Master Bobby Knott and his Japanese Chayon Ryu students
July 13, 2008 was a Red Letter Day for me and my wife. It was a special day because we not only celebrated ten years of marriage on that day, but we also worked as a team to establish and teach our first real Chayon Ryu class to a group of students made up of entirely natives of Japan. My proposal to the cultural exchange center was approved, I signed the employment contract, and I just finished teaching my first class in a beautiful exercise room with hardwood flooring and full-length wall mirrors (and even air conditioning). The class went wonderfully well, and I was so pleased to hear many students comment to each other how much they enjoyed the lesson. I even overheard students from other classes at the center expressing their envy in the hallway.
My dream of teaching Chayon Ryu to the people of Japan finally came true!
I can hardly believe I started studying karate thirty-one years ago. I was very young, and the first lesson was very difficult for me. I still remember the class to this day. After a lengthy set of calisthenics, the instructor had me stand with my feet as wide as my shoulders and practice down block for over 30 minutes. At the time, it seemed like an eternity. But this is how my martial arts journey began - with down block. Who could have known where this would lead?
Despite how difficult it was for a six year old to stand in one place, performing the same short technique over and over again for such a long time without saying a word, I was deeply intrigued by the art of karate and the culture it came from. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the kanji (Chinese) characters on the instructor's patch and when I heard the Japanese names for the forms. I cannot explain why I felt such a driving passion to learn more about the martial arts and the cultures of East Asia, but I do know it was because of my childhood experience studying karate that I am here today: a martial arts master and college instructor of East Asian history and philosophy, living and working in Japan to spread your wisdom and teachings Grandmaster Kim Soo.
I am so thankful for my parents and teachers for instructing and guiding me the way they did, encouraging me to stay with it year after year and to follow my passion. But you Dosa Nim have been my greatest role-model in this life-changing endeavor. For nearly all of my two and a half decades of training in your system, I have long imagined what it must have been like for you to leave your own country and come to an entirely new place to start a new life, carrying with you only the confidence you had in yourself and what you had learned. I have often thought about what kind of courage it must have taken to reach out to the people of a different race and culture (and language!), and share with them your passion for the martial arts. You are my inspiration Dosa Nim; and although I do not expect to face anywhere near the challenges you faced when coming to the USA, I will do my very best to pass on what you have taught me over the years and hopefully I can help others in ways like you have helped me and countless other students.
Even though it is early in my quest to establish my own official training hall here, I have already faced some difficulties. "We do not need a Caucasian man to come to Japan and teach us how to hold a chopstick," one man told me in a conversation at the dinner table. A kind man said this to me, a Buddhist priest actually. He was implying that karate came from Japan, and that a white man would have little to offer the Japanese in such an art. Out of respect, I refrained from arguing the history of karate with him; and I also resisted the urge to ask him, "Then why should people learn Buddhism from you when you are not from India?" Instead I looked to see the lesson that could be learned from his statement. It was a lesson that I did not have to experience in the same way back in the United States. People will judge me here by my looks and by my race in a way I have never had to face before. Even though I have previously lived and worked in Japan and I am married to a Japanese family, it is different to actually relocate here to become a professional karate instructor. The man's comments made me understand I needed to work extra hard here for my knowledge and passion for the martial arts to be recognized and respected. It was then I realized just what a great challenge my family and I have in front of us.
Karate has been in Japan for many years now, but Chayon Ryu is new to the Japanese. I have already been called on the phone and challenged to full-contact matches by other karate students, but I explained to them that I did not come here to battle. I told them I am an educator, not a professional fighter. I have also already been told by another gentleman here that, "People will judge your karate by how closely it relates to Oyama's Kyokushinkai karate." I nodded my head politely but responded, "Perhaps." I then smiled. He looked a little confused. I know the value of what my teacher has taught me, and he does not. I have not come to teach, as one Japanese karate master is quoted as saying, "The essence of karate is the one punch kill!" I have come to show them your way Dosa Nim. I have relocated my family and started a new life here to teach them the essence of Chayon Ryu as best as I am able. I am here to introduce them to lifestyle martial arts. I have come to teach the Japanese how Chayon Ryu can make you a better person, not just a better and tougher fighter. As you have said many times grandmaster, I have come to teach them "Martial Arts for Life" ….. "Not for death!"
I know not where this journey will take me, but I am sincerely honored to have this opportunity to represent and spread Kim Soo Karate here in Japan. Even if it turns out that I fail in my goal to build a successful long-term dojo in Japan, I can at least rest easy that I had the courage to try and live my dream. I know it is too soon to celebrate, but I wanted to share with you this first major breakthrough. My goal of teaching the art of Chayon Ryu to the Japanese has finally become a reality!
With great respect,