By Cary Shuman
Shihan Joe Nesta and Sensei Bill Powers have close to 90 years of combined experience in the martial arts. Their friendship dates back to the late 1970s.
Holder of the highest ranking in Nick Cerio’s Kenpo in the United States, Nesta, 62, is the owner of Nesta’s Kenpo Karate at 701 Salem St. in Malden. He has 52 years of experience in the martial arts.
Powers, 63, also a renowned instructor, has been the owner of Nick Cerio’s Kenpo Karate in Everett at 453 Broadway for 25 years. He began his career 37 years ago.
They have trained thousands of students through the years. Many have been successful in martial arts tournaments but the positive impact they have had on their students’ lives is what matters most to the two martial arts legends.
“The whole idea behind the martial arts is to teach the discipline, the art, a positive attitude, confidence, and self esteem,” said Nesta. “I can lead you to a tournament, but you have to do the work. I’m not in to tournaments. I’m more about self defense.”
Both men are proud of their longevity in the martial arts and the message of inspiration they bring to their students. They understand and appreciate the history of the martial arts.
“The material that we teach is the traditional martial arts,” said Powers. “You want to learn how to defend yourself and build your confidence and that’s what we teach.”
“The martial arts has been here for 2,000 years and it will be here after I’m gone,” said Nesta. “I teach anybody who wants to learn. I teach from age 3 and up. I had an 89-year-old student.”
Most students at their Kenpo studios progress through classes each year and earn belts. Nesta said students have to meet certain requirements, exhibiting their physical knowledge of the martial arts in order to earn a belt.
“When you get your Black Belt, it’s like graduating from high school,” related Nesta, who is a Tenth Degree Black Belt. “If you want to continue, that’s where the degrees of Black Belt come in. The pace by which you earn a belt is up to each individual student. There’s no pressure but if you want to move on, there are requirements.”
Powers and Nesta both advocate to their students that they should always try to avoid physical confrontations in tense situations.
“Our teaching method focuses on defeating your opponent with your mind – you have to learn how to defeat someone without throwing a single punch,” said Nesta. “But if a person attacks you, then you have to do what you have to do. But you have to have the skills to do it.”
Both men say one of the chief reasons for their success is “the passion” they have for their profession.
“There’s no easy way out if you run a martial arts studio,” said Nesta. “You have to work hard at it.”
Nesta’s family is carrying on the family tradition of excellence in martial arts. His son, Joe Nesta Jr., began in the martial arts at the age of four and is a Fifth Degree Black Belt. Two of his grandchildren have begun taking martial arts classes.
“I’m hoping that they’ll carry on the legacy of what I do and what I believe in,” said Nesta.
Powers is grateful to Nesta for being an early supporter and continuing to be a positive presence in his life.
Martial arts’ popularity is growing, according to Powers. “I believe everybody should learn how to defend himself. I look at each person as an individual and I know the capabilities of each student. You have to design your teachings to meet the needs of each student.”
Nesta said athletes in all sports can benefit from the martial arts. “The martial arts help to improve your balance, reflexes, peripheral vision, and awareness of your surroundings.”
Powers has noticed that people today are immersed in their cell phones.
“I believe people should be more attentive when they are walking in public. You shouldn’t be looking down because that’s a sign of weakness.”
Nesta said he makes it a point to teach “common sense” to his students.
“The martial arts is based on common sense,” he said. “If you have no common sense, then you have no self defense.”
Both men have no intention to retire any time soon and that’s good news for martial arts students in Everett, Malden, and beyond.
In the case of Shihan Nesta and Sensei Powers, experience truly counts. Just ask their thousands of appreciative students.