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June 11, 2006

'Three years to make a fist, three years to make a stance, three years to strike'


Above, an expression of the patience that is the Seido way.

What's Seido?

It's a form of karate born in Brooklyn in 1976 in a one-room dojo run by Kaichi Tadashi Nakamura (above).

Nakamura founded Seido after breaking ties with Kyokushinkai karate, the style he had trained in since age 13 in Japan.

Sent to the U.S. in 1966 at age 24 to promote the style, he grew disenchanted with the breakneck growth of dojos throughout the country, believing they did not properly impart the "karate way."

He submitted his resignation and was promptly — and publicly — expelled by the parent Kyokushinkai establishment.

From nothing, driven only by his vision, he created Seido, which this week celebrates its 30th anniversary with students traveling to New York from about 40 countries to take part in an annual seminar and tournament.

Emily Vasquez wrote about the creation and growth of Seido — it now counts over 100 associated dojos in 40 countries, including nearly two dozen in Japan — in an article which appeared in yesterday's New York Times; it follows.

    After 30 Years, a Man's Vision for Karate Thrives as a Way of Life

    In a kata exercise — a dancelike pattern of karate kicks and punches — each movement, down to the smallest detail, has meaning.

    As the karateka defends himself from his opponents during the choreographed routine, just a flick of the wrist can symbolize a strike to the throat.

    But this is not the ultimate-fight karate popularized in martial arts movies and some video games. In kata, opponents often are imaginary. The focus is not battle, but rather technique and spirit.

    Kata is an integral training method practiced in Seido, a form of karate born in Brooklyn in 1976 in a one-room dojo, a martial arts studio, tucked into a building chiefly dedicated to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

    As Seido celebrates its 30th anniversary, students from about 40 countries traveled to New York this week to take part in an annual seminar event and compete in a two-day tournament.

    About 500 Seido students presented kata performances yesterday in a physical fitness center at Columbia University. Today the tournament continues with black-belt kumite, or sparring, at 9 a.m., followed by a board-breaking competition.

    Seido is distinguished from most other karate forms by its blending of strict, traditional Japanese karate with Zen-like meditation. In addition to physical strength, it emphasizes students' moral character and emotional strength.

    Its founder, Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, explains that Seido is intended not only to challenge the most physically and emotionally powerful students, but also to help weaker students grow. From his two-story dojo, on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, Mr. Nakamura, 64, has taught blind and deaf students, as well as others with physical and mental impairments.

    This year, for the first time, those students are competing alongside all Seido students, divided into 26 teams, each including a range of abilities and nationalities. The white canvas pants and jackets put everyone on the same level.

    "This is the way it should be, everyone treated equally," Mr. Nakamura said, explaining that witnessing nontraditional students overcome their challenges often empowers other students to approach karate with a new passion. "They help each other, they appreciate each other."

    Mr. Nakamura founded Seido shortly after breaking ties with the karate style in which he had trained in since age 13, Kyokushinkai. He said he was sent to the United States in 1966 to promote the style, helping to spread it to more than 20 dojos across the country.

    But by the mid-1970's Mr. Nakamura, by then North American chairman of the Kyokushinkai karate organization, believed karate under that school had grown too commercial. He said he felt pressured to open dojo after dojo, regardless of whether he was able to properly oversee the training conducted at each. Instead of just teaching karate, Mr. Nakamura said, he wanted to teach karate-do, or the "karate way," which he considers less as a sport than as a way of life.

    After Mr. Nakamura submitted a letter of resignation from the style, he was publicly expelled him from the organization. With time, he used his reputation and skill to build a karate system of his own that today counts more than 100 associated dojos in about 40 countries, including nearly two dozen in Japan.

    Still, in those dojos Mr. Nakamura is careful to maintain the intimate oversight he felt his former style lacked. Senior students who wish to form a dojo of their own are required to travel to New York to train with Mr. Nakamura, and he has visited most of the Seido dojos around the world.

    In New York this week for the tournament, Gina Gray, 38, of Melbourne, Australia, who studies Seido there with her son, Sam, 13, said her dojo maintained the same spirit as Mr. Nakamura's in New York.

    "It's holistic," Ms. Gray said. "It's like-minded people coming together. Some have hard backgrounds, but they've still got the spirit."

    Phoenix Carnevale, 27, a member of Mr. Nakamura's dojo in Manhattan, who also works as an aerobics instructor, said she thought of the dojo as a second home. In Seido, she said, she has finally found a "physical activity that had a soul."

    "Seido is about being a family, an international family, a unit," Ms. Carnevale said. "There's depth to it."

    As visitors climb the stairs of Mr. Nakamura's Manhattan dojo, the odor of sweat they encounter is reminiscent of any gym in the city. But the repetitive hum of "osu," which expresses both respect and patience inside the dojo and is recited by students as they acknowledge each other on the stairs, suggests the difference. Here there are codes of respect, a certain formality and tradition.

    And in the practice studios, the mantra "three years to make a fist, three years to make a stance, three years to strike," holds strong. Patience, Mr. Nakamura said, is the Seido way.

    "Always people want to know how quick can I reach the next level, shortcuts, corner cuts," Mr. Nakamura said. "It's step by step, pain, more sweat. Through repetition you learn.


Let's see... I'm in year two here, so I'm still learning how to make a fist.


Look for my first strike circa 2010.

June 11, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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Nice post. My wife and I attended Seido in Manhattan for about three years. We left when we departed the city, but the place will always be special. I'm so glad to see them still going strong after 30 years.

Posted by: Granted | Jul 14, 2006 2:45:27 PM

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