I did an interview with my Sensei, Ralph Rhoads. He is currently a 5th degree Black Belt in Enshin Karate. A former instructor in both Kyokushin and Ashihara Karate. He has been pursing the path of Karate since 1969. He currently teaches in Tucson,AZ USA at the Downtown YMCA. http://tucson.enshin.com/
What made you want to take up Karate? Also when you went to find a school did you know about the difference in training from say Shotokan to Kyokushin?
I was a weightlifter and looked like I could take care of myself in a fight, but actually had no experience in fighting. I knew about the White Plains School of Self Defense, because I had passed by it many times, when it was located in White Plains, NY.
I did not know about different styles of karate, let alone, knowing the differences between Shotokan and Kyokushin, but ironically I had purchased a book on Shotokan karate, called "Karate: the Art of Empty Hand Fighting", when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I had read it, and re-read it many times until I finally started training when I was 19 years old. My parents would not pay for the classes when I was younger, since they were very expensive then, so when I was older, and able to pay my own way, I started training.
Who were your instructors and influences?
Mainly, my instructors were Shihan Shigeru Oyama and Kancho Joko Ninomiya. When I started with them, they we called Sensei. I had opened my home to several of the Sensei that were training with Shihan Oyama to get ready for the 1975 All Japan, to name a few: Sensei’s Sato, Oiishi, Azuma and of course, Kancho Ninomiya. We lived, trained, ate and played together at a time in my life that was very dis-jointed. That experience was a very important aspect in getting my life path in order and balanced
Did you enjoy the tournaments or have any good stories about them?
I went to tournaments for kumite and kata, but was never really fond of them. I felt that many were biased towards favorites, and the outcome was based on a particular point in time. I enjoyed training and preparing for kumite, more than being measured and defined by a single outcome. Watching others fight was a learning process for me, as I not only watched the fighting, but also closely analyzed the reactions and emotional responses of the participants.
What do you remember the most about your early Kyokushin Training?
Kyokushin training was very hard and intense. I always thought that I would quit once I got to a certain level, but I never did. I believe my experiences with the people I had trained with and the close relationship with Kancho Ninomiya, had kept me from walking away. It has taken me many years to realize that karate is more than just a fighting system. There is a balancing aspect that comes from focusing ones endeavors on improving the self, the immediate circle, the outer circle and learning to be open to what life brings to your realm of existence. If I had not moved on to Enshin, I would have missed the more important aspects of karate, and the lifelong solutions that are available along its path.
How was that Shodan test?
I did not know I was testing for my shodan. I had been kicked in the floating ribs a month before, at the Fairfield. Conn. dojo, during kumite, by a brown belt Kempo student who was wearing a white belt. I had to stop training for that month as my ribs were so damaged that it hurt to move and even breathe. I was told that I needed to attend a seminar that Shihan Oyama was conducting at the Scarsdale dojo, to help and show support for the event. Training was about 2 and half hours, before we got to kumite. I fought several of the black belt Sensei that were there and then had the fight with Shihan Oyama. We fought for a very long time, over ten minutes, and my ribs were broken again. We paused for a breather, and then he asked me if I wanted to continue. In my mind, I wanted it to be over and I knew I could not fight very much more with the pain coming from my ribs... but I just bowed and said "Osu!". At that point Shihan stopped the fight segment and told me to take off my belt. I thought I was being punished for not training for a month and thought he was going to put a white belt on me. I was shocked beyond belief that I had just become a Kyokushin black belt.
After Kyokushin you went to Ashihara. How did that come about? How was training under Hideyuki Ashihara?
When Kancho Ashihara left Kyokushin, his students were also separated from the organization. Kancho Ninomiya had traveled to San Francisco with Kancho Ashihara and asked if I would want to meet him. We met at a private residence in Emeryville and I was asked if I would be interested in joining the new Ashihara style. I felt that my affiliation with Kancho Ninomiya was so strong, that I was going to follow him wherever that may take me. Since he had already determined to follow his teacher to the Ashihara style, my answer to join Ashihara was a definite yes. Kancho Ashihara came to the United States several times and I was able to train with him, however, since Kancho Ninomiya was instrumental in developing the Ashihara style, I was able to get the training I needed to come up to speed as though I had been training with Kancho Ashihara directly.
In 1988 you were invited to be part of Enshin with at the time Shihan Joko Ninomiya. How was Enshin at the beginning.
Kancho Ninomiya had called me to inform me of his decision to leave Ashihara. He was very diplomatic in letting me know that he was starting a new style, based on his knowledge and experiences. He explained that it was my option to continue with Ashihara, or to follow him in this new path. I had no hesitation in saying yes, as Kancho Ninomiya and I have developed a unique relationship as teacher to student and also as best friends. I felt that I could learn more from this close relationship, rather than from an organization that I was far removed from geographically. The early days of Enshin were a growing process of everyone involved, but under the leadership and coordination from Kancho, we were all able to develop into what is now the Enshin family.
What makes you continue on the path of Karate?
Karate training for me is a continually evolving process. Over the years my goals and my expectations have changed and adapted to changes in my life and my environment. What was important to me when I was in my twenties, has evolved to a different level now that I am in my sixties. The challenges that I confronted in my early years have now have been resolved, but new challenges have appeared.
Karate training keeps me grounded in my focus to meet the challenges in my life, and offers me a dimension that is point of reference for going forward. I enjoy being a resource to my students and fellow karateka. In a word, my continuing to train makes me "whole”, and I am grateful that I am able to continue to participate. Osu!
Sensei Ralph Rhoads