BY JEFF FALK
There exists a school of thought that says if one pursues his or her passion, that money or financial security will follow. John Devine’s passion has always been reaching, touching and helping others.
His tool? A discipline that goes by the name of ‘karate’.
“I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to teach karate for a living,” said Devine. “The school kept growing and I got to a point in my life where I didn’t have responsiblity to other people, so I decided to give it a try. A lot of people were skeptical. But I knew if I believed in myself, I could do this.”
The advantages of practicing karate are undeniable. Self-discipline, weight loss, respect, self-defense, confidence, focus, concentration, trust. Take your pick.
But while some of those positive effects are superficial in scope, Devine’s approach to karate is more spiritual in nature.
“The biggest thing karate has done for me is teach me how to handle adversity,” said Devine. “You’ve got to walk the walk. ‘How do I use these skills in my personal life?’ It teaches you to be more respectful, to become more disciplined.
“When I first started, I thought it would be cool to learn self-defense,” Devine continued. “Then I started to realize this is more than people know. The dojo is a place where you can come and grow mentally and spiritually.”
Devine is the owner, proprietor and sensei of Lebanon Isshinryu Karate School, located in the Quentin Circle shopping center in North Cornwall Township. A ninth-degree black belt, he’s been operating the school full-time for the past 20 years.
“Ron McClellan was the former owner and he was going to close the school,” explained Devine. “So he came to me and asked if I wanted to take over the school. I had six students at the time, but I decided to do it.
“We had class two times a week,” Devine continued. “But after a while, I had to add more classes. People just started coming more and more. It was just adults at first, and then we started getting kids. And eventually, we started getting women.”
Devine began studying karate under McClellan in 1968. Four years later, he received his black belt.
“I was an average guy,” said Devine. “I was a little self-conscious. And it helped me go up in front of people and hold head my head up. I learned so many things about myself.
“But I had no idea where it would lead me,” Devine added. “I thought it was like football. It had a season and I would go on to something else when it was over.”
It was through Devine’s initial curiosity in the martial arts that many Lebanon residents have come to learn about karate.
“Back then, there wasn’t much known about karate, at least not here,” said Devine. “I was 15,16, I bought a book and started reading about it. Ron McClellan moved here, opened the karate school at his house and ran an ad in the paper.
“I was always involved in sports in high school, but I was an average player,” Devine continued. “When I got married, I didn’t have anything physical to do. But I was always curious about it (karate), interested in it, intrigued by it.”
While it was never Devine’s direct intention to help countless Lebanon County residents discover more about themsleves, that’s exactly what he’s achieved over the last three decades.
“I never really gave that a lot of thought,” said Devine, when asked how many lives he’s touched, directly or indirectly. “I try to keep myself busy. But once in a while, I’ll run into somebody and they’ll say something nice to me, and I’ll reflect on it. I’m always trying to stay humble or have humility.
“I guess sometimes you don’t realize how much you’re doing,” Devine added. “There’s certainly been a lot of people through those doors. Maybe I helped a lot of people, but they’ve influenced me too.”
Still, there remains many people who don’t know exactly what karate is all about. Perhaps the prelude to teaching is breaking down myths or clearing up misconceptions.
“Some people don’t understand who these people are yelling and running around in costumes (gees),” said Devine. “Until people meet another group of people, they just don’t know. A lot of people are intimidated or think it might look awkward. I’ve had people say to me, ‘I have to get into better shape before I try this.’ I tell them, ‘We’ll help you get in better shape.’
“Some people come because they want to kick someone’s butt,” added Devine. “Some people want to do something different. Some want a really hard work-out. And some people are curious. I’m going to meet your needs. But my hope is that along the way, you’re going to see it’s a lot more. If you’re taking martial arts, you’re training to be a leader.”
Any maybe the most important lesson karate can teach us is to be true to ourselves.
“I always wanted to teach good, quality karate. I didn’t want to just give belts away,” said Devine. “If you really, truly believe in what you’re doing, and if you do the things you have to do, it will happen. What happened to me in martial arts, it is amazing.
“Karate’s not for everyone,” concluded Devine, “but it’s made such a difference in my life. And it’s not the physical part, it’s just made me such a better person. I’m just thankful.”
And a grateful heart is a happy heart.
Editor’s note: This piece on John Devine originally aired on May 26, 2011 on Lebanon Sports Buzz. It was reprinted with permission.