By Mindy Ragan Wood
PIEDMONT – A Piedmont martial arts instructor has brought a highly respected form of karate to Oklahoma and won an international award.
Aaron Sandubrae opened his Isshinryu karate dojo in 2013 and last month received the Martial Arts Instructor of the Year during the 39th annual Isshinryu Hall of Fame awards banquet, the premier organization for the martial arts form.
“I was stunned,” Sandubrae said. “I knew I was a finalist going into the award ceremony. They had released the names of five finalists. I was standing up there with very seasoned and accomplished men who had been teaching for a very long time, (who) in their own right had every right to win.”
His wife, Veronica, won first place in her division as a first-degree blackbelt during a tournament that was held as part of the convention.
Isshinryu is a style of Okinawan karate founded by Shimabuku Tatsuo. He combined two styles of karate, a sparring form of karate involving kicking and punching and the other employs joint manipulation and circular movements that uses an opponent’s force against them.
Tatsuo introduced his art form to U.S. Marines while they were stationed in Okinawa in the 1950s.
“He was the first ever to be commissioned by the U.S. Marine Corps to teach as an Okinawan on base. He noticed they didn’t have the same body structure, there was a lot of wasted energy and motion that was too fancy for real life. He took both styles into a practical hand-to-hand combat style,” Sandubrae.
The sport has taken hold in the United States, but in Oklahoma Sandubrae is the only certified master instructor.
The discipline captured his interest as a young man when his grandfather, a 9th degree blackbelt instructor, introduced it to him. After his freshman year in college, Sandubrae knew he wanted to pursue Isshinryu as a career and relocated from Edmond to his grandfather’s dojo in Palm Springs, California.
“That’s where I met my wife. I wanted to come back home to Oklahoma. We settled in Piedmont in 2009 and bought the 4,300 square foot building in 2013,” he said.
The dojo, American Okinawan Karate Academy, offers instruction to children age four to adults, but it is different than many martial arts studios.
“We are self-defense focused,” he said. “We do one or two tournaments a year for people who have fun doing that. It’s a traditional self-defense dojo so we train in the old ways and are focused on discipline, formalities and self-control.”
A feature that has been popular for women is the self-defense class which is held several times a year.
Sandubrae said his classes go beyond martial arts training where students are trained to spar with an opponent because attacks on women occur without warning and are closeup. The course is specifically designed to prevent rape.
“We do everything from basic situational awareness, not looking down at your phone, teaching them to acknowledge them, how to gain distance to basic grabs, holds, surprise attack punches, eye gouges, scratches, and things you can do standing up to prevent going to the ground. If you do go to the ground, how to stand back up safely and if you don’t know how to deal with the threat on the ground. We teach white belt level techniques to black belt level in the course of four days,” he said.
The course teaches students how to get away from an attacker on top of them in a car. Some men also take the course in a class of about five to 10 students.
Four three-hour courses are held on two Saturdays and Sundays and throughout the year to allow students to practice if they don’t have time to train at the dojo regularly.
“We teach the same thing again and again and boil it down to realistic scenarios,” he said.
Sandubrae has been training Isshinryu for 15 years. His grandfather, Arnold Sandubrae was inducted into the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame as “Living Legend,” in 2003.
The dojo is a gym that offers a monthly membership without a contract and unlimited access to train as much as members want.