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My first 50 years in Karate.

From time to time I have a student ask me “how long you been doing Karate!

Every time it conjures up old memories of my Karate training, my many instructors and fellow students. So many people have made an impact on me, not just with a front kick or reverse punch but by giving me memories that will last a lifetime. I still carry many memories of my first classes in the sports Center in Norton (my home town). My instructor was a young man, Walter Seaton, who was one of the first 4 Englishmen to attain his 1st degree Black Belt in Wado-Ryu Karate in the UK. He trained hard and expected all his students to put in the same effort. Classes were twice a week, 2 hours long, sometimes seeming like 3 or 4 hours! I will always respect and consider Walter Seaton as my Karate Instructor. He instilled in me a passion and dedication to Wado-Ryu Karate that is hard to explain. I have many good memories but also some not so good. I can recall missing training seminars with excuses of having to work! Sadly the first seminar that comes to mind is when Our Grand Master – Hironori Otsuka came to our area in the fall of 1968, I had no idea at the time how important the seminar was and that the opportunity would never be offered again. I was just new to Karate and I was totally ignorant of the importance of this event, I still regret missing it today. If there is something to be learned from this it would be – don’t take anything for granted, opportunities missed may never be offered again, make the extra effort and create your own enjoyable memories.

In many ways it is true to say an individual makes their own destiny, the choices and actions they take determine the outcome. We all make choices every day, each decision creates a different scenario, with drastically different outcomes. It is only the foolish that think - and say they have always made the right choices. I have made my choices, most of which I am still happy with. Some were nothing more than stupid. Anyhow. Just when I made my choice to make Karate part of my life! Honestly, I cannot remember, it just happened, not intentionally; just realized one day I was committed.

A few years ago whilst having a discussion with Shiomitsu Sensei I asked the question – How long should a person keep training, when should they retire? He replied with a very questioning look on his face – when you die. Guess I knew the answer before I asked.

My original Instructor – Walter Seaton was dedicated to advancing his technical abilities along with his students. That made for some very intense and informative (and hard) training. Our club would host a Japanese Instructor about every 3 to 4 months. Suzuki Sensei would come to our club approximately once every year for a 3 to 4 day seminar and grading. His classes were very hard and long, always spending the last 15 – 20 minutes doing kumite, just to make sure to use up any energy a person may have tried to hold in reserve. Some of the younger Instructors were not long out of Nihon University, a Wado-Ryu stronghold for our Style of Karate. They were stationed in England under the supervision of Suzuki Sensei to help him promote Wado-Ryu throughout the UK and Europe. The variations of their teaching styles were to say very interesting at the least, most of the newer Instructors were more interested in Kumite training, timing and endurance seemed to be the norm for them. The more mature Instructors were, of course more refined in their training, their focus was more towards the technical aspect and spent more time focused on Kata along with Kumite and the connection between both elements. Nevertheless – whoever was Instructing was in charge and part of their mission was to see how much sweat they could produce from each of the students. With that in mind – every seminar was a success.

When I Immigrated to Canada I found myself at a loss. No karate club! It didn’t take me too long before I found someone to workout with, Little John, the son of a friend. He had connections and we were able to use the Judo Club Dojo in the Sports Center a couple of times a week. Then a while later, one of my workmates asked if he could come along and it went on from there. Between the couple of friends working out with me they decided that we should try and encourage a few more to join in, just to make it more interesting with pair work and the like. So Ron (friend from work) encouraged me to place an ad in the local paper with a sign-up date and time, which I did. When the date came around Ron and I went to the allocated location only to find a line up outside the facility. Thinking I must have picked a bad day for our promotion, guessing the Sport Center must have scheduled some game or other for the same night. After pushing our way to the allocated room we came to realise the line up was for karate!! That evening we signed up 38 people, frightened the crap out of me. Only then did I realize why my Sensei had made it a point to make all his Brown belt students and up teach some of his scheduled classes, without any notice, no preparation time, just jump right in with both feet. I remember being dropped in one time and I made a small mistake by referring to a specific technique with the wrong name, Sensei informed me I had done something wrong, and I should rethink it through. He wouldn’t tell me what I had done but made sure I was up front teaching the next class. Without the experience he gave me I would have panicked and run away. As it was I had to take time off work and try to secure a School Gym. I ran into some opposition but finally acquired Oman School Gym for Monday and Wednesday evenings. The classes were split into two groups for the first 4 months or so then after losing some of the deadwood I merged both classes into one. The Monday / Wednesday evenings stuck and we still use them today. It is strange how some people view the same opportunity differently. For the first few years my club fee was $20 for three months. Even then I remember some students pulling faces when it came to pay. In fact there was a time I forgot to collect fees for over 6 months – no one came forward to remind me! Strange.

The Club had been up and running for quite some time; I had tried to make connections with other clubs without much success until I got a call from Dr Dick Jack. He informed me he was training in Regina and his mother had told him of some bloke running a Karate Club in Swift Current. He explained his club was in the process of creating a Provincial Association, and were looking for support from other clubs, was I interested? I said I was very interested and we made arrangements for him to view my Club – to see if it was up to the standards they were looking for. The following week he flew his private plane down to SC and dropped into a training session, bringing a younger Brown Belt along for support. That was my first meeting with two special people, Dr Dick Jack and Rick Jorgensen, to say that meeting was enlightening would be an understatement. We banded together along with the Yorkton and Esterhazy Clubs who were under the instruction of Tim Martin, and the Saskatchewan Karate Association was born.

Most of our first meetings were held in Hotel rooms, the position of President was given to the Instructor of the Regina Club LeRoy Krassman and the position of Secretary/Treasurer was taken by Dr Jack. Dick was a busy man, and was the principle person to acquire funding from Sask Sport. As the story goes we were having a lot of trouble getting Sask Sport to give us any attention, couldn’t get a meeting with any of their members, it was looking grim. Until Dr Jack sat one of the Sask Sport Board members down in his office and explained our vision for Karate. We got a grant for $500. (I believe), Oh, the reason he was able to get the guy to sit and listen to our request was Dick refused to give him his clothes back after completing his check-up, until he finished his pitch.

Dr Dick Jack became a very close friend; he made it a point to invite me to all the weekend training sessions the Regina club was hosting, at the time Sensei Marr was the visiting Instructor, committed to converting the Freedom School of Karate into a Traditional JKA Club. We trained hard and had a lot of fun. I still maintain respect for Sensei Marr and his Karate; he worked very hard to convert the freestyle club members into dedicated Traditional JKA Karate Karate-ka. He and Dr Jack even tried to convert me over to JKA! Didn’t happen!

After a number of years Saskatchewan started to grow a close relationship with Nishiyama Sensei. I was allowed to participate in the training with Sensei on numerous long weekend clinics, every time leaving with new theories, ideas and renewed excitement.

My own Instructors came to Swift Current every year, Shiomitsu Sensei in the winter mostly and Suzuki Sensei in the Summer. I was able to share my Instructors a number of times with the SKA members on weekend seminars. I was able to arrange Team Training Sessions with Shiomitsu Sensei also Shiomitsu and Otsuka sensei a couple of times. I enjoyed sharing my Instructors with the members of the SKA. I think most of the students enjoyed the experience, but as always there are those who are born to whine! I enjoyed each and every experience myselfJ, there again I can’t remember a seminar that I didn’t enjoy, learn and benefit from, regardless of the leading Instructor.

It took me a long time to really understand Wado-Ryu Karate. Being from England Suzuki Sensei was the law, what he said (in broken English) was the way it had to be. Over the years – meeting people around Canada, I misunderstood a phrase I heard a number of times from other Japanese Instructors – ‘Ah Suzuki Sensei teaches hard Wado!’ I thought they meant his workouts were very hard, and agreed, but that was not the case, they were referring to his adaptation of Wado-Ryu. On being sent to England to get a foothold and create a foundation for Wado-Ryu, he was himself manipulated into converting the true Wado-Ryu concept into what he wanted it to be. Looking back it was very obvious; he changed a number of our Kata to reflect his own personality. His basic training was hard but ‘noisy’ – a lot of foot stamping and the like. Suzuki did a lot for Wado-Ryu Karate with his pair-work routines and his knowledge of Kumite, but in the same instance lost the true essence of Wado. I thank Shiomitsu Sensei for accepting the challenge to convert all us Wado-Ryu practitioners into the students that our original Grand Master Otsuka wanted us to be. Wado-Ryu is a very quiet and relaxed style when done right. Basic stepping and punching is silent except for the snap of a Gi. I once witnessed the Grand Master and his son perform our 10 Kihon Gumite in total silence, including the throwing techniques, that is when I realized I needed to rethink my training. I am still trying and acknowledge, I have so much more to learn and understand, with the Lord’s help I hope to keep progressing.

To conclude this article, I find it hard to believe it is fifty years since I first set foot into a Dojo and started my training (makes me feel old !). There are many questions I have asked myself; should I have concentrated more on making money/ working harder, longer hours, multiple jobs and all that type of stuff. My answer is and always has been NO. I have enjoyed Karate, the people I have met and friends made, the experiences I have had, the gift of learning from many very wise men and women, the positive list goes on.

Just for your information, all the accidents damage to my knees hands elbows and back are from working as a Heavy Duty Mechanic for 50 years. Yes I did get some bruising and cuts from time to time in Karate, but that is just life’s learning process. Quite a high % of my Karate accidents could have been avoided if I had listened more, and believed my instructors advice! He was offering me his experience to allow me not to have to find out the hard way every time. It is always easy looking back and recognizing the errors one has made.

Watch – listen and accept your Instructors advice, they have already learned many lessons and are willing to share with those who are willing to accept.

If you have actually read through this rambling, well done, award yourself a large coffee – or some other more preferred beverage.

Graham Guthrie 6th degree Black Belt – Instructor of the Swift Current Karate Club.