It is always warming to see how KIA martial artists, who were once youngsters, have grown into adulthood and are now parents with their own children. This week’s Pic of the Week features one such very accomplished Kiado-Ryu Black Belt.
Chris “Growler” Grau is the 36th Black Belt of the KIA, having achieved his 1st Dan on 26 August 1995. Growler is now only one of two 4th Dan Kiado-Ryu Black Belts. The other is Dan “Basai” Asay. In the 2013 archive photo below, Growler is pictured with pre-test buddies Kim “Cultivator” Thomas and Tristan “Raptor” Ligtvoet as they were all moving up in rank. Cultivator continued his studies and now holds a 5th Dan rating and “Master Thomas” title. Raptor is working for his 2nd Dan Black Belt.
As each of us migrates through the highways and byways of our destinies, life changes. Growler, who is also our KIA webmaster, now lives in the northern San Diego area. He has a lovely wife, Christa, and two just-as-lovely daughters—Kaylee and Brenna. In his own words, here is Growler’s story accompanied by some very cool photos of his karate girls! Enjoy!
I started training at the KIA in April of 1991, at the age of 14, shortly after seeing one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies with my friends (based on the date, I think it was the second one). Like many young boys, I thought martial arts looked cool in the movies. Unlike most young boys, I was determined to learn it. Having received a flyer for the KIA upon leaving the theater, my mom let me try it out. I can still remember my first lesson, learning to punch while Steve Vertun held the striking shield for me and explained how to make a fist. My first instructor was Greg Bendel, who I credit for nurturing my appreciation for the finer details of karate.
Over the next few years, I would become what is frequently referred to as a Dojo Rat. I was on the floor, training as often as I could. I would take the regular classes, but I would augment that training with private lessons with Mr. King. In August of 1995, at the age of 18, I earned my black belt. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, life took me away. I attended college at the University of California, San Diego, where I took classes in tai-chi and aikido. It was at this time that I started looking at the wider world of martial arts.
After college, I started building my career as a computer programmer. Having not found a suitable dojo (I took a free class at what is commonly referred to as a McDojo, but immediately hated it), I let martial arts fall by the wayside.
In January of 2006, I made the decision to resurrect my training. I knew Mr. King was still teaching students, so I started driving to Lake Forest once per week to train with him. Over the next eight years, I would recover my long neglected kata and work my way up to 4th dan. Once again, however, life got in the way and I had to stop making the weekly treks.
By this time, 2014, I was married and had two daughters. The oldest of which I had enrolled in a karate class at a local karate dojo. For several months, I would watch the classes, longing for regular training. Finally, I stepped onto the mat and started training with a new group of what are now good friends.
My new style is Kobayashi Shorin-ryu, which is the oldest style on Okinawa, the birthplace of karate. It has been a phenomenal two years, once again becoming a Dojo Rat, training consistently, and learning about the rich history and tradition of karate. I have been fortunate enough to train with some of the best karate practitioners in the world, through our association’s annual training camps. Soon, I hope to visit Okinawa to train and learn more about karate’s history.
This month, I earned my brown belt and am about a year away from testing for my black belt. Not only do I train, I help teach the kids classes. I have found that there is very little more fulfilling than teaching a child, watching them grow, and knowing that I have had some small influence in their character. Additionally, I am an assistant coach for our dojo’s fledgling competition team. We have our sights set on next year’s national competitions and even have a couple of students aspiring to compete in the 2020 Olympics, when karate will be officially included in the Tokyo games.
Kaylee, who was the first in my family to train at this dojo, has her gold belt and is excited to test for her orange belt on her 8th birthday at the end of this month.
Wouldn’t want to mess with her!
Brenna (age 5), who loves watching her big sister train, is an orange stripe, which is a mid-level rank between white and gold for the younger, “pee-wee” students.
Wouldn’t want to mess with her either!
Congratulations, Growler, on your newest endeavors and continued Martial Arts journey. We all support you in your life and look forward to featuring you when you get your 1st Dan in Kobayashi Shorin-ryu!