I only met the founder of Shuto Karate Club, Louis Rabouin (pictured above at center), once, about a year before he passed away in 2011. We had a class in our club’s headquarters dojo in Skippack (at the time there was only Skippack and Hatfield) and Rabouin Shihan sat in a chair and watched. I remember him sternly correcting my forward stance and the ‘hip action’ in my stepping punch. I wore a black belt and yet still didn’t do the most basic techniques properly!
I never got a chance to talk to him at any length, but I have heard many stories about him from our two Shihan, Larry Flournoy and Robert Trotta. His classes were legendary for their rigorous, exhausting training, and Mr. Rabouin insisted on perfection of technique. This was characteristic of the training of the time (1960s and 70s), as karate was still a relatively fresh import from Japan. It hadn’t had time to become very “Americanized” yet. It was strenuous and severe and it was meant to “weed out” those who weren’t seriously dedicated to it. I guess it was the American equivalent of the University clubs in Japan at that time.
I experienced the tail end of that style of training at the JKA/ISKF headquarters in West Philadelphia during the late 1980s. The classes looked like those in the photo above, and during the summer one could lose pounds of water weight in a single class. There were bloody lips and noses, facial cuts, and bone bruises….lots of bone bruises. But karate was changing then — tournaments were allowing less contact in free sparring, and requiring more padding for the combatants. Karate dojos started to worry about attracting and retaining enough students as the field got crowded with schools, and insurance concerns became paramount.
We can’t really bring back those days — just like when you return to your childhood haunts as an adult, “you can’t go home again,” because home as you knew it is not there anymore. The average person who shows up at your dojo interested in learning karate is much different than 30 or 40 years ago, and the expectations and legal liabilities have changed drastically.
I see this as mainly for the good, at least for a school with the philosophy and goals that ours has. We retain the memory of the teachings and practices of the past, and we preserve them through rigorous training on the dojo floor every class. But we are also progressing with the modern, self-protection applications of this art born in Okinawa two centuries ago. I plan to discuss this in a future post — watch for it soon.
Along these lines, watch this interview with William Dometrich about “the old days” and in particular the last 1 1/2 minutes about what makes a good Sensei and the value of karate. Our club founder Louis Rabouin associated with Mr. Dometrich and his organization “U.S. Chito-kai” during the 1960s and 70s and you can read about that in the history of Shuto Karate Club.