Karate changed Andy Franz’s life.
Now, the owner of Goju-Ryu Karate in Selah is using the ancient martial art to change the lives of people around the Yakima Valley.
Franz and his eight volunteer instructors work with children and adults five evenings a week at 103 E. Naches Ave., teaching them how to be more disciplined, focused, confident and respectful.
“For us, it’s all about giving back,” said Franz, a fifth Dan black belt who opened Goju-Ryu in 2004. “All of my instructors learned from me, and now they’re using that knowledge to help others. We hear stories all the time about how kids are more focused and are doing better in school because of what they are learning here. We feel like we’re playing a really important role in their lives.”
But it’s not just the kids who are benefiting from what the school has to offer. About a third of the 80 regular students at Goju-Ryu are adults, with the oldest current member checking in at 73 years old.
“Our adult students learn self-defense skills, but they also improve their cardio and flexibility, build muscle and increase stamina,” Franz said. “They like coming to class because they can exercise without having to motivate themselves. Our instructors push them, but we make it fun.”
Having fun and giving back to the community are the driving forces for Franz, who works full time at a Yakima software company when he’s not teaching karate.
He said the school is more a passion than a career, but his 28 years of experience have helped him open new doors. Franz, 40, was recently named the United States Chief Instructor for the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Federation (IOGKF).
He was appointed to the position in September by the World Chief Instructor of the federation, the largest in the world with 75,000 members in 45 countries.
“As part of my new role, I have to teach at other schools around the country,” said Franz, who has been to Florida, California and New Jersey in recent months. “It’s a big commitment, but I really believe in what we are teaching.”
Franz can’t say enough about what karate did for him as a shy 12-year-old growing up in Selah. He did odd jobs to help pay for his tuition at a now-defunct dojo in Yakima, and he started to train more and more on his own so he could rise through the ranks.
He eventually became an instructor at the Yakima school under his longtime sensei, Kyle Sonnabend-Liberty, and later decided that he wanted to have a similar impact on the lives of others.
That experience convinced him to open Goju-Ryu in his hometown 15 years ago.
“My instructor helped change my focus in life and she really helped me develop as a person,” Franz said of Sonnabend-Liberty, who is now retired. “My idea for the school was to do the same for other people. Studying karate teaches you so much about life.”
Franz likes being able to provide area youths with an alternative to team sports, saying that every student can develop at his or her own pace. As they improve, they continue to build self-confidence and self-worth.
The side benefits for many Goju-Ryu students are better grades, learning to take initiative and exhibiting more respectful behavior at home.
“We help build strong, self-motivated kids, and that’s why we’ve been successful,” Franz said. “Each student’s journey is very individual, and some decide that they want to keep going. When the kids stay with it for long enough, they develop leadership abilities that allow them to teach their peers and instruct larger groups.”
Three up-and-coming students from Goju-Ryu recently had the opportunity to compete in the National American Championships in Groton, Conn.
Ryder Crawford, 11; Arya Brown, 9; and Warrick Wilburn, 8, represented the Selah school Nov. 2-3 against the best young karate students in the country, calling themselves “The Viking Destroyers.”
“This was a pretty big deal for us because it’s the first time we’ve ever sent any of our kids to compete at nationals,” Franz said. “They competed individually and as a team and ended up doing really well.”
Wilburn scored two second places and a third place, while Crawford earned three third places and a first place in continuous sparring (a two-minute round against an opponent).
“Continuous sparring is much more difficult, so for Ryder to win that event shows how far he has come in his training,” Franz said.
Franz is working with an instructor in Idaho to establish a second Northwest regional qualifying event so more students can have the chance to compete at nationals in the future.
“It’s such an amazing event, and we’d love to see more kids go next year,” he said.
Franz also has big plans for Goju-Ryu, saying that he would like to expand the space and start to offer classes during different times of the day.
At this point, anything is possible.
“We have a really strong instructor base and we have a lot of dedicated students,” he said. “I think we can keep growing.”
Learn more about Goju-Ryu Karate at http://www.selahkarate.com.