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

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