Karate all about the journey

Burbank Leader

The sparsely decorated Victory Karate Dojo & Fitness, with it bare wood floors and large mirror, belies the philosophy of its instructors: Advancement in rank and in life can be attained only through discipline and hard training.

It's a style of teaching tied to the kyokushin style of karate the dojo specializes in. All students are expected to enter into this form of discipline whenever in the presence of their masters or other students.

"My goal really is to give kyokushin to the neighborhood," said owner Robert Christophe. "I think it's a life-transforming karate style. Kyokushin is a different approach.

"It's not all just about tournaments and trophies and winning. It's more about becoming a better human being through very hard, disciplined training."

The only drive here is to develop a good sweat by the time class is over, Christophe added. For instructor Michael Jai White, the dojo is not run like a typical karate school, where maintaining a good customer base is the No. 1 priority, and students are promoted quickly in order to keep them paying for classes.

Instead, the school emphasizes training over a long period of time. This allows advancements in rank, or belt color, to be earned at a slower pace.

"Being that it's a business, almost anyone can become a black belt in a lot of styles," White said.

"The tradition becomes compromised. It becomes more of a hobby, some kind of sport. A black belt is very difficult to attain."

Kyokushin karate stands out among other styles of karate in that it is about the journey, not just about achieving rank.

Christophe said students who achieve black belts in kyokushin have only "just mastered the basics."

"It's not so much about winning, but more about learning," said student Joshua Figueroa, 18, of Burbank.

"I take a bunch of hits every day and I say, 'OK, I took a hit that day, what did I learn from that?' Instead of saying, 'Ah, I'm doing things wrong,' it's more of a, 'OK, what am I doing right?'"

Kyokushin came to Burbank the year it was founded in 1964 in Japan, and classes were held at the Burbank YMCA. At the time, it was only the second location in the Unites States to teach kyokushin-style karate.

Considered the No. 1 style of karate in Japan, today the style is practiced in more than 150 countries, said senior instructor Bryan Bastien, chief of the Burbank/North Los Angeles branch of International Karate Organization kyokushin.

"It's like home," said student Debra Delgadillo of Sun Valley, whose sun David, 10, is also a student at the dojo. "

The Burbank Y is nice, but it's just not the same. It just doesn't have that homey feeling."

While Christophe is a black belt with more than 25 years' experience in other styles of karate, he is in only his third year of training in kyokushin, holding the rank of brown belt.

The opening of the dojo came at an opportune time for Christophe, who was encountering conflict at the Burbank Y after being told that due to concerns about safety, contact sports would not be permitted. At the same time, Christophe was just discovering kyokushin, he said.

The training facility celebrated its grand opening on May 15. And most of the people behind the scenes who help run the dojo are students who offer their legal or accounting services for free, Christophe said.

For more information on classes, call (818) 567-1100.

Victory Karate Dojo & Fitness is at 517 N. Victory Blvd. in Burbank.

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