Glasco Karate isn’t some rinky-dink, white-walled, Rex Kwan Do dojo. The setting is far more intimate than your average strip mall karate outlet. It’s nestled in a dark corner of Simmons Plaza. The lights are low, the floor of the dojo is wooden and satiny. Decoration is sparse; there are mirrors facing the students, and there is a poster of the dojo’s decidedly sharp logo hanging on the wall. It’s a fist with two dots above the fore and middle finger, with a crane above. A few chairs sit under the overhang where the bar used to be; Glasco Karate used to be the Alley Cat/End Zone bar. The poster, though, really ties the room together. The two dots, one on the forefinger knuckle and one on the middle finger knuckle, denote the two main striking points of Goju-Ryu, and the crane is a symbol of the crane style of karate.
Even the dojo’s office feels special. There are a couple of retro karate posters hanging out, and shots of respected Goju practitioners. Nancy is a music teacher by day, and she definitely throws off the music teacher vibe. Her hair is prim and she’s positively glowing. It’s hard to imagine she’s capable of disabling and pummeling me, but she is.
“Goju is actual, real karate that the Japanese started because they had to fight against swords. So our style is designed to fight against swords, and it’s very, very close in.” In that vein, Goju-Ryu doesn’t carry the pomp that plenty of martial arts do.
People like to describe physically-imposing-but-otherwise-completely-friendly people as “teddy bears.” Nancy describes her husband John that way. He’s thick and tall, and he rocks a faded, tight cropped rectangular power-mohawk. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
John’s been practicing Goju-Ryu since he was a teenager. A photo on an office shelf shows a floppy-haired, wide-eyed Eccles wearing his gi and sitting Indian style. Eccles threw down in AAU tournaments in his heyday, and was moderately successful. He has a passion for the form , and has since he started at age 17. “Goju-Ryu is not something that you can ever totally conquer or master. It’s a lifelong study. Even for the most basic techniques, I find new applications. It’s like peeling away the layers of an onion,” says John, “(mastery of Goju-Ryu) remains elusive.”
A major motivation for John in opening Glasco Karate, aside from the health benefits that come along with practicing his passion, is the fact that, according to him, “Goju is something that deserves to be passed down. It can’t be lost.”
Glasco Karate isn’t for those who lack devotion. It can take years for students to earn their first belts. “I’ve got people in white belt for a year,” says Nancy, “and they’re happy to be here.”
She doesn’t compromise, but she does guarantee “it can take you five years or so to get a black belt, but once you get that black belt, you’re going to be a black belt.” Nancy also refuses to allow students under fourteen to achieve a black belt. It’s all part of the philosophy for the Eccles’. Belts must be earned, not paid for, and they must be achieved, never expected.
Here’s the honest truth: for every ten highway closet dojos, for every ten bootleg karatekas, there’s a Glasco Karate, a dojo for the caring and committed, dedicated to an amorphous and ever-shifting, partially unknowable art. John and Nancy Eccles are karate devotees, Goju zealots, committed to spreading the word. Goju-Ryu isn’t the norm these days, it’s not a “flavor of the month” martial art as Nancy likes to say. You can’t take three classes and know the basics. It preaches discipline and respect, friendship and appreciation for the history of the form. The focus of the art is not aesthetic; it’s far more agro than standard martial arts, more true to the actual and ancient Okinawan form. If you’re interested in John and Nancy Eccles’ Glasco Karate, visit glascokarate.com or call 845-246-2642.