Volume 74, Number 12 | July 21 - 27, 2004


Karate kids learn lots more than ‘wax on, wax off’

By Judith Stiles

From left, Dwayne Roberts, Oscar Apronti, Pam Roberts, Jimmy Schober, Cheick Dicko and Javier Morales

When a few boys from P.S. 3 signed up for karate class at the McBurney YMCA on W. 14th St., they thought they would finally get a chance to hit and kick and punch without getting in trouble with the grownups. They entered the first session with visions of Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix,” “The Karate Kid” and Jet Li pummeling the bad guy. Little did they know that they would acquire more important tools needed in life, such as confidence, focus, assertiveness and patience. They quickly learned that the karate chop isn’t everything.

Sensai (teacher) Dwayne Roberts, assisted by Pam Roberts, both fourth-degree black belts, welcome children and adults (separate classes), especially beginners, to learn the Seido system of karate. Seido Karate provides the student with a complete physical conditioning program, simultaneously developing strong physical skills and increased self-confidence. It is a worldwide organization with schools from Japan to South Africa. Seido was established in 1976 by world-renowned Grand Master Tadashi Nakamura, a ninth-degree black belt. It is a traditional Japanese style of karate, meaning “the sincere way.” Sensai Dwayne has over 18 years of experience and has been teaching children for over 12 years, including five years of teaching karate to special-needs children.

“Everything you learn inside class should be reflected in the way you live outside the class,” Sensai Dwayne emphasizes to his young students in the Saturday morning class. He adds, “Patience, just remember that at all times.” Besides learning the basic moves and principals of Seido Karate, the children are picking up some key words in Japanese. They can count to 10 and can be heard declaring “osu” which sounds like “oos.” In the world of karate it means “I understand” and is a sign of respect for the Sensai.

Respect is something that not only the students have for their teachers, but something that, along with dedication, Dwayne and Pam show a great deal of to all the children in their classes. “Dwayne finds a way to make every kid feel special during every single class, regardless of their ability,” says Steve Cooke, father of Evan, a karate tournament prize-winner and star student. Both teachers encourage the students to be patient with their peers and not be critical of each other if the learning process takes longer for some of them.

Several children who have studied with Sensai Dwayne have had moderate-to-severe learning disabilities. “When one of my students first came to class, it was evident that he had severe attention problems because he couldn’t stand still for a moment,” notes Dwayne calmly. Working closely with the parents and after reviewing the child’s medical records, he is helping the student even more by holding private sessions. “I like to incorporate the child’s interests into the session, and I know this child likes outer space,” adds Dwayne. He uses the theme of outer space and rocket ships landing and turning off their engines, to help create a sense of stillness and focus.

When Evan Cooke entered the seasonal karate tournament it seemed like a great deal of pressure for him to stand before judges and perform 15-20 set moves by himself, with judges holding up scorecards for everyone to see. Evan does not particularly like the pressure of competitive team sports, and even though the individual is under intense scrutiny in karate tournaments, Evan was able to breeze through the tournament with self-assuredness thanks to what he learned from studying with Sensai Dwayne.

At the end of a Saturday morning class, after balancing exercises with rubber balls, and after introducing a few new moves to the children, Sensai Dwayne pulls out some rectangular wooden boards. The boys’ eyes light up as they ready themselves for the final event of the class. Working their way slowly up to black belt is part of the agenda, but after all, what is karate without a few chops on the board, just like in the movies? Sure enough, each child gleefully stands in front of the class, and with their aspiring little hands, they each break a board in two with one swift whack. Now that’s karate!

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