Art on the battlefield: Karate instructor aims to preserve tradition

Castillo’s Shotokan Karate-Do has been at Body Zone Health and Fitness Club in Watsonville for almost a year. (Photo by Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — When Sensei Fred Castillo was first introduced to Shotokan Karate in the 1960s, it was nothing like he expected.

Castillo had run into a friend who mentioned he was on his way to practice karate. Castillo was intrigued, as he was looking for a new way to stay in shape.

But physicality, he learned, was only one small part of the practice.

“The first thing they did was teach me how I should be standing and walking, proper manners, and how to have a strong spirit,” Castillo said. “It was very difficult for me — I’d never had that kind of discipline.”

But the art of karate stuck with Castillo, and he has continued practicing and teaching it in Watsonville for decades. Last year, Castillo’s Shotokan Karate-Do moved into Body Zone Health and Fitness Club on Main Street.

Castillo and his black belt students met in January and deliberated on how best to bring new students into the dojo.

“We really just want get the word out that we’re still here,” Castillo said. “We’re eager to pass along this tradition.”

Karate has become a part of Castillo, who grew up in Watsonville and spent 50 years as an employee at Watsonville Community Hospital.

“Karate is my nature,” he said. “It’s direct. I like the idea of an instant clash.”

Castillo mentioned that in some modern forms of martial arts, including karate, the physical aspect of the practice and the goal of winning trophies and medals has overshadowed its traditional values.

“I’m always trying to emphasize that true karate is not a sport,” he said. “It is a battlefield art. You learn that if something is not worth dying for, it’s not worth fighting for. You train to never have to fight in the first place.”

On Jan. 19, Castillo’s Shotokan Karate-Do held a black belt certification ceremony for two members: Francisco “Frank” Torres, who received his second degree black belt, and Herb Decker, who was surprised with his third degree belt. Decker, Castillo explained, had struggled with illnesses last year and had to put his examination on hold.

But Castillo knew he was ready.

“We don’t hold examinations every month,” Castillo said. “So you get examined, and awarded, when I know that you are ready. Some will move faster than others and that’s fine. Everyone is different.”


Fred Castillo (right) and second degree black belt Frank Torres oversee a recent practice. (Photo by Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

The ceremony also recognized the parents and families of the students, who were praised for their own dedication of support.

In November, Castillo was awarded Instructor of the Year by the Bay Area Cities Karate and Kubudo Alliance at its annual Championship Tournament.

“Usually, accepting awards goes against my grain,” he admitted. “But it felt really good. I just want people to know: I didn’t get to where I am because I was smarter or better than anyone else. I had a lot of help.”

Castillo’s Shotokan Karate-Do offers classes for both children ages 6-10 and “adults” over the age of 11. Castillo said that for younger participants, the main focus is on learning etiquette and self-awareness, and to have fun. Adult classes focus on skill and character development.

“People often ask me why I still do this,” Castillo said. “Well, it’s who I am. It doesn’t feel like a job. I am honored for the opportunity to pass this tradition along.”


Classes at Castillo’s Shotokan Karate-Do are held Monday-Thursday at Body Zone Health and Fitness Club, located at 1810 Main St. For information, call 728-1280 or 588-1785.


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