Adam Korn in CaliforniaDecember 2015
Dear dojo family,
I took a crack at writing a proper article for all of you—one that peels back the secrets of martial arts, Shotokan karate, Sensei's sidekick—but every time, I'd eventually bore myself, and given we're all of the same martial breed, you'd become bored, too. So, I figured I'd just give you an update on the life of your west-bound comrade, since I have evidence that at least some of you are interested. As Matt Levito says, "You know you've made it once you get a plaque."
It's been a year-and-a-half, almost to the day, since Jenny and I left for the west coast. We really love it out here, though I think about the lot of you often. A few weeks before we left, Jenny and I were leaving back-to-back acupuncture appointments—I guess I was already a Californian-in-training—and headed to our favorite burger joint for dinner. En route, I started to lament leaving the dojo behind. Jenny tried to offer me solace by saying, "You'll find a dojo community, I'm sure of it." I knew she meant it the same way as when she'd reassure me that I'd have no trouble making friends, but in that moment, what I heard was, Don't worry, you'll find a new family.
Most of you, I think, I hope, know how much I place a value on experience. On being there. This applied doubly to Saturday mornings. I'd stay at the dojo for an hour, sometimes two, after everyone left. I'd do kata, kick the bag, loaf—I wanted to absorb as much of that Saturday morning as I could, wanted to step on to the Mt. Kisco train station platform feeling satisfied that all the juice had been squeezed from the orange. I practice in bits and pieces all the time—when I was in an office, I would close the door for a few minutes at a time and practice hip rotation, smoothing out transitions in kata—but these moments were a bridge to Saturday, when I would catch the 8:50 train out of Grand Central en route to Southeast Station. The trip to Mt. Kisco was the most peaceful 62 minutes of my week, and bubbling underneath was the anticipation of another great workout with my friends. (Sometimes I imagine what aliens must be thinking when they look down on us during practice. Why are these humanoids so in to performing isometric movements in their pajamas? Since they're no doubt concerned about more important matters, like colonizing earth, they probably dismiss the issue pretty quickly and move on to cage fighting…If only we could get earth's entire population to do that we could sit back and let them colonize the planet for us… )
So I was primed to find the closest thing to what I was so fortunate to have in my backyard for so many years, and it was one of our dojo brethren, Howard Citron, who pointed me in the direction of Mojo Dojo Karate.
On my last Saturday at 11 Main Street, as we were changing from our gis back in to our street clothes, Howard started riffing about these three gentleman—a father and two sons—who not only got him started in karate in the mid-80s, but who changed his life. He told me how hard it was to leave the dojo when he moved from New Jersey to Westchester, but that the dojo patriarch, Shihan Issac Henry, pointed him in the direction of Sensei's colleague, Sensei Toyataro Miyazaki.
"You live much closer to Mr. Takahashi," said Mrs. Miyazaki when they were introduced, "go to him." And this is how Howard arrived at our dojo.
Henry, Henry…I thought to myself. "Was one of his sons named James?" I asked Howard.
"Jimmy?" he responded, lighting up. "Yeah, Jimmy and Fred were Shihan's sons."
"Is there a chance James—I mean Jimmy, has a dojo in the Bay Area?" Having done some cursory internet research, I had made a list of the few traditional Japanese dojos in the area of our new home in Oakland (in the East Bay). So few, in fact, that I expanded my search beyond the East Bay to the North and South Bays, over the bridges and through the traffic (to Grandmother's house we go…).
"Let's find out," replied Howard, gesturing to his smartphone. After some searching, his eyes lit up and he flashed the screen at me. "Yes, this is Jimmy! Adam, I think your search is over."
With that endorsement, I emailed Hanshi James "don't call me Jimmy unless you've been grandfathered in" practically on touchdown at San Francisco International. A week later, I took center stage at Mojo Dojo, located in idyllic Tamalpais Valley, an enclave in the town of Mill Valley that calls to mind Lost Horizon—Muir Woods and its glorious redwoods (which Star Wars aficionados might recognize as the backdrop for Return of the Jedi's forest moon of Endor) right around the corner. Hanshi asked me to demonstrate some of our kata for the kids to see how it compared to their own.
BKG—Beikoku Karate-do Goyukai, the organization started by Hanshi's father Shihan Isaac—is based on the Wado style, but the Henry family's exposure to Shotokan clearly informed the evolution of the syllabus, which includes some kata with little to no variation on our kata and basic kumite. In fact, in the opening of their version of Heian Nidan—which they call Pinan Nidan in homage to karate's Okinawan roots—the initial back stances change to horse stances with the hammer fist. The only time I've seen this transition is in grainy footage of Sensei Takahashi's sempai, Akusawa Sensei demonstrating the kata.
The spirited response from Hanshi and the kids indicated they had connected with my movement, which primed me for two classes in which I participated that Monday afternoon. Afterwards, I spoke with the gracious Hanshi James, a talented technician and gentleman of quiet dignity, and expressed my desire to find a place where I might not only practice, but teach.
Asking if I might be a good fit, he suggested we give it a trial run to see how we might work together—I'd mix in with some of the classes, both the kids' and the adults', and we'd reconvene in the near future.
After a couple months of training and sharing ideas with Hanshi, the kids, and a fellow karate baka named Stephen, Hanshi formally asked me to teach alongside him during some of the children's classes. Four classes across two days a week soon turned to four full afternoons and a couple of my own weapons classes. Takahashi-Do Karate not only travels well, but it's highly adaptable and, beyond the dojo, has allowed me to thrive, personally, as I continue to adapt to my new surroundings.
The Bay Area on the whole is beautiful. "If this weren't the United States," says Jenny, "it would be considered exotic." The hiking and t-shirts in winter are perks and Jenny is reveling in the virtually limitless bike routes. Sometimes she comes with me to the dojo in Marin to cycle amongst the redwoods and Ewoks while I train future Jedis. We're having a fun adventure out here. Oh, and I've taken up aikido. More on that later…
Hope all is well with everyone. As Nancy has requested that I be the dojo's "west coast correspondent," I'm guessing there will be opportunity to offer future budo brain droppings, so if there's something about which you would like my thoughts—or if you just want to say hi—you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congrats to Michael, Matt, and Maria (!!!) on their election to captain and co-captains and I can't wait to train with you all again soon (maybe sooner than you think…).
Lots of love and…OSS!