By Vanessa Broadbent
After nearly two decades of teaching, Oliver’s karate instructor, Mike Riplinger, is taking a step back from the sport.
For the past 18 years Riplinger has been the dojo at the Kyokushin Karate club which trained at the Oliver Community Centre.
But his history with the sport extends further, back to 1989 when his son was born.
“I found myself out of shape, with low energy levels and I thought I need to become a better role model,” he said.
After seeing a karate demo put on by the Japanese Cultural Society in Vancouver, Riplinger found his way to get healthy, and with a Kyokushin Karate club already training in Oliver, all he had to do was join.
Riplinger started training in September of 1989. At the time the club trained out of Tuc-el-Nuit Elementary School and Oliver Elementary School, as well as a local church in town that used to be by the post office but was eventually torn down.
“It smelled musty and had squeaky hardwood floors and the windows would just sweat when we trained hard. It was awesome.”
Although Riplinger had found somewhere to focus his passion and energy, his training was anything but easy. But the personal connection he felt to the sport, being of Japanese heritage himself, kept him motivated.
“I remember running out to the door and throwing up my first class. I was so out of shape and training that hard – I knew this was going to be something. But I saw all these white guys doing my heritage and I thought, I’m not going to be outdone by them.”
With more than a little hard work and perseverance, by 2000 Riplinger took over the club and achieved his first-degree black belt.
He started hosting tournaments, self-defence clinics, doing demos at local schools, and in turn raised interest in the club and saw hundreds of students come through.
“I still see kids from time to time that were six years old and are now 26 and they always remember me and they’re always respectful.”
Kyokushin Karate is different than other forms of the sport, which came with its own set of challenges.
Its full-contact approach is known for producing top world-class fighters, but that also means the training is more challenging, especially for children.
“Kyokushin isn’t really a kid-friendly type martial art because of the contact and that firm discipline and the fact that they don’t give out belts very easily for reward,” Riplinger explained.
“There are similar martial arts where I see kids that are 10 and 12 years old with second and third-degree black belts. That just does not happen in our style.”
While Riplinger said this made the sport more rewarding, it also demanded more of him as an instructor.
“I had to be high energy, I had to be very encouraging, I had to be countlessly dealing with injuries, and giving pep talks to keep the kids into it.”
Unfortunately, those demands became too much as Riplinger aged and as his business, an auto body repair shop, grew and required more of his attention.
“I’m not in the same place in my life as I was 20 years ago,” he said.
“As I get older, it’s harder to recover, harder to maintain that stretch and you have to do this stuff seven days a week if you want to stay in touch with it. I just don’t have that kind of time and commitment anymore.”
At least a brown belt is needed to operate the club and with no one with the desire or proper qualifications to take over, the club will close with Riplinger’s departure, marking the end of Kyokushin Karate’s presence in Oliver.
“It was a tough decision, a decision that I was trying to avoid,” he said.
“I’ve grown with it, I’ve become a better person and I’ll never forget the people I’ve met. It’s hard knowing that I will forget the requirements and my physical abilities will start to diminish as I quit training. So I’m going to try and keep up but I know I can’t.”