Coaches part 1

Joko Ninomiya. There is a short video of him at the bottom of the post.

This is the first in a series of posts on coaches.  A lot of members at CFWSC have played various sports or done other physical activities (and still do), from the professional level to high school to recreational.  If you have had an exceptional coach, please write an essay on that coach.  What made them so good?  What was their coaching style like?  How did they impact you and what did you take away from them?  It does not have to be someone with whom you spent a significant amount of time, but even a person with whom you trained briefly yet still had an impact on you.

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I have been incredibly lucky to train with several outstanding coaches and teachers in martial arts, water polo, and CrossFit.  I will be doing posts on all of them, but I thought I would write about the most famous first.

I knew of Joko Ninomiya well before I ever had a chance to meet him.  He was a living legend in the style of full contact karate I practiced–an All-Japan Knockdown Karate Champion, victor of dozens of challenge matches, Shikoku-ken High School judo Champion, and the top student of martial arts innovator Ashihara Hideyuki.

In the last several years of my stay in Japan, I spend a lot of time training at the Tokyo headquarters for Ashihara Karate.  Ninomiya was the most famous and best of Ashihara Karate practitioners, even though he had left Ashihara and started his own style and school by the time I started training Ashihara.  Nevertheless, his influence was everywhere.  Ninomiya was featured in the books and videos about Ashihara Karate and he had written a great autobiography My Journey In Karate which I had read over and over.  Many years later I would loan the book to Greg Amundson, who found it to be highly inspirational.

I never had the opportunity to train with Ninomiya at length as he lived (and still does) in Denver, but rather trained with him several times a year when he would come to San Francisco.  I will never forget the first time I saw him in person.  His presence was overwhelming, extremely powerful.   Physically his technique was superb, very fast and very strong.  Everything he did had such snap and crispness.  His fighting pedigree–he fought in the All Japan 5 times before winning his sixth, a grueling resume –lent his movements real authority. He was a great teacher and extremely knowledgeable, not surprising in a former personal student of Ashihara Hideyuki and someone of his experience.

The main lesson I took from Ninomiya was two-fold.  One was the seriousness with which he approached his study and practice of karate.  While teaching, he was a congenial, albeit intense, person, capable of laughter and humor, but this was his life. It was not a game or a sport or a hobby for him.  His practice of karate was intimately entwined with who he was and you could tell this from his every action.

Secondly, perhaps due to his fighting background, he executed every technique with force and precision.  There was never anything haphazard or sloppy about his movements.  Everything he did, he did hard.  This really showed me the value of constantly doing something the way you want to do it when you can’t think about it–when you are hurt or tired or dazed for example.  This was an early lesson in SAID, Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand, although I would not hear that term for years to come. I have taken Ninomiya’s example to my own practice in collegiate and international water polo and CrossFit, as well as to my own coaching.

I have not trained with Joko Ninomiya for a good 13 years, but he left such an impression that I can vividly picture him instructing me in my mind.  I recently reread his book My Journey In Karate and it is as motivational now as it was when I was a fighter.

Please post thoughts to Comments.


Back Squat

7×3 (as heavy as you can go for 3 each set)


5 Rounds

7 Squat Clean Thrusters 135/95

200m Run