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'You can't turn your mind off' — UNC Shotokan Karate Club hosts Gasshuku

Sensai Nagatomo engages a diverse range of competitors at a UNC Shotokan Karate tournament Saturday afternoon.
Sensai Nagatomo engages a diverse range of competitors at a UNC Shotokan Karate tournament Saturday afternoon.

Yasuaki Nagatomo, chief instructor of the Japan Karate Association of New Mexico, led attendees as they practiced their skills in preparation for upcoming tournaments.

“You can’t turn your mind off,” Nagatomo said as he was instructing the camp attendees.

Senior Maria-Adriana Rojas, the club president, said this weekend’s activities helped them to learn what judges are looking for, what makes karate look good and how to master both performance and skill.

Rojas said ever since she was little, she was interested in martial arts, but did not pursue this interest until her first year at UNC.

“At FallFest, Shotokan Karate caught my eye — I went to the first few meetings and have been coming back ever since, because I loved it,” she said.

She said karate has helped her in many aspects of her life other than self-defense.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on focus and perseverance, and also learning and teaching at all levels, knowing that you can learn from younger students as well as older, more advanced students,” Rojas said. “I’ve gained confidence. I feel like I can handle my body better because it’s helped me with my coordination.”

Like Rojas, first-year Wayne Ruan said UNC Shotokan was his first exposure to karate.

“Before karate, I was a person who studies and doesn’t have time for exercise, but now, I’m using karate as a gateway for exercising each day and staying healthy,” he said.

Ruan said he sticks with the club because of their instructor, Kent Wang, despite the large time commitment — three-hour practices, three times a week.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Ruan said. “I just trust him.”

Wang, fifth degree JKS Shotokan black belt and head instructor for the club, said he has been involved with the karate community ever since joining his high school club team on the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

After he migrated to the United States, he picked up karate again as a graduate student at the University of Florida where he taught karate for credit.

“(Karate) also builds confidence, motivation to try harder, which helps individuals in school to focus on their studies as well — when you learn focus in one area, it helps in other areas,” he said.

Wang said he has been instructing the club since it began over 20 years ago.

Wang isn’t paid but said he finds true enjoyment in teaching students.

“I enjoy seeing how (students) learn, seeing the contribution I provide to them and seeing the joy that they give to me as they progress in their ranks,” he said.

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