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Vernon’s priority is quality of dojo

Vernon’s priority is quality of dojo
By KENNETH COKER
Messenger Sports Reporter
Union City native and second-degree black belt Larry Vernon isn’t in the karate business just for kicks.
The 57-year-old businessman and owner of the local Shotokan Karate Academy takes his position in influencing the youth who come through his doors very seriously.
So serious that Vernon — the only full-time instructor at the local dojo — has instituted a quality over quantity policy in regard to how many pupils he takes on.
“Back in the day when we had multiple, we had over 100 students in Union City,” he said. “Now, it’s just me and I can only teach so many with quality instruction.
“If I were to take on the numbers like we used to have, some of the students would get slighted because I’d be stretched too thin. I know some schools run as many students through as they can, but in many of those cases, karate isn’t taught properly. I enjoy personal teaching (for each student). Growing a larger dojo is not my interest.”
The proper way to teach karate, according to Vernon, is to encourage pupils not to “conquer others, but to conquer the weakness within one’s self.”
This happens through numerous body movements including blocks, punches, kicks, strikes, evasions, throws and holds that Vernon teaches his students.
Shotokan karate style founder Gichin Funakoshi said, “mind and technique become one in true karate,” and Vernon echoes that sentiment.
“By polishing our karate techniques, we are also polishing our karate spirit and own mentality,” Vernon explained.
Funakoshi was a school teacher, who also wrote poetry. His pen name was Shoto, thus the name of this style of karate.
Currently, a maximum of 30 youths of varying skill level (ages 8-and-up) train under Vernon’s watch. According to Vernon, most of those students will stay in the karate program for — on average — two to three years.
Classes begin with mental and physical warmup. That is followed by kihon (basic moves and body alignment), kumite (sparring) and kata (forms or in essence simulating defense against opponents).
All totaled, it takes nearly six years to achieve black belt status. As of this writing, Vernon has two students preparing for their black belt exams.
“Once in a while, we’ll get a student that’s a black belt,” Vernon explained. “Drake Parker is a shining example of that. He split his time between baseball and this but, by and large, there’s just so much more for children to do today.
“I’m not offended when a child leaves the program. Kids are going to develop different interests as they age and mature. I always encourage them when they discontinue training to find something that is of equal or better value to them than karate was.”
While on the subject of values, Vernon lauds that good character, commitment, perseverance, respect for self and others, patience, discipline and responsibility are all among what is instilled in his pupils.
“I feel karate definitely is beneficial to all who stick with it for any time period,” he said. “Its principles give one balance in life and I think a lot of people lack that today.
“It rewards hard work. So much in this world can be bought with money. However, character and integrity cannot. I’ll take a student who isn’t athletically gifted or coordinated who will train until they are about to drop over above the young men that are in the world today wasting their time and talent because of a lack of commitment.”
Vernon, a second-degree black belt, began his training in karate in 1977 and his career as an instructor started in 1982.
All totaled, he has taught for 20 years — taking a near decade break in the 1990s when his three children were growing up. Since 2000, he has been in charge of the local SKA dojo and Vernon has pledged to teach karate the right way due to some of his past experiences.
“When I started out, the sparring at one of the first dojos I went to consisted of the instructor really roughing us up,” Vernon said. “They told us ‘Come back next time, if you want to learn how to defend yourself.’
“That’s not the right way to teach karate. We spar in a pre-determined atmosphere with no contact. These skills are taught with self-defense in mind. I know I have the skills to defend myself and that’s enough for me. There’s no reason to initiate a fight.
“With the confidence my students and I possess, we don’t have anything to prove.”
That said, each year the SKA students prove their ability to raise money for a good cause with numerous fund raisers in the community.
Proceeds benefit a number of local charities.
“Helping others is very important,” Vernon said. “What we’ve done for ourselves isn’t nearly as important as what we do for others.”
Published in The Messenger 7.21.10

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