The Ithaca Karate Harmony with Nature School’s demonstration at last year's Ithaca Festival.

The Ithaca Karate Harmony with Nature School’s demonstration at last year's Ithaca Festival. 

Last summer, while viewing a karate demonstration at the Ithaca Festival, I saw that the presenting group was from the Ithaca Karate Harmony with Nature School, and I recalled that I had done a feature a number of years ago about Kathleen Garrity, the school’s founder.

I saw Kathleen not long afterward, and we reminisced about that story and we talked about the fact than many hundreds of students have since taken part in Kathleen’s classes and camps, and when I checked her website soon thereafter, I was impressed to learn that she has actually been teaching karate for 42 years, as she worked with regional legend Hidy Ochai for 15 years and opened her own school 27 years ago. I wondered how one can stay engaged for so long. Then, I saw this statement: “Kathleen Garrity teaches to learn, and has learned much with her students about respect and patience, form and energy.”

I asked Kathleen about that ongoing love of learning, and about her trips to China and Okinawa to expand and refine her craft, and she said, “Yes, I am continually learning, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it anymore. It feels very new, all the time.” She pointed out that many of her teachers have traveled to the U.S., and that she “has had the opportunity to learn from them here as well.”

I noticed that the word “respect” emerged often across Garrity’s teaching platforms (she has also taught “The Power of Respect” at Cornell for many years), and she offered, “Self-defense philosophy stresses courtesy, we bow to one another, and we balance respect of self and others.” She added, “In training together, we learn from each other and find that special spark of brilliance.” She paused, and assured me, “It’s there… you gotta find it! We teach that our ‘center’ is in our lower abdomen, and by staying in your center you can find it.”

Kathleen values and fosters “the diversity of people” at her school (which holds its classes at the EAC Montessori School of Ithaca, on King Road), and she says “We have beginners and advanced, kids and adults, and some have been studying with me for 30 years,” and she points out that the classes are designed to incorporate such integration and inclusivity.

I asked Kathleen to tell me more about Quigong—which is described on the website as an “energy practice”—and her answer conveyed how the “Harmony With Nature” piece found its way into her school’s name. She told me, “Quigong is an internal energy practice that is an ancestor of karate. Some katas have nature themes—like ‘wind through the pines,’ or ‘flowing water.’ We hear our breathing as wind flowing, and we feel our body as rooted like a tree, and we bring that internal power to our external practice.”

I asked Garrity if she believes that learning to focus and center ourselves is increasingly important in a time when it seems our attention spans shrink before our eyes as the world swirls around us and divisiveness rears its head with greater frequency and intensity. She replied, “The karate mind addresses the way we think, feel and act. Our practice begins and ends with courtesy.”

***

Four years ago, I wrote a story about Ithaca native Cheyenne Reynolds and her contribution to Clemson’s national championship. Cheyenne was, at that time, a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer, and on Monday of this week, she was back on the Tigers’ sideline, this time as a full-time employee and an Assistant Trainer. The Tigers lost the game this time, but seeing Cheyenne in the Big Time was great. Her mom, (local veterinarian) Anne Shakespeare, her aunt (local therapist) Leslie and her uncle (local legend) Earl were in the stands, and while it would have been nice to see Clemson win another title, LSU was a bit more deserving this year. I was one of Cheyenne’s babysitters when she was a wee one, and seeing her in hi-def on ESPN is pretty cool too.

***

Speaking of “the Big Time,” hockey fans should head up to see the #1 collegiate team in the nation take the ice at Lynah Rink. Ticket info at www.cornellbigred.com.

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