Last Monday we celebrated our dojo’s 6th anniversary, so a few of us hit up the corner pub for a drink and snacks after training to celebrate! Our first practice was held on October 22, 2012, and we owe much thanks to Pastor Linda and the Ravenswood Fellowship UMC Board of Trustees for having steadily and patiently supported our little effort every Monday night since that time.
When I (Erik M.) first moved back to my native Chicago from Los Angeles in the mid-2000s, Ishii sensei had intimated that I might look into starting a karate program. I kind of hemmed and hawed, didn’t feel qualified, plus I’d started a new career and got married and had kids and simply didn’t have the time. In the meantime, I self-trained, visited LA when I could, Ishii sensei visited Chicago when he could, and I would send back video training journals for critique.
In the Spring of 2010 I received an inquiry from a gentleman in the Northwest Suburbs who was interested in training and was willing to drive an hour into the city after work. Since we had no space, we initially practiced at a forest preserve near O’Hare. That worked through the summer until the weather changed and then we started training at my house. Some of the characters you run into training outside in the evenings at forest preserves, let me tell you!
When my youngest daughter was born in November of that year, I had to take some time off training and once I was ready to get back to it there was simply no more room at home. So one afternoon in the Spring of 2011 I stopped into J. Toguri Mercantile on Belmont, a longstanding Japanese import store among the final vestiges of a once thriving JA community along Clark Street near Wrigley Field; they were kind of a one stop shop for information and things Japanese in Chicago.
I spoke with the late William “Willie” Toguri about Japanese American community churches that may have social halls and might be interested in a program like ours, ala Ishii sensei’s dojo at Centenary UMC in LA’s Little Tokyo. He grabbed some scratch paper and jotted me a list of Christian congregations and Buddhist sanghas, and after some research I decided to look into Ravenswood Fellowship’s space-sharing program given that they seemed similar to Centenary.
While our program is not religiously affiliated with the church, RFUMC was founded in part by post-war resettled Japanese Americans, some of whom had pre-war roots at Centenary which has served the greater Los Angeles Nikkei community since 1896. Rev. Mark Nakagawa of Centenary was kind in offering us a letter of recommendation based on his experience of hosting Ishii sensei’s program, and Pastor Linda Misewicz-Perconte was very welcoming and inquisitive of our prospective community-based venture. It helped that Choyokan Kendo Dojo had already been practicing in the Ravenswood gym for years and had set a notable example, opening for the possibility of an additional budo group.
And so it was that on October 22, 2012, we held our inaugural practice consisting of my buddy Ryan, my then 9-year old son, and me, and in July of 2013 became a member dojo of the World Matsubayashi-ryu Karatedo Association headquartered in Okinawa, Japan. Since that time both members of the dojo as well as my family have participated in and enjoyed numerous other RFUMC-hosted programs such as the annual Sansei Yonsei Athletic Association Youth Basketball Clinic, Spaghetti Dinner, Pancake Breakfast, Aloha Breakfast, Chili Fest, the annual kids Halloween Party, and have frequented the amazing Midori Market: a small, on-site shop “dedicated to showcasing locally made, fair trade, and environmentally conscious merchandise, and the repair of jewelry and watches.”
Through the formation of the dojo we have been honored to develop friendships with some extraordinary people both karateka and non, in places far and wide. On this anniversary we are pleased to report that the state of the union is strong and we shall continue to pursue good, honest karate while maintaining our ethos of valuing good character and community relations as much as, if not more than, technical ability. That said, we do our best and if nothing else abide by Ishii sensei’s sage, when-in-doubt advice: “If it doesn’t look cool, it’s probably not right.”