Global Training Report
By Roberto Pedreira
Originally Published September, 2000
Revised April 4, 2012
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Copacabana and Ipanema were full of martial arts academies of all kinds. Jiu-jitsu supplanted most of them. Mehdi Academia de Judo was never going to be replaced because Mehdi taught the jiu-jitsu guys how to throw. But karate had all but vanished. The Academia Shoto-kan, at Rua Visconde de Piraja 585/201 in Ipanema, was the only karate school I came across in 1999, in the South Zone.1
Academia Shoto-kan was an attractive, traditional looking dojo, with clean, waxed wooden floors, and mirrors all along the walls. A group of karate students were practicing their basic stepping, striking, kicking, and blocking techniques, marching across the floor at the command of the sensei, locking out each punch for extra power. The students capped off the 80 minute class with about 5 minutes of free-sparring.
The sensei glanced over at me
once or twice, but otherwise ignored me. None of the students took any
interest in me. The receptionist also ignored me, although she responded
to my request for some printed information (from which I learned that
karate training, at 115 reais per month, is more expensive than
jiu-jitsu (most academies charge less than 100 reais), but less
expensive than the 240 reais Mehdi charges for three judo classes
It was the only school I visited
in Rio where I wasn’t invited to train. Was it because karate training is
too dangerous for a novice? (But no one bothered to ask me if I had any
previous training.) Did I somehow unintentionally project a skeptical
attitude that put people there on the defensive? (It’s
possible.) Maybe it isn't the custom in karate schools?
Maybe it isn't the custom in karate schools? Probably.
After the training was finished, the sensei sat down in the receptionist’s chair and ignited a cigarette I asked him if I might ask a few questions. He apathetically agreed. We spoke in Japanese, because he said he didn’t speak English, and my Portuguese, while adequate for reading with a dictionary close by, was far from fluent for conversation with Cariocas, whose sotaque (accent) can be harder to decipher than a WW 2 secret code. And those verb inflections!
The sensei was Hiroyasu Inoki, a 6th degree black belt, he said. I asked him if he sometimes went back to Japan to train. He said no, but he went to Los Angeles regularly. How was it then that he didn’t speak English, I wondered?
Inoki sensei was not very talkative. Some people are like that. He didn't mention, for example, that his younger brother Kanji (better known as Antonio) fought Muhammad Ali to a draw on June 26, 1976, in what was half mixed-martial arts, half pro-wrestling, and half slapstick comedy. Antonio probably didn't need the Gracie family to tell him not to throw hands with Ali.
The Inoki brothers went to Brazil together in 1956, but followed their own paths after that. Kanji became a pro-wrestler, politician, and fight promoter. Hiroyasu stayed in Rio, teaching shoto-kan karate.
Academia Shoto-kan has another sensei, as well, Paulo Góes. I didn't meet him.
Beautiful wooden floors and wall sized mirrors
1. The above article was first written in 1999. A bit later, around 2006-2008, the jiu-jitsu craze had settled down a little. A lot of Cariocas still wanted to train some form of martial art, but not necessarily jiu-jitsu. Consequently, most fitness centers offer karate, TKD, and a smorgasbord of other arts along with jiu-jitsu Everyone probably concedes that in a vale tudo they would be tackled, mounted, and choked by a skilled grappler. But they don't care. They don't plan to enter vale tudos. They, from what I could observe, are training shoto-kan for fun and fitness, and if by some unfortunate turn of events they need to defend themselves on the beach, or "street" , a hard punch, as even Rorion Gracie acknowledges ("anyone can get knocked out") can be very effective.
(c) 2000, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Revised September 11, 2002.
Revised April 4, 2012