World renowned karate master Yutaka Yaguchi paused from his speech and looked around his dojo, which was overflowing with students, varying belt colors tied around their white attire.
“Please train hard into the future,” the 84-year-old said …
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Karate is a martial art used for exercise and self-defense. It is a system of unarmed combat that uses hands and feet to deliver and block hits to an opponent. It was created in the 17th century in Japan, and gained popularity there in the early 20th century and in the United States in the 1960s. Colored belts are earned by students as they improve their skill. Those who train in karate say the practice is a way their body communicates, like a language.
Source: ISKF of the Mountain States Region
“Please train hard into the future,” the 84-year-old said through a translator.
And he bowed to his class for the last time.
At the Lone Tree Recreation Center on Dec. 17, Yaguchi held his last karate training, teaching and testing seminar before his retirement.
In his native Japanese, Yaguchi talked about the bittersweet nature of the day.
“I am happy about retiring, but it is also melancholy,” Yaguchi said through the translator. “I am very sad I will be away from the people I have trained.”
Yaguchi was born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1932. He began karate training in 1952 and moved to the United States to teach the martial art in 1965. In 1974, he founded the International Shotokan Karate Federation of Colorado, which is still active at 226 S. Broadway in Denver.
Mark Tarrant, who has trained with Yaguchi for 40 years, moved to Denver specifically to train with the karate legend. He said that Yaguchi’s open nature and closeness with his students generated a deep love for the master. More than 150 participants, some from as far as Africa and Israel, came to Lone Tree to witness the final class taught by their sensei, the term used for a karate instructor.
“Normally, the instructors are so detached from their students, but not sensei,” Tarrant said. “He prefers to mingle with the students — to joke, drink and eat with us.”
Though some of his students mentioned that Yaguchi, a Denver resident,will be traveling more now that he is retired, Yaguchi said he wants to spend time learning something new.
“My weakest point is language,” Yaguchi said through the translator. “I have a lot of other means of communication, such as movement of my body. I know myself very well and speaking the (English) language has been a barrier for me.”
Tarrant recently helped build a studio in Yaguchi’s basement so Yaguchi can continue practicing karate and have a space to train his grandson in martial arts.
Catherine Margolin started training with Yaguchi in 1984 and trained with him until moving to Alaska in 2006. She so admired Yaguchi that she wrote a book about the karate master titled “Mind and Body Like Bullet: Memoirs of a Life in the Martial Arts,” published under her maiden name, Catherine Pinch.
Yaguchi’s life has been full of interesting stories, Margolin said. A wide smile spread across her face when she mentioned his sense of humor.
“There used to be this thing that happened in the dojo where sensei would hide our shoes after class,” Margolin said. “He was always doing practical jokes like that.”
Margolin flew to the final training event from her home in Alaska. She mentioned how bittersweet her sensei’s retirement was for the karate community.
“It feels like an end of an era,” Margolin said. “It feels like getting kicked out of your house, almost. He is my foundation. Even when I moved and wasn’t here, I always felt like he was my sensei.”
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