Masters Speak

by Dr. Alex Sternberg
Jun 29, 2018 | in Masters Speak

During the past 60 years, we have seen lots of changes affecting our karate community. The technical skill of todays champions is on a higher level than the early fighters, although most old timers would argue that fighters were tougher ‘back in the day.’

In the early sixties when I started to train, very few people ever heard of or knew what karate was. When I wanted to explain to someone what I was doing I used to ask if they ever heard of Judo. Then I would explain, karate is ”very similar, with the white gi and all, but we kick and punch and not throw.” Today, with the tremendous growth in the martial arts industry, everyone is familiar with what karate is. The hundreds of movies with karate trained heroes and villains, with ninja turtles and other popular karate themed shows having created a generation of children kicking and punching and doing karate. Millions have trained in some dojo or other as there are tens of thousands of local schools teaching karate throughout the USA. 

One thing, though, has not changed with all the evolution. We still have almost as many organizations as there are dojos. In fact, I defy anyone to come up with a new name for a karate association or group that hasn’t already been taken.

As karate training has flourished many students have become senseis, masters and grandmasters. Naturally, each grandmaster is entitled to start  his or her federation and add to the already crowded  field of “alphabet soup” groups.

And what’s wrong with this picture?...

by Dr. Alex Sternberg
Jun 28, 2018 | in Masters Speak

Jews and blacks have many shared experiences of discrimination, suffering, and poverty that has made us natural allies for many years. During the civil rights movement, many Jews and prominent rabbis participated in demonstrations and marches with Dr King and were arrested. Some Jews like Schwerner and Goodman were killed by the Klan for leading voter registration drives among poor southern blacks in Mississippi. I, however, grew up in an all black Brooklyn ghetto and learned about black life from personal experience.

In 1965, four short years after emigrating to NY from Hungary, I found myself with a summer job in Brownsville Brooklyn. The year before, Brownsville erupted in one of the most destructive riots that made the community a household name across America.  Buildings were set on fire, stores were looted and people were hurt. Many were arrested.  A year later I was a 15 year old student attending one of the most respected and rigorous Rabbinical seminaries in Brooklyn when my father got me a summer job as a ‘gopher’ in his garment factory. Most of my friends from the seminary were off to camps and vacations while I was off working in a sweat shop because we needed the money.

Shortly after the summer began, I joined a local karate ‘dojo’ on Fulton street. Needles to say, I was the only rabbinical student and was training alongside some of the hard core denizens of one of America’s poorest black neighborhoods. I was an oddity but just as I was learning about black people, they were learning about me. The students were tough physically with hard-core attitudes. We didn’t have much interaction in the beginning, as I really didn’t understand the black lingo. I showed up and trained then went home...

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