Dojo a go

Published 10:13 am Tuesday, September 2, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS SPIRITUAL ENTREPRENEUR: Harp Karate of Washington owner Robert Harp offers a number of Karate and Aiki ju do classes for all ages in his new downtown dojo.

SPIRITUAL ENTREPRENEUR: Harp Karate of Washington owner Robert Harp offers a number of Karate and Aiki ju do classes for all ages in his new downtown dojo.

There’s something spiritual in the simplicity of the new downtown Washington dojo.

The floor and walls are an empty white, allowing each karateka to clear their mind and immerse themselves in instruction. An imposing front window, overlooking the Turnage Theater, is all that separates the calming nature of the dojo from the outside world, while the he small blue mat, used for light sparring, pays homage to Harp Karate’s humble beginning.

“This space here, as my wife calls it, is a happy space,” said Sensei Robert Harp, the proprietor of Harp Karate of Washington. “You come here and leave your work, your stress outside that door. You come in, you meditate, you exercise …  some people lose weight, some people gain strength and some people develop a whole new awareness of this place they live in.”

The blue mat in the center of the open, 2500-square-foot space is the same one Harp used in his three-car garage, where he held private lessons for over two decades before he decided to expand his training ground. Believing in a multifaceted, low-stress approach to instruction, Harp, who has been teaching various forms of Martial Arts for over 30 years, used to have his students train among the dragonflies in Oakdale Cemetary or lightly spar at a local park. Each venue he considered a sacred dojo, treating it with respect.

While his newest dojo still offers the customary routes to achieving different belt grades, Harp Karate prides itself on adapting to each person’s specific needs, whether that is physical, behavioral, mental or spiritual.

“I’ve seen people melt like butter on a stove in here. It’s ageless. You can be a little kid or in your 60s or older. When you walk through that door, we can find something that fits you,” Harp said.

“People come in here and want to find the fountain of youth. Well, activity is the fountain of youth, exercise is the fountain of youth. I see people who I ‘ve known for 20 years who are black belts and I swear they haven’t aged. They have this glow about them.”

Harp’s philosophy is to help people “find themselves.” Self-defense classes, physical fitness instruction or mind-clearing meditation have helped students of all ages and sizes gain confidence, relieve stress and rehabilitate injuries.

And Martial Arts seem to run in the Harp family. William Harp, Robert’s brother, opened up his first dojo in their native town of Rochester, N.Y in the early 1970s. Still in business, the original Harp Karate has been a staple in the Rochester area, as the demand and popularity of Marital Arts has grown.

“Way back in the ‘70s, Marshal Arts and karate had this mysticalness about it. Everyone was watching kung fu movies, even though they might have been lousy, and people were in awe about it. Now, well, if we had a phone book, it would be four pages full on each side. That’s how far Marshal Arts has come.”

Robert Harp, who first discovered his love for karate in 1977, worked his way from White Belt to fourth-degree Black Belt in multiple forms of Martial Arts, including his academy’s signature form, Aiki ju do. He’s also hosted self-defense seminars at colleges, churches and YMCAs around the area.

While the minimum age to join a class is 10 (though, certain exceptions can be made), Harp encourages parents to join and involve their younger children in their training, having them learn by example.

Harp holds his class for all ages from 7-8 p.m. on Monday nights. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, kids take to the mats from 6-7 p.m., while adults train from 7:15-8:30. As a part of Harp Karate’s grand opening special, $59 provides students of any age a uniform and a month of unlimited lessons.