Born into a samurai family, Teru Hendry was my first instructor in karate and the reason I think discipline is so crucial to the art. I have talked about her multiple times on this site, but think it is important to acknowledge she is the one who taught me how to stand still and focus when someone was talking at an early age. This type of discipline followed me all the way into my adulthood as a student at a military school. She is my example of how important it is to instill discipline into children of the martial arts. The character they can develop in the art will last them a lifetime.
My primary instructor, that I am sure you have all heard me talk about on this site numerous times, Richard Hooven is a marine, a 5th degree black belt in Okinawan Karate, and a massive influence in his community. For more than 10 years I have watched him take in underprivileged children, sometimes without any pay at all, and create disciplined karate students.
His secret? Loving what you do as an instructor. Most of the instruction he gives isn’t on the mats, it isn’t during kata, and it isn’t in history lessons. He does it when he takes a teenager to grab a bite to eat after class and try to talk some sense into them, it is during beech day with his class of 6-12 year olds, or during the dojo barbeque when he is asking about people’s weekends. His class is as unorthodox as it comes and an American take on an Okinawan art, something I have learned to appreciate a lot more over the years. From the first time you see his tiger stripped gi to the open house when some little kid screams Semper Fi instead of Kiai. The only thing that matters is that he is building character in thousands of students through his own personal take on budo. Nothing less than admirable.
I was first introduced to Mike by Noah. I had found a bunch of Mike’s photos of his dojo and was using them when OKI first started. One of them happened to be of Mike’s gi and Noah recognized it. If you don’t know anything about Mike you can check out his blog and find tons of stuff from cigars, to fantasy novels, to karate. What I always enjoy reading is Mike’s insights on being a professional writer. For all of us who try to start a blog, there comes a time usually about a month into it that you just hit a wall and feel so let down by the lack of success. I hit mine a little later into writing and got a lot of motivation out of reading Mike’s insights on hitting those same kind of walls as a professional writer with way more experience than me.
While I have learned a lot from him, there is still a lot more I need to internalize. Particularly some advice he gave on editing your work and recognizing that your first draft is just that, a draft. You will find tons of mistakes on my site that I have been working to correct. It takes time and it takes reminders from great guys like Mike who give us novices some help along the way.
The face of practical application of karate is Iain Abernethy. He is the head of the World Combat Association and one of, if not the most, prominent speakers on how useful traditional kata is in a real life conflict. It was watching his explanation of Naihanchi Shodan that I realized I had been on the right track for a long time, but very far off nonetheless.
Since seeing his explanations I have drastically changed how I use kata and have gotten nothing but positive feedback in the form of students telling me how much useful the techniques feel and the decline of getting smacked around. A great takeway from my experience learning from Iain is that kata teaches you muscle memory and that is awesome no matter how ineffective your bunkai may be. Nothing really changes about the movements, you just realize there are better places to use those moves. If you have read this site for a long time and seen a shift to more combative karate – thank Iain.
If you read any other martial arts blogs, I can almost guarentee that KarateByJesse is on that list or will be shortly. Jesse teaches some excellent traditional karate without buying into the myths (like not washing your belt). He is one of the funniest guys on the net and definitely worth a few minutes of your time – he is one of a small handful of sites I follow regularly.
If you don’t trust my opinion on him, his new site has some great reviews at the top from leading martial artists all over the world. How has he impacted me? Well his site is everything I wanted this site to become initially. I loved his layout, I loved his articles, and I loved that he was genuinly interested in spreading better karate. It is my hope that two years later this site has gotten much closer to the type of thing Jesse does (obviously not as funny). For anyone trying to write a martial arts blog, take a glance at his site and see what the best karate site on the net does and get a few ideas along the way.
My final teacher is the only other person I think the title of Sensei would be fitting, and ironically he doesn’t do karate or use Japanese. Colin is an Australian instructor of traditional Tae Kwon Do and a huge mentor in my journey to be a better instructor. Anytime I feel like I am conflicted on something, whether it is karate specific or not, I tend to find myself asking Colin’s opinion. Last year I went so far as to bounce a business idea off of him – sadly he pointed out a lot of real flaws in the idea, but I am still very thankful for the help.
What really got me interested in Colin’s work is his anti-bullying initiative in Perth, Australia through Super Parents. I had first heard about it when helping with his Blog Carnival last year. I did a post on telling children stories to help teach more than just punching and kicking. It seems a common trend that the instructors I call my mentors are the ones who are spreading the character building aspects of budo rather than just how to fight. Colin is a great guy and the type of role model we need in the martial arts community.
Your Own Teachers
Who has influenced you? If there was a single lesson you would want us to take away from your instructor, what would it be? Let us all know about the great influences in your life down in the comments.