Grosse Pointe News Article, August 7, 2003
Harper Woods Karate Club

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The following article appeared in the August 7, 2003 edition of the Grosse Pointe News. Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2003, Grosse Pointe News.

Harper Woods karate classes fortify body and mind

By Carrie Cunningham
Staff Writer

Robed individuals aged 8 to 60 recited Japanese chants and made quick movements with their arms and legs on a recent Tuesday evening in the Beacon Elementary gymnasium. Their eyes focused straight ahead of them, and their body and minds appeared unified.

They were practicing karate, the ancient art of self-defense. The classes are every Tuesday and Thursday for six-week periods at a time and are taught by black belt sensei, or teacher, Michael Schaefer.

"It allows you to be more fluid in both your movements physically and mentally," said Schaefer of karate. "The added benefit is that you get in great shape, and you learn to defend yourself."

Schaefer teaches a form of karate called Isshin-Ryu, which is a traditional form of karate that is not ostentatious. It trains the upper and lower body equally.

The classes are 60 percent men and 40 percent women. People from Harper Woods and surrounding towns representing all walks of life attend: construction workers, teachers and lawyers as well as school-age children.

In the Tuesday classes, a practice called katas are rehearsed. They are a series of movements meant to ward off an imaginary opponent. Students to myriad jabs with their arms and legs as well as pushups, sit ups and jumping jacks. The mental connection to each kata is emphasized and essential to the force of the movement. Schaefer says that karate is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.

"Every movement that you make, there's a thought process that goes with it," said Schaefer. "You're taught a new technique or a concept, and you see that visually. You have to be able to get that from your mind to your body."

On Thursday evenings, Kumite, or sparring, is taught in which students engage in fights with the other students. There is body contact but no contact with the head. Nobody has been hurt in the ten years Schaefer has taught the class.

"We've been very fortunate in that respect," said Schaefer.

The goal with learning the movements is for students to have them so ingrained in their minds that they can do them subconsciously.

There are four belts - white, green, brown and black - that students can achieve. When a martial artist receives his or her black belt he or she garners a shodan or new beginning.

Schaefer sees karate as impacting all areas of one's life.

"It has positive ramifications outside of the school or dojo," he said. "It's something that carries over into your school work, work, and your relationships. It's a great outlet. It allows you to look at things a little bit differently, putting things more into perspective."

Many of the kids who are in Schaefer's class gain confidence and improve their performance in school.

"To watch them go from being a C or D student to getting As and Bs is one of the greatest things you can witness," Schaefer said.

Karate was started in Okinawa, an island off Japan. The Japanese invaded the island and took all of the weapons from the people living there. In response, the inhabitants developed a fighting mechanism that employed their body and mind. Karate in Japanese means empty hand or without a weapon.

The movements are copied from the fighting actions of animals.

"The monks that developed it for fighting purposes would watch the animals and how they would defend themselves," said Schaefer.

Schaefer, and attorney, has studied martial arts since 1974 and the particular practice of Isshin-Ryu since 1982. He sees karate as a means to overcoming barriers, both mental and physical, that everyone faces in life. He is proud of what his students have achieved.

"It gets them to be their best physically and mentally, to allow them the opportunity to see their goals achieved," he said.

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