Reverend William H. Foster Shihan

 

In Peoria, 1960, I met Master Koeppel. He had been studying in Japan and in Hawaii. I wanted to learn what he knew. He was a purple belt at that time. We had a school there – part of the time it was just he and I. Then some other students joined, some of whom are still with Master Koeppel. We used to workout for four hours, and when we left, we did well just to walk. Both of us were having problems, so much of it was drowning our troubles in fatigue. Then he went to Chicago and taught in school there. He had a job running a trucking company. So, I had the school in Peoria on my own, taking over his students and mine.

We realized that we didn’t know as much as we wanted to.  I was trying to recall all that I had learned. In those days, you didn’t have a smorgasbord of martial arts that you could go and pick information from. It was so hard to find knowledge. I practiced all I could. I had a hodgepodge of the whole thing and was working it the best I could. It was a lonely time for me.

I know I have injuries today that would not have occurred if I would have had a Sensei all through those years to warn me, as I warn my students. You don’t press the body in certain unnatural ways. I was going to force myself to do it. My cardiologist has said I have trained myself over the years to ignore pain. As a result, I had a heart attack and didn’t know it. While giving me the stress test, they asked me, “are you hurting?” and I said, “No”. He said, “The damage was there, but you have learned to ignore the pain,” which is good and bad because pain warns us of certain things.

Anyway, I was teaching there in Peoria. We would pick anybody’s brain. We would go anywhere where anybody claimed they knew anything about the art, stay there a couple days, and then learn all we could. We might pass on a little of our knowledge in exchange. I’d come back, Master Koeppel and I would look it over, teach it and see if it fit in.

I would like to name the people that I learned from in those days. I remember one of the most helpful people was Walter Todd, who lived across from San Francisco, I owe a lot to him. He was a man of great knowledge. He is an eighth degree karate master, and a judo master.

I also studied judo under Neil Rosenburg, in Milwaukee. I was one of the charter members there at the new YMCA, he would teach there. He came to visit our class here at one time. I had not done any judo, just a little in Shanghai. He said I amazed him, how strong and how I did it, he didn’t know. Of course, I had the training in martial arts before, but I didn’t say anything about it.

Then there was Master Trias. Master Koeppel sent some films to Master Trias, where he was doing some kata and wazas. Master Koeppel was a high kicker. I would never have been able to compare to his kicking. He doesn’t kick that high now, but of course he is more powerful and accurate than he was. Beautiful high kicks. He was not very old at the time. Master Trias was very interested in Master Koeppel. It came out that he got his  shodan, from the films, correspondence, and so forth.

I didn’t go through the same procedure, so I got no rank at all. Master Trias didn’t even know I existed until later. I went to Phoenix and studied a little with him. I owe quite a bit to Master Trias, although right now, we don’t follow the same course. Now, he has become more interested in sport karate, which is not karate at all in my opinion. Not long after Master Koeppel made shodan, I did. He recommended me and got a group of people together.

We found some karate people quite good in the Chicago area. We hadn’t known they existed. The first Yudansha Kai in the State of Illinois was formed in my house in Peoria in 1963. We formed a black belt association – we were pioneers. We began to hold shiais (tournament). I used to be around shiais more than I am now. Billy, my son, was a star at it. He would seemingly win in kata and kumite wherever he went, and he was just a young kid. The first national shiai we had was in Chicago. I couldn’t be there because I had injured my knee. They asked Billy to give the opening prayer, which he did.

I appreciate having a Sensei. I appreciate so much that Master Koeppel shared and grew with me. We worked out when nobody else would. I remember we had some people come in off the street and they would test us. We would show them what we could do. He would do it one time, then I would another. That didn’t last very long. We would show people that this worked.

I have been working out and grabbing knowledge all the time, through time, I have been able to take some things and discard others that didn’t seem to be harmonious. One  of the things that I have learned is you can know 50 kata, 3000wazas and not ever grasp what karate is about, but if you learn the principles of karate, then you can judge a kata, or a waza for a violation. If they do not follow the physical and physiological principles of the art you know something is wrong.

If you practice karate and do not know the principles, you get a lot of good exercise and learn some discipline; probably it won’t work if you have a real competition on the street and have decided to defend yourself. But if you know the principles, they have been tried and true. Not only can you do it in unarmed combat, but these principles apply in armed combat, such as the stick techniques that we do.

Another thing I have learned is that as you get older you don’t necessarily get weaker. You will get weaker in some things, but if you keep at it you will gain other strengths that will take their place.  I was never a high kicker and cannot kick as high as I once could, but I am accurate and really have more power. I doubt I could lift the weights I once could, but my explosive power is greater. I can break more than I ever could. Part of this is psychological, a spiritual power we don’t fully understand. Another thing I have found is that your hands will keep getting faster if you keep practicing. I am 73 and I expect, in a few years, my hands to be faster than they are now. You can’t keep from getting old, but as we get older we gain things if we try. That is the reason the great masters could perform so much. Many of them were old men, but they were certainly not helpless old men.

 
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