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Master Katsuya Kisaka and my introduction to martial arts


It begins. I'm going to share tons of stories and tips from my ongoing  martial arts journey, stretching from 1978 to today and beyond. I'll cover shotokan, kenpo, kung fu, grappling conditioning, speed and more. I'm a martial arts, ive gone anywhere and everywhere for the knowledge.

shotokan part 1, Katsuya Kisaka

            I started at the age of nine.  Shotokan was the first martial art I learned. It was and is for me the most simple of the martial arts in terms of the material learned, simply because of the way it was taught.  This was in a large part because the instructor, Sensei Katsuya Kisaka was a graduate of the strict JKA instructors course in Japan.  He taught a strict disciplinarian, perfectionist style pretty much as I’ve heard it described as being taught in Japan.  I’ve since moved on and trained, competed and taught other martial arts. Some I sought out and trained in because they appealed to my artistic sense or need for more practical combat. Others I simply ran across in moving and my military tours, and took advantage of the opportunity to learn something new. I love cross training, and think it’s a great way to be a more well rounded martial artist, like the samurai who often learned 18 different arts and related disciplines. That being said Sensei Katsuya Kisaka and the JKA style he devoted his entire life to were the foundation for everything else I learned. I honestly don’t think if I started under another teacher or style I’d have been able to go as far in anything else, because I came to the dojo an uncoordinated, shy, awkward, with poor stamina and a social misfit. I left my seven months initial training as a social misfit that not only could do what was necessary to learn martial arts, but more importantly I believed I could learn more.  What was funny was that I hated most of it, it was hard drudgery to me, I wanted to stay home Saturdays and watch cartoons.  I hid under the couch when dad came to drive us to the dojo. Eventually dad pulled the kids out of the class when my brothers were approaching brown belt, simply because of the cost. They had been brown belts for some time and felt they were being unfairly held back, from a dan test. That was also the time where sparring got rough. They were teenagers and they were getting hit by black belts, and I might add holding their own.  It’s an indication off how seriously Sensei Kisaka took his teaching that he was willing to not bend his rules, they weren’t old enough and they weren’t ready so he kept them at that rank and lost two students. Two?  Yes I think at first I was being allowed to come to class as a favor, and no one in my family thought I would last, they just wanted me to stop getting beat up.

Sensei Katsuya Kisakas method was nearly fool proof.  Most warmups started with a series of calisthenics, then progress to relentless repetitions of punches and blocks in a deep horse stance, then holding the horse stance, then more repetitions of kicks punches and blocks while moving up and down the dojo floor with full power and speed, then  perhaps a brief technical explanation (in broken English if it was sensei teaching class-as he often did). Then we might be made to repeat that series of techniques again doubling the count. The class would then do kata, then three and one step sparring with hard blocks and full commitment, then if the class was advanced enough, sparring.  There were makiwara standing in the studio and they got used by pretty much everyone.  The floors were swept and mopped voluntarily by the students, and the place was spotless. I can’t ever remember falling or being thrown on that hardwood polished floor and coming up with any noticeable layer of dust on my white gi!

There wasn’t a huge variety off kicks and punches to learn from, especially at the beginning. The kata numbered twenty in all, with seven or so required to get you from white to black belt, and that process could take 3 years or five depending on the student and how much they showed up. Back leg kicks, foot sweeps, reverse punches and the occaisional knifehand made up the bulk of fighting techniques, though some of the black belts did the occaisional spinning kick or front leg kick, these were in general regarded as outside of the style, and therefore discouraged by novices.  There was a required tournament once a year, and special training held in winter and summer.  The purpose of training wasn’t necessarily self defense, or competition, or even exercise.  The entire philosophy of the dojo seemed to be that we there because we wanted to improve our karate for it’s own sake, and that a side benefit of that was that it was a good way to improve yourself, mentally.

The best way for me to give you the essence of the style is to simply let you relive my experiences.

The childrens class was lined up and Sensei (I can only remember him going by that title, though he was a seventh dan at the time) stepped up to the front of the class. He started us with jumping jacks and pushups (knuckle pushups I remember, not so easy at age nine!!  Then the class assumed a deep horse stance and we threw punches in sets ten at high, middle and low levels, then low, middle and outside blocksin sets of ten each set ended in a loud kia.  Sein we were now breathing deep and sweaty, then the sensei had us do deep glute ham stretches, lunges, splits (Chinese, Russian, straddle) hurdlers stretch, butterfly, toe touches, bridges.  Then hed’ have us do crunches, sit ups, another split exercise or quad stretch. Then pushups.

This was also made more intense because sensei  would do them with us, executing them perfectly, despite his white hair, and a few lines around his eyes. He executed full splits, his form on pushups was perfect, just as his Karate was.  He weighed perhaps 135lbs or 145, and his voice was certainly loud enough to fill the dojo.  Next we’d do punches and kicks up and down the dojo floor.