Volume 75, Number 42 | March 8 -14 2006


The Zen of chopping and kicking imaginary adversaries

Seido karate student Sophia Van Zalkenberg, left, receives instruction from sensei Pei Lin Wu at the McBurney Y.

By Judith Stiles

When martial arts experts Dwayne and Pam Roberts assemble 20 antsy 9-year-old kids to demonstrate ancient rhythmic karate moves, they are really trying to teach the children how to train the body, mind and spirit together, in order to reach their greatest potential in life. But if you ask the kids why they are taking karate at the McBurney YMCA on W. 14th St., they will say it is all about mimicking “cool punches and kicks” that they have seen in the movies.

According to black-belt instructor Pam Roberts, it doesn’t matter how you get the kids in the room, they will eventually learn the more central elements of martial arts, almost by osmosis.

“Unlike the adults, who understand the spiritual aspects of martial arts, the children don’t really know why they are there in the class,” adds Pam, who has been teaching and studying Seido karate for over 22 years. She emphasizes that the parents send their children to karate school to gain not only endurance and focus, but also a spiritual strengthening from within, which is too much of a mouthful to explain to 9-year-olds. As the kids chop and kick their way through the program, they will absorb the basic principles while they are having fun.

Seido karate is a highly disciplined style of the martial art that was developed by Kaicho T. Nakamura 35 years ago. At the core of Seido is the philosophy of integrating Zen meditation with martial arts.

“The physical training in Seido is strenuous, emphasizing progressive development of strength, flexibility and aerobic capacity, which results in strong bodies, and a general sense of self-confidence and well-being,” states Nakamura, in describing the program on www.Seido.com.

The married couple begin their Saturdays teaching the little tykes basic aspects of martial arts in a well-lit studio full of mirrors at the McBurney Y. The kids arrive to class barefoot and decked out in white pajamalike karate outfits, sporting different-colored beginner belts, mostly blue and white or yellow. Although it is the middle of winter and the kids are bursting with pent-up energy, they attentively give the traditional greeting to their instructors in Japanese, “Osu,” which sounds more like “Ooosh.” Most of the children seem relaxed and serious about learning the steps and kicks, as they watch themselves carefully in the mirror. The Roberts team artfully ushers them through a well-paced class that includes the ever-popular leg kicks at an imaginary foe.

After the children’s class is over, an adult class of black belts and advanced martial arts students begins with the same “Osu” greeting, as both Roberts seamlessly switch gears to a much higher level of instruction.

“Although some of the students have been in this class for over six years, others joined who had never even done push-ups in their lives,” says Pam with a chuckle. Even the newcomers to the class stretch their legs and shoulders up in the air simultaneously, while their rear ends hold firm on the floor, as they count in Japanese for over a minute, still maintaining that difficult “V” position. After this exercise, veteran Phillip Tomlinson works on a scissors splits as he explains without losing his breath, “I have been doing karate for over 28 years and there is still so much more to learn!” The class of 20 is half men and half women, and they all have mastered a complicated karate kick, executing it with the same exuberance as the children.

The Roberts couple also teach at the Seido headquarters at 61 W. 23rd St., which is just one of Seido’s numerous worldwide dojos. “Dojo” is the Japanese word for a martial-arts training school.

On the horizon, karate fans are anxiously awaiting the 30th Anniversary Celebration of Seido to be held June 5-10 at Columbia University, where competitions and different seminars will be held in a variety of languages, including Hebrew, Japanese, Italian and English. Instead of the typical tournaments at which individuals compete against each other, teams will be comprised of people from all over the world, where the emphasis will be on the group and the team spirit, rather than the individual. One can participate in the gala event as a karate kicker or chopper as the kids would say, or you can enjoy the event as a spectator.

If at the end of the five-day Seido Celebration an inspired spectator wants to test his or her mettle in the art of karate, there is a cornucopia of classes at the Seido headquarters and the McBurney Y. In no time at all you can have a blast chopping and kicking imaginary adversaries, and of course, don’t forget, realizing your greatest human potential.

For more info on the festival visit www.seido.com.

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