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Quick Questions with … George Kiefer, owner of Lakeside Karate

Posted 3 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Sensei says karate teaches confidence, helps overcome fears

Photos by Sue Cook – Sensei George Kiefer encourages students to kick high. Sensei is the title for someone with a 3rd degree black belt.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

LYNDONVILLE – Sensei George Kiefer began his training in Hilton in 1989. He joined the Hilton karate school at age 19 during his first year of college. He saved his own to learn karate.

His mother questioned where he was going off to, concerned he was getting himself into trouble. Despite living in a small town, there were plenty of easy opportunities to make bad choices. His mother finally dragged the answer out of him. He was sneaking off to karate classes. He was afraid to tell his father who might be angry about the way he was spending his money.

His mother was far from upset and explained that he needed to keep doing what he was doing. She had noticed in the six months since his mysterious disappearances began that he was the best-behaved kid she knew. He never stopped his pursuit of the martial art.

Today, Kiefer passes on his training to students in his dojo or school. He wants students to benefit from his teaching, even after one class. Teachers and parents notice changes in behavior after their kids begin a class with Kiefer. Students also come away with more confidence in their day-to-day lives.

The karate style that Kiefer teaches is called kyokushin, which is a style that incorporates most of the body. Other martial arts tend to focus on one portion of the body and train with mostly kicks or mostly punches. Kiefer’s chosen style is much more like a full-body workout.

Q: Tell me about your life outside of your dojo.

A: I’m a father of four girls – two teenagers, 15 and 16, and two preteens, 10 and 11. They all go to school here. We live in Waterport. I originally come from Hilton in Monroe County. I work for Baxter Healthcare in Medina. I’m a Senior Purchasing Agent.

Kiefer and his students stand in front of Lakeside Karate on South Main Street in Lyndonville.

I think the most important thing I can say is I strive very hard for balance. I have a big family and it’s a lot of responsibility. I love my family, so the dojo, the school, is secondary to my family. We’re only open two nights week because the other nights of the week we’re running kids around. My wife Barbara works, too, so we juggle, juggle, juggle.

Q: Did you start Lakeside Karate?

A: I am the one who started it. My wife and I own the business together.

Q: When did you start the business?

A: In 2004 I started teaching in the Lyndonville Presbyterian Church. There’s not a lot of real estate in Lyndonville. I taught there for a couple years and then at the Crosby-Whipple building, the old gas station (in Lyndonville).

Crosby-Whipple went out of business, so I took that as a sign that I needed to find another place, so I found this place.

Q: What was it like to open a business here in rural Lyndonville?

A: It was interesting. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, to be honest, but I’ve been involved in martial arts since 1989. Twenty years or so ago we moved to Waterport. I did a self-defense class in school the first couple years I was here. When my kids were grown up and started going to school, I wanted to do something here.

Kiefer (center) warms up with the students.

Q: So it was a conscious choice to open a school in Lyndonville?

A: This was a conscious choice to be in a small community, to give my kids and other kids an opportunity to do something that they don’t have to travel miles and miles to do. I want to be part of this community. I’m not interested in conquering in the world with my karate.

There’s a dedication up on the wall that says a little bit about it. I stopped doing karate for a little while and my wife saw that I was very restless and that I needed to do something other than work. My wife was like “Just do it.” So in my dedication to her, I say she’s the one that gave me the faith in myself to do it.

I also mention my dad in it because he helped out. Most of us would agree our fathers play a big role in who you become and what you do. If there’s anything my father taught me it was perseverance. I was one of four boys and he worked himself to the bone to support us, and my parents stayed married all those years. It was the discipline to see it through that came from him.

And then obviously my instructor. My instructor was at times my biggest friend and at times he was my father. His name was Sensei Jim Grafe (1954-2002). He was kind of a teddy bear kind of guy. He had a special way with kids which was unbelievable. He had a very big heart.

Q: Is your training for your students similar to how you trained?

A: Martial arts is different today than it was even 20 years ago. Our style is a very hard Japanese style. When I trained it was more of the Japanese mentality, which is very militaristic. We didn’t ask questions or raise our hands and we did what we were told. We fought hard, we trained hard. You learned by throwing yourself out there.

When I first got my black belt, I was nasty. I didn’t care if you were five or 55, if you couldn’t hack it then get out. With my instructors’ help and other people’s help they showed me that’s not always the best.

So we have a very different approach. We still train hard, we still fight hard, but we encourage questions and discussion.

Kiefer explains why blocks are performed at 45-degree angles. It is to cause the attack to slide off the arm instead of getting hit in the head.

Q: What is the philosophy of the dojo?

A: (Senpai Ken Anderson, Assistant Instructor) For me, I started karate when it was at the Presbyterian Church with my son. He was seven years old and I figured I should get him into something where he could learn to use his body and get a little discipline. My philosophy was I should take it with him. Seeing and feeling everything within this dojo kept me going.

I started out older than my sensei, but I took a joy to it and saw how much I could ever better myself at the age of 39, so much that my daughter started it a year later.

My body can’t do what the young kids can do, but there is still a chance for me to learn enough and utilize how my body works to defend myself. My goal was I wanted to teach and learn how to give that back to the students.

A: (Kiefer) The main philosophy is that I don’t care if somebody is my student for an hour or nine years, I want them to get something out of it. Karate isn’t for everybody. Everybody finds their talent in something. The goal here is they learn something that they can take with them and help them sometime later in their life.

Q: How many students do you have on average?

A: I probably average 25 students at a time. They come and go.

Q: How young is your youngest student?

A: The youngest I will take is a mature 4-year-old. We have a Tiger Cubs class for 4- to 6-year-olds. That class is geared toward motor-skill development. It’s what the kids need at that age. Balance and coordination, that type of stuff. We mix in some martial arts and sprinkle in things to get them ready to transfer to the other class.

Q: How old is your oldest student?

A: (Ken Anderson raises his hand) I’m 48.

A: (Kiefer) I’ve had older students before when I’ve taught.

Kiefer watches the students kick to ensure correct form.

Q: What are the different classes you teach here?

A: Our main classes are 4- to 6-year old Tiger Cub karate and then our traditional karate classes for 7-years-old to adult. Throughout the year we’ll do a self-defense seminar. I’m a certified trainer for a program called Just Yell Fire, which is young women’s self defense.

Q: Most kids probably want to come in doing crazy ninja stuff on the first day, so what is the first day like for an older child?

A: It’s the same as everybody else. I’m lucky and graced to have other black belts. The beginning base of our classes is all the same. We bow in, we stretch and then we do basic techniques. The second half of class is where we get into specific belt-rank curriculum. We split into groups. It’s important that white belts get a chance to train with upper belts so they know what they need to achieve and aspire to.

A: (Sterling Allis, 19, green-belt student) I remember a little bit from when I was a white belt. The reason why I joined was I was really sick in middle school. I was 40 pounds underweight. I joined with a friend of mine. We walked in and we didn’t know what was going on. Now I’m used to the routine. My parents are pretty strict. My mom is super strict, which I’m fine with. What had scared me was that it was new. I didn’t know if Sensei was scary or not.

But I liked it. It’s lots of fun and I remember really liking it. It was one of the few things that actually got me to sweat. I can remember I could run around the yard, climb trees and be fine. The first day of karate I was sweating my face off.

A: (Kiefer) Every September, we have an open house. We invite anybody that wants to come in to take class. It’s basically an open class. This September is also going to be our 10-year anniversary.

Kiefer guides the students through punches during the warm-up routine.

Q: Does your school participate in tournaments?

A: Yes, we do. We don’t chase them. There’s a couple of local tournaments that our style of karate. Some schools are trophy hunters. I believe tournaments are a learning experience. I want everyone to go to a tournament because where else can you go at a young age and be challenged in front of a gazillion people.

In the big picture of things, it doesn’t really matter. Twenty years from now, no one can remember what you won. It’s all personal. It’s about getting over your fear and going up there and performing. Getting over your fear of performing exudes into every piece of your life.

At some point you have to get a job, or you go to college and have to do a presentation. At some point you’re going to be put on the spot where the only person you can rely on is you. It’s the learning experience that I want them to have.

A: (Senpai Caitlyn Anderson, Assistant Instructor) I don’t think without doing those, I could have done any presentations.

A: (Kiefer) A lot of what we’re about is being able to build some confidence in yourself and the things you do and how to carry that confidence over.

Q: I understand your dojo also performs charity work.

A: We did Kicks For Megan, which was for a young girl that had cancer. We did a thing for Camp Rainbow. We helped a hospital give an ultrasound one year. This past year, Lyndonville had a Christmas tree-decorating event. We did that, but we put a spin on it. We made it a hat-mitten-scarf tree. We had everybody donate that type of stuff and when we were done with it, we donated it to Community Action.

For kick-a-thons, the students get sponsors for how many kicks they do. People can choose to donate a lump sum or they could encourage the student and say a nickel for every kick. It’s a good thing some of them did lump sums. We had some students that were doing hundreds and hundreds of kicks. They would have broken the bank.

Q: What are your future plans for Lakeside Karate?

A: The same as it’s always been. Make sure that people have a place to come, learn the art of karate and learn something about themselves. At the end of the day, if I see the kids walking out smiling and it helps them, then that’s enough for me.

In our other groups with other schools, you consistently hear “Those are Sensei George’s students,” and they say that in a good way, not because they’re goofing off. They have the discipline and the technique.

A: (Caitlyn Anderson) A lot of our students get pulled up front in the middle of testings to demonstrate stuff.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: (Kiefer) We don’t just give belts away. They have to work for it. That’s a key principle. You have to work and you have to perform. I think martial arts taught the right way is one of those lasting things that you really have to work at. You make the link between hard work and achievement.

I think too often nowadays in organized activities, kids get a trophy for showing up. Honestly, that doesn’t cut it in the real world. You have to do some hard work and perform.