Karate, without getting hit — it’s a ‘hit’ as local sensei goes virtual

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — So, where can you go and “get a kick” out of a class in self-defense, while not risking catching COVID-19?

How about the nearest computer? Just log on any Wednesday or Saturday to a Zoom session and get connected with a community of karate enthusiasts from around the world.

The actual dojo is in Newport News, led by long-time Shotokan karate instructor Steve Pohle.

“I’m associated with a very large organization, International Shotokan Karate Federation. We have clubs in over 50 countries throughout the world.”

As he stands in front of a television screen that any sports or movie fan would envy, Pohle stares at a virtual chessboard.

Each of about 24 squares contains the live image of one or more students. One middle schooler is in a kitchen, a dad and teenage daughter in a garage, a mother and two children in a living room, all going through the same motions.

“Step back with your right leg… sho-don ai-gay-u-ki — rising block,” Pohle said, speaking in Japanese while he directed his students on how fend off one attacker with a move that also prepares them for a second.

Pohletakes center stage in his dojo in Warwick Boulevard Shopping Center, Newport News, every Wednesday and Saturday. This multi-level black belt has taught Shotokan style karate for decades.

But this ancient art of self defense was no match for the biological warfare of COVID-19.

“Because of the coronavirus, we realized people are not going to be able to train (at dojo). So, one of the students from William & Mary and another student, Guy Via and Shaun Lee, came up with the idea.”

“It just so happened, my job, I’ve been using this technology Zoom for the past five years. And I’m like, well, why can’t I have a meeting … with the Zoom dojo? And it worked out very well,” said Shaun Lee, a black belt-level trainee.

The students on-screen, in a “Brady Bunch-style format,” were not only in their homes in Newport News, but also New Orleans, Mobile, and San Diego.  International students clicked on from Israel, Argentina, Mexico, the Virgin Islands and Canada.

So, why karate? Young teen, Mark, said he was bullied at a young age.

“I wanted to be able to learn how to defend myself,” he said.

“That’s the whole idea of karate. It’s not like what people think. It’s not about fighting or beating people up. It’s about protecting yourself,” Pohle said.

But, how about protecting your sanity during this COVID-19 self-quarantine?

College professor and karate student Dr. Alex Ruble said these sessions have helped her.

“It’s very good for my mental health during this time for keeping my focus, keeping a calm attitude toward the current panic that’s going around,” Ruble said.

Many of the students at this session have moved away from Hampton Roads. But Nil Dutta, now in Richmond, said “it’s good to be in touch through this distance learning program.”

So, does the “TV” type karate training work? How effective is it? 

“It’s not as effective as group training, but, it’s better than not having anything,” Pohle said.

This is true, especially for Larry Banford and his daughter, Faith, who are formerly of Hampton but now in Nevada thanks to NASA. This type of distance learning has a benefit that Banford appreciates, as he tries to keep up with his 15-year-old.

“What I really like about it is when I make a mistake (on a Zoom session), there’d be a chance that he doesn’t notice … maybe… In the dojo he catches everything,” he said.

Faith said she has found karate has “helped me in many areas of my life.”  

“I decided it’s really a good thing because it keeps my guys — the members of my dojo at William & Mary — engaged. So we continue to do it every Wednesday and Saturday. Wednesdays at 6 p.m., Saturdays at 12 noon.”

To find out more, contact Steve Pohle at Shotokan Karate of Hampton Roads: 10840 Warwick Blvd, Newport News. Phone: 757-329-0358.

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