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Oriental Art, Occidental Home : College Karate Club Flourishes Under Top Teacher

July 10, 1986|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

His name and face may not be the most recognizable, but Takayuki Kubota's reputation in the martial arts is worldwide.

So when Lynn Pacala was approached by some of her students at Occidental College with the idea of forming a karate club on campus in 1978, she went immediately to the best for help.

And she got it.

Now eight years and seven black belts later, the club, affiliated with the International Karate Assn., is the largest on the small Eagle Rock campus, with a membership as high as 75.

"I don't think a karate club is rare for a larger campus like UC Riverside or UC Berkeley, but for a small liberal arts college, it sure is unique," said Pacala, who is a second-degree black belt and Occidental Collegiate Karate Club adviser.

Sponsored Championships

Although most members take the summer off, the club sponsored the 22nd annual IKA Karate Championships at Occidental in late June for the third consecutive year.

But even with only a handful of members present, Occidental made a respectable showing, with two members placing in their events.

Tero Enomoto, 25, one of 10 Oxy alumni in the club, was second in women's advanced kata (non-contact karate), and William Lee, 21, who graduated in June, placed fourth in men's brown-belt kata .

The Occidental club teaches members in both the kata and kumite (freestyle fighting) techniques of shotokan or "controlled movement" karate.

"One of the things that's unique about shotokan karate is that it's very disciplined in orientation," said Pacala, who is also the college's physical education chairman. "The object is to gain control of the movements so you don't make contact.

'Aesthetically Pleasing'

"What I like about the style is that it's 50% hands and 50% feet. The style is aesthetically pleasing; plus, it stresses a lot of mental discipline."

Club members enjoy the subtle mix between the mental and physical aspects of shotokan karate, said Pacala, who began karate lessons in 1973.

"Karate has a bizarre mystique about it. After all, it's not exactly held in the most positive light when you think of all the violence that's been associated with it," she noted. "But in the college atmosphere, karate presents more than just the violent aspect.

"Karate is a whole body of knowledge in movement and the spiritual and mental aspects of life. It's more than just kicking and punching. A lot of the students like the idea that it's not just fighting. They take the time to understand the philosophy and try to understand what it takes to come to an inner peace and focus your energies.

"Karate has a certain amount of intellectual stimulation. There's more to it than learning how to kick and fight. It's an art."

Growth in Popularity

Pacala brought the art of karate to Occidental in 1977.

"I taught a few karate classes at USC when I was finishing my doctorate and thought it would be fun to teach another one. So I offered a class in martial arts."

Although there were only 10 students in the initial class, Pacala was asked to teach another term. Her class since has been usually full with 20 students.

But it was not until Pacala and Kubota presented a seminar on Japanese culture and the samurais to about 200 students in 1978 that interest began to surge.

"After we made that presentation, it just took off," Pacala said. "After it was over I had a number of students ask me to start a club, so I talked to Kubota and we did it."

It didn't take much to get Kubota involved as the club's master instructor.

Did It as a Favor

"He did it as a favor to me," said Pacala, who taught for Kubota at the IKA headquarters in Glendale for three years during the early 1970s.

Kubota, president and general intsructor of the IKA, is the highest-ranked karate master in the United States, with an eighth-degree black belt. He also has a fifth-degree black belt in aikido, a fourth-degree black belt in judo and a second-degree black belt in kendo.

Besides teaching his craft at seven colleges, the 51-year-old Japanese native has instructed police officers, including members of the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI, numerous karate champions and movie stars. The late Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson and Burt Young are among the actors he has taught at his Glendale dojo , or gym.

"He's a treasure," Pacala said of Kubota, who has appeared in about 200 motion pictures, television shows and commercials.

"Master Kubota's a fantastic teacher," Lee said. "He's really concerned about the students. He's not like other instructors who place themselves way above their students. He's more concerned about what you learn."

'Must Have Respect'

The respect seems mutual.

"I have taught at six or seven colleges and the students have the most respect at Occidental," said Kubota in a heavy accent. "You must have respect in karate, it's very important."

Once on the mat, the 5-5, 145-pound Kubota becomes a fireball. In fact, his aggressive teaching methods have scared some students away, including policemen.

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