Samantha Califano stands ready while she is hit, slapped and pushed by her instructor. A 20-year-old female might typically cry abuse at this behavior, but Califano takes it like a warrior because that’s what she is training to be.
Califano has been a pupil at the Uechi-Ryu Karate School in Amsterdam since she was 7 years old. She is now a third-degree black belt and one of the highest ranked females at the school.
Ihor Rymaruk, a seventh-degree black belt, started the school, now located on Reid Street, in 1974.
Rymaruk said he hits students to build their functional strength and test their stability. Also, by learning to take a punch or a kick students learn what it’s like to be attacked and how to defend themselves.
Uechi-Ryu is a type of karate that was started in China but was expanded in Okinawa, Japan. The style teaches students to win a fight, not to excel in the “sport” of martial arts. Uechi-Ryu is more physical than other styles; students do not use pads or pretend to hit each other, rather they spar with physical contact.
Rymaruk said most of what he teaches his students is practical knowledge that they can use for self-defense. Weapons may provide a sense of personal security, Rymaruk said, but they have a failing.
“If you can’t take it in the shower with you, you won’t have it when you’re going to need it,” he said.
Rymaruk began his love of karate as a child. His family moved to the United States from Germany in the 1940s and settled in Amsterdam. He said at that time, because of his name and the way he dressed, he would get picked on a lot. He developed a love for the martial arts because he knew it would teach him to fight better.
He joined the Marines because he knew that he would be able to get to Okinawa where he wanted to study. After training for 11 months in Okinawa, his platoon was shipped to Vietnam. After he was discharged from the Marines in 1968, he returned to Okinawa to study. He only lasted about a month.
“I couldn’t get enough to eat,” he said.
Upon returning to the United States, Rymaruk found a good Uechi-Ryu school in Pittsfield, Mass., and spent 15 years traveling the 80 miles once a week to study.
After nearly 30 years of study and teaching, Rymaruk has published a book, put out a DVD and was most recently featured on the cover of the November edition of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. Rymaruk said the editor of the journal decided that his contribution to the martial arts over the years earned him the cover.
“It was a real honor to be thought of like that by the rest of the martial arts community,” Rymaruk said.
Students who study at the Uechi-Ryu Karate School not only benefit from working with Rymaruk, but also with fifth-degree black belt Rose Dyler, who travels to the school from Clifton Park. Dyler, who once had her own school in Colorado, said she mostly comes because Rymaruk runs a serious school and keeps to the traditional style of Uechi-Ryu.
“There aren’t any schools closer, but even if there were I’d still come here because of him,” she said.
Gary Greco, who is in his mid-40s and works for Morgan Stanley, said he struggled at first at the school because most of what he does is mental, not physical. Greco wanted to get involved with some sort of physical activity and one that he could do with son, Dylan. He liked karate because it was physical but also taught a valuable lesson of self-defense. After 21⁄2 years of training, Greco said he and his son have learned discipline, made friends and are in excellent physical health.
Besides being physical, Rymaruk said karate teaches confidence and psychological strength.
Jacque Preville, 12, of Amsterdam has been coming to the school for only a few months and her mother, Jody, said she has already seen a difference in her daughter’s confidence.
“I definitely see a change in her attitude,” Preville said. “We are very pleased.”
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