Getting Your Kicks: Truckee karate school teaching ‘the way of the empty hand’ |

Getting Your Kicks: Truckee karate school teaching ‘the way of the empty hand’

The Matsuyama Karate School is kicking its way to the top. From June 26 to July 1, four students from the Truckee school competed in the Amateur Athletic Union National Championships in Richmond, Va., – and they all walked away with medals.

After intense training for four hours a day, six days a week, Nancy Nobriga, Ikaika Cofer, Kevin Wood and Ethan Savage all placed in their competing events, with a total of four silver and three bronze medals.

The events included sparring, kata (forms) and kobudo (traditional Okinawan weaponry). Competitors were divided by sex, age and the number of years they have trained, with an average of 20 to 30 people in each division. Over 2,000 people from all over the country competed in the AAU National Championships.

This was the third time the Matsuyama School has competed, collecting 12 medals overall in the competition. The school has also won over 1,000 medals from state and regional competitions.

But karate is not all about winning, said Wil Durham, the Matsuyama Karate School’s founder.

“We are not only about competition,” said Durham. “Students are studying the traditional style of Japanese karate – it’s a way of life.”

Durham explained that karate’s disciplines and components are beneficial beyond the training gym.

“I don’t just teach another class,” said Durham. “I teach something deeper, I teach a way of life.”

Durham’s student, Ethan Savage, 27, winner of a silver medal in the AAU National Championships, explained some of what he has learned from his two and a half years studying at the Matsuyama Karate School.

“We learn karate-do,” Savage explained. “‘Kara’ means empty, ‘te’ means hand and ‘do’ means way. We learn ‘the way of the empty hand,’ meaning that we are always training, always learning. It is emptying the self of bad habits. It’s a path for improving your life.”

Durham said that his younger karate students who are in school cannot test and move up in belts in the class unless their grades in school are satisfactory.

“We carry the disciplines of karate into our students’ lives as much as possible,” Durham said. “If kids aren’t doing well in school, we try to find out the problem. We communicate with their teachers, supply tutors, get involved, do as much as we can to help the student out and get him back on track.”

Several of Durham’s past students, including five teenage black belts who had studied under him for at least three years, graduated from high school with 4.0 grade averages.

Durham has studied karate for over 30 years. He began the Matsuyama Karate School 12 years ago and now instructs a total of about 50 students who study Shito Ryu, one of four major traditional styles of karate in Japan. Students range in age from about five to 40 years. Durham teaches classes in karate and kickboxing mornings and evenings multiple times a day.

Despite his busy schedule of teaching classes almost 20 times a week, Durham has other commitments as well. A hairdresser by day, at Nail Niche and Hair Too, and a black belt by night, Durham is both a father and a grandfather.

Many of his students find him inspirational, said Savage.

“Sensei Wil has always helped push me and inspire me to follow my dreams, especially in karate,” Savage said.

Durham sent Savage to Osaka, Japan, last October to train under Kenwa Mabuni, the Soke, creator, of Shito Ryu. Savage studied in the 81-year-old man’s home for three days.

“The first day I arrived, Kenwa Mabuni Sensei and I spent four hours together, just talking about karate,” Savage said. “It was really interesting because he didn’t speak any English and I only speak a little Japanese but because we were talking about karate I understood what he was saying and he understood what I was saying and we just got along.”

Savage said that his experience in Osaka convinced him that he not only wanted to go further in karate but that his life’s path was in the art.

“As soon as I got off the plane in Reno, I realized that I needed to go back,” said Savage.

After spending time in Osaka, Savage has decided to move to Japan to teach English to elementary and middle school children and to continue his karate training in the art’s original setting. Savage, who leaves for his adventure this week, plans to live in Japan for at least one year. When he returns to the United States, he said he would eventually like to become the head sensei of his own dojo (training gym).

“I am grateful that I started training karate,” said Savage. “I have met wonderful people, I have trained with wonderful people, and I love teaching the kids at Matsuyama. Karate is the biggest part of my life right now, it’s taking me to Japan, and it is clear to me that karate will be part of my life forever.”

For information on Wil Durham’s Matsuyama Karate School, and his new school in Glenshire, call 587-1105.

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