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Aiden Lee, Richmond Dojo

" Through Karate I have learned many life lessons such as patience, discipline, and hard work. It has taught me that success does not come easily and discipline is key. Besides that, I have learned how to defend myself effectively and strengthened my body. It's affected my life because these lessons I have learned have transferred to other parts of my life such as school and sports. I was more patient when learning a skill and disciplined when studying.

To me Karate is both a physical and mental improvement of one's self. Through the practice of Karate I have become more relaxed and controlled. It's through this that I have gotten to know myself better. I have also learned many Katas and Techniques that can help me defend myself. It is also more than a weekly activity, it is a lifestyle that takes countless years of practice and hard work to refine. I hope that Karate stays a part of my life because there's no other activity that improves me mentally and physically as Karate does.

After earning my Black Belt, I will try to be an instructor and bring up the next generation of black belts. I can also be an example to younger generations and promote Go Ju Ryu, and stays on.

I think that Black Belts have the responsibility to keep Karate alive through their example and work. Teaching younger belts with patience and encouragement are some ways to keep people to stay in Karate. They should also try to promote Go Ju Ryu and Karate." 

-Robert Collier, Why I chose Karate

"The decision to study Karate was an easy choice for me. Having looked at several different styles and clubs which I found through Karate B.C., I was intrigued by the website so I decided to go and watch a class in order to give me a clearer picture into the style and teaching methods. I am glad I did, because it was a pleasure to watch; the movements, forms and discipline of the students, not to mention their focus and enjoyment. I was pleased to see that the class had a balance between warm-up stretches and exercise and then form, movement and actions. Having made the choice to study Karate took some time, but once I watched that first class, I was hooked.

I originally took an interest in martial arts as I became aware of the need to grow, both mentally and physically. I needed more confidence and self-assurance. As well, getting back into shape was a factor, but more of it stemmed from the realization that I needed other skills in life, mainly the need to defend myself as well as my loved ones.

Having researched many martial art forms, I was intrigued by the style but appreciated its discipline and form. I suppose an underlying thought may be that as a child my father studied Karate for many years and that had impressed on me the many good qualities and values of karate. I’m sure that part of that was just a child in awe of his father, but it is that which has implored me to seek out those values, which I find in Karate.

In my first three weeks here, I admit it has not been easy, but nor too difficult. There is a lot to learn, but it’s a lot fun! The classes are great, filled with really fantastic people who are always willing to help you out, whether in technique or form. I’ve met so many wonderful people and am having the best time. I would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for more than just a workout. It’s an art that enables both personal and physical growth. I love it!"

-Ivan Bulic, Mind Over Matter: Traditional Goju Ryu Training in Japan

"The point of karate is not competition," said Sensei George Chan. "It's not just acquiring physical skills. The essence is in the mind and the spirit."

Starting karate late in life, and being neither fast, agile nor strong, I clung to Sensei Chan's words. It was a matter of self preservation when facing the agile young athletes in Sensei Chan's False Creek dojo in Vancouver where he has been teaching traditional Japanese goju ryu karate for almost two decades.

Yet I failed to grasp the spiritual side of karate. Sensei Chan suggested training in Japan with his teacher, Shihan Hirano Osamu, the master of Ku Yu Kai goju ryu karate. I met Shihan Hirano in late November in Tokyo where he had arrived from his home in Wakayama City, south of Osaka. A small, unassuming man in his mid-60s, he was officiating at the 29th All Japan JKF tournament at the Budokan. Set on the ancient grounds of Tokyo Castle, the tournament featured participants from across Japan. It was an impressive display of skill. But it was basically still a sporting event.

The following week I traveled on the Shinkansen bullet train to Wakayama City, location of Shihan Hirano's home dojo. A highly respected teacher, who himself studied with Shozo Ujita starting in 1953 and with Gogen Yamaguchi in the early 1960s, Shihan has attracted many talented students including Teramura Seiji, one of the top 10 kumite practitioners in Japan. Shihan is also chief instructor at the Wakayama Medical College karate club where bright, dedicated students combine hard physical training with equally rigorous studies. Ku Yu Kai, Shihan's association, has fifteen dojos in Japan: thirteen in Wakayama and two in Kyoto.

I quickly learned that Japanese are serious about karate. Shihan Hirano trains at least four days a week. Few sessions last less than three hours. Warm ups of 250 squats, 150 sit ups, 50 push ups, and hundreds of strikes and kicks are routine. With their gis dripping in sweat, students from white belt to senior black, practise group kata under Shihan's direction. Sessions end with kumite techniques and free sparring.

Every year Shihan hosts a major tournament that draws participants from as far as Kyoto and Tokyo. Conducted on much the same basis as events in BC, children as young as 5 and 6 compete beside life-long karate-kas. It was at the tournament that I observed Teramura Seiji preparing for kumite. He sat cross-legged in a side room, with his eyes closed. Except for slow breathing, Seiji remained perfectly motionless for at least 30 minutes. He then gracefully raised himself, and walked into the tournament hall. Except for kiais, Seiji never uttered a word while he fought in four matches.

Seiji later explained he was applying techniques learned at Kokokin-ji, a Rinzai zen Buddhist temple in the orange-growing region around Yura in southern Wakayama prefecture. Shihan and many of his students also studied at Kokokin-ji. And Shihan had arranged for me to spend a week at the temple.

A bitter, cold Siberian wind was blowing over Japan as Shihan introduced me to the young abbott. Despite the cold, the abbott, stood motionless, dressed only in thin black robes and wearing straw sandals on his bare feet. He led me to a bare tatami room. No heat, just a futon under neatly folded quilts. After a meal of a single bowl of rice, miso soup and vegetables - invariably the same meal repeated three times a day - the abbot gave me a brief tour of the temple complex and introduced me to the half dozen resident monks.

Kokokin-ji was founded in the mid 13th century by Chinese zen master Bukko Kokushi who established zen in Japan after becoming the teacher of the powerful shogun Hojo Tokimure. Although the temple was sacked and burned several times in the preceding eight centuries of Japan's turbulent history, it was faithfully rebuilt each time.

In the temple everyone, monks and visitors, are expected to follow the daily routine. A Rinzai monk is woken by a large gong at 4:30 a.m. After a quick wash from a bucket of cold water, monks shuffle wordlessly over the ancient stone paths to the main temple. The abbott has already lit candles and incense in front of elaborate gold shrines depicting various incarnations of the Buddha.

For the next hour everyone sits motionless in seiza - a full squat posture - while the abbott leads in chanting the lotus sutra. The monks then do minor chores until seven when everyone goes to the zendo: a dark wooden building in the heart of the temple. A single candle provides the only light as the monks seat themselves on the raised platforms that run down each side of the ancient wooden building. A single bell marks the beginning of zazen meditation. For the next two hours, only the sound of breathing breaks the whistle of icy wind through the open windows. Another bell marks the end of zazen when the monks slowly stretch from the zendo and make their way to the kitchen for breakfast.

After a breakfast of a bowl of rice with a smaller bowl of miso and a few vegetables, the day's work begins. The rule at Kokokin-ji is - no work, no food.  My job is sweeping the ancient smooth stone paths and courtyards between the temple buildings. At noon a gong marks the midday meal of a bowl of rice, miso, vegetables and hot green tea. During the afternoon I clean the small temple pond - home to a family of tame ducks. The workday ends at 5 p.m. when everyone has an hour of free time before the evening meal. I use the hour to soak in the scalding water in the stone bathhouse.

The evening meal of rice, miso soup and pickled vegetable is followed by another two-hour session of formal zazen in the zendo, and another half hour of sitting in seiza through evening prayers. At 10 p.m. I finally roll out my futon and crawl under an icy pile of blankets. A thin crust of ice skims the glass of water that sits on the low lacquered table in the room. Outside the rustle of leaves in the wind breaks the silence until the 4:30 morning gong.

Each day at Kokokin-ji followed the same pattern. Despite the cold, the meagre diet, physical work, and the strain of zazen, the monks are a cheerful lot. They seem not to notice the cold. And their physical stamina is remarkable. Karate training was easy compared to a day in the temple, and I gained a new appreciation of what Sensei meant when he told me that the essence of karate is in the mind and the spirit.

-Dan R Wilson, PhD, Yes, it was worth it!

"Late last year my 8-year-old karate-loving son reluctantly left his (first) karate dojo, his first Sensei and fellow karate-ka. Some months ago, he joined the False Creek dojo to learn a new style of karate. Because Goju Ryu is quite different from what he had learned, my son also left behind his 8th kyu rank and orange belt for which he had worked so hard. As a beginner of Goju Ryu, he wore a white belt again.

Although my son’s mind readily embraced my view that attitude of heart and ability are better measures of true karate-ka than belt colour, his heart still knew that he had given up something of value. As he began training in his new dojo, he couldn’t help but ask “Is it worth it to start again as a beginner?”

It wasn’t long before he answered “Yes!” for he readily saw that False Creek dojo was unique in ways important to an 8 year old kid who loves karate. And over the past several months we have both come to appreciate and value certain characteristics of the False Creek dojo.

  • Personal progress is emphasized, as opposed to competition and “winning”. I expect this is because Goju Ryu at False Creek is viewed as a traditional martial art rather than as a sport karate.

  • Tradition is valued and practiced. This includes not only the notion that respect is due to those of senior rank, but also that courtesy and respect should be given to on another regardless of are or rank. We particularly like Dojo Courtesy Rule number 7, “Senior belts teach junior belts with kindness and patience” and wonder why it is not a rule everywhere.

  • Because standards are high, attainment of kyu level is particularly meaningful to a student. Having now passed his Goju Ryu 9th kyu exam, my son has a sense of genuine accomplishment.

  • Classes are led exclusively by adults, all black belts, often of senior rank. There seems to be a ready supply of volunteers to teach children. This of itself speaks well for the dojo.

  • The dojo is relatively calm place, even in the children classes! Discipline is maintained and done so in a way that doesn’t require raised voices or a boot camp” environment. Training time is maximized to the benefit of all.

I asked my son to list the four things he liked most about the dojo.

  1. “Sensei Chan” – He holds Sensei, Sempai and all of his teachers in high regard

  2. “Type of Karate” – He sees Goju Ryu as a complete martial art.

  3. “The way it is taught” – How it is done just “makes sense” to him

  4. “It is traditional” – He enjoys and understands some aspects of tradition.

I have asked my son several times since he joined the dojo, “Was it worth it?” and he never hesitates to give the same answer, “Yes!”

-Celine Kwan, My Trip to Japan

The 11 hour flight to Wakayama, Japan seemed rather long for a first time international traveller, but it was well worth the journey. Upon arrival at Kansai airport, the Go Ju Ryu Canada karate team members were enthusiastically welcomed by fellow Ku Yu Kai Japan club members. This felt like a much needed long-time reunion, since the last time I saw their faces was close to eight years ago. The Japanese atmosphere, culture and hospitality were overwhelming to take in at first, but over the 10 day stay we eventually adapted to the surroundings.

Something I will most likely never forget will be the training sessions we had, preparing us for the Ku Yu Kai 5th Hirano Cup Tournament. Fitting almost thirty students into a tiny, non air-conditioned dojo was only the half of it; add in a room temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, intensive warm ups and pools of sweat dripping down your face, and you have the recipe for a typical karate class in Japan. It was definitely not like your average class back in Canada.

The day of the tournament was a complete eye-opener for me: getting to observe, compete against and meet fellow club members from all over the world was an experience of a life time. Who can say that they got to compete against a South African, a Belgian, a Japanese and an Indian, all in the same day? Not many people, let’s just say that. The tournament was already intense to watch, but the pressure was definitely on when it was time to compete. Everyone entered the ring with concentration, focus, and a face full of sweat. Considering the heat and the determination in each individual’s eyes, I knew the competition was going to be tough. As I entered the ring to perform my kata, my heart was beating so loud and fast that I felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. Not the feeling you want before you are about to execute a difficult kata in front of five judges. In the end I came out ahead with a victorious first place win, and our Sensei, Julie Zilber, received a well fought second place trophy for her kata in the Master’s division. As the results were being presented I was literally jumping for joy awaiting my coveted trophy and plaque. The whole tournament put on by Saikou Shihan Osamu Hirano was a success; with close to 200 competitors it was a great way to interact and create friendships with club members across the world.

The rest of the trip was filled with sightseeing tours in the vicinity of the city and delicious dinners loaded with ramen and sushi until you were stuffed to the brim. These were only some of the many ways our Japanese hosts showed their hospitality to their guests, besides the fact that they graciously offered us accommodations at their houses. We were extremely grateful. As the trip drew to an end, a huge party was hosted by Sensei Teramura Seiji, as a thank you for traveling all the way to Japan to take part in the tournament. It was a chance to have fun, enjoy good food, let loose and establish friendships to last a lifetime.

-Liz Cu

"You have helped me a lot in my self-improvement process.  I have grown very strong physically and mentally from being in your class.  You have shown me that there is strength in silence, in gentleness, and in peace.  You have inspired me to be the best that I can be, in my own way and abilities......and for that, I thank you."

-Debbie Hoy, Why I Chose Karate

"I have adopted a healthier lifestyle in the past few years. Last summer, I was searching for an active sport to provide me with overall physical conditioning, in addition to my other activities of outdoor running and gym workouts. I decided upon martial arts, in particular Karate, because I thought it would improve my physical fitness and it would benefit from learning self-defense. Upon practicing Karate, I found that there were additional rewards that just improving my cardiovascular conditioning and body flexibility. I had better concentration and calmness of mind, as well as clarity of thought and action, from the grace, power and discipline learned from practicing katas. I also gained inner strength and peace from striving to integrate the physical force and mental and spiritual force of Karate into training hard and being a good student in practicing Karate."

-Jesse Strong

"I was a student of Sensei George Chan in the 90’s when I was young. Even though I didn’t continue to train with him personally, I did continue to train in Goju Ryu for many years after. I have very fond memories of classes at KB Woodward and although it was only a few years, Sensei had a strong impact on me till this day. I was young, but he taught me to work hard along with other important life skills. Anyway, my dad passed away a couple years back and looking through a stack of photos he had I found two from 95 that put a huge smile on my face.  I just had to reach out to share. I was a purple belt, my brother green belt and my father orange belt. It was really cool coming across these photos and brought back many great memories. Happy new year, wishing everyone at KuYuKai health and happiness."

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