Dojo:   Amity Harbor   Yin yang dojo b   Mt. Kisco

Meet Your Fellow Karateka - John Magrini

by Nancy Beckerman

“WE ARE THE DOJO!”

How long have you been studying karate, and did you start at Sensei Takahashi’s dojo (or a different one)?

For the past 25 plus I have been a student of Sensei Takahashi. When I made the decision to study martial arts, I looked at many styles and many dojos. It goes without saying that the last place I looked at was Sensei’s dojo in Amityville. In some ways it was ironic as I lived in Amityville at the time. Some things are just meant to be.

What motivated you to start the study of karate in the first place?

As a young man I was introduced to martial arts via the silver screen. Two movies, “Billy Jack” and Bruce Lee’s “Fist of Fury,” introduced me to martial arts. Like many people in the audience I believed that I could perform those moves if I practiced. Little did I know the investment in time and practice it takes to make those moves look “easy.” Those thoughts stayed in the back of my head as I moved to the west coast, moved back, and I started to raise a family. In the mid 80s I decided to do some healthy physical activity once again. I had tried jogging again and found it drudgery. I tried lifting weights again. That was disappointing as I had been a former powerlifter and amateur bodybuilder. In another sense it laid the foundation for what I would undertake next. Whatever I was going to do, there needed to be a residual value if I stopped for 6 months or a year. That’s when I realized martial arts had multiple dimensions and I was ready to undertake that journey.

How did you find the Takahashi dojo?

While living in Amityville I looked at many dojos across Long Island. Each place I visited gave me a chance to see the Sensei, the facility, and the students and style. After watching a small session of Sensei’s class, I knew this was where I needed to be.

Since you have practiced at both the Amityville dojo and the Mt. Kisco dojo (and we won’t ask you which is your favorite!), how are the 2 dojos different?

If you don’t mind I’d prefer to answer this question in another way. In the past 10 or so years I have seen students from other dojos become part of our dojo. Former students have rejoined our dojo and, sadly, some students have moved to other places. In Japan we trained in Sensei Okano’s dojo, other Shotokan dojos and in the park. So for me dojo is any place to train in karate by oneself, with others, or in your heart and mind. This idea could not be more clear to me than when we trained together at Sensei’s birthday party. So you see the dojos are not different, they are one and the same. We are the dojo.

Are there any parts of our practice of karate that you especially like? Any there any that are your least favorites? What do you find the hardest to master?

For me one of the best parts of practicing in our dojo is learning from Sensei and fellow students. Not a single class goes by where I don’t gain some insight or look at a technique in a different way. Each class is an opportunity to uncover something new; watch how other students move; observe what they do well and how I can borrow and translate their technique.

There is no part of practice that is less favorable than others. After training for many years, class is a chance to make a technique or move better. What is least favorable is the realization that regardless of how long I have trained, regardless of how much I have learned, so much needs to improve. I have come to terms with being dissatisfied with my poor execution. Perhaps that is what motivates me to give 110%. Maybe this class I will be satisfied, probably not. Maybe next class I’ll be satisfied, but that is doubtful.

All that we do is physically hard and mentally challenging. I practice many techniques, and many kata. Mastery of any technique or kata eludes me. Recently I have been practicing Taikyoku Shodan (First Cause) as if it was my favorite kata. By focusing, drilling, repeating, feeling and learning, I believe I have improved my understanding and execution of this kata. If I can do this with one kata, I can do it with all. So I would like to think! My challenge is to be as proficient and comfortable with all kata as I am becoming with Taikyoku Shodan. This challenge will be the hardest for me to master.

It has been said that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. Do you think this is true in karate, and why?

As a student who has made innumerable mistakes on the deck, and will continue to make mistakes, I can truthfully say that I have learned much from my mistakes. Some of the most important things learned (at least for me) happen when we practice kumite. A block that is too slow, too weak, or just the wrong technique is a sometimes a painful reminder of my mistake. Bruises and sprains stay with me for days. A constant reminder to pay attention, focus, and be decisive. Mistakes for me are not limited to kumite. Anyone who has watched me do kata can see mistakes in my movement, timing, and general execution. For those of you who fail to see the mistakes, I know they are there. I can feel when the turn is too slow, when the stance should be zenkutsu dachi (front stance) and I am in kokutsu dachi (back stance). Physically and mentally I must be aware of my movement, action, inaction, and position in space. It is said that in times of stress we can only keep track of three things at once. So I make many mistakes. Some are old friends and come back to visit me all too often. Others are new and introduce themselves to me at the most unexpected or inappropriate time. These mistakes are constant reminders that much work needs to be done. For me, mistakes are with me each time I step onto the deck.

How has the practice of karate affected the rest of your life?

Practicing karate is a major influence in my life. Developing patience is one of the most important ways karate has influenced my life. Patience with others and patience with myself. Each of us brings our own interpretation to kata. When I interact with colleagues, clients or friends, I try to understand their motivation and interpretation of their “position” (i.e. kata). It gives me an opportunity to reflect on how they formed their positions. For myself, I try not to be automatically reactive in a hard way. Redirecting another person’s aggressive behavior has taught me how to diffuse potentially difficult situations. On the deck I now have a confidence in what I know and what I can do. Similarly, in life I recognize what I can do and what I can achieve through hard work and practice.

What lessons have you learned that you find especially valuable?

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is perseverance. More than once I have faced a challenge in karate and thought “I will never get past this sticking point.” Working with Sensei or other students I have learned different ways to overcome a particular sticking point. In life I have encountered difficulties. Recognizing I have a problem, I have learned to seek council. Advice and suggestions are sought and accepted until I finally feel comfortable to move past my “life” sticking point.

What advice would you give to any new students (children or adults) who are considering taking up the study of karate?

All of us encounter difficulties and obstacles in karate and in life, regardless of whether we train or not. Karate challenges us in a unique way. Most importantly it provides us the tools to work through our challenges. Learn to develop a “tool chest” of techniques. Learn when to apply which technique when. Work hard to practice and be open to listening and learning from others. Be patient, enjoy the deliciousness of learning and doing something well.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you or your karate practice?

Recently I have been training in the Mont Kisco Dojo in addition to the Amityville Dojo. This past summer I returned to Japan and trained in the Hachioji Dojo and other dojos. While in Japan we created our own “dojo” when we trained in parks and hotel hallways. This past fall we trained in a church hall to celebrate Sensei’s birthday. This past year, my training partner for many years, Tommy Latronica, relocated to Northern California. He trains in a small fenced off park that he calls his dojo. I mention this because I now understand a different meaning of ‘dojo spirit.’ Our dojo(s) is not just a place where we train karate. Our dojos are also in our hearts and minds. When we train by ourselves or with fellow karateka we are first and foremost in our spiritual dojo and second in our physical dojo. So now I train in two physical dojos on a regular basis and train in my spiritual dojo daily. 

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