Conroy taught me what being a professional athlete was like and how I could take my level to beyond what I imagined. He still motivates me to this day.

You're known for your flexibility and kicking expertise. Why did you put such a big focus on those areas?

I put my focus on them because it was mine! No one else’s. Jon Valera always encouraged me not to be like him but to be my best self. He could have tried to make my forms exactly like his but he encouraged me to stand out. I took that to another level and realized that what I can do is rare. I didn’t want to blend in with others or I’d get lost in the shuffle. I wanted to be known and remembered for my style. I encourage my students to do the same. Kicking and flexibility is a lost art in sport karate forms and we can take that back. Flexibility is super important for your long-term success in sport karate and that’s why I can still compete at a high level after 33 years of Competition.

How were you able to excel in those fields so much? What kind of work went into that?

I can’t just focus only on flexibility for kicking, I also have to have speed and power to really connect with the judges and the audience. If I just hold my foot high in the air it connects with the audience but not the judges. If I just kick hard it connects with the judges but not the audience. So how can I do both? Dig deeper... I had to focus daily on how to make my kicks technically sound, flexible, powerful and explosive. Then I had great stances and overall technique so they can really remember my kicks. If my stances after weren’t good then they would focus on what was lacking instead of what stood out. Over the years I dove into physical therapy, strength and conditioning, kinesiology and more so I understood My body. So all of my studying helps me grow as a teacher and competitor.

(Check out Jeff Doss taking the win for men's creative forms at the NBL Supergrands!)

Why did you decide to become a private coach, and what do you enjoy most about coaching?

Private coaching was how I started teaching martial arts way back in 1997 as a 13-year-old. I felt like this was my way of truly giving an individual the best part of my martial arts ability. I could connect with them and help them understand that it takes time to grow. I love breaking down the moves and the mindset each competitor personally needs to compete at a high level. Each student is different and I enjoy that!

What can a client expect from private lessons with you?

They will learn that there is always more. They might come to me for one thing and realize that other things improved as well. I focus on digging deeper and getting my students outside of their comfort zone. I don’t just want their martial arts to improve, I want them to improve as people.

What's one piece of advice you would give a martial artist who wants to level up their skills?

Don’t let the “buts” hold you back! Meaning don’t sit there and say I could have been good but... Or I should have won but... or I can get better but... Understand that your failures are what lead to your success. My biggest lessons and successes have come after or as a result of a failure. So be patient and keep digging.

Anything else you would like to add?

I want to help people find something about themselves and spark their growth in their life through movement. I feel like I can help anyone no matter what division they focus on.

Takeaways for Competitors

#1 Keep the fun in competing - by enjoying the competition, win or lose, you will be more motivated to train hard

#2 Get inspired by great competitors (and train with them if you have the opportunity!)

#3 Double down on your strengths and find your own style

Jeff Doss is still competing and teaching after a life in sport karate. Want to train with Jeff? Click here to book a lesson with him on Kicklink! Or, watch a free recording of Jeff's kicking and stretching master class here.

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