The karate man (3:45 p.m.)

Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sensei Tetsu Yanagisawa sits alone, seiza-style, inside his dojo at 3 p.m.

He folds his legs underneath his thighs, closes his eyes and meditates quietly towards the sun before six rambunctious boys file in for their 45-minute karate class.

“Osu!” Tetsu says. The boys immediately return the Japanese greeting, which signifies patience, respect and appreciation.

Tetsu has instilled “Osu!” in young and adult pupils since becoming chief instructor at World Oyama Karate seven years ago. The fourth-degree black belt moved to Alabama from the Japanese province of Chiba in 1996 to be an uchideshi, an apprentice, to Grand Master Saiko Shihan Oyama in Birmingham.

He endured five years of intense physical and mental training before being vetted for chief instructor at the Chelsea dojo, where the motto is “Just Sweat.” Tetsu’s skill has earned him four Alabama Governor’s Cup wins, four Yoshukai All-American Tournament wins and the 1999 Oyama Karate Open Tournament championship.

His passion for karate is evident in the precise and fluid movements he displays on the mat before class begins. His 5-to-7-year-old students emerge from the dressing room in their karate uniforms, and enlist the help of their mothers to tie their white belts.

They all race to the mat to warm-up by jumping rope. Some students are more focused than others, and Tetsu takes note.

“How many jump rope you do?” Tetsu inquired of one boy.

“Three!” the boy responded.

“No, you do 30!” Tetsu said.

At Tetsu’s request, the boys line up on the mat for stretching, and count to 10 in Japanese during each stretch. “Ichi! Ni! San! Shi! Go! Roku! Shichi! Hachi! Ku! Ju!”

They practice a series of kicks and punches, as well as fighting stance, under Tetsu’s meticulous eye. The sensei pushes his students to do their best, and he never fails to say, “You do good job.”

As the lesson draws to an end, Tetsu and his students sit on the mat. With backs straight and eyes closed, they center their minds and bodies for 10 seconds as parents prepare to head out.

Tetsu stands up, and exchanges high-fives with the white belts. Class is dismissed.