Richard Guerra's So Ryu Karate- Austin TX
It's depressing to realize these places exist and take money from unsuspecting people, who will then go around thinking they know how to defend themselves. Or they'll tell others they earned a whatever-belt in karate, and the others will think that means something about their discipline, hard work, skills and etc.
I sat in on a So Ryu Karate class taught by Richard Guerra in April 2009. The classes are held in a small stripmall facility. At the front is a nice office with a desk and several chairs, a window to look into the training area, and several certificates and photographs prominently displayed. The website used to have an adults' class scheduled separately from the childrens' class, but the two have been combined at this time.
I arrived about 10 minutes before class was scheduled to start and chatted with Mr. Guerra first. He did not ask me any questions such as my age, previous martial arts experience, current injuries, or goals for studying karate. The entire time was spent regaling me with tales of his illustrious military service, his lifelong career studying martial arts, and his miraculous (his word, not mine) escapes from multiple-attacker scenarios using the techniques he taught in this class.
As it turns out, there was only one student, a young man in his early 20s with below-shoulder length hair, glasses, a tissue paper-weight white cotton gi, and a black belt around his waist. He did not seem surprised to be the only one in the class.
The training area has full-length mirrors down one wall and a few small pads (for punching? but they're only 1" thick, about 2'x3') hanging on another wall. The floor is entirely linoleum tile. There is a changing room, which is clean and amply-sized, that has puzzle mats stacked along a wall. The facility was air-conditioned to the point of being chilly, but Mr. Guerra also turned on several oscillating fans during the class. I decided not to participate in the class myself as I was prepping for a jiu jitsu tournament in the near future and I didn't want to tempt fate.
Class began with some desultory stretching. It appeared that the student stretched his hamstrings, but nothing else. The stretching was not led by Mr. Guerra and as it took about 45 seconds, was neither thorough nor adequate to prevent injury. There were no warmups or calisthenics.
Mr. Guerra told his black belt student to begin with various kata, which were performed (mostly) crisply, though the space was not large enough to complete some of the longer patterns without resetting in the center of the room. It appeared there were only 5 kata, but the young man needed reminders on which kata was which, so my impression is that kata are not a regular part of the class.
Mr. Guerra frequently interrupted the kata to show me, sitting on a folding chair in the corner, how the movements were actually useful self-defense techniques. Using his student as uke, he applied a series of joint locks and near-throws, slowly and gently, while holding the student up so he wouldn't fall on the hard floor. I believe Mr. Guerra probably thought I was interested in the self-defense applications of this style, perhaps because I am female, because he focused the entire discussion on what I would learn about defeating purse snatchers and the like.
I noticed that his student's hair was occasionally a hindrance to performing a technique, since it hung in the way and had to be repositioned, yet neither person said anything about putting it in a ponytail or braiding it. Aliveness was completely absent in the training and demonstrations.
After about 40 minutes of kata and demonstrated self-defense moves, Mr. Guerra asked his student to demonstrate a series of punches (jab/cross and jab/cross/hook combinations) back and forth across the floor. The student was able to get about 3 sets before reaching the opposite wall; the room was only wide enough for perhaps 4 people to fit comfortably side by side while doing these exercises. After about 6 trips up and back, the student was visibly winded, dripping with sweat, and Mr. Guerra offered him a break to get some water and catch his breath. Some 3-4 minutes later, he instructed his student to do front kicks up and down the floor. He was winded much sooner this time.
Class had been running about 50 minutes (it is scheduled for an hour) when Mr. Guerra offered quitting early, which the student gratefully accepted. I chatted with the student for a while, when he was able to speak, and as I recall he had begun training with Mr. Guerra as a whitebelt some four years ago. He's very proud of his blackbelt. He also tried the Wing Chun/Tsun flavor available at another location of that school, under another instructor, but liked So Ryu Karate better, as he felt it was a better workout and more real-world applicable.
I excused myself and thanked them for the opportunity to observe. I don't plan on returning.