He recently stood in the MAC room before a handful of undergraduates, graduate students and community members and called senior Rebecca Gordon to the middle of the room, as her opponent, a man twice her size, approached from the opposite side. A few swift moves one strike and one block and the man appeared to be at her mercy.
During UR’s Shotokan Karate Club’s biannual testing/clinic, Okazaki conducted several sparring events such as these, testing students ranging from the first level of white to the highest level of black.
Shotokan is a relatively modern style of martial arts. Originally from Japan, Okazaki has been practicing the style for over 30 years, and now travels, teaches and administers exams for the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF). UR’s Shotokan Karate Club was created 30 years ago as a chapter of the ISKF, which has functioning clubs in 43 countries.
‘Part of what makes the ISKF such a strong organization is we can communicate without language barriers,” Okazaki said.
Okazaki has traveled all over the United States, Bolivia, Mexico, the Caribbean and is planning to go to the Philippines next year. Other senseis from the ISKF have traveled to Sri Lanka and India to hold clinics and testing.
‘I went to Bolivia to teach a group of over 100 students,” Okazaki said. ‘Their uniforms were all dirty and ripped; they’re poor so they can’t buy new ones, but their enthusiasm to learn karate was so high, because they were so hungry to learn. People are so poor in some of these countries and they save up money to learn this art and it motivates me to train harder.”
Casey Aten was eager to dive into a new experience as a freshman, and saw Shotokan as the perfect opportunity. Aten was one of 11 freshmen to pass the belt test from white to yellow.
‘I started doing it because I’ve always been interested in doing a martial art but my mom never let me when I was younger,” Aten said. ‘Plus after “Red Light Green Light,’ I really don’t want to be the one out of four.”
Gordon, the president of the club on campus, initially began practicing Shotokan because she felt like she wasn’t very good at sports but still wanted to engage in something active and challenging.
‘Practicing Shotokan has increased my chances of living a long, healthy life,” Gordon said. ‘It’s a very demanding physical activity which I could practice my entire life and still have room for improvement, and more importantly, I enjoy it.”
Leila Norako, the head instructor of the campus’s club, is a graduate student who initially began practicing this form of karate after experiencing a track injury while running for William and Mary University. She insisted that it was not too late to join.
‘If someone really works for it and tries to test up as often as possible, it’s definitely feasible to get to first degree black belt within two years, by the time you graduate, so you’re walking out with more than just a diploma,” Norako said.
The club holds other events in addition to testing, bringing in many other senseis for a weekend clinic of basically nothing but training and eating. UR competes as a collegiate team at several tournaments around the northeast.
‘As a student I was spread so thin. When you get into training you clear your mind and only be concerned with how your body is moving,” Norako said. ‘You can’t really concentrate on anything else because you might get hit in the face.”
With a team forming for the national competition, the club now holds practices four times a week.
According to Norako, this is the first year in several years people have been prepared to go to nationals, but she insists there is very little emphasis on the results.
‘With other sports it’s all about the end product,” Norako said. ‘All that matters is how you can perform at those meets or games. The whole point to this is training and becoming a student, and that will never end. The answer is always the same: If you pass a test, then train harder. If you don’t, then train harder.”
The Shotokan Karate Club meets Mondays from 5:30-7 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursday from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Aerobics Studio in Georgen.
Gewali is a member of the class of 2012.