Karate dojo opens in Hillsville

Allen Worrell/The Carroll News

Peter Kirton shows off proper form with an elbow while a student holds pads for him June 8 at the Traditional Japanese

Peter Kirton’s martial arts lineage begins with the man that trained Arnold Schwarzenegger for Conan the Destroyer and goes directly to the man who is considered the father of modern karate.

And while Kirton recently opened a traditional Japanese karate dojo on Main Street in Hillsville, don’t expect to see a horde of trophies in the window. The style of karate Kirton imparts on his students is just as much about discipline and controlling all of the centers of the body as it is about fighting.

“Two main things I have learned from karate is first, don’t fight. Because it is brutal. You see all these things on YouTube where they are hitting each other and just nothing is happening because they can’t fight. But proper fighting is brutal and it is akin to drawing a weapon,” said Kirton, who is originally from England. “So you really learn that if you fight, if he is a good fighter, you are going to get injured. Like they say in Japan, if two tigers fight, one will be killed and the other will be injured. So you really don’t want to fight, and that is the thing you learn. And if you fought because people were stupid to you, go to WalMart and you would be fighting all the time. Because people are not very bright or courteous. There is reasons for that, but I also do a course of practical philosophy which provides a model of human behavior and how you can improve your being, your consciousness. Karate, originally they say it came from China and from Shaolin in the temples, but the monks didn’t do it for protection. They did it to improve their consciousness. They weren’t fighting.”

Still, Kirton’s story is a fascinating one to say the least. He appears on the first cover of Traditional Karate Magazine (August 1987) taking a kick to the head from his sensei, Terry O’Neill. O’Neill is very well-known in karate circles, having trained Schwarzenegger for Conan the Destroyer, and even appearing in several movies with Arnold, Sean Connery and Michael Kaine, among many other exploits.

O’Neill was trained by Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda, a Japanese master of Shotokan karate and a former Chief Instructor of the Karate Union of Great Britain. Enoeda was ranked 8th dan in Shotokan karate, and was widely renowned as a formidable karateka (practicioner of karate).

Before that, Sensei Enoeda was a direct student of Supreme Master Funakoshi Gichin – known as The Father of Modern Karate. The Supreme Master was also more into the philosophical side of karate, and he is known for popularizing modern karate in Japan. Kirton’s lineage ties in directly to Funakoshi.

Kirton himself advanced his own skills enough to be awarded a fourth-degree black belt from Sensei O’Neill. The highest belt one can achieve in Europe for technical merit is a fifth-degree black belt. Kirton originally came to America as a teacher, where he was a live-in student with one of Sensei O’Neill’s friends on the film set for Conan, and he has been on this side of the pond ever since.

A very philosophical man, Kirton’s way of teaching and thinking may not line up with what a lot of people think about when they think about karate. Much of it has to do with having the braveness to look inward at one’s self.

“If you look at somebody who starts karate, and if they were brutally honest with themselves, if you ask them why they want to start karate, they say to defend themselves. And then if you said, ‘Well, how often have you been in a situation where you need to defend yourself?’ and the answer is usually zero,” Kirton said. “You might have people shouting at you sometimes. If you are in a city, it goes up. It is not for defense. It is to empower the ego, to make you feel empowered as a person. That is why everybody does it to start off with. But there is a lot of sidetracks such as sport, winning and losing. As soon as you put that equation of winning and losing, I think a famous philosopher said old competition breeds violence. It is egotistic. So if you go in a dojo that is taekwondo, even shotakan that has a lot of trophies in the window, I would suggest that the instructor is promoting competition. And I don’t think it is for that.”

Obviously, karate can be used for competition, but Kirton frames it in a way that touches the philosophical side as well, giving students the platform and map to control all their centers.

“I try to teach in karate that you have a thinking center, you have a feeling center, and you have a physical center. So how many people can say they are in control of their physical center. The physical is the easiest center to control and then if you look at the thinking center, how many people can stop thinking? How many people can stop their thoughts to empty their minds? How many people can stop circular thoughts?” How many people can live in the moment and then that is the next easiest center to control, the heart. The feeling center is the hardest,” Kirton said. “For every thought the heart has, there is a corresponding feeling for it. So it is either a feeling of anger or anxiousness or a feeling of pity of this and that and the heart is ripped around in all these different thoughts. So if you can still your thoughts, you can still the heart, and then it can be used for something that it was designed for.”

The word karate is Japanese for empty hand. But Kirton said the Japanese are great at deeper meanings. Karate also means void.

“And in religious terms, the void would be where something higher exists, and you can enter that if you are still. It says in the Bible that God doesn’t answer in a big way, he comes in a gentle breeze behind all the noise,” Kirton said. “And it would explain it is in that emptiness and that void where all potential life existed. In the beginning there was nothing in that void. And you can answer that void if you train a certain way. It might take you 30 years, but the beauty of karate to me, first of all it keeps you fit. Second of all it makes you aware of dangerous situations and to be capable of making the decision to run or to help. Thirdly, you can discover peace, tranquility and get patience through not striving for anything because there is nothing to strive for. There is nothing there. I mean if you are winning trophies that is okay, then you pay exorbitant amounts of money to enter a competition. It is cheaper to buy a trophy. But people stop. There is very few older people that do it. What it is is you try and help people. And this is the medium I am pretty good at.”

Kirton said his sensei taught him how to fight, and his sensei was an incredible fighter. But he learned the philosophical side elsewhere while living in Oregon, and tries to pass those skills on.

“With this philosophy I can provide the rule book for life. It is simpler than you think if you can look at it within a certain framework. It is not religious, but is religion,” Kirton said. “You can’t present it as religious. But what it would do is it would make a Catholic a better Catholic, it would make a Baptist a better Baptist, it would make an atheist a better atheist as a better person. Just because you don’t believe in God doens’t mean you are a bad person, it just means your consciousness hasn’t raised enough to accept something above oneself.”

With all that in mind, Kirton said he tries to teach karate, but more importantly, he is trying to teach people – no matter what size or age – self discipline. It is a way of emptying your thoughts and that is why the practice is so important.

“It is very hard to stop the mind from wandering. It is like a child. It is very difficult to just keep that mind still. And the way you do it is when you are doing the floor, all you do is the floor. Keep your attention on that one thing,” Kirton said. “A famous Indian guru said the crest jewel of the human being, the centerpiece, is the ability to concentrate, to focus your mind. If the body is the easiest thing to control and you can’t do that, you have no chance with the thinking and you certainly have no chance with the feeling.”

Kirton’s Traditional Japanese dojo opened June 1 and offers classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays beginning at 5 pm Anyone interested in taking classes is encouraged to call Kirton at (352) 238-4825.

“Self-defense is avoidance and that is what I tell kids. There is always going to be somebody bigger, stronger and nastier than you, but you can avoid them. It is very important to avoid people that are an aggravation to your soul or your face,” Kirton said. “But karate is about trying to get that balance in life. Men generally have one strength at doing everything. They do karate and everything with strength, but there is a whole range of strength and that is what you are trying to teach. You don’t need the same strength sweeping a floor as you do chopping a tree down. But you try and it is the attempt. I don’t care how good you are at karate, it is the attempt. I don’t care how good you are at math, it is the attempt. And you will be judged by your maker by your attempt. We have to accept everybody with their faults. If you follow this philosophy it can be very depressing if one looks inward. It’s about trying to get a little bit better each day.”

Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN

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