Zen Do Kai studio celebrates 50 years

Gavin Dutcher, 10, of Gloversville, a student at Zen Do Kai Karate Studio in Johnstown, breaks a board at the studio’s 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

JOHNSTOWN — Zen Do Kai karate students came from around the state and the country to honor the founder and director of Zen Do Kai Karate Studio at the studio’s 50th anniversary.

Founder and self-made martial artist Michael Campos, whose studio has some 52 affiliates nationwide, led a room full of students through drills for more than an hour before ceremonies and celebrations began.

Campos presented Bob and Bonnie Streeter, who became owners and managers of the studio 15 years ago, with a martial arts weapon called a tiger fork and a plaque.

Immediately following, Robert Gifford, senior ranking member of four Zen Do Kai schools in Texas, gave Campos a black-and-red belt signifying his promotion to the 10th don, the highest black belt rank, for lifetime achievement.

Gifford said Campos had turned down the honor for 10 years, seeing the belt as “no big deal, just a piece of cotton,” but Gifford lauded him for his “hard work, dedication and commitment” to the martial arts and the school.

Both Gifford and Campos credited karate with giving them self-confidence. Gifford said he was at the lowest status in high school and was beaten and injured by a coach, but karate changed that.

Later, Campos said that he grew up in a tough high school in Manhattan and got knocked out in a fight with another student. When the two were again on speaking terms, Campos asked how he got knocked out. Karate was the answer, so Campos joined a club that at first allowed him as a youth only to learn judo but his persistent interest in karate won out.

Now semi-retired from teaching karate, Campos said he was “humbled” by the growth of the Johnstown studio and affiliates. “I didn’t have a plan,” he said. “It just morphed. The class continues to grow and grow.”

Campos said teaching karate is more than about self-defense. It teaches perseverance, respect, self-discipline and commitment to a goal. Both the teacher, called sensei, and the student bow to each other in respect before the exercises, he noted.

Ron Stock of Fonda, whose 9-year-old grandson, Gabrial, is a Zen Do Kai student, echoed the importance of these values in the school, such as “respect, loyalty, duty to the community,” the same kind of attitudes his grandson is learning in Cub Scouts.

“You don’t go out and show off in school,” he said. “You protect yourself and your family.”

The students are taught to say “yes sir, yes ma’am” to the instructors, he said.

Heather Smith of Johnstown said her son Matthew started karate at 3.

“We were looking for something for him to do,” she said. “He loves it.”

The reception behind the studio at 490 N. Perry St. included demonstrations by students from beginning juniors to advanced adults. Karate students, including Gavin Dutcher, 10, of Gloversville, were breaking boards with their fists.

Campos graduated from Fulton-Montgomery Community College and the State University at Albany. He taught social studies in the Fonda-Fultonville School District from 1968 until retiring in 1997. In 1969 Campos established the first Karate program in the Fulton-Montgomery-Hamilton county region at FMCC, said Bonnie Streeter.

Five years later the Zen-Do Kai Martial Arts Studio opened on Main Street in Johnstown where it slowly grew and developed into an organization of instructors from many styles and systems with members in several states and countries.

The ZDK hosted the first open karate competitions in the Capital District in the early 1970s, the first seminars by world-renowned instructors and, starting in 1983, the first weekend open martial arts camp in the state, which is currently held in Herkimer, said Streeter. Over the past 50 years, the ZDK has trained thousands of adults and children, presented hundreds of demonstrations and school programs, and established a reputation for high standards and quality instruction, she said.

Streeter said Campos has instructed around the United States, including at Chuck Norris’ United Fighting Arts Federation’s convention in Las Vegas in 2001 and 2002.

“This is one of the biggest reunions we’ve ever had,” she added.

By Josh Bovee

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