Inspirational Karateka

Inspirational Karateka


Who in your dojo/area/organization gives you inspiration in your training?  Is it the person who has won the most trophies?  The person who leads your organization or region?  Or is it someone that most people do not even notice?

During more than two decades of karate training (as of 2002), I have come in contact with some truly inspirational individuals as well as some who seemed at first to be worthy of great admiration, but were later found to be severely lacking as people.

Sure, Nakayama Sensei was inspirational.  Anyone who met the man would agree with that.  But many other famous karateka in Japan turned out not to be all that inspirational.  I have trained under and next to many of the past JKA All-Japan and World Champions.  But many of them did not really impress me as particularly worthy of the admiration given them by their followers around the world.  There are very many people outside of Japan who automatically assume that an instructor is better just because he has a Japanese name.  There are some great Japanese karate instructors.  But there are many who are not Japanese who are great as well.

So, who has been inspirational to me?  Some of them almost nobody reading this article would have ever heard of.

In the first dojo where I trained, the main instructor was not the best technician, nor instructor, for that matter.  But she has a passion for karate nonetheless.  She has worked hard to keep her dojo going when it was losing money, when there were very few students, and when she was going through some turmoil in her personal life.  I admire her dedication to the art and commitment to her students.

One of my sempai (seniors) from that dojo told me several years ago that I was one of his idols.  I told him that he was actually one of mine.  He idolized me for having moved to Japan for karate right after graduating from high school.  I idolized him for training despite severe arthritis.

I presently have a student who does not look particularly impressive, although he has been doing karate off-and-on for over 30 years.  This student has had so many injuries, operations and other set-backs, yet is back and training to the best of his ability.  I would rather have a dojo full of people like this student, than of people who are physically skilled but lack a good attitude.  It is so much more rewarding teaching people who show a real interest in wanting to learn and improve, even if their improvement is slow.

I remember watching a dan exam in the early 1980’s in which one gentleman was testing for sandan.  He did not look all that impressive at first.  In fact, it looked like something was definitely lacking in his performance.  It turned out that he had had a stroke not long before and was basically still paralyzed on one side of his body.  Considering this, he did an outstanding job and was truly impressive.

Another time, I was at a kyu exam.  A man taking the exam that night was completely blind.  Every time he turned during basics or kata, he did it with more precision than anyone else there.  The only accommodation provided to him was that we all tried to be quiet when he was doing kumite, so he could better hear his opponent’s movements.

I have known some very nice people in my life.  I do not think it is purely coincidental that many of them are karate instructors and students.  The way some people share with others can be very inspirational.

There are some people who have trained for decades without testing for higher rank, yet have continued to advance their skills and understanding at such a rate that they are of greater ability than most of those who are several ranks higher.  If you only look at tournament achievements, rank and position in an organization, you may overlook some really talented karateka.  And if you look around at your dojo/organization and get to know these people, you may find that there are quite a few inspirational people out there.

Who impresses you in your karate world?

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published December 2004)