Senpai Selina Strazzari has been a student of Chito-Ryu Karate-Do at Sunshine Coast Karate for more than half her life. Like many people who grow up in the dojo it’s hard for her to imagine what life would be like without karate.
On her karate journey so far there have been a lot of ups and downs and she has had to look deep within to grow herself. She is a great example for those following in her footsteps of what it means to be a black belt, not just in the dojo, but in life too.
Karate experience (yrs training, rank): 12 years training, shodan
How old were you when you started Karate and why did you originally start?
Way back when I started in February 2009, I was 11-years-old and beginning Grade 7. I originally started because both my older sister and younger brother were training, and my mother was pushing me to get active and choose a sport. At the time, my brother had been training for three years, and my sister one year.
Please share a little bit about your life outside of the dojo.
Currently, my life outside the dojo is busy. I have spent quite some time since leaving high school fumbling around and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, but am now on a path at university to become a high school teacher. I am studying full-time, and working part-time at a warehouse. I try to support the community and have volunteered weekly at a local Lifeline for the last five years, and once a month I volunteer to do landcare along the dunes at Alex Beach. I have recently discovered a passion for volleyball and play twice a week alongside karate training.
Can you please share a little bit about your journey to black belt; important lessons, challenges along the way and what helped you overcome those challenges.
When I started karate, I lacked maturity and the ability to self-critique and accept feedback. While my belt progression was slow – I spent a year on purple belt, two years on brown belt and three years on brown-black-stripe – I felt that I was receiving a depth of knowledge that made me good at karate. This was not true. What I received was a big head and an attitude. The biggest challenge in my journey was realising that I didn’t know much, and that in order to be better I had to change my personal core values. I had to really humble myself and become more introspective and respectful to the dozens if not hundreds of black belts who came before me and recognise my inferiority to them.
When students move into the black belt ranks especially, it can be quite difficult to see progress and it can sometimes be a long time between gradings. Although you are still a relatively new black belt yourself, do you have any thoughts about this or advice you might be able to give to others who might be struggling with this?
I would like to bring your attention to this line in the Showa: ‘with peace, perseverance and hard work’. Perseverance is the key to progress. You must recognise that progress doesn’t happen all at once, and the end result is an amalgamation of hundreds of little bits and pieces of information that you glean over a long period of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was the result of centuries of learning and work. It’s the same for senior ranks. You persevere and build your knowledge and understanding, and your overall growth is the real reward.
Karate, like life can very much be a journey of ups and downs; what advice would you give to other students who may be going through a low point in their karate journey?
A low point could be influenced by something outside of the dojo: school, work, relationships etc. It takes experience to leave your problems at the door and focus on just your training. However, it’s possible. It’s also important to remember that low points don’t last forever. Low points end the moment that you decide they end.
Growing up, how were younger years different to your peers because you were studying karate?
I feel that karate instilled a discipline that lent itself well to studying. It was easier to direct focus to my teachers and accept feedback due to habits I’d picked up through karate.
Why do you continue to study & train in karate now, as an adult?
I’ve studied karate for over half my life and it’s become a habit. I couldn’t imagine life without the dojo. I keep training to gain confidence and to build physical and mental strength and learn how to best find my centre and stay balanced.
Has there been any major moments in your life when you have used your karate training outside of the dojo? What happened?
On one occasion, when faced with harassment, I employed metsuke (my eyes) and looked at the other person as if I was about to attack a bunkai partner. The offending party became incredibly uncomfortable and immediately backed off.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about studying karate, or who has just started?
When you first start, karate seems to be about repetition and how to step and punch. Once you get past the form, you will see parts of the rich experience of karate: how it helps you achieve calmness and peace of mind. Stick with it, and it can guide you into being the best version of yourself. Plus, the journey is not solo. The dojo environment is rich and vibrant; it’s more like a family and we all help each other. You have a chance to make lifelong friendships and make connections with people you wouldn’t normally connect with.
How has your thinking changed as you have refined your skills & become a black belt?
I have definitely matured and thought less ‘now’ and more ‘how’. I don’t worry so much about when I’m going to grade, but what I’m going to learn and how I’m going to get there. The destination is a cool bonus, but the real achievement comes from what you learn along the way. Adopting this form of thinking has impacted not only my karate training, but life outside the dojo. It’s easier to enjoy the art of growing my skills rather than focus on the end result.
What is karate really about for you?
Karate is about personal learning and growth. It’s corny, but I’ve learnt so much about myself and who I want to be through karate. Karate is a space that constantly encourages personal growth and evolution, and I train to learn and watch those around me learn so we can evolve together.
How do you think karate training can help young people, particularly young women like yourself?
Particularly with young women, karate training is important to instil confidence and to learn how to overcome your current limitations. It teaches you to walk tall and confidently and discourage anyone from messing with you. It teaches respect for not only yourself, but for those around you and assists you in becoming an involved member of society. It helped me come out of my shell, as it has done for dozens of shy young kids before me.
What are the goals you are working on now, as a black belt (both in and out of the dojo)?
Currently, my goal is to find balance. Outside of the dojo, I work towards finding balance with work, study and sport. Inside the dojo, I work towards finding balance within myself and my training, and to increase intensity and determination to the point where I can train 100% whenever I’m on the mats.
How do you see Karate as a part of your life in the future?
I can’t imagine my life without karate. I know that if I ever move away (as I am studying Teaching, moving away for a year is a likely possibility), I will always make my way back to the Coast and to the dojo. The new online classes are an amazing opportunity to keep training, even if I move away.
How does Karate help you in your day to day life?
Gleaning from my karate experience, I am more disciplined and determined to complete tasks throughout daily life. The old me would never have summoned the will to go for a run every afternoon, but because of that discipline, I can just go and run. I am less lazy and more eager to grow and achieve, and I can easily attribute that to karate.
What is the most practical application of Karate in your real life?
Karate has helped me utilise my body for any manual labour tasks. When lifting, carrying, or doing any other kind of physical work, I apply basic body balance – e.g. using my body rather than just my arms to lift something heavy. Karate has taught me how to best use bodily connection when applied to a partner, and it’s not a stretch to apply it to inanimate objects. Using your body also discourages injury.
What do your family and friends think of your karate training?
My friends and family are immensely supportive of my training. A few of my friends are people I have met through the dojo, and for a long time I trained with my brother and sister. They have both since quit, but they are still excited to hear about how my training is going and celebrating my achievements. Three months ago, my mother (who has worked at the dojo for a decade and watched from the sidelines all that time) said to me one afternoon that she was thinking of joining. That same day, she signed up and has been training hard since. I am immensely proud of her, just as I know she is proud of me.
How has your karate training impacted your work life? In what ways?
Karate gave me the opportunity to become used to working with various people so that when I entered the workplace, I had those interpersonal skills. School was nowhere near as effective as karate in teaching me this. Karate also improved my overall fitness and enabled me to work jobs that required manual labour.
How do you define a growth mindset and how has karate helped you develop this?
A growth mindset enables you to more easily adjust to change. The change can be many things: accepting feedback, becoming more receptive to the changes in others etc. The mindset requires that you constantly maintain an open mind and be receptive to feedback and change. People are constantly growing and evolving based on the things they consume, and you must always account for those.
What did you think karate was about before you started, how has that changed to now?
Before starting karate, I thought it was all about self it’sdefence. Now, not only about self defence, but karate inspires physical and mental strength, confidence, respect and discipline. It was a long slog to learn these things – and learning this for me only came with age and maturity – and karate means many things to many different people. Karate is about community and promoting inner balance.
What have been your biggest challenges in the dojo? And how do you overcome them?
My biggest challenges have been building physical strength, removing the ‘I can’t do that’ mindset, getting rid of my huge attitude and removing my tendency to complain and blame others. I have not been an easy student to teach, and it took some confronting conversations with people that I looked up to for me to realise that my mistakes were mine alone and if I wanted to be better, I had to really try. I started by recognising my flaws and combating them: complimenting others more, learning to take blame, accepting negative feedback and emulate dojo etiquette as shown by the Japanese. There is still a long way to go.
What is the importance of relationships for you in the dojo? How does training with other students help you?
The relationships you make in the dojo have the potential to last a lifetime (I think Sensei Martin and Sensei Sandra are perfect examples of this). You have the chance to be inspired by people and inspire them, feed off each other’s energy, hear different opinions and perceptions and make good memories. I met one of my best friend’s through the dojo, and I’m still meeting new and interesting people from all walks of life. Each of them teaches me something new and you can’t get this kind of community anywhere else.
What do you think of the way all students are both learning & teaching in the dojo, how does this impact you?
During training, students have the opportunity to both learn and teach, especially when they reach the higher belts and have more experience. As each student has different learning and teaching styles, it allows for others to both learn and be taught in numerous ways that have varying levels of effectiveness. I feel that giving students this opportunity enriches their karate experience.
What has changed in your life since you started studying karate?
I honestly can’t say what’s changed, because I don’t remember life without karate. However, I know that without karate, I would be a completely different person because I wouldn’t have those teachings. Sometimes I shudder when I try to imagine who I would be without karate.
What are your personal goals in karate and why?
My personal goals are to slowly chip away at my skills and confidence so that one day I won’t be uncomfortable when sparring, particularly with people bigger than me. I prefer structure, and so kata is particularly appealing, and I hope to one day be comfortable with the unpredictability of kumite.
Karate is a very traditional Japanese practice, why do you think it resonates with so many people in modern life?
Australian culture stems from a history of being larrikins, drunkards and anti-authoritatian. In contrast, Japanese culture emphasises respect and discipline. Karate encapsulates those teachings, and I feel that the structure of karate appeals to people who don’t identify with traditional Australian stereotypes. It provides a space for them to learn a foreign culture, as karate is intrinsically connected with Japanese values, and enjoy the positive, respectful atmosphere.
If you could give advice to your younger self that you learned in karate, what would it be?
Be humble. In the grand scheme of things, you don’t know anything yet.
How does Karate help you to create your best self in your life?
Karate taught me respect, how to treat others and how to achieve my goals. I used karate to learn what makes a good person and strived to become honest, respectful, accepting and patient. I am truly grateful to be who I am now because of karate.
What does, The Way of The Samurai, mean to you?
The Way of The Samurai means embodying the traditional aspects of the Samurai code, like respect, honour and honesty. In doing karate, you are paying homage to centuries of tradition and practice that came before you and showing respect for past practitioners. To fully experience karate is to embrace and show respect for past traditions while carrying it into the future.
How does Karate help you in your physical health? What changes have you noticed in yourself since beginning training?
When I started karate I was a skinny little thing and incredibly physically weak. I have never been a strong person, but since reaching adulthood I’ve put more effort into fitness outside of the dojo so that I can give my best inside the dojo. My increase in fitness has led to a boosted immune system, and better posture, and I feel that I care and respect my body more now compared to when I started. I’ve learned much about body balance and how to use what little I have to achieve the best results and the journey to get here has been very satisfying.
When you train in front of the mirrors in the dojo, what do you see? How has this changed since you started training?
In my early years of training, I would look at myself in the mirror and worry about what other people in the class would think when they looked at me. Since then, I’ve learned that the other people in class are worrying about themselves and my worries were pointless. Now, when I train in the mirror, I use the reflection to push me to become better, sharper and faster and to inspire the people standing in line behind me.
What are the greatest mental challenges you have faced in your karate training?
Overcoming failure has been the biggest mental challenge by far. The first time I failed a grading, I blamed the senseis because I thought I was ready. I experienced failure a lot over the years, mainly regarding gradings, and learning to accept with grace and overcome failure was the biggest growth I’ve undergone to this day. Failure still hurts, but persevering despite failure was the ultimate challenge.
How did you view yourself before you started Karate, how has this changed to now?
Before karate I was a weak little thing. I lacked confidence, drive, and social skills. Now, I see myself as more confident and a good communicator. I’m less afraid to try new things and I’ve met amazing people who have inspired me. I view myself as a better person having studied karate.