Kyokushin karate — the fighting art founded by Mas Oyama, a man who battled live bulls, occasionally lopping off their horns with his knifehand strike — has a reputation for toughness, including full-contact sparring with minimal safety gear.
But that never scared off Michael Jai White, a lifelong martial artist and actor who’s part of the Victory Dojo & Fitness family. In fact, Michael Jai White has always enjoyed the physicality and discipline of the art, calling it his “savior.”
“I had a lot of angst growing up, and martial arts just felt natural to me,” said Michael Jai White, who holds black belts in seven styles. “I enjoyed fighting when I was a kid. I used every excuse I could to fight.” He began studying shotokan karate at age 7, then switched to kyokushin under Shigeru Oyama.
The latter was the art in which he received his first black belt while still a teenager. He hopes Victory Dojo — located in Burbank, California — will do for today’s youth what his kyokushin dojo did for him. To that end, when he’s in town during breaks from his busy schedule, he’s helping mold it into a school that emphasizes character development as well as physical skills.
And this month, Victory Dojo celebrates the 50th anniversary of its headquarters’ founding.
VICTORY DOJO: THE KYOKUSHIN KARATE HOME OF
MICHAEL JAI WHITE
Michael Jai White Takes You Inside the Kyokushin Karate School He Calls Home When He’s Not Working in Film and TV
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History of Karate: Inside Mas Oyama’s
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“Our school is very basic and very traditional — the way we train is the way they’ve trained in Japan for the past 50 years,” said Michael Jai White, who joined the venture as a “spiritual partner” with his teacher, Brian Bastien.
The headquarters dojo was founded in 1964, according to Robert Christophe, head instructor at Victory Dojo. Brian Bastien opened his Victory Dojo branch at the Burbank YMCA, but he was forced to move because the staff wanted to eliminate sparring from his classes. “We’re a fighting style,” Brian Bastien said, “so without fighting, it’s just like dancing.”
When Michael Jai White isn’t acting, directing or writing screenplays, he’s at the school teaching clinics in techniques and weapons. His message is simple: The discipline required to succeed in the martial arts transfers directly to the world outside the dojo.
“Discipline has helped me in all facets of my life,” he said. “You can pretty much do anything if you have discipline. When you push yourself, you realize you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”
After hopping from career to career, what Michael Jai White set his mind to was acting. He worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme on Universal Soldier in 1992, then starred in Tyson, Spawn, Black Dynamite and both Why Did I Get Married? movies. Among the newest notches on his belt are an appearance in The Dark Knight and the role of leading man and director for Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown.
But like a true karate master, Michael Jai White downplays his fame.
“I’m not a celebrity in my school,” Michael Jai White said. “That quickly goes out the window when you’re sweating together. It’s more about the fact that I’m a 230-pound guy who hits hard. I think that supersedes celebrity.”
White obviously takes his martial arts seriously, which is precisely what he conveys to his students. “If you’re trying your best, if you’re pushing yourself, I don’t care if you’re athletically gifted or not — it’s the effort you put out,” he said. “As long as you do that, I have respect for you.”