Sunday, September 7, 2014

Judo Comes to Seichou Dojo!

I began studying Kyokushinkai Karate in 1971 under renowned master Soshu Shigeru Oyama. However, back then, we called him "Sensei," and he taught in a windowless, basement dojo with leaky pipes called the White Plains School of Self-defense.

Thinking back, that place was pretty romantic because in the summer it could be hotter than blazes and, in the winter, it could be colder than a freezer. Also, as anyone who was there at the time could tell you, it was a rough place. But, as an impressionable 10-year old, I couldn't get enough. In fact, the first time that I knelt on the mat and meditated, I felt strangely at home. I was drawn to karate's power, explicit rules of conduct and camaraderie like a fly to a flickering flame. So, I trained as often as possible and, in 1974, I was promoted to 1st degree black belt by Kyokushinkai founder Kancho Masutatsu Oyama!

The White Plains School of Self-defense also had a kind of peculiar quirk. Although Kyokushinkai Karate demanded complete loyalty from its students, in addition to karatedo, the school offered Kodokan Judo.

I remember sometimes watching the Judo classes under the direction of a Japanese instructor named Mr. Watanabe. The judoka (judo practitioners) would grasp each other by the lapel and sleeve for a few moments and glide around feeling each other out. Then, in an instant, in cat-like fashion, one would thunderously throw or sweep the other to the mat. Once again, my adolescent boy's mind took over and made the following analysis. Judoka were so smooth and so powerful and, so, I wanted to practice judo!

So, I asked the school owner if I could try a Judo class. "Well," he replied admonishingly, "I'm not sure that Sensei Oyama would appreciate that. You could try Judo, but you'd need to choose one or the other. You wouldn't be permitted to do both."

I was disappointed, but the message was loud and clear that I would risk offending my karate teacher who would perceive my interest in Judo as disloyal. Since I'd seen plenty of other students - even senior black belts - unceremoniously booted from the dojo for different transgressions, I quickly decided to keep my interest in judo to myself. Not long after that, I forgot about judo and re-immersed myself in karatedo.

My career in karatedo has been deeply rewarding because it has given me the skills and confidence to set and accomplish ambitious goals, and has led me to many rich experiences. For example, while I was in college and law school (1980 to 1987), I taught karate at Soshu's Manhattan dojo and became a Kyokushinkai middleweight fighting champion. Then, in 1984, I was chosen to represent the U.S. at the Kyokushinkai-kan All-World Karate Championships in Tokyo. After that, my deep interest in Japan led me to work there in public education from 1989 to 1994. During that time, Soshu asked me to teach at his Nagoya branch. I returned to the U.S. In 1996 and one year later I founded Seichou Karate® Dojo in Alexandria, Virginia.

However, Soshu's philosophy and that of Kyokushinkai-kan were too restrictive. By contrast, we always put the needs of our students first. So, this summer “Seichou Karate Dojo” became “Seichou Karate & Judojo” as we expanded our curriculum to include Kodokan Judo. We will encourage our students to study karatedo (powerful stand-up self-defense) and judo (powerful close quarters and ground self-defense) because doing so is best for them. OSU!

Richard Romero
President & Founder, Seichou Karate and Judojo

Monday, September 1, 2014

Thank Your Opponent

On August 31, 30 Seichou Karate and Judo students and family members observed the Shidogakuin 30th Anniversary Tournament, during which more than 200 kendoka (practitioners of kendo) from Brazil, Canada, Japan and the U.S. competed. The event was held at the Ernst Cultural Center of Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale. Seichou Karate and Judojo was pleased to sponsor this event.

Simply explained, kendo is Japanese fencing with a bamboo sword (called a “shinai”). However, being that kendo is not a form a self-defense, why is it relevant today?

The answer lies in the fact that modern kendo is a distillation of the finest facets of bushido, which is the code that governed the lives of medieval samurai. It is much more than swinging a stick around to score points by striking an opponent. Rather, properly done, kendo fosters humility, honesty, courage, industriousness and gratitude, and requires tremendous physical fitness, alertness and martial expertise.

So, kendo is relevant in contemporary society because it inspires practitioners to manifest the very best human virtues. It’s also really cool and a heck of a lot of fun.

Seichou Karate and Judo students were impressed by the fine display of martial skill and etiquette at this weekend’s event. I was impressed by the admonition of Chief Judge Masaharu Kakehashi, who had travelled from Japan to officiate. Among his closing comments Master Kakehashi said “kendoka should be grateful when their opponents strike them.”

This might be counter-intuitive, but the thinking goes that when our opponent strikes us hard, he gives us an opportunity to improve. Hence, one should thank his opponent for giving him a good shot.

This admonition is also fundamental to the practice of judo and was articulated in the 19th century by Founder Jigoro Kano when he coined the phrase “jita kyouei,” which describes a reciprocal concern between judoka for each other’s well-being.

However, it is not an admonition that one often hears in the karate world. Except, of course, if you are a Seichou Karate® student because we often remind our members that we practice karatedo not merely to become strong for ourselves, but also to help our classmates become strong. We require our students to commit to a win-win ethic in training including contact free-fighting.

In sum, I am delighted that our students had the opportunity to observe such a fine event and to realize that the ethics that we teach at Seichou Karate and Judojo are replete throughout traditional Japanese martial arts.

We heartily congratulate the WashinkanShidogakuin on a highly successful tournament!