A Karatedo instructor passes on a winning philosophy in addition to winning moves
Sensei Vassie Naidoo likens life to an empty glass that we fill with experiences and knowledge. In Vassie Sensei's case, that glass was first filled by a heroic karate instructor in his native South Africa. In essence, Vassie Sensei is a hero to others because he had a hero.
Vassie Sensei is the chief instructor and chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization Karatedo for Inner-City Kids (or K.I.C.K.) in Santa Monica, California, which he started eight years ago to introduce at-risk children and young adults to the Gorju-ryu style of Karate. Vassie Sensei's hero was Sensei Leo Lipinski, who defied the police and welcomed kids of all races into his karate studio during the time of apartheid in South Africa.
When Vassie Sensei started his own studio in Durbin, South Africa, in the early 1970s, he had the same philosophy as his mentor and trained any student who came to his studio and even sponsored students to go with him to train in Japan. Vassie Sensei also defied the police by sponsoring a multi-racial Karatedo tournament in a local soccer stadium. But fears of losing his passport and not being able to leave South Africa because of his actions led Vassie Sensei to move with his family to the United States in the 1970s.
When Vassie Sensei opened his own goju (studio) in the United States, he wanted to open his doors to at-risk children as he did in South Africa. He quickly learned that in the U.S., because of liability laws, etc., he would have to create a more formal arrangement and so eight years ago he started K.I.C.K.
Vassie Sensei teaches the Gojuryu style of karate, an ancient martial art that originated in China and developed into its modern form in Okinawa, Japan. The style is known for its Sanchin (breathing kata), which teaches concentration, and its no-nonsense approach to self-defense. "The kids learn focus, coordination and balance," says Vassie Sensei.
Comment: Vassie teaches students discipline and excellence in addition to proper Karatedo form.
Andrea Daly, an Arthur Andersen consultant currently serving as the president of K.I.C.K., points out that it also allows the kids to experience excellence, which is something that is not always possible in the rest of their lives. "When the kids go through the belt promotions, joy just radiates from them," says Andrea.
Vassie Sensei and Andrea are looking to expand the services provided by K.I.C.K. to reach more at-risk kids in the Los Angeles area. They're going to start offering classes at the City of Angels church in Culver City and will go anywhere more than 10 kids show an interest in studying. "My one requirement is that they take it seriously," says Vassie Sensei. "They have to keep up their training."
Growing their nonprofit organization requires more funding and K.I.C.K. has started doing more in that area. This month they are bringing six top Gojuryu Masters from around the world to Santa Monica for a two-week training seminar. The money raised from the training sessions will create seed money for more programs - and the opportunity for more fund-raisers.
One of the Masters coming for the seminar is Vassie Sensei's old instructor from South Africa, Master Leo Lipinski, who is now the top-ranked Gojukai instructor outside of Japan and currently the head of Gojuryu Karatedo Seiwakai in Europe, where he teaches in 13 countries.
The fact that they are still in close contact illustrates another positive aspect of Gojuryu Karatedo for at-risk kids: it is a family and a family that passes its traditions on.
"I had a 15-year-old girl who cried the whole first day of class," says Vassie Sensei. "But she kept coming and kept coming. Now she's a high school teacher and teaches Karatedo to at-risk kids and abused women."
This cycle of excellence may begin and end at the Goju but it is not just limited to it. It is a philosophy that is instilled in students and then carried out into other aspects of their lives - including their school life, which Vassie Sensei stresses as important. "When a glass is full of water, no more water can be poured in. This is the same with knowledge. When I go into a gojo (Karatedo studio) it is important that my glass is empty, so that it can be filled up with more knowledge. You can never have too much knowledge," says Vassie Sensei. That this philosophy is being passed on is something we can all be grateful for.