Our Kansas City dojo hosted Jeff Klein over the weekend of December 9-11, 2023. As with Jeff’s previous visits, it was an amazing weekend of three practices, each of which focused on aspects of shuto-uke (knife hand block). Jeff was joined by eleven Kansas City members plus two who’ve regularly joined us via Zoom, Harry Dolan (Wisconsin) and Jim Pantelios (Chicago). Jim’s friend (and new SKA member) Michael Lerner also traveled to Kansas City to join the practices. The sixteen in person in Kansas City were joined via zoom by other members from Montreal, Boston, Chicago – I’m sure I’ve missed several.
Jeff was a karate prodigy from his mid-teens as a student of Mr. Ohshima and practicing with a bunch of very tough older guys at Melrose Dojo and Santa Monica Dojo. As a kid, he was facing Caylor Adkins, Don DePree, Lee Muhl, George Gamble and many others. Jeff first won the Nisei Week karate tournament at age 16, fighting against adults, many of them remembered as SKA’s strongest fighters and Jeff among them. Later, Jeff lived, worked and practiced in Japan for twenty years and Hong Kong for three. He published Elle Magazine in Asia, produced movies, designed and managed a number of restaurants including the famous Nobu in Aspen, Colorado where I first met Jeff thirty years ago. He’s competed in (and won) karate tournaments all over the world. Jeff turned 70 years old in August and, although his body is no longer youthful, he’s a Yoda on the dojo floor: a very witty force of nature.
This weekend, I’m taking only one simple movement, shuto-uke, a movement we’ve all practiced over and over and over for years. Now we’re going to apply this movement in a variety of ways. This is the kind of thing I believe we should always work on during our practice. Shotokan Karate provides an incredible foundation, but we are not trying to fit some kind of mold. We aren’t all trying to look and move alike. We have individual gifts – our ever-changing body, our own mind and mentality and understanding. Each of us must find and develop our own karate that works for us, constantly striving to develop ourselves. That is what martial arts is all about.— Jeff Klein
Jeff got us moving immediately, stepping, sliding and gliding back and forth across the floor, each at his own pace and mostly without a count. Jeff repeated, “keep going, keep going” until we were winded and starting to drag. Then he’d stop us to explain and demonstrate a new shuto-uke variation and application. We mostly practiced with both hands open and active in front of us. About a third of each practice was moving back and forth individually, and about two-thirds was moving with a partner. Each exercise was some variation of shuto. Shuto with the front arm, shuto with the back, both hands active and engaged, the ‘pulling hand’ usually held out in front and frequently involved in blocking, pushing, throwing, and otherwise controlling. Jeff urged us to slid in close, opening by sliding in to touch the shoulder or chest of the opponent, then continuing to make shuto-uke (or some shuto-like technique/s). Slide in and get a hand on the opponent’s body, and continuing without pause into a diagonal forearm across his body, gaining and retaining control. First with front arm, then with the back. The stances usually something aking to fudo-dachi or shanchin-dachi or hangetsu-dachi. Stepping in with shuto-uke, then pressing down on or grasping opponent’s arm and then sliding in with the other arm across his body. Sliding in and touching/popping the opponent with the front hand, then sliding further in and controlling with the front arm across his shoulders and/or neck. And so on with many many variations, some bold and others subtle.
Jeff talked about three distances to the opponent, outside ma, crossing ma, inside ma. He repeatedly emphasized that it is up to each of us to control the opponent: to force him into a situation we control; to take and hold the initiative; to move ourselves and the opponent to our advantage. This stuff doesn’t happen accidentally and Jeff repeatedly demonstrated numerous shuto-related methods whereby he would gain and maintain control, mostly without striking. At one point as his ‘opponent’ attacked with oizuki + gyakuzuki, Jeff caught and held the first punch and immediately caught the second and there was a ‘moment’ when Jeff, holding both the opponent’s fists, innocently asked, “so, can I buy you a beer?” While we laughed, Jeff said, “seriously – this kind of technique works 90% of the time in a real situation!”
Between the two Saturday practices, Jeff Klein, David Altman, Harry Dolan and Mike Lyon headed over to visit Kansas City’s senior instructor, Dr. Jon Beltram. Jon is 11 years older than Jeff. When Jeff was young, their relationship must have been like older and younger brothers and there’s still a kind of loving and competitive relationship happening. I can imagine them in their teens and twenties acting out with some pretty wild behavior. Jon and Jeff bragged about old-times and talked about their hopes for the future of SKA and practice in general.
We made it back in time for the second practice at 2:00pm and then to Lyon’s house where Jeff and Harry were staying to get everything set up for our pot luck dinner. Jeff, by the way, had picked up ingredients from Whole Foods and made Nobu’s signature Yellow Tail Sashimi with Jalapeno. DELICIOUS!
From all of us at Kansas City Shotokan Karate Club, THANK YOU, Jeff!