My life in Shorei-kan
By Harry Bergeest
Like everyone else, I guess I should start in the beginning. To this day I can still remember my first introduction to the martial arts and though not very realistic it still stays with me. I think it was in the late fifties or early sixties. I was reading the Sunday comics and in one comic strip there was a hero who was a policeman and he happened upon a citizen who was being robbed. Rather than pull his gun and confront the assailant he took off his shoes (I guess he thought he was in a dojo} and proceeded to pummel the crook using this new incredible fighting style “Karate”. Needless to say, being an impressionable young kid, I was very impressed. Still nothing came of it as the martial arts weren’t well known back then in the west. My next introduction came many years later and not too positive. My room mate at the time decided to try a karate class. I couldn’t make it that day but I grilled him when he came home and his news wasn’t to good. Apparently they put him right into a sparring situation and pretty well intimidated him. He also said that they were very brutal to one another and that he would not go back there if his life depended on it. Well so much for that! I was quite skinny and not too aggressive and I didn’t want to become fodder for some egotistical senior belt. A few years later another friend decided to study Tai Chi in Chinatown and became quite proficient, but some how Tai Chi seemed to be a little to laid back for a strapping twenty-five year old. Also my friend was turning Chinese on me as he was studying the language, going to Dim Sum, using Chinese medicine and studying Acupuncture. How little I knew then. But anyway at the time it was not for me.
My introduction to Shorei-Kan came years later when I met a person named Jerry Wong. He was a graphic artist working above the printing company I was employed at. I had met him a few years before and now I found out that he studied karate and was a Black Belt in a school called Shorei-Kan. Since I had a great respect for him, I asked a lot of questions. At that time my life revolved around snow skiing and I was looking for something to keep me in shape during the summer months. Upon his invitation I decided to give Shorei-Kan a try. I still remember my first time. I arrived at the dojo by myself and like most beginners I felt very nervous and expected the worst. I walked in the door of a school cafeteria with all the chairs and tables moved to the side. Student were everywhere , all practicing and a group of black belts were conversing in the corner. They looked like gods! Oh oh! What did I get myself into? As it turned out everyone was very friendly and helpful. That day there were about thirteen new students and I had a great time, I was hooked.
During my first three months I met many new friends, including the black belts. I was also very fortunate that at the time our karate master, Kancho Seikechi Toguchi and his wife Haruko Toguchi were coming for a visit. My first test was going to be conducted under the watch full eye of the Master himself. There was also a delegation from the USA present. I think it was Scott Lenzi and a few of his senior belts. Needless to say my test went sort of ok, so I was nervous, Isn’t everybody? My first certificate was presented to me by Kancho and it proudly hangs on my wall and is just as important to me as my black belt certificate. I was so proud as now I felt I belonged. When I first started I wore a gi and a white belt but now I had a green strip on my belt and it felt so good. Looking back to it all now I find it so important to remember my feelings because through them I can relate to our novice students and appreciate the great strides that they make through their training and testing.
During the following spring there was an exodus of black belts and two green belts to Japan for a visit. This was also the time I began to befriend the two green belts. Their names, I think, were Vic and Keith Hargitt. As I progressed each level became more interesting and also harder. My first coloured belt was a yellow belt. It is a rank we don’t have any more but at that time Delta Dojo practiced two times a week and Vancouver Dojo practiced three some times four times so this was a catch up rank. But why yellow? When I told friends I had a yellow belt in karate they usually snickered. Blue, purple, orange anything but please not yellow. Any ways by Kancho’s next visit the yellow belt was nixed as it did not follow the Shorei-Kan ranking system. During green belt I reached a plateau in my training and so I thought extra training was in order. My training partner at that time had a empty attic at her house so a few of us lucky enough to get the time would go there and train under the watchful eye of our chief instructor. I can still see our Sensei, Reena, myself, Vic, Keith and the odd other student doing kata and self defense in the confines of a small attic. At this time for some unknown reason I was shown the kata karunfa (I think our Sensei was learning it and I was just keeping him company}. Any ways about twenty years later I’m still learning it and getting corrected. I guess I’m what you call a slow learner.
By the time I reached brown belt we had out grown our school gym facility with over a hundred students and it was decided that we needed a full time dedicated Dojo. Shihan Vic Hargitt had achieved his Black Belt at this time and was also the President of the Association. Under his tutelage we were guided through the political indecisiveness and a new Dojo was born. All the students helped by donating supplies or labour and the facility slowly took shape. We had a proper shrine in the front., mirrors down one side, two changing rooms, a reception area and a viewing area overlooking the training floor.
Soon it came time for my black belt test. Nervous, me? Not! The day before I was walking through the mall with my wife pushing my young daughter in her stroller when she asked me if I was nervous? “I said no”. She then proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t stop wringing the handle on the stroller I would tear it right off! I guess I was just a little nervous. Yeah right! Well the test went ok I’d been practicing five days a week for the last six months. Mind you I still blew it on one subject and almost fell on my keister during Seiunchin. It was a warm muggy night and there were big puddles of sweat on the floor in Hombu Dojo and I happened to slip on the opening move. It was a night to remember. During the ensuing years there were many memorable events. Shortly after attaining my black belt Shorei-Kan put on a series of demonstrations at Expo 86 in the Japan pavilion. Again much nervousness, I was always more on the introverted side and showman ship was not my style. Also every time Kancho came to Canada we held a major demonstration in fact one time our Shihan came up to me and said, ” Sensei Harry, I think it is time for you to organize and put on the next demo. Oh no, nervousness, shakes and sick stomach again. Doesn’t it ever end? No oooo! My ability to stand in front of a class and teach ,give a speech or give a presentation at work with self confidence is all due to Shorei-Kan Karate.
The next big change occurred during a demonstration at the Delta Annual Teddy Bear Picnic. Believe it or not this was a karate demonstration and not teddy bears doing kickboxing. After the demo Gary Ternan and I were called to an impromptu meeting. It was explained to us that Sensei Vic was going to open up a new dojo in Guildford with Sensei Keith and that they would like me to take over Surrey Dojo as Chief Instructor and Sensei Gary as my second. Wow! Shorei-Kan always had a way of delegating responsibility and needless to say we accepted. Things went well for a few years but after a while membership went down, the rent went up tremendously and my work interfered with my full dedication to the dojo. With personal problems also happening it came to pass that the full time dojo had to close down and I passed on the title of Chief Instructor to Sensei Gary Ternan. This was a very sad time in my life. For the next few years I continued training with Sensei Gary a t Surrey but slowly started to feel stagnate. To revitalize myself I decided that I should go train with my old friend Shihan Vic Hargitt and with every ones permission I started teaching and training at Guildford Dojo.Well after that every thing started picking up and I even took my Yondan test. This was after eight years because I did not feel worthy up till then but now with Shihan Vics guidance I was finally ready.
This pretty well takes me up to the present except for one last adventure. Japan! Yes, through all these years I had never made it over for a visit. Shihan Vic was going over with Sensei Keith in the spring of 2000 and we thought there might be a chance that Sensei Keith would go for his Godan test. Well I have always admired Sensei Keith’s ability and always seemed to get along with him so I thought it would be a privilege to be his partner or at least cheer him on. So I asked permission to accompany them to Japan. It was a lifetime treat, one that I will never forget. It was an honour to be beat up by Sensei Keith and see him attain the rank of Godan and Shihan. My only wish is that some day I may be able to pay him back and leave a few bruises on his body as he did with me. This brings me to the present and my respect for Shorei-Kan, it’s instructors and all it’s students continues to grow every day.
It is now 2014 and a lot has happened since my trip to Japan with Keith Hargitt Shihan. In 2004 I decided to open up another dojo with the help of Ralph Bereska Sensei. Sensei Ralph was also the Vice Principle at South Caravolth Elementary School in South Langley on 200th and 8th Ave. Another Chapter in my karate life had begun. It was rather awkward and it was over an hours drive each way from where I lived but the opportunity presented itself and there was no way I wasn’t going to do it. We opened up with about 20 junior students, a great way to start. After 4 years at South Caravolth school the school district decided to close the school. It was a rural school and attendance was down. We decided to move the dojo to the closest school which was Glenwood Elementary on 208th and 24th, South Langley. We wanted to stay nearby to service the local community even though it was in a rural setting and not that much potential for growth. The years went by and we had many good students. Around 2008 Sensei Ralph Bereska stopped teaching due to personal reasons but at that time we also merged with the other Langley dojo and so Sensei Ennio Gasbarri and Sensei Bill Wiseman joined the ranks of teaching staff. I’m proud to say that over the years South Langley produced some excellent Black Belts.
In October 2013 I retired from my job and decided that it was time to join my wife in Australia and enjoy the warm weather. With a great sadness I had to say goodbye to all my karate friends in Canada, especially my best friend and karate mentor, Vic Hargitt Shihan. Both Ennio Gasbarri and Bill Wiseman Sensei’s stepped pub and took over the running of South Langley dojo and from what I hear the dojo is prospering with a big increase in attendance.
I have now been in Australia for about 10 month and have started my martial arts again. I am currently taking traditional Kobudo classes in the Matayoshi style and I’m also currently looking into starting up a Shorei Kai Dojo. At present I have one student which I’m giving private lessons to and hope to expand it into a full class within the next 2 months.
Sensei Harry Bergeest