FAIRMONT – Garry Freeman, a ninth degree black belt, didn’t learn karate until he was 24.
“I had a friend who was doing karate and we would have fun fighting,” Freeman said. “He told me I had fast hands and that I should try a class. So I did.
“It only took one class to realize that was my calling,” Freeman said.
Eight years after taking his first course, Freeman earned a black belt. It was then that he opened his first karate studio, or dojo. “I wanted to give underprivileged children and adults [the chance] put something positive in their life, ”Freeman said.
Today, over 30 years later, Freeman still teaches. He and his brother Terry Freeman, seventh degree black belt, Patrick Wilson, eighth degree black belt, and Jason Carr, sixth degree black belt, work together to teach karate to children and adults in their Fairmont. dojo, Mushin Do.
Recently, Mushin Do instructors accompanied a team of karate students to a competition in Altoona, PA. “We have several competitions throughout the year,” said Freeman. “And even though we compete and win trophies, the most important thing is to learn respect and discipline, and to develop self-esteem.”
“We go to tournaments to see how much we learn,” Freeman said.
In early September, four local students headed to the national competition in Chicago after qualifying at a competition in southern West Virginia. To qualify for nationals, students must place first in at least one division during qualifying.
Four of the six qualifiers competed in the national competition, hosted by the United States National Karate-do Federation. The USA-NKF also represents the United States under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee and adheres to closely watched guidelines. For a student competing, this means that even the uniform – called a “gi” – must meet federation standards.
It was the first time in a long time that Wilson was unable to join the squad during the competition. “I have traveled with them every year until this year,” Wilson said, “but I couldn’t leave this year, so Jason went in my place.”
Carr made the trip, but it wasn’t his first time at national championships.
“I was the only coach [from Mushin Do] who went this year because we just had four kids, ”Carr said. “But I’ve been there in the past when two kids were competing at the same time. I was stressed, knowing how much the children relied on me. But this year the kids didn’t compete at the same time, so it worked.
The students who competed in Chicago were Eleanor Capuder, 16, a junior at East Fairmont High; Brea Pressley, 15, second year student at Fairmont Senior; Lydia Wright, 13, eighth grade student at Doddridge County Middle School; and Sawyer Ammons, 10, a fifth-grade student at East Fairmont Middle.
“I was super excited for these kids,” Carr said. “They did so well. They are judged on their positions, their strikes, their concentration and their good techniques.
The four local students placed first in the Weapons Kata, a choreographed routine that lasts about a minute and a half. The weapon used in the kata is called a sai, pronounced sigh.
“The tournament was great,” said Carr. “There are people from everywhere. All different nationalities. It’s a great experience for the kids. You hear people speaking all of these different languages.
The language of coaching appears to be universal, Carr said.
“It was funny because I saw coaches talking to their students, and even though I didn’t know what they were saying, just looking at them I knew what they were saying.
“There are countless types of karate,” Carr said. “We teach Shotokan karate, which is called traditional karate. “
Eleanor, a black belt, is like a big sister to the younger ones. “I am very proud of them,” Eleanor said. “The sai kata [weapons routine] – we learned it in three months. And we all got a gold medal. It was a lot of fun and I think we all learned a lot.
To learn the routine, which involves very distinct movements with a dagger-like weapon in both hands, the students trained twice a week for two hours. “And we practiced an extra day for the nationals,” Eleanor said, “on Sunday”.
Brea has competed in tournaments before, but this was his first year competing in national championships.
“I was doing my brother’s directory project and needed some ads for it,” Brea said. “I came here to have an announcement and Shihan Gary told me to start [karate lessons]. “
Brea was 12 at the time.
Lydia started karate at age 7 and now at 13 she knows that it’s not everyday that a student can compete nationally. “It was pretty awesome, because a lot of people don’t do that,” Lydia said.
She started karate on a whim. “I once said to my mom, ‘I want to try karate,’ Lydia said. “I was like maybe this will be really cool.”
Ten-year-old Sawyer knew exactly why he wanted to get into karate.
“I thought it was kind of like a ninja,” Sawyer said. “I wanted to do karate, and my dad put me in, and I liked it a lot.” Sawyer was barely five years old when he started his classes at Mushin Do.
Each karate dojo has its own oath, Carr said. “We say it before and after every class. It’s a bit long, but it’s the beginning, ‘I come to you without a weapon. I promise to use only the skills and techniques I have learned to protect my country and others from harm.
Mushin Do has an event scheduled for October 16, which Freeman has called the “karate hall of fame”. For more details, visit the dojo’s Facebook page.