I should preface this, acknowledging the debt I owe my wife for her love and support over the years as this occurred. That has meant everything to me.
I started karate, partially as I had some vague idea of what karate was about. The day the idea came to me I was working as a construction laborer as Staisbury State College constructing their new phys ed comples. One of the other guys told me about a karate school outside of Salisbury, so I went over there, and long story short began the training.
I was probably the worst beginner that ever was. The training was focused, hard and at times painful, but once I began, I just never stopped.
In retrospect I was probably the least of Tom Lewis’s students over his years.
About a year later when training at a nearby school run by one of the groups seniors he took me aside and told me “Victor, when you first began, I didn’t think you had a chance to survive. And you have and are moving forward.” Harsh, but true.
There was nothing special about my Isshinryu. But whatever I went through I kept at it.
Then when I had to move for work, Serendipity brought my senior Charles Murray to the Scranton area where I then lived. And I was able to resume my Isshinryu training with him. For one thing for the next few years I was used for target practice by him continually. Day of Night, Sunny of Snowing, In reality in those years I do not remember being able to hit him once. And he forced the remainder of the system into me as a ferocious pace.
Then I was alone, with no Isshinryu nearby. I had noticed that Scranton was filled with dance studios, almost on every corner. So I decided to try and teach youth. Almost everyone I knew tried to talk me out of it. But I choose to begin a program through the Scranton Boys Club, and over time learned a great deal.
The first lesson I learned was that I did not know how to teach youth. But my wife stepped in, a phys ed instructor herself, and slowly I learned how to learn something new.
I also participated in region tournaments, To associate with adults black belts, and to try and improve my skills.
My first black belt fight was against Sam Shockley, then 10th heavyweight in the PKA. Friends told me I was shaking like a leaf as I entered the ring, I was remembering he had once ko’d one of my senior instructors (a solid fighter), by mistake giving my senior the fight. Of course Sam whooped me, politely, as I was no threat. He was a gentleman. And surviving that I learned more about how to be a dan.
I used to compete against some of the National Forms and Weapons Champions. Week by week they became training lessons to improve myself.
And I developed my youth program. We were the first program to include girls into the Boys Club at that time. Eventually I held 3 youth only tournaments, a first in that region, to not have adults overshadow the kids accomplishments.
I had the time, and I started visiting friends I had made at tournaments to have places I could train with adults. I never went to learn their systems, but the manner in which Charled trained me, I did learn how to do what I saw. So I was learning.
Some less than good. Some good. Some excellent.
But the thing I realized was that except for the belief in my efforts of Tom Lewis and Charles Murray, now both far away, no one really cared about what I was doing in Isshinryu. That was up to me. And the only Issshinryu that mattered, again was what I experienced from my seniors. That became a constant in my life.
Then I moved to New Hampshire, again for work. And started the youth program again through the Derry Boys and Girls Club. As time passed moved past tournaments. I always had good students, and I started a very small adult program.
I learnt more about what I was accomplishing.
For one thing most of the kids lasted 2-3 years, not the 7-9 to reach dan level.
I realized what I was doing was more in common with all the parents that ran the youth activity programs in my home town. It was for the kids.
The most important thing I could share with them was that they could learn though their own efforts. And if they learned that when they saw new beginners who could not do what they had learned, they would gain a lesson they could rely on for life. That they were responsible for their own selves learning everything. Every youth became a success story.
My adult program developed dans who invented decades in their own training. Allowing my studies to go further and further.
I developed a method to create instructors over time. Skilled in the system and how skilled how to pass it along and retain their own creative side at the same time.
So more time passed, and I became less callable, The youth class often was given to the other instructors, where their creativity shined. The adult classes always stayed under my control. Not that I didn’t have other teach, they were qualified, but each class was another learning experience for me as well as them.
The one thing I insisted was that each beginner group was instructed by me.
Their first day(and for the next 6 classes) was an explanation of what karate was, and I wanted to get that straight from the beginning, then when they forgot, and the always did forget, they could be reminded that was what they were taught at the beginning.
I also felt it most important that my understanding of what their karate was should be made a plain to them as possible.
Each beginner is a most precious chance to get it right. Should they choose to do something else in the future, it was not because they did not get the real karate.
One time I had a father with previous karate training, watch his daughters first class, and then he came up to me and told me. “Why were you teaching them karate, That is not what the other school around here do.”
I responded, “I don’t keep track of what the others do, I just was trained in Isshinryu, and that is all I know how to teach.”
No student has ever made me feel lost when they moved on.
Whether after 1 day, 3 years, 9 years, 30 years. Each of them learned the most important lesson after all. We are what we choose to be by our choices. That must be celebrated when they decide to do other.
And the few that stay and stay, of course they must be celebrated for their choice too.
Now I live on the edge of a desert, still trying to preserve what I have learned for my students. My personal practice is slower, my tai chi is slower.
There is still so much to do and learn.