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Story and Photos By Greg Turnbull

November 19, 2012, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Local martial artists Jo-Anne Redublo and Mat Beren received the thrill of their careers recently as they traveled to Japan to receive their black belts from the grandmaster of Yoshukai Karate, 10th degree black belt Soke Katsuo Yamamoto.

Mat Beren and Jo-Anne Redublo both believe that the martial arts are a big part of their lives. Both are currently students at Turnbull’s house of Martial Arts – the Canadian head office for Yoshukai Full-Contact Karate.

Mat began his experience in martial arts practicing Tae Kwan Do in Ontario. He is also an assistant instructor at the Sheung Wong Hung Fut Kung Fu club in Chinatown, Victoria having trained there for over 9 years. Jo-Anne began with Shotokan Karate as a child in Winnipeg, Manitoba way back in 1983. She currently teaches and trains at Peterec’s Martial Arts Centre.

Jo-Anne Redublo and Mat Beren are all smiles right before their Shodan promotion

After about 6 years of hard training in Yoshukai Karate, both students challenged for their Shodan (first degree black belt) on September 15, 2012 by demonstrating their basics, instructing, performing kata, and participating in the 10-man kumite – 2 minute bare-knuckle, full-contact sparring matches against 10 different opponents. Upon receiving two-week notice that they were up from their black belt promotion, each student reacted in their own way – Mat instantly started doing pushups and spent the next two weeks visualizing strategies to employ during the test. Jo-Anne simply felt nauseous and could only recall the two weeks leading up to the test as being a blur of nerves.

Many friends and family came to watch the grueling promotion under the direction of the chief instructor, Greg Turnbull. Brian Chou, Yoshukai black belt holder and participant in several local kickboxing cards, managed to make a trip all the way out from Toronto to participate in the test. On the judging panel were two local martial arts masters: Mike Puckett, 7th degree black belt and chief instructor of Puckett’s Noble House of Karate, and Masanobu Kikukawa, 9th degree black belt and head of the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate Shinkokai.

Kyoshi Mike Puckett and Hanshi Masanobu Kikukawa watching intently

Upon completion of the test, Mat and Jo-Anne were advised that they had passed and would receive their black belts. Jo-Anne was equally exhausted and exhilarated to still be standing after going through something that she had worked so long and hard to accomplish. Mat made a mental tally of the multiple, minor injuries accumulated during his matches event though the matches themselves were simply a blur.

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Mat Beren throws a head kick (left) during his 10-man kumite while Jo-Anne lands an inside leg kick (right)

However, Greg Turnbull had an idea that would make the occasion a little more special. Greg contacted the founder and grandmaster of Yoshukai Karate, 10th degree black belt Soke Katsuo Yamamoto, and asked permission to pay him a visit in Japan in order for Mat and Jo-Anne to receive their black belts directly from him. Soke Yamamoto agreed to the request and on October 26, Greg, Mat, and Jo-Anne, accompanied by Jo-Anne’s husband Bart, travelled to Kita-Kyushu Japan.

Upon arrival in Japan, it seemed that Soke Yamamoto had some ideas of his own and announced to the Canadians that although he approved of the testing performed in Canada, they would have their Japanese black belt test the next day. Back to the dojo they went for a last minute cram session – how else would they deal with the news that they would be tested by the founder of the style that they have studied for the past 6 years?

The judging panel consisted of Soke Yamamoto, Kaicho Shinohara, Plus other high-ranking members of the Yoshukai organization. Mat and Jo-Anne demonstrated their well-practiced techniques and kata to the panel, which provided their corrections and approval. The next evening at the Yoshukai head office dojo, Mat and Jo-Anne had their black belts tied around their waists by Soke Yamamoto.

Reflecting on the events in Japan, Mat said that he was “honoured and truly humbled by the chance to receive my black belt from the founder of Yoshukai Karate, Soke Yamamoto, in Japan at the Honbu dojo … WOW!” Jo-Anne added, “I was thrilled at the end when Soke Yamamoto complimented my kata. It was a huge honour to be presented my black belt. I never thought that I would travel to Japan to earn my black belt.”

The new black belts with Yoshukai founder and 10th degree black belt grandmaster, Katsuo Yamamoto