At the dojo, learning is a skill itself

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I kept waiting for the admonition of "Don't try this at home" as Joseph Walker prepared to walk on broken glass. I didn't hear it, but then with the amount of respect he commands from his students it probably wasn't necessary.

I mean, I can't imagine those students would try anything they've seen at their karate studio without Walker, the Shihan (master), teaching them how to do it without being injured.

Ok, there are some kids who would try it. But after watching Walker and his students several times since my grandson Alex started taking classes at Academy of Okinawan Karate at the start of the year, they hang on every word he and other instructors speak. When one of them demonstrates something – a new self-defense move, breaking a board or brick with a kick or a chop or walking on shards of broken glass – the students don't look away.

That includes the adult students, as well. While the Academy has age groups all learn at basically the same pace from the time they start.

(Photo by Paul Gordon) Joseph Walker, owner and master at Academy of Okinawa Karate in Peoria, Morton and Eureka, walks on broken glass during a recent demonstration at his Peoria dojo while his students look on. Walker has been doing martial arts for more than 50 years and is an eighth-degree black belt. Perhaps that is why, Walker told me the other day while picking shards from his feet, he doesn't consider one age group any more important than the other. While it is important children learn early to discipline themselves and take care of themselves, learning the skills he teaches is up to the individual's mindset and willingness to work, he said.

"The main thing they have to do is pay attention. Then they will learn," he said.

Walker, 58, has been teaching karate for 32 years and he is an eighth-degree black belt. He also is a five-time world champion and has taught another 17 world champions. I figure there has to be hundreds of people in the Peoria area who can say they learned something from him, regardless of how many levels they reached.

Alex has reached his yellow belt, considered the highest for novice students, and seems intent on going further. Next up is the blue belt.

Already, though, Alex is learning discipline. He seems more respectful to others and is doing well in school. Those are important basic life skills they learn from Walker and his staff. The first line in the student creed is "I will conduct myself in a manner which will reflect credit upon my self and society."

From the time students walk into the studio, respect and discipline abounds. They will not enter the dojo without first removing their shoes and bowing. They answer with "yes sir" or "no sir".

Those are the reasons my daughter enrolled Alex in the classes. He's a good kid, but is rowdy and could sometimes get lippy with his elders. He isn't perfect, thank goodness; he's 10. But I like what I am seeing.

Walker said he intends to keep teaching the rest of his life. "This is my life, what I do. I can't imagine doing anything else or retiring. I couldn't retire. I have to be doing something," he said.

You know, like breaking boards and walking on glass.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peoria. He can be contacted at 692-7880 or

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).