My Karate Journey
by Toni Coates Sensei
I decided to learn karate for self-defence reasons. After three months training I was hooked and my karate journey began. Little did I know it was going to be a life style decision spanning over 30 years.
I joined River Karate Club in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada in 1985. I was 39 years old. My first instructor was Andy Holmes, Sensei, Commonwealth and British Champion. Holmes Sensei inspired me to keep trying even when things were tough and my techniques were dodgy. He told me that “If I ever learned to do a mae geri kick it would be a miracle”. Funny how some things leave a lasting impression. So I worked harder until I got it, it took years. What a great teacher. My karate partner in crime was my dear friend Barbara Holmes.
My next instructor was Sara Sato Sensei. Sato Sensei was the first Canadian Female Black Belt Champion at 16 years of age. Karate was very much male dominated in Canada at that time. She was my teacher for about a year. She moved to Washington state and became an orthodontic surgeon. What an amazing young woman.
Sakurai Shihan, moved to Vancouver from Montreal in 1986. Sakurai Shihan is a very gifted teacher and taught me from coloured belt to shodan. He is a true master and I was privileged to train with him for most of my karate journey. We enjoy a wonderful friendship that continues to today. He is someone I trust and who has always been supportive no matter what. When Sakurai Shihan returned to Japan to live, Don Sharp Sensei became my instructor. Sharp Sensei was mentored by Sakurai Shihan and became a very gifted instructor in his own right.
Sharp Sensei is a very highly regarded karate teacher winning many accolades and championships. He is a World champion, National Champion, Commonwealth Champion and a champion of all his students. Sharp Sensei taught me for my nidan. He would travel 120 kilometres from his home to downtown Vancouver to teach me during lunch hours. One day I mentioned that he didn’t give me feedback. Was it because I was old enough to be his mother? He said “Yes”. I was 48 and he was 23. What an amazing young man and karate teacher. So humble and respectful. Sharp Sensei has always been very special and is someone I have the utmost respect for. As well as my Sensei, he is a dear friend.
In June 1993 I tested for my Nidan with Sakurai Shihan. Before I left Canada to move to Australia in 2002 Sakurai Shihan and Sharp Sensei gifted me with an honorary 3rd dan. A certificate I cherish greatly. It acknowledged my contribution to NASKA more than my karate skills. Both are important in a person’s karate journey. These two amazing men are the reason I continued to do karate today. Their inspiration and support in always there for me no matter what. In times of trouble I turn to them for support and direction. I trust them implicitly.
At 70 I passed my Yondan exam with Ueki Shihan, Chief Instructor, JKA Headquarters, Japan. In 2011 I opened my own dojo at St Simon’s Parish in Rowville, Australia, where I still teach an amazing number of children and adults. Mr karate journey continues as I remember Sakurai Shihan’s words. “Never stop Toni, because karate will keep you young.”
I opened JKA Rowville dojo in 2011 because I wanted to teach my grandchildren karate. It has been an amazing journey with Elise, my granddaughter, passing her shodan in March this year and Evan, my grandson, is a brown belt. I also wish to acknowledge the 9 other students who earned their shodan black belt or graded to nidan.
JKA Rowvilles started with 8 students, today our student line up is like a rainbow of belts with over 40 students mainly children training on a regular basis.
Over the years Rowville students have achieved a lot. They have excelled at their gradings, attended many seminars, competitions and represented Australia overseas and nationally. They have won many championships but more importantly they have simply had fun growing in the karate way.
JKA Rowville is a very family oriented dojo showing care and respect for all our students regardless of age.