Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.
– Gautama B.[uddha]
Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.
– Bruce Lee
Several local teens, aged 12 to 16, who have been disciples of the Fighting Spirit Karate dojo in New Paltz, have recently been chosen to represent their entire country as an international sparring team at the British Kyokushin Karate World Tournament in London, England on October 5. “This is the first US team to have competed in this tournament for almost a decade,” said Sean Schenker, a born-and-bred Paltzonian who is not only the owner of Fighting Spirit, but also one of the coaches of the US team and father of the only female fighter: Lyric Schenker, age 12. “It’s an incredible honor, and we’ll be called in by country, so it will have the feel of the Olympics.” This iconic competition, now entering its 43rd year, draws fierce competitors from more than 22 countries.
To help fund the travel expenses of these young, spirited athletes, the Yard Owl Brewery, located right next to the Fighting Spirit dojo off Osprey Lane in Gardiner, is generously hosting a fundraising event on August 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. James and Michelle Walsh of Yard Owl even created a special beer for the event: Osu, which means “respect” and “endurance.”
Kyokushin is a full-contact, knock-down form of martial arts, founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama. “I grew up doing kyokushin,” explained Schenker. “Although 90 percent of the training we do at the dojo is non-contact kyokushin, it’s part of my lineage and an art that I personally love.” Schenker began training as a young karate enthusiast with one of the kyokushin greats: “Hanshi Steve Arneill, who was Mas Oyama’s student and the first person to complete the 100-man kumite,” whereby he fought one black belt after another until he defeated 100 of them. Now Arneill, 84, is the president of the International Federation of Karate (IFK) and has invited the US team to visit and train with him for a few hours in his dojo in England on their way to the competition, “which is just mind-blowing,” said Schenker. “He’s one of the masters. That alone is worth the trip; but to be able to have that experience and exposure and then go and compete?”
It was through Schenker’s love of kyokushin and his dojo’s growing profile in the IFK that led to this delegation of US athletes being formed and chosen to compete internationally. “I’ve become increasingly more active in the IFK, and we’ve hosted an international tournament in the Tropicana in Atlantic City and another up in Rochester. So, as our profile has grown, the US director of the IFK asked if I could put a team together, which was a huge honor.”
But Schenker did not just pick five random students; he picked the ones who were ready for the challenge: Elijah Pallmann, Daniel Waage, Tuari Schenker, Reggie Gold, Ryan Kraus and Lyric Schenker. “The students that were chosen to be a part of this team are experienced fighters, training for years — some of them for ten years, seven days a week,” he said. This includes daily sessions in the dojo as well as nutritional programs, core workouts and what Schenker terms “roadwork.” “That just means these kids have been going Rocky-style,” he said. “They’re out running, sprinting, doing track work, building their endurance…” It’s a round-robin tournament with elite fighters from all over the world, so these young karate aficionados have to be ready to go the distance.
Kyokushin is known as much for its dramatic fighting style as for its adherence to intense training, and also for being rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement — all of which have given it enormous international appeal over the past 50 years, with close to 12 million people of all ages engaging in this specific martial art.
The athletes wear headgear, mouthguards, knee- and shin-guards, and some of the younger fighters like Lyric will wear chest-guards. The style is straight shots of the arm and leg, similar in many ways to Western boxing: The person who falls down and stays down is out, and although you can strike and strike hard, no direct strikes are allowed to the face or to the knees.
In Japanese, kyokushin stands for “the ultimate truth.” Schenker said that the meaning of kyokushin is a “calling card for you to write your own destiny. What does ‘truth’ mean to you? It’s just a way of looking at the world and approaching life both inside and outside of the dojo. Do I want these students to be professional fighters? No! But do I want them to learn about discipline and balance and self-confidence? Absolutely!”
Schenker is also quick to point out that this is only one discipline of many at the Fighting Spirit studio, including mostly non-contact artforms like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Israeli self-defense, the traditional art of Japanese weaponry and karate. “Fighting Spirit Karate blends traditional elements of varying forms of karate and self-defense to enrich one’s mind, body and spirit so that an increased field of self-awareness, self-control and self-confidence is achieved and maintained, not only in the dojo but throughout our lives,” he explained.
It is Schenker’s hope that this trip is the trailblazer for many more to come for young US athletes who want to test their mettle on the international stage. “We also want them part of the fundraising efforts, and to engage in their community and make their community proud. I’m certainly proud of them.” The team of kyokushin fighters has also been invited to throw out the first pitch at the Hudson Valley Renegades’ home baseball game in Dutchess County on August 26.
If you’re interested in the Yard Owl event, tickets cost $30, which includes a freshly brewed beer or soft drink, as well as dozens of door prizes, raffles and finger food. It’s open to everyone. There is also a GoFundMe site set up at www.gofundme.com/ifk-team-usa that people can donate $5 or whatever amount they’d like. The travel costs are likely to be $1,500 per athlete, and they’re just hoping to make it accessible for the entire team to be able to fund the trip.