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TWIN FALLS — A group of local martial arts students welcomed a distinguished visitor this weekend.

The Twin Falls Shotokan Karate Dojo hosted fifth degree black belt Hiroko Mori from Redding, California, for a series of practices Friday and Saturday at the College of Southern Idaho.

“I’ve always wanted to get Hiroko up here,” said Jesse Clark, head instructor of the Twin Falls dojo, who met Mori 15 years ago. “She’s a big part of the way I teach self-defense.”

And the interest is mutual: “I’ve always wanted to visit Jesse’s dojo,” Mori said. She sees it as an honor to meet Clark’s students and practice with them.

Practice they did. A lot of heavy breathing could be heard during the sessions as Mori directed them through stretches, punches, blocks, kicks and kata.

Mike Stout drove down from Emmett for the practices. “I first practiced with Hiroko in Horseshoe Bend,” he said. “I always look forward to an opportunity to train with our seniors.”

A second degree black belt, Stout has studied Shotokan Karate for nearly 40 years.

Brown belt and “dojo mom” Crissie Gard, Filer, brought chocolate chip cookies made with her “special recipe” to share with the class. “We don’t get a lot of female fifth degree black belts,” she said. “That’s huge for us.”

Mori is one of four female fifth degree, or godan, black belts in the Shotokan tradition in the U.S. Born and raised in Kurume City, Japan, Mori emigrated to California with her family.

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With three young children to care for, Mori felt uneasy with the prospect of protecting herself and them. “I wanted to learn self-defense,” she recalled. “As I practiced, I fell in love with karate.”

Since starting with Shotokan Karate in 1985, Mori found training as a way to express herself. “With karate, you don’t need words,” she said. “I could express myself without using language.”

Mori has been teaching since 1987. She promoted to godan, the highest Shotokan Karate rank, in 2018. She also trained in Jujitsu and Japanese fencing, known as Kendo.

The girls and women in attendance found special inspiration in Mori’s visit. “Half our dojo is female,” Clark said, adding Mori’s presence encourages all the student to continue their practice.

For Mori, Shotokan Karate is “much more mental than just technical.” As she led the students through the practice, she advised them to focus and maintain their concentration.

Shotokan Karate is one of many styles of martial arts. Brought to the U.S. from Japan by Tsutomu Ohshima in the 1950s, training in the dojos falls under the auspices of the nonprofit Shotokan Karate of America. Classes include teaching students punches, kicks and kata, or forms, as they work their way through ranks.

Besides holding a session on Friday evening and two on Saturday, students enjoyed the chance to socialize with Mori during a pizza party at Clark’s house Saturday night.

The Twin Falls Shotokan Karate classes are held at the CSI Student Recreation Building. More information is available on the website: twinfalls.ska.org.

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