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Living their passion: Dorfman karatekas celebrate 70 years

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Father-son karate combo Malcolm and Shane Dorfman have trained thousands of karatekas for a combined total of 70 years at their respective Dorfman Karate dojos in Johannesburg.

This year, Malcolm’s Parktown dojo celebrates its 50th anniversary, and Shane’s Melrose dojo marks its 20th anniversary.

Though Shane, a radiologist, has been doing karate for about 43 years, Malcolm has been a full-time karateka for the past 50 years.

Su Dal Col, whose sensei and mentor is Malcolm, says, “Dorfman Karate creates a family, and it’s our home away from home.”

Malcolm says his passion for karate and his karate knowledge have kept his dojo alive for 50 years and he’ll never retire. “When you teach as a passion and not as a job, your students feel this,” Malcolm says. “They feel the sincerity. I also have knowledge which I’ve accumulated from having trained with the greatest masters in the world. Whenever I saw a great Japanese master somewhere in the world, I would make sure that I went there to train.”

In South Africa as well as abroad, he estimates that he has taught 100 000 karatekas, including world champions such as Shane, who won the World Karate Championships eight times.

Malcolm’s karate highlights over 50 years aren’t his own achievements, but rather “watching my son, Shane, develop from the age of five, when he had his first class, to becoming the best student I ever had, and watching him win the world championships.

“I have a younger son, who was also Junior World Champion. That was also a highlight, but karate wasn’t his path. Shane, in spite of being a radiologist, still finds time for the same passion I have.”

Shane says running Dorfman Karate with his dad “has given me an opportunity to work and spend so much time with him. I’ve got two children [aged two and one], and what I want for them is to do karate and be able to spend such dedicated quality time with me as I’ve had the privilege of spending with my father.”

In the early 1970s, Malcolm told his boss, Manny Simkowitz, of his desire to be a full-time karateka like Stan Schmidt, a late South African master of Shotokan karate, so he “left what would have been a very lucrative future to pursue my passion. In July 1973, I opened my dojo in Greenside, and I’ve been a full-time karateka since then.”

About a decade later, he decided to move the dojo to Parktown North, where it has been operating since 1984. His home is on the same property. “I changed the original house into the dojo and the cottage on the property into my house. Here I am, 50 years later. The dojo evolved and evolved, and became a landmark in the Parktown North area.”

Dal Col says, “Malcolm Shihan is a legend. His knowledge and understanding of the art is truly inspiring to all his students. He continues to study each move and its efficacy to great depths. He has guided me through my journey and has instilled life-saving skills.

“He shares a lifetime of knowledge and experience with all his students. He instils the principles of karate in his students, who learn not only karate but also discipline, strength of character, loyalty, humbleness, and a multitude of other life skills.”

When Shane was five years old in 1981, he told Malcolm that he wanted to start karate.

Malcolm responded, “You can do it like everybody else and you’ll be like everybody else, or you can do it my way, which will be incredibly hard, but you’ll become world champion.”

Shane chose the latter. “It came with a lot of tears over the years when I was a kid. Literal blood, sweat, and tears. Off the karate floor, my dad and I had a very different relationship – warm, caring, loving. On it, he pursued what he felt was the best approach, and it worked with me.”

Besides winning eight world championships, Shane also captained the Proteas and was the youngest Dan in almost every category in a mainstream Japanese organisation.

Shane started his dojo in Norwood. “The owner and my landlord, who are physios, were two of my first students. By word of mouth, it started growing to a reasonable size. My dojo is like my baby. I’ve grown it, and it lives and dies by my decisions. It has an entrepreneurial element beyond just karate.”

His students were mainly Jewish in the early days, but now consist of the whole rainbow nation and more senior individuals. “Since I stopped competing in 2007, my focus has been more on my students, so though I still train with them, my primary focus is them, not me.”

He says a highlight was when “Farrel Cohen, the head of the recent Maccabi delegation, became the first student I took from white belt to black belt. Seeing Dorfman Karate win a staggering 29 out of 54 sections at a recent championship was also quite something.”

Shane has helped individuals with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or low muscle tone through karate, and finds it “rewarding when youngsters get so excited as they improve their karate, or my black belt karatekas compete for the national team”.

In addition to teaching karate and spending time with his grandchildren, Malcolm runs Karatenomichi South Africa and is the deputy grandmaster of the Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF). He also presents seminars overseas and takes the black belt class at the KWF’s headquarters in Japan.

Though well-known South African father-son sporting combos such as cricketers Peter and Shaun Pollock played in different eras, the Dorfmans competed together at the 1993 Maccabi Games. “Just once in my life, I wanted to walk out together with Shane in the same team. He took the gold medal in his division, I took the silver medal in mine,” Malcolm says.

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