Fight Back, Give Back 

Access is everything at Suigetsukan.

In 1976, a twelve-year-old boy emigrated to California from the other side of the world. Beset with dangers, he sought strength in martial arts. It saved his life.

In 1906, a sixteen-year-old boy emigrated to Hawaii from the other side of the world. Beset with dangers, he sought strength in martial arts. It saved his life.

The first boy was Mike Esmailzadeh. Not Iranian by heritage, he was born in Germany. After his parents divorced when he was four, his mother married an Iranian; the family promptly moved to Iran. By the time they moved again, this time to Los Angeles, Esmailzadeh spoke his adoptive stepfather's Farsi and his mother's German, but not much else.

"I didn't know anything. I didn't know anyone, and I couldn't really speak English," says Esmailzadeh. Martial arts doesn't require a lot of language skills, so he enrolled in classes. "Suddenly I felt that I had someone to turn to." And he was acquiring skills that would prove even more useful over the next few years as the Iranian revolution raged overseas and his family, like many Iranians in Los Angeles at that time, became the targets of taunts and aggression.

Both inside and out, "martial arts saved my life," Esmailzadeh says resolutely. Vowing to "give back to others what I got out of it," he founded Suigetsukan (103 International Blvd., Oakland), a nonprofit dojo or school whose five-session Martial Arts Day Camp for kids ages six through fifteen starts on Monday, July 6. Suigetsukan is a nonprofit, so all classes and workshops "have a sliding scale that goes down to zero." The day camp costs $50 to $100 for those who can afford it; for anyone else, it's free. At least half of the students who train at Suigetsukan pay nothing at all.

Esmailzadeh's impressive rankings include Rokudan in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, the martial-arts style that will be the day camp's main focus. Encompassing an array of techniques including throws, chokes, strikes, joint-locks, and breaks, it also features an escape component: When survival's at stake, sometimes running away is the best self-defense.

Danzan Ryu Jujitsu was developed by that other immigrant youth, the one in Hawaii. Born in Japan, Henry Seishiro Okazaki was living in Hilo when he was diagnosed with incurable tuberculosis. Defying that fate, the youth enrolled in martial-arts classes. His lungs improved. Assembling techniques from various styles including Okinawan karate and Filipino knifework, Okazaki soared to fame. He spent the next thirty years touring the world, founding dojos, and establishing a Honolulu sanitorium for patients with neurological disorders.

Esmailzadeh admires Okazaki, who died in 1951: "He was one of the first people to open up martial arts to non-Japanese students. So his schools were the first of what we now consider modern public martial-arts schools, open to anyone who wants to train. Accessibility was important to him." In homage, that's important to Esmailzadeh, too. 9 a.m.


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