Rockford Karate Club teaches speed, power, repetition

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118366336711284.jpg’, ‘Photo by Tom Murphy’, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118366339611670.jpg’, ‘Photo by Tom Murphy’, ‘“Karate came from people dying on the battlefield,” said Sensei John Allen of Rockford Karate Club. “There are three parts to karate: kata, kihon and kumite. If you take any one of those parts away, the puzzle is not complete.”‘);

Sensei John Allen has been learning and instructing Shotokan karate long enough to have an analogy for pretty much any of its aspects.

Allen, 62, has taught at Rockford’s oldest and longest-running karate school, Rockford Karate Club at 915 1/2 E. State St., since it opened in 1962. Even with more than 45 years of experience teaching about 14,000 people, Allen said he’s still a student of Shotokan.

“A diamond always cuts diamond,” Allen said. “If you don’t have an instructor over you, then you become stale. I’m a fifth-degree (black belt), but I still have an instructor over me.”

Allen said when he was first learning Shotokan, he had to clean up around the dojo to pay for his training. He decided to dedicate his life to the art because of its science and discipline. And everything about Allen’s teaching, from the facility to class instruction, he said is scientifically based.

The facility looks relatively traditional. Classes are held on the second floor of an apartment-like building, and Sensei Allen said the facility’s hollow wood floors are easier on the spine. Pictures of Shotokan instructors, trophies and descriptions of belt ranks cover the dark wooden walls behind Allen’s desk.

The Japanese and American flags hang from each side of the portrait of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan karate. The temperature upstairs is hot, but bearable, and the class atmosphere is efficient and disciplined.

Allen lines his students up and teaches them the science and techniques he’s learned over the course of his lifetime. Whether man or woman, young or old, white belt or black belt, Allen’s students all line up and act in synchronization to his orders. When they step, each foot lands at the same time, creating a rumbling sound from the feet stomping on the wood floors.

Sensei Allen commands respect and attention while he teaches the intricacies of the traditional Japanese art that doesn’t teach fancy Jet Li-like moves or aerial assaults—just speed and power from hours and hours of repetition.

Allen insisted that what was practical during karate’s establishment remains practical today.

“Karate came from people dying on the battlefield,” Allen said. “It doesn’t get much more real than that. There are three parts to karate: kata, kihon and kumite. If you take any one of those parts away, the puzzle is not complete. If you can’t do a kata, if you can’t fight somebody in your imagination, how are you going to fight somebody for real?”

Kata is a series of offensive and defensive moves against imaginary opponents that starts and ends in the same spot. Kihon is specific punches, blocks and kicks for each belt level. Kumite extends from one-step attacks and defenses to complete free fighting.

Sensei Allen puts his faith and trust into each of his students and even gives his black belts a key to the facility so they can further their training development when no classes are available. He is also certified to instruct self-defense and restraint seminars for law enforcement.

Aritomo Ito, 28, has trained with the Rockford Karate Club for four years, long enough to earn black belt. He moved from Japan to Rockford to study English and said Shotokan appeals to him because it originated in Japan. He took Allen’s karate class at Rock Valley College, Introduction to Japanese Karate, and decided to train at Rockford Karate Club. He is a student at NIU and said learning karate helped him with his English.

“I was kind of lucky to find something this cool,” Ito said. “I just like it. I just want to work out, and if it works for self-defense, that’s great.”

Rockford Karate Club is a nonprofit organization that has children and adult classes. It has no contracts and costs $40 a month for adults and $30 a month for children. A family discount of $5 less per month is offered for each additional family member. Interested people can find out more about the school by visiting the facility or calling (815) 965-7575.

from the July 5-10, 2007, issue

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