September 17, 2013

Far East meets northwest Georgia

Varnell karate studio featured in magazine after renovations

Mickey Brock wanted the renovations at his Tenchi Family Karate Club to capture the essence of training in Okinawa, Japan.

Classical Fighting Arts magazine thinks he did a pretty good job with that objective.

The Varnell karate gymnasium is featured in the current issue of the bi-monthly martial arts publication. Classical Fighting Arts is based in California but distributes to subscribers and literature chain stores throughout the United States and Canada.

In April 2012, Brock began planning additions to his gym once his other business, Diamond Academy, planned to move out of the space connected to Tenchi Family Karate, which opened in 2001. Brock co-founded the Diamond Academy, a baseball training facility, with Larry Reed.

“As this grew and the Diamond Academy grew, he took that and I took this and we went in separate directions,” Brock said.

Brock is the owner and sensei (teacher) at Tenchi and travels twice a year to Okinawa — the birthplace of karate — to train with his instructor, Morio Higaonna. Training in Okinawa allows Brock to become a “traditional instructor” when he returns to the United States. As he put it, he has to “train to teach” karate.

Brock wanted to enhance the experience for his instructors and trainees. He wanted his gym to provide as close a feel to Okinawa training as there was in the United States.

Laura Tolliver, one of the gym’s instructors since 2004 and one of Brock’s students since 2001, has visited Okinawa before. She said Tenchi Family Karate evolved from “a standard sort of building” and added “more of a culture,” with heavy Okinawan influences.

“When we go to Okinawa, we go to this big training ground called the budokan,” Tolliver said. “It’s a training facility and he modeled the new addition to his dojo after one of the main training floors in the budokan. It has sort of the traditional Japanese shrine where we show respect to our senseis that have passed all the knowledge down. He made it authentic. It has the bamboo floors, the different training tools authentic to Okinawa, and I think that just makes you feel more connected to Okinawa.”

Construction began in June 2012 and ended this past June, which is also when a grand opening was held. The enhancements are a mixture of traditional and new-age technology. It includes a social lounge area with couches and two flat-screen televisions, along with a shop where patrons can purchase T-shirts and other items with the club’s name. There also is a kitchen and bar area with light-sensored bathrooms.

“Having it like that makes it feel like I’m at home,” Tolliver said. “The lounge makes it more relaxing and comfortable.”

The original area is now used for children classes, while the added area is for adult instruction. There are two new dojos (karate training rooms). One is named after one of Brock’s former instructors, Lou Angel. It is used primarily for private instruction. The other dojo is named after Higaonna.

“My instructor is the main story in this edition of the magazine,” Brock said. “We’ll be the inside feature for the main east coast gym. It’s huge exposure for us and a huge recognition for us, actually. We are one of — if not the only — purely traditional training centers in America. We travel to Okinawa and train in Okinawa and bring it back here.”

David Chambers, publisher of Classical Fighting Arts magazine, said Brock’s karate club is “unique” and explained why.

“It’s unique because the source of training is the original source of Okinawa,” Chambers said. “Brock’s teacher is one of the top guys in the world to teach karate.

“It’s about authenticity, and sadly that is rarely the case in my 40 years of experience. ... In the case of Brock’s dojo, we feel that is what every dojo owner should aim for, with the level of authenticity and having two major karate instructors coming from Okinawa to teach at his dojo. It’s not just me but high-ranking people in Okinawa who think highly of the dojo, too.”

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