Robin McColley was hired in September of 2004 as Trumansburg High School’s Athletic Director and Dean of Students. The next year, the position was split into two separate jobs, and McColley became the Dean of Students, a position she has held for the past 16 years.
In 2005, the high school was looking for ways to offer more variety in its class selections, so McColley decided to lead an elective Seido Karate class for students. Her proposal was met with support from the Board of Education, Principal Paula Hurley, staff, and students. McColley had been in training for 28 years and was a sixth degree black belt Jun Shihan (new master), so she was more than qualified to teach the class. In the summer of 2007, she began an after-school program on Tuesdays for younger children, and it grew so much that McColley added a second class which met on Thursdays. High school karate students helped teach the classes which fostered leadership skills and practices. Dressed in traditional gis, they helped the younger kids learn the basic techniques called kata which are choreographed moves put together. Many of these younger students continued with karate when they reached high school. Over the years, 366 students have taken McColley’s classes.
Every year, the Seido Karate students sponsored fundraisers such as gift-wrapping at Barnes & Noble or Flapjacks at Applebee’s to earn money for a trip to New York City, where they could visit the headquarters for Seido Karate, a traditional dojo. At school, their training sessions were held in the gym or on the stage, so seeing a real dojo for the first time was quite an experience. They got to meet Grand Master Kaicho Nakamura for a training session. The trip also allowed students to see a Broadway show, eat in different restaurants, and do a bit of shopping. The Grand Master was very proud of the progress McColley’s students made. No other high school offered a karate class like she did. Twice, in 2011 and 2013, the Grand Master came to Ithaca, and Trumansburg students preformed the kata for him. “The first time I brought a class to NYC to meet my grandmaster, Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, I was so proud of how they conducted themselves and the excitement and wonder my students brought with them into the dojo. When it came time to clean the floor with towels, they jumped right in and helped out. They weren’t afraid to actually be a part of the experience,” McColley remembered.
In 2014, McColley got her own classroom, which she turned into a dojo. Finally, she had a place where her students could work advancing toward higher ranks. Seido Karate is a full year course, and, in 2008, the class could be given for a physical education credit instead of being an elective. The class was held until March of 2020 when the pandemic entered the picture. “The karate classes were given remotely for the rest of the year and there wasn’t a trip to New York City either,” McColley said.
“Tests had to be taken remotely to earn a new belt which was really hard,” she said. “Left, center, and right moves were really challenging on the screen because it was hard to see the whole body and the students were facing me so the moves were opposite. If students were too close to the screen, I couldn’t see all of them and if they were farther away, sometimes it was hard to hear each other. I had to do a lot of guesswork and it was difficult.”
This school year, McColley had two groups of students in her Seido Karate classes. In the first group of 26 students, 10 were virtual, and in the second class of 12 students, eight were virtual. Throughout the year, little by little, most of the students came back, so now there are only three virtual students in each class. “When I teach a class, I have the virtual kids participate on the Smart Board with the in-person students. The problem is that most of the students at home do not have the mats or equipment they need for class and they have to use items around the house,” McColley explained. “For example, when I am teaching the leg sweep technique, kids at home have to use a broom handle or other item as a partner. I had to get creative because some things get lost in translation when a student is participating online. For endurance classes, at home students had to use cans or books to increase their fitness levels. We had a tradition of making every Friday meditation day. It was great to see how excited the students were to know we were going to meditate.”
In the 2021 to 2022 school year, things will come full circle for McColley because she is changing jobs. Beginning in September, she will be the high school Dean of Students and the district Athletic Director. Unfortunately for her students, this leaves no room to teach karate classes. “This is bitter-sweet for me because karate gave me the opportunity to know the kids outside of the Dean of Students job and the same occurred for the students. We have really good kids in this district and I hope their behavior continues so there is no problem for me scheduling competitions and monitoring student behavior,” mentioned McColley. “We have really good staff on hand to settle conflicts too.”
McColley has her own Seido Karate school, Cayuga Lake Seido Karate, in Lansing, so Trumansburg students will still have an opportunity to continue their training. A future goal is to open a branch in Trumansburg.
McColley has many fond memories of her years teaching karate in Trumansburg, such as when Sei Shihan Nancy Lanoue came to Trumansburg to teach the students how to roll and fall safely … when Tim Hartmann came to the school to teach the students Modern Arniss … when Mari Wilson earned her blue belt. “The many trips to NYC were wonderful. Michael Durfee was my first student to earn a black belt. Another one of my students had never left the county before our trip to NYC and was awestruck with Japanese food and the Broadway show,” McColley mused. “I had such pride when a student ‘got it!’ while the Grand Master was teaching. There were so many years of positive experiences. When we were breaking boards, at first, I would see fear in students’ eyes, but then I could see growth and a sense of empowerment when each could do it. Then they would want to go onto more complicated techniques with more boards. My goal was to always have the class break every board that the students in the technology classes cut for us and the students never disappointed me.”
“All my students who went though my classes, I consider them to be part of my Seido family. I don’t have children of my own, but I have many children in my life,” said McColley. “I greatly appreciate the principals, administration, and board members who felt there was value in my karate program and supported it. High school can be hard, but this class grew and gave students a place to belong. I loved watching the transition some students made from taking Seido Karate because they ‘hated gym’ to taking Seido Karate because they loved learning the techniques and being a part of the class community. I appreciate the students who were willing to try something new by taking karate. I loved teaching Seido Karate to so many students and the community the class provided. I am so incredibly thankful I had this opportunity for the last 15 years. It will be an experience I cherish forever.”