Ekaterina Venola is the oldest by 13 months at 12 and Natasha Venola is 11. The girls are sisters and both get student of the month on a regular basis. They study hard and appear to be normal kids with one exception.
Instead of a steady diet of TV and video games, the two spend their spare time learning Chinese terms and anatomy and strike zones with their grandfather and Shaolin Kung Fu instructor Evan Thompson.
Thompson runs a family Shaolin Kung Fu studio out of his garage in Pahrump and has taught his granddaughters the art of kung fu since they were both 7.
The Venola sisters both possess blue sashes in Shaolin Kung Fu, which is the second of four sashes they can earn. In Thompson’s eyes, the girls should get their black sashes when they leave high school.
“We really don’t like handing out a black sash to high school kids,” Thompson said. “They have a year or more for purple and maybe more for black.”
A black sash is similar to a black belt in karate.
Kung fu teaches forms, where a student must learn a series of strikes, kicks and blocks. It is very similar to a dance, but much deadlier.
Each strike and block is performed with precision. Natasha performed Moi Fah, which means the plum flower. It is the seventh hand set of Shaolin and takes months to learn. She did it with grace and few errors.
Afterwards she said, “In learning a form, the hardest part is putting it all together in a smooth way. You want to keep it all flowing.”
According to Thompson, one learns the forms from easiest to hardest.
“The hardest and longer forms are the highest numbers. In Shaolin, there are about 40 forms and there are 15 hand forms and the rest are weapons forms,” he said.
Both girls have advanced far enough to learn the staff and the sword. The weapons require a lot of skill and balance. Weapons are taught for exercise and tradition. They also teach the students to improvise. In a self-defense situation for example, once you know staff and sword, even a stick becomes a deadly weapon.
Each girl has become skilled in her own right. Ekaterina is more flexible while Natasha has explosive power and strength. Ekaterina has high energy while Natasha is the technician.
The learning of kung fu has taught the sisters self-discipline, which translates into higher grades and a strong work ethic.
Ekaterina knows kung fu has made her a better student.
“In school my grades have improved since I started learning kung fu,” she said. “My favorite part of kung fu is presenting the forms and performing in front of people because it is challenging.”
Natasha likes kung fu for similar reasons, but her favorite part is “practicing with family and doing it all together,” she said.
Both girls have mastered enough kung fu to know they can not use it at school or even at home. Thompson said they know how to punch so well that if they get into arguments at home and were to use their skills they could do serious damage to each other.
Ekaterina has said this means they tend to talk out their differences more.
“We used to fight a lot when younger. Now we just argue a lot because we can really hurt each other,” Natasha said.
Ekaterina remembers getting grounded for punching her sister hard and leaving a bruise. Grandpa, when he hears about this, will refrain from teaching them for awhile as punishment.
For tournaments, the girls will train every day and get up at 6 a.m. and work hard for four hours a day. Traveling to Las Vegas for demonstrations and tournaments is a large part of life for both girls. After they receive their black sashes, both have indicated a desire to be instructors.
For more information on kung fu and Tai Chi call Thompson at 775-537-8857.