Led by a spirited sensei, Pine Forest Karate marks 20 years in Florence

  • Ivonne Vidal of Hatfield, from left, Nancy Owen of Northampton, Jefferson Pitcher of Florence and Mary McKitrick, of Florence, practice Ueshiro Shorin-Ryu karate at Pine Forest Karate. Owen and McKitrick are both fourth-degree black belts. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Daniel Gobillot, left, who is the owner and instructor of Pine Forest Karate in Florence, leads his class. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Daniel Gobillot, left, who is the owner and instructor of Pine Forest Karate in Florence, leads his class. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mary McKitrick, from left, Nancy Owen, Singwen Mientka, Brooke Moye, Ivonne Vidal and Jefferson Pitcher practice Ueshiro Shorin-Ryu karate at Pine Forest Karate in Florence, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Daniel Gobillot, left, who is the owner and instructor of Pine Forest Karate in Florence, leads his class. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Daniel Gobillot, left, who is the owner and instructor of Pine Forest Karate in Florence, leads his class beside Jefferson Pitcher, of Florence, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mary McKitrick, a fourth-degree black belt from Florence, uses sai beside Jefferson Pitcher, left, and Daniel Gobillot during Gobillot's class at Pine Forest Karate in Florence, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nancy Owen, a fourth-degree black belt from Northampton, uses a nunchucka during weapons practice at Pine Forest Karate in Florence, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Singwen Mientka, of Leeds, and Daniel Gobillot, who is the owner and instructor of Pine Forest Karate in Florence, use roku shakubo during weapons training. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 8/19/2018 5:03:26 PM

Thirty years ago, Daniel Gobillot was working as a real estate broker when a man came into his office looking to rent a space for a dojo, the Japanese term for a martial arts training hall.

After finding his client a suitable place, it didn’t take long before the tables turned and he became a client of the martial arts instructor.

“I was his first student and paid for the classes with my commission from the sale,” said Gobillot.

So began a journey in martial arts that turned into a successful business enterprise still going strong two decades later.

Now a seventh-degree black belt in karate, Sensei Gobillot has been the owner of his own dojo in Florence for 20 years. Ueshiro Pine Forest Karate Dojo celebrated this milestone at the end of last month with a workout atop Pony Mountain in Williamsburg, followed by a barbeque.

About 30 people attended the event, including some people from other states like New York and New Jersey who are part of Ueshiro Shorin Ryu Karate USA, a worldwide organization that Gobillot’s dojo is a part of.

As a part of Ueshiro, all of Gobillot’s classes begin and end with him and his students saying “Onegai shimasu” to one another, which translates to “please teach me.”

“There is no sense of ego in karate, no sense that I am better than you” said Jefferson Pitcher of Florence, who has been training with Gobillot two to three times a week for three years. He described how special it is to see Gobillot, a seventh degree black belt, bow to his daughter Ida, a white belt, and say “Onegai shimasu.”

“We have a really strong community here,” Pitcher said. “There is a sense of connectedness among us that I really value.”

Pitcher also explained how Gobillot’s teaching style and the setting of the dojo have enhanced his experience in the martial arts.

“Dan is a special instructor,” said Pitcher. “He has an incredible wealth of knowledge and is gentle and understanding.”

And while many karate dojos are in somewhat “dreadful spaces” like strip malls or dark gyms, the Pine Forest Karate Dojo is open and bright, located on the second floor of the Arts and Industry Building in Florence overlooking the Mill River.

The dojo was built by Gobillot with help from his students back in 1998. They tore down walls, resanded the floors, installed mirrors, and built benches and a kamiza.

“It was a labor of love and it’s a pretty incredible spot,” said Pitcher.

“It’s unusual for a dojo to be around for this long because you don’t make any money out of it,” said Gobillot, who explained that he still works as a real estate broker and founded several businesses to support the dojo.

Classes are held every day but Saturday. The fees are $80 a month for adults and $50 a month for children, with the first week free for new students. There are also family rates.

His dedication to Pine Forest can be attributed to the community built around it, as well as the way karate has benefited his life personally.

“Karate has helped me through highs and lows,” said Gobillot. “I come in and wipe the slate clean. I always come out feeling good.”

Gobillot explained that karate is 20 percent physical and 80 percent mental.

“When you first start, it can feel 100 percent physical, but once you learn the moves you can get to a state of mushin, where your mind is free from thought” said Gobillot.

Karate helps Pitcher destress and let go of things that are troubling him in his life.

“That’s the zen pursuit, to center yourself and turn your mind off,” said Pitcher. “I can come in stressed about something and then I notice that an hour and a half later, I haven’t thought about it.”

He also explained how there is a common misconception that karate is a fighting art.

“The first thing you learn when you start is that there is no first strike in karate. The first move is always a block,” said Pitcher. “If you apply that to everything, the world would be a different place. There is something very hopeful about it.”




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