In December 2000, Brendan Murray and I decided to start a karate class that focused on creating an inclusive Karate program for children with and without special needs. The name, “Exceptional Kids” Karate was born and began with 3 students.
It was a new experience for both Brendan and me, and we came from different karate styles. Brendan had trained while in high school in Kyokushin Karate. This is a style that emphasizes discipline, self-improvement, hard training and kumite (sparring). After several years of training and competition he received his 1st degree black belt.
I had been teaching a karate class for a couple of years on the Island of Hawaii, and had received my 2nd degree black belt. This was after having a 1st degree black belt for 18-19 years, allowing me to open my own dojo (practice hall). The karate style is called Wadō-ryū which translates to “way of peace or harmony,” because it emphasizes body management techniques to ‘move along’ rather than to ‘move against’ your opponent—harmony rather than physical strength.
Brendan and I met on the Big Island of Hawaii. He had just graduated with a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Hawaii Hilo. In Hilo, we met through our church and became close friends. While living in Hilo, I worked for an agency that helped families with children with special needs. Brendan was in a similar field as case manager for families who were “at risk.” In August 1999 we were invited to relocate to San Francisco, to help the Bay Area Christian Church with a unique program that supported children with special needs at church, called Spiritual Resource. This program allowed families of children with special needs to attend church; while they were assured that their children enjoyed a safe, fun, and enriching place during service. We were trained and became part of the volunteer teachers for this program.
Brendan and I were both skilled in our karate styles, had worked children with special needs and families, and it became apparent that we could offer an inclusive community karate program for all children. Our program would include both our styles of karate at first and then, other styles later. I was drawn to share what I knew in order to give children with and without unique needs the opportunity to learn karate, and in doing so allow them the opportunity to develop self-discipline and respect for themselves and their fellow human being. Inner harmony is a product of Wadō-ryū, and I realized that helping children who struggle with inner harmony find it, was a compelling reason to form E Karate with Brendan Murray.
As I sit here now, I am drawn particularly to one student who started off not being able to climb up stairs and afraid of social interactions. After attending E Karate from the age of 12 to 21 years old, she left the program being able to not only climb up stairs, but develop the metacognition skills to complete full katas and engage with other children in the program.
Brendan and I were amazed at how the program grew. Rick and Katie Stephenson (Kokondo Karate black belts) joined the coach/instruction team after a couple of years. Then Brian Nitta, (2nd degree black belt in Judo and a candidate for the Olympics) became part of our E karate family.
Over the past 12 years, we have grown to having a class in San Jose and 2 classes on Saturdays at the Red Morton Community Center in Redwood City. I always hoped that heart of E Karate could be shared worldwide, and I was encouraged when E-Karate had the opportunity to participate in a research effort which examined the impact of the program on children’s developmental and behavioral skills. My dream for the program to be shared worldwide came true as the findings of the research effort were shared at various international conferences.
Having seen E-Karate through its early stages to growth, I look back and amazed at the friends I’ve made and the families that have been impacted by our program. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter will bring for the E Karate Program.