Gerald Fehlman began learning karate fresh out of the Air Force. He was 32 years old when he became a student of martial arts.
"I was very fortunate they came here [to East Syracuse]," he said.
It's been 40 years since his first day as a white belt. He's now 72 years old and going strong, testing for his seventh degree black belt. There are 10 black belt degrees total.
"Karate is a lifelong commitment, regardless whether you make black belt," Fehlman said. "There's always more to learn. If anybody says they have a black belt and that they know everything, believe me, they probably don't know much at all."
In addition, patience is a virtue and one that Fehlman attributes learning through martial arts.
"You learn to have a lot of patience with your self, which helps in a lot of ways," he said. "You don't do anything physical unless it's a last resort. If you can get away from anything without hurting anybody or getting hurt, it's best to take that avenue."
Essentially, there are only two titles in Japanese martial arts such as karate or judo: sensei (a teacher or instructor of Japanese martial arts) and senpai or sempai. The term senpai generally refers to the highest ranked student in a club who is not yet a black belt. They are expected to assist the sensei with younger or less experienced students.
More than 10 years ago, Fehlman was awarded the title of sempai.
A little history
Founded in 1963, the Central New York Karate and Kobudo School is the oldest karate school in the Central New York area. Students train in traditional Okinawan Goju Ryu Seibukai (Pure Heart Association) -- the Go-Ju-Ryu (go-hard; ju-soft, ryu-style) karate system developed by Karate Master Chojun Miyagi. Students come to CNY Karate for many reasons including self-defense, self-development and exercise.
Outside of the Okinawa school in Japan, the CNY locations act as the headquarters for all countries outside of Okinawa. Local dojos can be found in East Syracuse and Camillus. Sensei Marvin Labbate is the international director.
"There's no teacher with any more knowledge than [Labbate] has to teach this," Fehlman said.