Memoirs of Guyanese -Canadian Karate Icon, Frank Woon-A-Tai. From his humble beginnings in Guyana to become the Grandmaster of the International Karate Daigaku.
Professor Sara Grimes, 7th Dan, USA
“I have many fond memories of Mr. Frank Woon-A-Tai, stretching back to when I first met
him in the early 1970s at Master Camp outside Philadelphia. He is a wonderful person—
good-natured, intelligent and kind—and his dedication as an instructor is well known.
As for karate itself, for me, Mr. Woon-A-Tai represents an ideal to which most of us can only aspire. Take his sparring, for example. I think anyone who has faced Mr. Woon-A-Tai comes away with a new understanding of the true power of the martial arts. He is, first of all, deadly serious. When his fist comes toward the face with the speed of a bullet only to stop just a millimetre from the target—this has an impact beyond physical force.
His blocks too, convey tremendous power but are soft as silk. We hear about traditional masters who can ‘stop the fight’ through their exquisite control and sensitivity, but Mr. Woon-A-Tai is one of the few living practitioners I have met who can actually do it. I deeply appreciate his continued commitment to teaching through example, and I wish him every continued success.”
Frieda Shim, 7th dan, Trinidad and Tobago
“When I first met Frank Woon-A-Tai in Jamaica, I was a newly initiated green belt. I remember thinking to myself that here was a man who seemed to epitomize my idea of what a karate instructor should be: strong, confident and fearless, with hands and feet that looked as if they had done serious damage to brick walls and planks of wood. He seemed to have it all, including a beautiful and talented wife in Maureen…He made blocks of ice shatter into a thousand fragments as if they were fragile pieces of glass, he passed easily through a blur of punches, he could block, and he could perform flying round-house kicks with raucous shouts of ki-ai.
We were unstoppable and insatiable in our quest for knowledge and technical proficiency in this ancient Japanese martial art. And Sensei Woon-A- Tai, with his great skill, his wealth of knowledge, and his great sense of humour, provided all we were looking for…I continue to marvel at his amazing ability as a teacher to move with the times. He remains as relevant now in the 21st Century, as he was back in the seventies.
Now, as I listen to Sensei Woon-A-Tai, as both teacher and friend, I know that here is a man who not only loves this region and looks upon it as home but also understands and respects the richness and diversity of these islands. Whenever he visits an island to teach, he makes it his duty to study the students and the culture of the particular place. His use of vernacular speech, which is his teaching style, makes his students feel relaxed and receptive. He has the gift of making us understand and embrace ideas that originated from a completely foreign culture. This is one of the reasons why he is held in such high esteem and great affection among the karate-ka of these islands.
The other reason is that he is a fine mentor. With his humility, his faithfulness to family values, his generosity to extended family and to friends, his calm wisdom and his marvellous ability to laugh at life, he is someone who can help you find the vision again in this roller coaster we call life.”
Noreen Barrett, Quebec, Canada
Shu-Ha-Ri: My Life in Japanese Karate uses the martial arts concept of Shu-Ha-Ri as an analogy to describe the stages of your life. The structure works well for the memoir, even for a non-Karate practitioner like me. You introduce the analogy early in the book and refer back to it enough to reinforce its primacy in helping you to reflect on your life, and better understand the man you are today. From your early life in Guyana, through the years in Jamaica, to your current life in Toronto, the reader learns of your growing skill in Karate, but also of your efforts to learn from the best, and to bring Karate to others. One reads of the huge difficulties you faced, but also of the tenacity you demonstrated in facing those problems and addressing them.
Masters Nishiyama, Okazaki, and Yaguchi are three major influences who taught you about both the physical skills and the philosophical underpinning of karate. While some of these relationships ultimately disappointed you, and led first to the split from JKA, and then later from the ISKF, they also taught you about loyalty and standing for principle at personal cost. The reader can understand your decision to form IKD, the sadness you felt that such a decision was necessary, and the excitement and challenge that such a new venture could provide.
Anecdotes make or break a memoir. The anecdotes in your book captured my interest. Personal favourites included: (chapter 3) descriptions of practicing in rivers, duck walking around and bunny-hopping around practice areas; (chapter 11) the orange Beetle in Jamaica after the election; (chapter 12) flipping TV channels on Henry to his bewilderment; (chapter 14) tarantula adventures; and a last example, finding yourself with Ken’s pants instead of your own as you are to attend a major function.
Your memoir documents your story with a plethora of pictures. My personal favourites were the action shots of leg kicks and breaking bricks. Additionally seeing the major players in your story, both masters, and family and friends lends both credibility and vibrancy to your story.