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CSULB’s Karate Kid Keeps Shotokan Program Strong

Published: March 1, 2011

Forty-three years ago, his curiosity piqued by a chemistry lab partner, Sam Abboud attended a CSULB Shotokan Karate Club practice. Instantly, he fell in love.

“I was in a chemistry class and my partner in the lab was a member of the club,” remembered Abboud, a lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology. “Every time we were waiting for something to boil, he would be doing some moves so I asked him, ‘what are you doing?’ He invited me to come and watch the club he belonged to. I joined and never left. He quit like three weeks later.” That was 1969.

As a foreign student from Lebanon who arrived in the United States at the age of 20, Abboud worked hard to earn three degrees at CSULB – a B.A. in journalism, along with a B.A. and M.A. in political science. He sheepishly confesses to never using any of those degrees professionally. When he finished classes in 1978, he returned home to Lebanon before eventually coming back to CSULB and, by his own admission, his first love, Shotokan Karate.

“I was in love with it from the very beginning,” he said. “That’s why I kept going to school.” Apparently others love it as well, because out of the hundreds of students he has instructed over the years, a good number of individuals have been with him for 20 years. “If you ask any of my students if this enhances their life, they would say definitely. That’s why they keep coming back.” The success of the club can been seen by the fact he has 14 other black belts in his current group of approximately 50 members.

When Don DePree, his instructor at CSULB since 1969, left in 1992, “the university gave me all his classes,” said Abboud. So, for nearly two decades, he has been running the show with a firm but loving hand. He also teaches similar courses at Cal State Fullerton.

Abboud is quick to correct you when referring to Shotokan Karate as a “sport,” pointing out that is a martial art.

“It’s not a sport, but a ‘do’ [pronounced doe], which in Japanese means ‘way.’ The karate way is not only physical, but mental,” he added. “That makes it different. Do people get hurt? Sometimes, but not very badly. We don’t consider a cut lip or a bloody nose very bad. It is martial arts, self defense. The intent is to make your strongest attacks and blocks. That way, there are fewer injuries.”

Soon after meeting Abboud, it’s easy to see karate is not just another class for him to teach, but rather a way of life. He even met his wife, a second-degree black belt, in a karate class. He also feels strongly that anyone can benefit from joining the club or taking one of his classes.

“It’s not only about kicking and punching,” said Abboud about karate. “It touches more on the character of a person, so we teach students to be honest, self-disciplined and patient. Students come into this club, and after a while they open up, they conquer their fears. I’ve seen people come in timid and scared and all of a sudden they are facing their fears and they change. I don’t pre-judge people. I take what they have and provide them the tools to change themselves, to become confident, open up and become able to stand up for themselves. It helps them find their real selves because we don’t think anybody is weak.”

CSULB’s Karate Kid Keeps Program Strong

Abboud’s teaching approach comes directly from the master himself, Tsutomu Ohshima, who turned 80 years old in 2010. Well-known and respected in the martial arts world, he is the founder of Shotokan Karate of America and about 10 other affiliated karate organizations around the world. Ohshima was one of the last students of Master Funakoshi, who is credited with introducing karate to Japan from Okinawa.

Abboud, who has been a black belt since 1973, attained fifth-degree black belt in 2002, the highest rank in SKA.

“The belt is not the main goal. It’s a goal to achieve, which is fine, but it’s the every day of training and living it,” he said. “Are you being strict with yourself? Are you honest with the things that you do? Are you maintaining the martial arts mentality? This is what the club is built on. My teacher gave me the spirit and I pass it on to my students. We pride ourselves in teaching exactly as Tsutomu Ohshima was taught by Master Funakoshi, and so on, linking the CSULB Karate Club directly back to the knowledge of the ancient karate masters.”

And while he is certainly proud of his personal accomplishments over the past 40-plus years, Abboud is equally proud of the CSULB Karate Club, which has gained a strong reputation both within SKA and internationally. Last summer several CSULB Karate Club members had the honor of traveling to Israel to represent SKA in an international tournament, where Trung Pham, a graduate of CSULB with a B.S. degree in biology and a master’s degree in physical therapy, won first place. Last year was a banner one for the club as Pham was chosen by SKA as its West Region Member of the Year and SKA named it Dojo of the year out of 134 clubs throughout the United States and Canada.

“Sam Abboud is our dojo leader who builds the foundation of our CSULB Shotokan Karate Club,” said Pham. “He sets the tone and etiquette on how the club should run. He encourages us to push our hardest and put out our very best not only with punches and kicks like in karate, but with all aspects of our daily lives, whether it is with school, work or our relationships with family and friends. He exploits our strengths and challenges us to improve on our weaknesses; thus overall this builds character in all of us. Sam lectures to all of us in the Karate Club, ‘Never be satisfied at where you are at, there is always more to learn.'”