An interview with Tony LaSelva sheds some light on why people are turning to the Martial Art of Karate for many reasons.
Who is Shihan Tony LaSelva?
Shihan LaSelva has owned Northern Karate School in Richmond Hill, Ontario, one in the NKS group of schools covering the Toronto area, for the last 13 years. Tony’s title of Shihan means teacher of teachers (or Sensei) which is an instructor title. He does, however, take the time to teach everyone from other Sensei to people starting out with their white belt, the first step in a hierarchy that involves graduating through a series of coloured belts and acquiring the skills to eventually achieve black belt excellence.
Although one would never guess from the way he carries himself now, exuding confidence and integrity while always ready with a smile and a handshake, Shihan LaSelva was once a bullied child. He did not come from a karate family, but asked his parents if he could take lessons when, in grade 7, he needed a way to deal with being bullied at school. At the time, Tony was quiet, non-athletic and wanted to learn self-defence.
After starting his karate training, Tony found more confidence and was able to stop confrontations from happening, but that is not necessarily why he stuck with karate and eventually made a career out of it.
Karate has Lasting Power
As Shihan LaSelva tells his students when discussing karate, “Every few years you are doing it for a different reason. As stages of life change, it means something different to you.” When asked what it means to him now, he replies, “Helping people. Once you do it long enough, you change…it becomes apparent when you see the children change. You start a business, then what? I wanted to give something back.”
According to Tony, anti-bullying seems to be a more popular reason than ever for kids to sign up for karate training. The NKS schools are, in fact, holding a series of Bully Proof® workshops in April.
He added that eighty percent of business in the school comes through referrals and promotions such as “Bring a Buddy” days.
Are Kids Changing?
With so much in the news about rudeness and aggression becoming the norm, Tony was asked if he notices any of these trends with kids during his daily interactions with them.
The Shihan describes how generally, the students seem to respect and revere the Sensei, almost like they are in awe of these authority figures. This comes not only from the respect of their abilities, but from the whole culture of respect that is part of karate. People must bow when entering the dojo and wait for permission before joining the class. Every class ends with an oath promising to do one’s best in all personal undertakings and to aim for excellence of body and character.
This carries over to Tony’s own home and family. His wife is a 4th degree black belt and his children, now 13 and 9 both undergo karate training. Tony explains how respect is such a part of their daily lives that his son thinks nothing of standing whenever someone enters a room and waiting until that person sits before reseating himself. If that person takes his seat…he finds another, this is a guest.
Does a child need to already possess some modicum of self-motivation and discipline to succeed in karate training? Shihan LaSelva says no. Discipline can be learned 100%. He has seen children transformed through the dojo, but parents need to ensure that children attend classes regularly. Caretakers need to be supportive without hovering. Tony describes the families whose children attend the school as “regular people who are busy working and lack time.” He explains how these families need support in instilling values and look to karate for this support.
Although Tony has not noticed any new behavioural trends in children these last few years, he has noticed two others that are noteworthy. One is that kids, overall, seem to be more out of shape. The other is that children seem to be more pressured now, academically. He does not remember doing any homework until grade 8.
Karate’s Biggest Benefits
In Shihan LaSelva’s opinion, the most important thing karate can give an individual is a work ethic. After that, “how to be strong individuals, discipline and respect… everything else is a peripheral benefit.” As far as fitness goes, karate provides a good all-around exercise, including cardio, core-strength training, flexibility, stress relief and coordination.
Karate certainly seems to have a lot to offer, for the body, the mind and the soul. How many sports offer all of that along with a way to give back to one’s community while concurrently promoting a culture of respect and discipline?