Old School and Proud of It!

Call me “old school.”

In high school, about the closest connection I had to any martial art was a classmate studying Tae Kwon Do, I think. Martial arts then was about as foreign a concept to me as the word “karate,” often mispronounced “car-rot-tea.”  Sure I was familiar with “The Green Hornet” T.V. show with trusty sidekick (pun intended) Kato played by Bruce Lee. I mean, after all, who wasn’t, just as I was if not more so with Orioles legend, Brooks Robinson and Colts standouts Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry? Not only were they local Baltimore heroes, they were household names!

During that time, the early ‘70s, sports stars being all the rage, notwithstanding, I was mostly preoccupied with just getting through school and graduating (never mind that my grade point average neared negative numbers), when I was going to get my first car and, believe it or not, college. College? That’s right, college!

After high-school graduation and entering junior college and, yes, getting my first automobile, I also landed my first bona fide job (none of this “helping-my-dad-out-for-the-summers” kind of stuff or helping a school chum help his father out). What I was, was an audio salesman in a local record store (that’s what they were called back then). Having that job was so I could earn an income to help pay for college. J.c., if I remember correctly, cost about $150 per semester, books included. Perhaps there are people reading this who can relate.

The tide had definitely turned for me then. I had embarked on a new journey and entered a new phase in my life. Not only for the first time was I understanding what I was studying (electronics technology), I was actually enjoying myself in so doing, taking electives such as bowling, music appreciation and, of course, karate. Imagine earning college credit for taking a class in martial arts.

Okay, time for the $64 million question: What prompted me to take karate being my familiarity with it was virtually nil? One of my fellow students had taken or was enrolled in such at the time and he expressed how his reflexes had quickened. I was intrigued, so much so, that I had to find out for myself just what this guy was boasting about.

This was during an era when gas was 34 cents per gallon (that’s right), the Vietnam War was drawing to a close and cell phones, ipads, the internet and mixed martial arts were still to be discovered, and here I was learning how to properly don a karate gi (uniform), secure such with an obi (belt), breathe correctly and, yes, meditate. All history now, at the time for me it was, uncharted territory. The style, incidentally, I was initially introduced to was Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karate-do. For what it’s worth, I believe I even earned an A grade in the class, a real rarity for me in those days.

Karate having satisfied a college physical education requirement, I nevertheless gained much from the training. In fact, I was motivated enough to continue after-the-fact.

Graduating j.c., with a cumulative grade point average of 2.95, this was good enough to allow myself entry into a four-year program of study at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and where I met Sensei Domi. It was through an extra curricular karate class, in fact, held on campus two evenings per week that my practice was furthered. The style I was now learning was Shotokan.

When I first joined, before training sessions got underway, I would practice techniques and kata (form) I had learned back east. The thing I remember most about the on-campus club was not so much the instruction as it was the camaraderie. Fellow karateka came from all walks of life, many, who, like myself, had prior martial arts experience, some more than others. That really mattered little because everyone, regardless of rank, trained together, like one big happy family.

Sadly, the instruction lasted but three quarters (Cal Poly is on the quarter, not semester, system). The instructor graduated. Even so, I continued to practice unfailingly with fellow students, who incidentally, furthered their own training too. In fact, in a place known as Poly Canyon, where some of the school’s architecture students created several architecturally interesting building designs, of particular note there was one house of sorts propped on a hillside whose main distinguishing feature was its rectangular shape, that and it was outfitted with glass all around. The structure, among its other uses if there were any, in one case it was used as a makeshift dojo (training facility). As such, it provided myself (a white belt) and another Cal Poly student (also versed in Shotokan and a black belt) a quite suitable place for he and I to sometimes train. Although the floor was concrete this in no way detracted from practice. What this just goes to show is that practically any place any one can visualize in one’s mind can serve as a dojo, everything from a garage and a school gymnasium to a traditional storefront building space.

Well, to make a long story shorter, my college preparation and extra curricular endeavors had taken me far, the karate training part of and parallel to my post-high school academic experience. The side-by-side journey of karate and academic study, together, whether considered “old school” or not, I would not trade for the world.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. June 29, 2012.

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