CHURUBUSCO — In the world of martial arts, the tiny island of Okinawa is an important place. There are hundreds of different styles of martial arts that have originated from Okinawa and continue to be taught across the world.
One of the more rare styles of Okinawan karate is Matsumara Seito Shorin Ryu. There are few schools that use Matsumara Seito Shorin Ryu, but one happens to be in Churubusco where teacher Dan Serafini has built a strong program.
Serafini and his wife Rachel founded Ottoki Martial Arts in ’Busco about 5.5 years ago with an unusual business model. The couple had no intention of growing the martial arts program quickly. Instead, Serafini wanted to concentrate on slowly building the school by adding only a few students at a time to ensure it was a personable experience.
“From the get-go we tried to grow slowly,” said Serafini. “It’s always been about qualify first.”
Ottoki currently has 18 kids enrolled in classes and 10 adults. The program over time has been able to add new equipment and move into a new facility that better suits it’s needs and those of the students. Three or four times a year, the students will participate in competitions for a chance to see how their skills are developing and to have some fun.
Serafini, like a lot of people who grew up in the 1980s, loved the movie “The Karate Kid.” After seeing the movie, Serafini fell in love with karate. He said it took him a while to get involved with martial arts, but once he did, it became more than just something to do in his free time.
“It becomes a part of who you are,” said Serafini. “This is much more lifestyle driven.”
Serafini has been teaching for 20 years. He started out teaching Taekwondo before migrating over to the new Okinawan style.
One thing Serafini has started to notice about martial arts is that athletes from other sports are now participating in classes during their off seasons. The athletes use martial arts to stay active, improve their foot coordination and develop better hand-eye coordination. Those skills then help them once they return to the athletic field.
“There are positives and health benefits for those who are active in other sports,” said Serafini. “It helps complement other sports.”
Serafini pointed to his son Anthony as an example of this. Anthony participates in classes at Ottoki. But he also plays football at ’Busco and is on a hockey team.
Now that the school is in a better location, Serafini said the goals remain the same. They will try to continue to grow slowly, adding a few more students at a time. He wants to remain cautious of growing too big, too quickly and instead focus on the strengths of the program.
“Our goal is the have the right number of students in the right number of classes,” said Serafini.
Bigger isn’t always better. Serafini recognizes that philosophy and it has paid off. The Ottoki Martial Arts school has been able to build a successful program because it connects with its students. Instructors build relationships with the students while teaching the skills of Okinawan karate. Based on the good experiences of the students Serafini knows the program will continue to develop.