1. Who is the dojo’s founder and what prompted him/her to build the school? Is there any rich history behind its making?
I founded the dojo myself after I was unable to find a quality dojo in my area when I returned from Okinawa, Japan. We’re a very young dojo – only about four years old, but over those four years, we’ve been able to attract several experienced people who, like me, were unable previously to find a suitable place to train.
2. What forms of Japanese martial arts do you teach in your school? Can you please share with us the history behind them?
Our main focus is traditional Okinawan Goju-ryu, using the methods of Jundokan, Okinawa. Jundokan is the dojo and organization established by Miyazato Ei’ichi Sensei, who in turn was Miyagi Chojun Sensei’s (the founder of Goju-ryu Karate-do) senior student. We also have a sport-karate program under which our athletes train for competition in WKF-style karate competition. WKF is the organization selected by the International Olympic Committee to represent the sport of karate.
3. What are the principles and concepts that you uphold and try to instill in your students?
Our primary goal in training is to preserve the integrity of Okinawan Goju-ryu as an effective fighting method and for its cultural heritage. To this end, our students focus their efforts on researching the kata and principles to make sure they do not lose their combative effectiveness and relevance. We also train to develop strength, balance, focus, quickness, body position and structure, etc. and use the Jundokan Dojo-kun as a guide to our personal development:
• Be Humble and Polite
• Train Considering Your Physical Strength
• Practice Earnestly and With Creativity
• Be Calm and Swift
• Take Care of Your Health
• Live a Plain and Simple Life
• Do Not Be Too Proud (or Too Modest)
• Continue Your Training with Patience
4. Why do you think it is important for people to learn martial arts?
On a societal level, it preserves cultural heritage and brings people together across the world in a pursuit of shared interest. On an individual level, the refinement of any skill over an extended period of time leads to increased confidence, focus, self-perspective, etc. I don’t believe this needs to be the study of martial arts, but any focused discipline can lead to the same benefits when studies diligently. While traditional martial arts are certainly very effective for self-defense purposes, I don’t believe that training in the martial arts is the most efficient way to learn self-defense since it can take years to become competent. For this reason, while the desire to defend yourself can be an excellent reason to begin training, it is not the primary benefit of ongoing study.
5. What difficulties and obstacles have you encountered so far with regards to teaching martial arts and how did you overcome them?
Most of our students are adults and it can be very difficult to get adults to try new long-term training activities. This is especially true in today’s world of commercialized martial arts, which have very much become seen as a youth activity with many schools making most of their money on very young children. Once we succeed in interesting someone in training, the next difficulty is how to keep them interested through the years of repetition that is necessary to progress in martial art without “dumbing down” the training or introducing a wide variety of programs to add variety, but which ultimately simply dilute their expertise.
We have had success in attracting new adults by focusing on experienced martial artists who are looking to get back into training, or who have just moved to the area and need a new dojo. Once they join our school, we try very hard to expose them to the depth of traditional karate instead of the breadth of modern commercialized martial arts. We still have lots of repetition, but as they gain expertise, they dig a little deeper on each area of repetition to keep things interesting. We also try to give them many glimpses of what advanced karate can look like, using the same principles they are practicing themselves.
One of the common pitfalls of martial arts training that I’ve seen is the tendency to become an “advanced beginner”. People polish and polish their form and try to gain perfect aesthetics while never really advancing their understanding of technical concepts and applicability. An advanced practitioners technique should not just look like polished and powerful beginner technique. It should have evolved past that fundamental platform without losing its connection to basic form. At our dojo we work hard to keep a balance between aesthetic value and combative applicability with the emphasis on the latter once fundamentals are understood. All without compromising the representation of the traditional goju-ryu that we use as our stable reference point. This is probably the most challenging part of teaching as students become more advanced, but it is where research into the true depth of martial arts is especially valuable.
6. What advice and/or insights can you share with our readers who want to pursue their interest in the Japanese form of martial arts?
I think the most important things to bring with you to your training are patience, an open mind, a mental commitment to participate at 100%, curiosity, humility and enthusiasm. The people who develop high levels of skill in martial arts are usually not the ones who showed early talent, but those who simply stuck with it year after year, letting the decades of experience and practice pile up in cumulative gains. However, this experience has to be self-directed for continual improvement and true depth of understanding. It is not enough to simply “show up” for decades of time and allow yourself to be spoon-fed by others. You need to continue to participate, research, etc. If you persevere under quality instruction and guidance, with others having similar goals, you will become very competent, regardless of how awkward you feel starting out. It may take decades, but it will happen as the years add up.
In order to keep persevering through the decades, as your life changes and priorities shift, it is important to be very clear with yourself as to why you are training. You will need to reflect on this motivation many times to get to the dojo at times that you may feel like giving up. Your reasons for training may change as you progress, but make sure you understand for yourself what they are.
7. Can you give a short biography of your instructor(s)?
David Oddy, chief instructor of Syracuse Jundokan, has been practicing karate for over 25 years including 3 years in Okinawa, Japan where he trained directly with Miyazato Eiichi Sensei and other senior students at The Jundokan, Okinawa Goju-ryu’s main dojo. He has also had the opportunity to train with many senior teachers and coaches over the years, both in the United States and in Japan.
David remains a member of The Jundokan So Honbu Dojo and continues to visit on an annual basis for personal instruction in Okinawa, Japan. His current focus and passion is on the depth of combative applications within goju-ryu kata.
Prior to shifting his focus to a purely traditional practice, David had a successful competitive career. In addition to many local and regional tournament wins, David has won five US National Championships from the USA-NKF and its predecessors as the US Olympic Committee’s recognized governing bodies for the sport of karate.
Two of these were during a brief return to competition in 2006, exactly 20 years after his first national championship victory.
He also represented the United States at the 1989 Goodwill Games against the Japanese Junior Team and on the 1994 US National Karate Team at the WKF World Championships in Malaysia.