For almost three years now, I have had the honour and pleasure of training at the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate. Although not directly related to my own style of Uechi Ryu Okinawa Karate, Kempo provide many similarities and techniques that relate to my own style.
Tonight (March 7th), I had the opportunity to sit with Master Greg Harding, Head Instructor for RIOKK (Regina Institute of Kempo Karate). He was willing to answer a few questions after one of his evening classes. Here’s what he had to say:
ME: Alright, I’m here with Master Greg Harding, Head Instructor for the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate. Master Harding, thank you.
Master Harding: Hey Shawn, a pleasure.
ME: Umm, I guess the first and most basic question would be, how long have you been studying the martial arts?
MH: I started various martial arts before I got into Kempo and that would have been when I was a young tyke. First experience I would have had was with Judo, I would have been about nine. And then, my parents allowed me to… in our community, it was kind of, everything went through the YMCA. So, it was Judo at the “Y” and then the next year I was allowed to take karate with the Judo. And then, umm, my dad had a friend who was doing boxing out of a small gym in Regina, here, and my dad got me into that, which was kind of a nice thing for me. So, that would be my earliest experience. When I was, uhh… before I hit high school, I was not a teenager, that was when I got into Kempo. And at that time, the person I trained with, Dwight, he was doing Kempo and Kali and so I literally started with Kempo and Kali at the same time. And that would be, well… let’s just put it this way, I’m pretty old now so that’s about forty-some years ago… about forty, I’m gonna say forty-two… forty… coming on forty-three years!
ME: So, how many of those years have you spent teaching?
MH: Umm, I was… when I was… when Dwight still ran the school, I was assisting him with instruction, running classes at that point. We would have been in the 80’s, and what are we now, 2019 now? So, about in ’83 on, I’m guessing ’84, so somewhere in there. So, a few years now. But, I’d like to think that even though there’s been times that I’ve been instructing the class, it’s always been the fact that I’ve had more to learn than to ever teach (laughs).
ME: So, what can you tell us about Kempo? Where does it get its roots from?
MH: Well, many different branches of Kempo… the branch that we have, and almost all and anyone in the same family… we have strong correlation with any group that connected out of Hawaii. In umm, pretty much after World War II into about the 1960’s, early 70’s time period, whether it’s Canada or the US, even into parts of Europe, if one of the instructors had come through that Hawaiian group. And that would be with Mitose and Chow. Prior to them, early in their career there was guys like Mitobe. Umm, interestingly enough, at that time period, there was also a lot of Philipine people were actually there in Hawaii because they were there to like, harvest. They were brought over to work on the fields. And so a lot of them got into training but they also brought with them their family art of variations of Kali. And it’s kind of neat that for me, when I started in Kempo, having the Kali right there. But also, it had been with different generations, if you will, back and forth. And, umm, so there’s historically, one of my hobbies has been to look back and to try to match up with different people in the influence. And there was quite a few visiting people that trained and played with each other that we would trace the influence of the Kali into THAT Kempo family, that we’re part of, way back into that time period. Umm, some pretty interesting people from that time period visited, and went through with the Kempo. But the lineage that would go with that, would be sort of two strands; one would be Chinese lineage that brought it into Hawaii and sort of had a lot of the Shaolin foundation. And then there’s also a lineage, sometimes nicknamed as “Moar” or “Pine tree” that came out of the Okinawan area. And then the two blended really well, because I say, umm, respectfully, two really strong characters. Umm, not that others weren’t influential but Chow and Mitose kind of allowed the two to blend. And a lot of people would give the credit to, just slightly ahead of them in terms of years, Mitobe sort of resurrected the grappling side. At one point, people would refer to as Kempo, as Kempo-jujitsu, because the grappling was so dominant. And then it sort of lost flavour to, where hands and feet became more for striking. And then the influence of Mitobe thankfully, affected that family direction to get the grappling back.
ME: Wow, so a lot of… a lot of secondary influences were brought into the style?
MH: Absolutely. The one beautiful thing about it, that’s always been in Kempo, is its always been one of those systems where it wasn’t so much of just do what I say… there’s always been an expectation of question and explore. And that’s another signature of that crew that came out of anyone that was descendants from that time period and that group is that it was sort of driven and became part of their heart, to believe in spending some good quality time with, umm, being able to ask a question kind of wonder. And enjoy inviting people. And not being afraid to look at “oh, you do it differently”, what does that mean for me to learn from you? And you know, in some cases there’s been some criticism, well… If you’re not strict with how you look at things, then you know, it’s kind of a question of, is it wishy-washy? Where Kempo looks, from the way I was brought up, is flexibility equals strength, not rigidity.
ME: So, in all of your years as a teacher or as a student, or both, what would say has been your biggest obstacle to overcome?
MH: Uhh, well, I… time! Uhh, you know, I think as I get older, I certainly appreciate, but umm,… when we’re young and I mean youthful in experience, not just age, umm, we never value time to put in the repetitions. So we put them in then we never think of that one day we’re gonna wish we had time to still put in repetitions. And then, at a time period where, we always lose some key, amazing people, although we know that their spirit lives on from what they’ve taught us. But you never have enough time with the people that have influenced you and I look over the years as I’ve aged, and I think of all the people that have spent time with me and have given me the gift of their energy, their life’s blood in the martial arts, if you will. And as they’ve passed on, you hope that you have enough time to pass a, little bit of them on? And it’s umm… you wish that sometimes… in a perfect world, classes would never end!
ME: True! (Laughs) Okay, so out of all that, then, if you had to narrow it down to one thing, what do you feel is the most rewarding aspect that you’ve gotten from martial arts?
MH: Definitely the relationships with people. People that, for no reason, will give you the gift of all that they know. It’s funny but, martial arts, just by the culture you know, when people look from the outside in and they think “oh, it’s about fighting” or you know, it’s a lot about discipline and… all of which is true. I mean, let’s face it. It is a study of warfare and it takes a lot of self-discipline. But the generosity of people is what’s touched me over the years. And I think of all the years… I’d never say I was a gifted student, by any means. But there is always someone who took their time to share with me. And I really, to this day, cannot thank them enough and appreciate that. And I hope that when I’m working with some little students, some little guy like I was that, you know, there were days I didn’t know which foot to put forward, left or right, and someone would have to coach me “no, no, change your foot!” And you know, when you run across that, it just kind of brings you back to that time period. It’s like the cycle sort of stays alive. So the challenge for me has always been to appreciate and enjoy those moments. But to learn to let them go, as people do move on. Sadly, all we have then is the memory they gave us and the time they shared with us. And then actually just enjoy the fact that you can channel that on to the next generation. And keep that balanced in your head so that you don’t get overwhelmed (laughs).
ME: Would you do it all over again?
ME: If you could go back to the beginning and… we’ll call him “White Belt Greg Harding”… If you could deliver a message, what would it be?
MH: Well, you know what? The instructors were delivering pretty good messages to me. Truthfully, one of the reasons my parents put me in the martial was I had trouble with discipline, I had trouble with concentration and somewhat I had trouble with behaviour. And so, umm, all those things that the instructors struggled with, they were pretty straight with me about what I needed to do. I would go back in time, to be honest, Shawn… I’d be talking to myself, I’d be saying “You probably don’t believe it now, but there’s a lifetime here!” And my instructors back then always talked about it as martial arts is for a lifetime. As you’ve aged in the martial arts and you’ve been around for a while, you sort of start to realize that yeah, that’s kind of cool. It is. And as you change in how you approach things, because of your age, but it doesn’t mean it ends. I think the kid I was when I started thought that it was gonna be a one or two classes, and I’d be done. I don’t know if that kid was capable of realizing that there was gonna be more than one or two classes anyways (laughs).
ME: And here you are all these years later.
MH: Well, age is one thing. But like I said, people kept me around. And they were pretty generous because I probably wasn’t the best student to keep around. But they never gave up on me.
ME: That’s good! So Master Harding, is there anything you’d like to pass along to my readers in terms of the martial arts or the philosophy you’ve followed for all these years?
MH: Well, I’m humbled by the question. I think that the most important thing I’ve learned is that there is a wonderful brotherhood, sisterhood, family that comes with those who train in traditional martial arts. I recognize that a lot of martial arts enjoy competitive sides. There’s competition based on it. But the hours that a person puts in and the people that you train with all those years,… and it becomes kind of like a family. And those are relationships that I’ve cherished, and I think are some of my strongest friendships, are because of that. And that’s certainly something that I would hope for anybody in the martial arts. It was what I loved about it and I would hope that anybody else could get out of the martial arts is that true feeling of what a real friend is. And how you really can, literally, some days feel like you’re dying and sweating to the point where you don’t know if you can do one more. And yet somebody there helps you bring that energy through yourself. Next time, you do that for them. And the time that you put in, and that hard work… Not a lot of people will ever know other than the person beside you. And those are some good friendships formed. I also think that the nicest thing, also, is there’s so much nowadays where it feels like everything’s out there for everybody else to share and to celebrate. And I’m maybe a little old school in the sense that I think it’s nice to have something that maybe you do that not everybody else knows about. Only your closest of friends.
ME: Love it! Love everything about it!
ME: Thank you, Master Harding!
MH: Well, thank you Shawn. It’s a real pleasure and, as I’ve said, it’s humbling to be asked. So, thank you for your time.
It’s always interesting getting other folks’ perspective on something you’ve spent most of your life doing. My thoughts reflect many of the points Master harding brought up. Over the decades, I’ve forged many friendships through the martial arts and they’ve been the ones that have consistently remained.
Martial arts is almost the “jack of all trades” of the sporting world. Whether you’ve started to learn to defend yourself, to get into shape or the camaraderie, there’s something for everyone.
If you live in the Regina, Saskatchewan area and would be interested in checking out a class, they are every Tuesday and Thursday evening at 6:30 at 40 Dixon Crescent, where you’d get to meet the Blogging buddhist in person.
For more information on the Regina institute of Kempo Karate, you can visit the website at shao-lin.ca/content/regina_institute_kempo_karate