If a three-time Canadian karate champion tells you to take it easy during his class – take it easy during his class.
One week minus a day after I took my first karate class with him, I arrived back at KICK Masters in Stratford to do an interview with the sensei Frank Misuraca.
The first words out of his mouth are, “How are your legs feeling?”
I sheepishly admit that they are sore. Sheepishly because as a soccer player I assumed my fitness level was fairly high.
A hundred scissor leg kicks and one week later though, I’m still walking around like a stiff old man.
As a class is going on, we duck into his office to conduct the interview.
Mild-mannered, he isn’t what you would expect of someone with the years of training he has.
Years of success line the wall in the form of trophies – his own and his students’ – and the sound of little karate masters in training float in through his open door.
My first question is a simple one. What’s the success you are most proud of?
“Well, first and foremost, KICK Masters being open for 24 years. That’s been my biggest success. Second, and more personally, I’m proud of the years between 1988-91 when I was considered the Canadian champion.”
Karate in Canada doesn’t have an official governing body the same way more traditional sports like hockey do and Frank is quick to point that out.
“To be considered champion is sort of a weird thing. There is no playoffs or final game. They essentially add up all your matches from the year and the same way tennis does, assign a seeding. So, in those years I was considered a number one seed.”
“But, karate is very different from what it was in the 1960s. That was the blood and guts era of karate, one where you basically had to knock a guy out or break his jaw to get the point. Guys like Chuck Norris look at the sport of today and refer to it as tag karate. It’s very fast and there is very little actual violence.”
That perceived lack of violence hasn’t prevented him from getting his fair share of lumps however.
He sports a nose that many in this country would consider a hockey nose.
“I’ve had my nose broken a few times during competition. One time was accidental, the other was more intentional. I didn’t even realize it the first time. Someone in the crowd had to yell to me, ‘Frank, check your nose’ for me to notice. I pushed it back into place and kept fighting.”
The one guy who did break his nose intentionally was from a school of karate unlike his own. He illustrates it through use of a popular movie.
“Do you remember the movie Karate Kid?”
Yes, like every kid from the 1980s I fought ninjas in my backyard for months after watching that movie.
“Well, the movie is very true to form in a way. There really is two types of schools of karate. There is Daniel and Mr. Miagi and there is the militant black side of karate, the type that promotes win at all costs with no care or concern for your opponents.”
Frank is trying to promote an alternative way to karate, a way that he says is different from the bow-to-this and bow-to-that ways of more traditional schools.
“That sort of thing is fine. Some people need that. I want my people to come in here and have fun, though. I want them to take in what it is I’m trying to get across to them. I want them to spread it, spread the knowledge they take away from here. But most of all I want them to walk away with the sense that if something bad is going to happen, they have the courage to stand up and handle it.”
One of the most common things he says he hears is, “I don’t go looking for trouble so it won’t find me.”
With no pun intended, he speaks very frankly about the dangers of the world we live in.
“People think that just because Stratford is a small town that there is no danger here. The reality is there are dangerous people everywhere.”
As a former bar bouncer, he definitely would know.
“At the bars, sometimes, there would be someone waiting to meet you after.”
I start to ask for more details, but I get the distinct impression I shouldn’t. Instead he tells me a story of watching a man at the Stratford mall get out of his car with a large knife tucked into his pants. His point isn’t that people should be afraid but how danger can sometimes find you.
“We always promote self defence first. But when you have to fight someone and incapacitate them for your safety, there are still ways to do that without hurting them.”
It’s around this time that the squeals of the little karate masters reach a pitch higher than normal.
Sensei Frank heads out to investigate. Without a trace of anger in his actions, his class snaps to attention as he enters the room.
At least, as much attention as eight-year-olds are capable of snapping to. Perhaps this is because one of the things he tries to incorporate with his students is student-taught instruction. A 10-year-old named Jordan is currently leading his class.
“By letting them teach each other it promotes confidence. They learn by teaching.”
Part of that teaching is about dispelling the myth, spreading the knowledge that karate is not evil.
“I still have people today telling me that they think karate is evil. I had a student a while back who had to hide it from his parents, they thought it was so bad.
“To those people I tell them to get involved first. See the discipline you can learn, see how it will change your life. You’ll learn that its not evil.”
Me? I’m not convinced. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who makes you do a hundred scissor kicks is evil.