A motel and a catering hall in Elmsford might seem like strange neighbors for the stucco and timber-accented, Japanese-style building that houses the World Seido Karate Organization, but for Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura of Scarsdale, the spot is just right.
“My siblings and I all grew up in Westchester,” says Nakamura’s daughter, Meg, the general manager of the school’s Elmsford branch, which opened in February of last year. “Being able to share the philosophy and the training with other families in the area is great.” The 69-year-old karate master’s daughter explains that, although her father founded his karate style in Brooklyn in the ’70s and has since expanded it to 18 countries on six continents, he felt it was important for him to have a spiritual center he actually owned closer to home. “It’s been a dream of his for a long time,” she says.
The roots of Seido, though, extend far beyond Westchester to Japan, where, in 1953, then-11-year-old Nakamura first began classes in the traditional martial arts. He soon became a student of Masutatsu Oyama, the founder of the Kyokushin karate style, and earned his black belt within three years, winning many tournaments, including the All-Japan Student Open Karate Championship. By 1966, Nakamura, who says he was Oyama’s protégé, was told to bring Kyokuyshin to North America.
By the mid ’70s, however, Nakamura had begun to feel that Kyokushin had strayed. He believed that karate was “not something with which to win a competition,” as he later wrote in his autobiography, The Human Face of Karate. “On a much larger scale, it teaches the way of humanity.” He felt that Kyokushin taught karate that had been commercialized. He resigned (“respectfully,” he says) from Kyokushin in 1976 and founded Seido, of which he eventually became “Kaicho” (i.e., “chairman”). He emphasized mediation, encouraged volunteerism, and welcomed women and even the disabled.
By 2008, 33 years after moving to Westchester and after opening more than 120 schools, Nakamura found the spot of a former gym in Elmsford and began its two-plus-year renovation.
The Westchester school is, in many ways, what Nakamura had envisioned back in 1976, where teachers try to impart lessons of discipline and self-control. Says Meg, “Discipline is not about screaming at the kids or making them scream.”