In four decades, the dojo has produced just 16 black belts, some of which are no longer active.
For 40 years, the Isshin-Ryu Budo Kai Karate Dojo has been providing the city of Ocoee with an opportunity to learn the martial arts at an affordable rate.
“We are here just to do our style and pass our style on,” Sensei Paul Robinson said. “What’s unique about us is that you only get promoted if you meet the qualifications. … We don’t promote people just to keep the checks rolling in. We promote you when you deserve to be promoted.”
Robinson has been in charge of the dojo since 1984. One of his favorite aspects of the Isshin-Ryu Budo Kai Dojo is it feels like a second family.
“I would say that 70% of our blackbelts are still involved with this school,” he said. “For me, that’s my best memory — to think that we stay close enough as a family and everybody still considers themselves as part of this school, even when they are not able to be physically involved.”
Over the years, the dojo has helped shape struggling young children into well-rounded young adults.
“We’ve seen kids that have matured from young to be really hard-driven students, and I know (Sensei Ty Frantel) can probably tell you the same thing,” Paul Robinson said.
Frantel, who now runs the dojo, first became involved when his parents separated and his mother found an article in the paper that listed the class. Up until this day, he never stopped attending the dojo and has been practicing Isshin-Ryu for 39 years.
Sensei Te Robinson has been involved with the dojo since 1990 when she took her son to practice. Since that day, she never stopped going to the classes and is now, along with Frantel and Paul Robinson, passing the knowledge on to new generations.
According to Frantel, one of the characteristics of Isshin-Ryu karate is that it teaches its practitioners how to attack the lower areas of the body, as it is “harder to defend yourself below the knee.”
Because of the length of time this dojo has been serving the community, Paul Robinson said, “it’s not uncommon to be in (a restaurant) and have some kids come up to you and say, ‘Hey, Sensei, do you remember me?’”
“That’s when you feel old,” Frantel said. “When someone rolls in and they say ‘Hey, I was your student when I was 14, but this is my 8-year-old son.’”
A great example of participants who become family at the Dojo is Sherrall Applegate’s family, as they have been involved with the dojo for 35 years. Her late son, Matt Applegate, always felt part of the dojo since the first day he put on his first white belt. His son, Derrick, currently is enrolled in classes. Sherrall Applegate’s husband, Gordon, has been involved in both the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Isshin-Ryu class for more than 30 years as well.
Former recreation director Jim Beech was a supporter of the school. The year of his retirement, the dojo presented him with a plaque commemorating reaching more than 50 students. Today, the dojo has just 16 students because of the pandemic.
“He knew that that was our goal,” Robinson said. “He knew what we were about and what we had been through to keep this school in existence. … That’s just a great memory.”
Frantel recalled one of his best memories:
“Truly, my best time was when I was 13 or 14 years old and I was riding my bike to the dojo because I knew that’s what I wanted,” he said. “I would ride my bike seven miles to the dojo.”
In 40 years, the class has produced only 16 black belts. Usually, it takes between five and eight years to become a black belt at the Isshin-Ryu school. However, many students never end up taking the black belt test.
“The unknown is what’s scary,” Paul Robinson said. “People get frightened. … (But), we would not be testing you for black belt in our school if you were not worthy of a black belt.”
The class has moved to different locations throughout the years. Flewelling Avenue, Ocoee City Hall, the Ison Center and a fire station at Vignetti Park have served as physical locations for the dojo ever since it started. In the future, the class is looking forward to hosting its Tuesday and Thursday sessions at the Jim Beech Recreation Center.
For Frantel, there is no movement hard enough that it cannot be learned. However, he and Robinson agree the katas or forms practiced in Isshin-Ryu are complicated because they take a lot of memorization.
“They have a little bit of everything — they stretch the body, have kicks and blocks and teach you movements,” Paul Robinson said. “It’s kind of like a dance, but it’s an imaginary person that you are defending yourself from.”
Included in Isshin-Ryu practices, black belts utilize the Bo, a long stick that is used as a defensive weapon aimed at teaching men how to use daily objects such as broomsticks or a branch to defend themselves in case someone tries to harm them.
For information about classes visit ocoee.org/155/youth-programs.
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