Craven’s oldest karate school teaches students to fight back fear

When you enter Ronnie Lovick’s dojo, you come with respect.

It’s a word that students at the New Bern School of Martial Arts, the oldest organized karate school operating in Craven County, hear over and over again. And as the school’s head instructor, or sensei, respect is a word Lovick has held dear since he began studying karate in the mid-1970s.

“When you enter the dojo, you bow to show respect to the dojo,” Lovick explained in an interview on Wednesday. “If we do this, it will do us good.”

The New Bern School of Martial Arts was founded in 1974 by Sam Pearson, a Marine Corps veteran who worked for the Craven County Sheriff’s Office and later as Chief of Security at Twin Rivers Mall.

Photos of Pearson, who died in 2014, take pride of place on the walls of the dojo. Under his leadership, the school became a haven for students dedicated to Shōbayashi Shōrin-ryu, a style of Okinawan karate.

Although it shares basic moves with many other forms of karate, Lovick said Shōrin-ryu also has unique characteristics.

“We don’t do high kicks, which sets us apart from some other schools,” he said. “We punch using both knuckles on the front of our punches rather than the whole hand punch. And then we use our body parts – elbows, knees and palms – to strike.

Lucy Sabitt, 13, trains with Sensei David Harris, a fourth-degree black belt, at the New Bern School of Martial Arts last week.

Lovick, who had previously studied taekwondo, joined the New Bern School of Martial Arts in the mid-1970s and studied with Pearson. Respect, it turned out, was something the instructor grudgingly bestowed.

“I went to school with some of his students, so after my taekwondo instructor left, I talked to Master Pearson about joining his dojo,” Lovick recalled. “He said to me, ‘If you think you can hold on, you come and we’ll see.'”

Lovick carried this “show me” attitude to a new generation of students. Although no special skills are required to join his dojo, a strong sense of discipline is crucial, he said.

“It just seems fun at first, but it’s also tough. There are other places where kids are running around and it’s more like a daycare center, but it’s not here,” Lovick commented.

After early conditioning and cardio training, students begin to work on their kata, or forms, which emphasize the moves they will need to learn to protect themselves.

They also begin to learn the Japanese words for basic martial arts tools and necessities, such as dojo (school), obi (belt), and mizu (water).

As they progress, students earn stripes that show their development and the color of the belt they are working towards. All students start as white belts and slowly progress to yellow, green and, for the most dedicated, brown and black belts.

A total of 250 sit-ups are also part of Lovick’s requirements. If a student gives up before the end of the last sit-up, they are shown the door.

“It’s to show that you’re ready to work, that even if you’re tired or exhausted, you keep going,” Lovick said. “You can’t stop.”

“If you’re stuck, you defend yourself”

Antonio Montalvo works his kata, or karate moves, with Sensei Ray Clark at the New Bern School of Martial Arts.

Ask one of Lovick’s students or a fellow sensei why he decided to study Shōbayashi Shōrin-ryu martial arts, and you’ll likely get a very personal story.

Now in his sixth year, Lovick’s grandson Brandon Forbes said he gained ‘mental calm, breath control and knowledge of self-defense’ from his time at New Bern School of Martial Arts.

Forbes, who earned the rank of yellow belt, said he recently used each of those skills during a series of bullying incidents in which he was called names and punched in the head and neck. face.

“Sometimes if someone picks on you, you have to use your mental knowledge to stop yourself from doing things that will mess you up in school,” Forbes said. “What I’ve learned is that if I stay calm, usually the guy who’s laughing at you will be in trouble.”

Lucy Sabitt, 13, and Antonio Montalvo, 9, said the lessons helped them gain confidence in their personal lives.

“I’m usually quite calm and they taught me to speak frankly,” Antonio said.

Sensei David Harris, a fourth-degree black belt, said he started taking classes with Pearson in the 1970s after becoming a fan of the hit TV series “Kung Fu.” Like Forbes, he said his knowledge of martial arts helped him deal with bullying at school.

“When I was in high school, I had a few confrontations, so I thought I better learn some self-defense techniques,” he explained.

Sensei David Harris demonstrates a karate kicking technique during a training session last week at the New Bern School of Martial Arts.

Lovick pointed out that, despite portrayals in popular culture, martial arts teachings stress the importance of avoiding conflict, not causing it. But if other options fail, Lovick said, it was his job to prepare his students to fight back quickly and decisively.

“If you get stuck, you fight back,” he said. “We go to work then, we do the kicks, we do the punches. We destroy the parts of the body that will disable an attacker and we destroy them.

“If I am attacked, my intention is to destroy the person”, he added, “I have no other choice”.

Taking a break from going through a set of kata forms with Antonio, Sensei Ray Clark said he came to martial arts as a way to gain a sense of independence.

“I have no intention of hurting anyone, that’s not why I’m doing this,” Clark said. “The reason I started was because I found myself in a situation where I suddenly realized that I couldn’t depend on anyone else. So I started studying and fell in love with art. It’s a way of life, that’s how it is. »

According to Clark, his martial arts training also helped him live with a life-threatening medical condition.

“They told me I had heart failure two years ago, my heart was only half beating. Well, I started training with sensei (Lovick), doing different things. The other day my doctor told me he would see me in a year because my heart was beating normally,” Clark said.

A moral code for life

A picture of school founder Sam Pearson hangs on the wall of the New Bern School of Martial Arts, the oldest active karate school in Craven County.

Although the New Bern School of Martial Arts has operated at its current location at 623 Hancock St. for 15 years, Lovick said the school was housed at numerous sites around New Bern, including the former Woman’s Club once located at Union Point Park. .

“All the wind and cold would come into that building, so we would make a fire to heat it up while we practiced,” Lovick recalled.

Although he takes the rules he sets for his dojo seriously, Lovick, who retired in 2019 after 30 years with the New Bern Police Department, said he’s not as hard-nosed as his former instructor.

“He was so harsh. You didn’t enter the dojo unless you took your shoes off, that’s how it was. And it wasn’t about publicity or the limelight at all. Once a reporter came from New York to do a story and he fired him,” Lovick said.

That kind of dedication to craft rather than flash has served Lovick well, he said, both in his police work and in his previous work as an investigator for SE Nichols Inc., a discount chain that formerly operated a store on Neuse Boulevard in New Bern.

“I think anyone I’ve worked with would tell you that my martial arts training has been put to good use,” Lovick said.

The training has also paid off in state and national competitions. Trophies and awards from all years are prominently displayed outside the front door of the dojo. Lovick said New Bern School of Martial Arts students and instructors competed in states from Virginia to Florida and New York, always with the New Bern flag in tow.

“We did a good job,” he said. “We won everywhere.”

Although he only recently turned 8, King Irwin has been taking lessons with Lovick for two years and has competed in several tournaments. Although he initially shunned the spotlight, he said the experience helped him deal with the verbal bullying he faced at school.

“It made me stronger and taught me how to stand up for myself against bullies and stuff,” King said.

At the end of their training session last week, the students listened to Clark read a book about Bushido, the moral code adopted by the Japanese warrior class, the samurai, which dates back to the 8th century.

Bushido identifies eight virtues that samurai must possess: courage, mercy, politeness, honesty, honor, loyalty, character, and self-control.

“He basically teaches how to be a good moral person,” Clark said. “With the physical skills we teach, we want to make sure we never create a monster. The mental and spiritual part is equally important.

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