Karate Saved My Life
Karate Saved My Life
by Charla A. Wardley
Everybody that takes karate has a story about how karate saved their life. Karate has definitely gotten me out of a few jams. For instance, if I didn't balance just right I would have fallen in and gotten all wet, or when I did fall, it didn't hurt as much, or being out at night and having my keys ready, looking behind and in between cars and in my backseat before I get in, to just being alert to my surroundings. However, I have to tell you (the reader) about the day karate truly saved my life.
My name is Charla Wardley, 38 years young, and the scariest but most miraculous moment in my life happened Saturday, April 12, 2008, approximately around 4:00p.m. My boyfriend (Jim Alley) and I went to Harold Long's Memorial tournament hosted by Joe Laney to show support for all karate-ka, but mainly for the Wheeler's competition team. It was near the end of the day and we (me, Jim and good buddy What's Up Chuck) were watching the continuous fighting from the stands and cheering on Danny Potts, and Jason Russell, when I started feeling odd. I told Jim my left arm was going numb and it started to burn real bad then I felt sick to my stomach, and that is all I remember until I woke up in the hospital around 3:00a.m. Sunday morning.
From the different stories I have pieced together, it goes something like this: Jim asked Chuck to help me down to the floor, Chuck noticed that my skin was a blue color except for my right ear which was bright red, he was asking me questions but said I was just not there. Jim knew there was a medic somewhere on the floor when Dr. Pam Mobley saw me. She instantly knew that something was very wrong and guided me around to the side of the bleachers and laid me down on the floor, called 911 or told someone to call. Dr. Ed Mobley came over and started asking me questions, they said I was crying and saying "Am I in trouble?, am I in trouble?" and all of a sudden I went into a seizure. A very tense, massive seizure. Dr. Ed yelled, " call 911 again and get them here immediately!, "
The paramedics got there while I was still in the seizure and administered some medication to try to control it. As the seizure subsided, I went into cardiac arrest, and for 2 minutes I underwent CPR until the greatest medical team ever (Drs. Pam and Ed Mobley, not only one but two anesthesiologists) brought me back to life (that gives me chills every time I say that). Dr. Ed stabilized me with I.V. fluids, put me in the ambulance and watched over me all the way to UT hospital. Hours later, I was diagnosed with a rare disease, Brain Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM).
As I started to wrap my head around what happened to me (all I can remember is telling Jim I'm sick, to waking up in the hospital) I started thinking about the in between time and what it was like for Jim, and how very traumatic it was for him to watch me die, and praying to please come back. I can't imagine his pain, fear, and sense of helplessness. Then there was What's Up Chuck, he was right behind me, it had to be traumatic for him, my sensei Chuck Reynolds, he was right there next to Jim, how traumatic for him, then all my friends, instructors, karate family, children, parents, grandparents, how traumatic for all of them to witness something like that. Not to mention my dad and mom, my brother and sister-in-law had to see me lying there on a respirator in CCU not knowing what happened. My sister drove from California to Tennessee in 30 hours with no idea either. It was all kind of a shock. I consider myself fairly healthy, never really been sick, the only time I was in the hospital was to give birth to my son, I heal from physical injuries pretty quick, hardly ever catch colds, so for me to be there one minute and the next minute I was not, is all very traumatic to everyone. That is why I want to talk about it and tell everyone what happened and what will happen in the future.
But first, a brief background of my life in karate. I started Isshin-ryu karate in 1989 for a P.E. credit at Maryville College under the instruction of Bruce Guillaume. I loved karate so much I went twice a week, 2 hours a night until I graduated from college in 1992 and moved to Nashville. There, I joined Isshin-ryu Team Nashville under Butch Hill for little less than a year, then moved to Murfreesboro to work on a Master's degree in recreation at MTSU. I graduated December 1995 and gave birth to my son, Hunter, February 1996.
For years, I had been looking for a dojo, and trying to figure out what to do when I grow up, when in 1999 I saw an ad in the paper for a martial artist instructor with training provided. Immediately I called and got an interview. The interview was a cardio-kickboxing class (Te-Geri) with about 30 other interviewees; 4 of us were selected and there I started my training under David Deaton in Wado-ryu karate (similar to Isshin-ryu) in his accelerated program. For 4 months, I drove an hour there, an hour home, and trained very hard for 22 hours a week until I tested in front of the board and earned a black belt. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, I was unable to take the instructor job, but that kind of training sticks with you forever.
I finally got wise and moved back to Knoxville (Powell) to work in the family business of real estate and lucky me moved 5 minutes from the greatest dojo I have ever walked into. I know everyone has to think that about the school they attend, but I got to tell you (the reader), the exact moment I walked into Wheeler's School of Karate in November 2003 and Chuck Reynolds greeted me at the door, I knew I was home and there forever. Immediately, I felt the magic in the air and the more I went class and found out all the stuff that was offered; regular class, self defense class, sparring class, ladies sparring class, arnis class, Friday night pressure point class with the Big Dogs, Sunday open class with the Big Dogs, annual OKU seminars, Jim Alley's kyusho-jutsu seminars, cardio class and ju-jitsu, it blew my mind. I found a hidden treasure chest nestled in downtown Powell, and that is just how I felt about it! Of course buried in that treasure chest, I discovered the love of my life, Jim Alley. He has been absolutely the greatest, and I do not know what I would do without him.
Anyway, after 31/2 years of instruction from sensei Chuck Reynolds, Danny Potts, Marissa Rollins, David Robison, all the Big Dogs (including Jim), all the black belts (way too many to name) all my piers (because they teach you to), I earned a black belt in June 2007. For all the people that have never seen or participated in a Wheeler's black belt test, it is by far the hardest test I have ever taken in my life. My body felt like a truck ran over it for at least a week. After that, I went back fairly regularly, until the past 4-5 months I just gradually stopped going, not sure why really, but I was pumping myself up to get back in class. The hardest thing in the world was to see Mr. Reynolds again. I'm sure he didn't feel like this, but I felt that I've disappointed him and that made me feel worse. Jim was trying real hard to get me back to class as well, and the day of the tournament he made me go. "Time to suck it up," he said.
I have talked about how my karate boyfriend drove me to a karate event in which my karate family saved my life, but I also want to talk about that other part of karate that saved my life. The part that instills self discipline, endurance, determination, integrity, strong mentality, focus, self confidence, self worth, sense of belonging, physical fitness, just being strong with mind and body.
Sunday afternoon, when Dr. Pam Mobley came to check on me in the hospital, she asked if I was sore because of the 2 minutes worth of CPR, and at the time I didn't notice. However the next day, I felt sore but it just felt like I did a bunch of sit-ups. I believe karate made me strong physically and strong mentally, especially the last four years of my training. One of the things I kept thinking about over and over when I woke up was something Chuck Reynolds said right before the sparring part of my black belt test, (not so exact words) "This is an unfair test, and we (instructors) know it is unfair, but we are going to fight you like you have never been fought, so I want you to fight back, don't give up and show me your will to survive." I believe that unknowingly, my sensei, Chuck Reynolds and Wheeler's School of Karate, prepared me for what was actually the hardest test of my life. Fight back, don't give up and have the will to survive. Good words to remember.
Unfortunately, the doctors said no more karate, at least at full speed and power. I could never give up karate, just got to take it easy now. The doctors at UT hospital referred me to doctors in Indiana for treatment and we are just waiting to hear back from them. I am on seizure medicine and have to wait 6 months before I can drive, but there is no damage other than a little short term memory loss and 'they' say that is temporary. As far as treatment goes, it could be a long road, but I know I can fight back, I will never give up and I have a very strong will to survive!
Here is a website if you are interested in learning what an AVM is:
Then click on animated version of AVM. Very cool explanation.
I would also like to thank everyone for their prayers and positive thoughts for me and my family and as soon as I hear from the doctors, I will let you know.
Posted by jcliftonalley
at 10:23 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 15 June 2008 7:57 AM EDT
Thoughts of Master Wheeler
I was going throught some of my old files and come across Master Wheeler's eulogy that was written by my good friend Master John Dritt. I think that it sums up very well the reason that Master Wheeler was so dear to his students.
Master Wheeler’s Eulogy
Presented by Sensei John Dritt
at Master Wheeler’s Funeral
I’m not going to speak tonight about Master Wheeler’s karate skills,
although they were exceptional that is not what we felt was most
important about him.
An unknown author once said, “A teacher effects eternity, he can
never tell where his influence stops.”
I know that Master Wheeler had a profound influence on his students
from the very first time we met him. If there is a distinguishing feature
of Master Wheeler and the OKU it is the sense of family that he
instilled in us all. Master Wheeler and all his family members made us
feel as if we were a part of his own family. Master Wheeler was
adopted hundreds of times as a father and grandfather. Master
Wheeler started the OKU because he wanted to give people a safe
place to improve themselves. A home they could come to. A place
where they could feel a part of something important. He did not care
about your past, all he cared about was your desire to improve. He
His long time students have all developed a deep personal relationship
with him that is unique and special to each of us. To us Master
Wheeler was more than just an exceptional martial artist, he was a
leader in life, a hero and a role model.
Master Wheeler said to me:
“One of the most satisfying things about my life as a karate instructor
is when a person who study's karate under me, tells me that studying
karate and my influence on them was a big help to them in shaping
their life. This has happened several times.” We can all say that it
happened more than several.
In preparing for these comments, I asked a lot of people what they
thought I should say and several familiar themes emerged. They said,
“Make sure and tell them how Master Wheeler changed my life. Make
sure and tell them how much better I am as a person now than I was
before I met him.” “Tell them he was my Hero, he was the greatest
man I ever knew.” “Tell them how he made everyone feel like family.”
“Tell them that I loved him.”
Now days there is a lot of talk about heroes and role models. When
you look at Hollywood or professional sports figures well that is just
not something you want young people to look up to. When you look at
Allen Wheeler you see something very different.
I asked Master Wheeler about that and he said, “When I first started in
Karate I really feel like God put his finger on me and wanted me to
teach karate for him. To use it as a tool to witness for Jesus. I feel like
I have reached a lot of people that would not have been reached in the
usual channels of Christian witnessing. Through my martial arts
training I have been able to help an awful lot of misguided youth and
help them get back on the right track. I have helped hundreds of
young people work through their personal problems.” You can look at
each of his students and see how true that is. Each of us have been
helped through life’s most challenging situations by Master Wheeler.
One of his students lost his beautiful young wife as a result of surgery
when he was 22. That same year he was hit by a car on his
motorcycle. It broke his back in 4 places. Mr. Wheeler came to the
hospital. He showed him how he could rebuild his body with karate. He
would stay after class and talk with him about the loss of his wife and
say prayers with him. He was a big part of the young man’s recovery.
I saw him work with a man who had just come back from Viet Nam.
He saw a lot of combat while he was there. He had a lot of pain and
anger inside him from that experience. Master Wheeler changed his
life. He said to me, “Master Wheeler taught me how to be nice to
people.” He also went back to school and got his degree. The man said
to me, “Make sure and tell them how he changed my life.”
I think every one of his students has a similar story they could tell
about Master Wheeler. Every one of them feel a deep love and respect
for this man.
I remember when several of us took him to the Isshinryu Hall of Fame
banquet. We were all seated together around a few tables. There was
a head table up front for all the VIP’s. The president of the IHOF came
over and said, “Master Wheeler will you please come sit at the head
table of honor up front?” Master Wheeler replied, “I think I would
prefer to set here with my people, but thank you kindly.”
In martial arts circles there is a lot of talk about the term Master.
Selfish talk about who is and who is not a master and who is deserving
of that title. I first want to say that Mr. Wheeler never took that term
on himself. In fact Mr. Wheeler felt that there was only one Master and
that was Jesus Christ. He was not in karate for himself. He was there
to help others like me and every other of over 10,000 students who
came through his dojo. His students call him master not because of his
skills in karate but because of the profound personal influence he had
on us all.
Master Wheeler took our training in some unexpected directions. He
started studying nerve center and pressure points long before any of
us knew what that was. He told us this was something he thought we
should learn. In addition to improving our understanding of karate it
introduced us to the healing side of martial arts. This was a great gift
he gave us, the healing work is the most rewarding thing I have ever
I was sitting with him at a tournament one day and I told him that I
liked healing more that hitting. He said to me, “Guess how many times
I have had to use my training to defend myself? I said I don’t know.
He said, “None. Outside of my time in the army I have never been in a
fight. Sure I was capable of defending myself but I was always able to
find a way out of it. But I can tell you that I have cured thousands of
headaches, I’ve helped hundreds of sprains, bruises and personal
problems.” He said, “When you help someone you make a friend. If
you get into a fight you make an enemy. I would much rather have a
friend than an enemy. John I want you to focus on this and help all the
people you can. There is nothing you can do that is more important
than helping others.”
There are a large group of his students that use the healing skills he
taught us. We work with cancer patients, we can reduce pain and calm
the side effects of chemotherapy, we work with hospice groups, we
work with church based healing organizations, and we help people we
meet in everyday life. I think Master Wheeler would be proud of that.
Master Wheeler was the best kind of hero and role model. It had
nothing to do with what he said or how he taught karate. It was the
way he lived his life.
Master Wheeler was also a role model for what it means to be a man.
He showed us through his actions that:
A good man puts God first in his life and strives every day to live by
the teachings of Jesus Christ.
A strong man takes care of his family, and brings honor to his wife by
his actions when she is not around.
A brave man knows that there will come a time when he must make a
stand on principles, do what he knows is right regardless of the
personal consequences, and let the chips fall where they may.
A kind man goes out of his way to help others, silently, daily, and
A successful man can achieve any goal with hard work, determination
and belief in himself.
A great man can accept a student like me, give me more than I
deserve, take less than I owe, and always welcome me home, because
he is glad to see me.
A rich man has many people who love him.
I asked him on several occasions what he was most proud of in his life.
He said, “I had the honor and privilege of leading some people to
Jesus Christ, I’m most proud of that. The greatest joy in my life is my
Posted by jcliftonalley
at 9:25 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 27 July 2007 9:47 AM EDT
Kata: The Heart of Karate
The in depth study of kata is the essence of Okinawan Karate. Each system’s kata acts as an encyclopedia of techniques that may be used for almost any self defense situation that may arise. Instructors and students alike should constantly strive for the mastery of the basic techniques and kata within their respective system (a lifetime endeavor), focusing on proper form and exactness of movement. As the student progresses, speed and power will come. It is imperative that the instructor provide students with good foundation techniques to prepare them for more advanced instruction. Without a good, working knowledge of these basic skills, the application of realistic bunkai or pressure point techniques is of little use.
The study of bunkai is not an overnight venture; it takes years of serious study to start to understand of the deeper meaning of kata. During your training, you must take several items under consideration to hope to be effective in using these techniques for combative purposes.
Develop proper stances. A proper understanding of stances and footwork is essential in the development of effective technique. A working knowledge of body mechanics is essential for the maximization of power in technique. The utilization of the angles, shifts, and evasions contained within kata will teach the karate-ka to neutralize an attack and simultaneously counter attack without wasted movement or extra steps.
Pay close attention to the performance of foundation techniques (various punches, blocks and kicks). Proper form and exactness of movement will develop the muscle memory that is required to maximize speed and power.
Visualize your attackers. See your opponents when performing kata; this is very important in being able to use effective bunkai for fighting.
When performing kata, give each technique a specific task and direct your attacks toward specific target areas. Each time the kata is repeated, you can give each technique a different task than the last.
It is imperative that the serious student of Okinawan Karate or any martial art as far as that goes, to study about the human body. In the Wheeler’s Kyusho-Jutsu curriculum, we base the majority of our techniques on the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine, however the student must come to know about basic western anatomy as regards to the muscular, skeletal, neurological, circulatory, & respiratory systems. This study will greatly increase the practitioner’s overall ability and effectiveness within a self defense situation.
Be flexible in your applications. Back in the early 1990’s, Master Louis Grinnell and I traveled to Columbia, SC for a seminar conducted by Grandmaster Oyata. He made the statement “If you interpret bunkai using the techniques exactly in the order as they are performed in kata, you will loose about 80% of the possible applications”. Treat each technique as a “stand alone technique”, and then progress from there. You may reverse the order that techniques are presented in kata with good results. When the karate-ka starts to understand how and why the individual techniques work, then they can be coupled with other strikes, locks, or throws from the same or other kata to form a complete fighting technique. In the Isshin-Ryu code it states “The body should be able to change direction at any time”. You should practice the application of bunkai with this statement in mind, being careful not to be so rigid in mind and body that you can’t react and neutralize unexpected attacks or reactions.
Include in you study applications of all ranges of combat. The deeper study of kata will reveal that the old methods deal with strikes (upper and lower body waza), joint locks, and throws that work at various angles and from all ranges of unarmed fighting. Karate has been wrongly labeled as a “striking art” only. Although most methods of karate are made up predominately of striking techniques, a complete study of kata and the history of Okinawan Karate will reveal that kyusho-jutsu, tuite-jutsu, and nage waza were taught within the various systems, primarily before the Japanese buildup predating World War 2. Generally speaking, American Servicemen that were trained in post war Okinawa received kata with very little explanation of the relevant bunkai or instruction of any advanced skills such as vital point techniques or chi development. Much of the information we have today on these topics in the United States is a direct result of the cross-training in other systems by open minded instructors that had enough insight to realize that their was much more to the art than was taught by most Okinawan instructors in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The martial artist of today has more access to quality training than ever before. Many schools offer various training disciplines not just one as had been the norm in the early days of martial arts in the United States. This is a great benefit to prospective students who are looking for a better rounded curriculum without years of training to obtain some basic self defense skills. The traditional instructor of today has an interesting challenge of maintaining the integrity of a classical martial art vs. giving students the realistic skills the need to defend their selves without multiple years of training. I believe both of these goals can be accomplished by having an open mind and really study kata, both in history and application of technique.
I started my training in the early 1980’s in a traditional Isshin-Ryu dojo. We worked on basics, kata, and kumite, but very little bunkai training or even basic self defense. It was not until I began training under Sensei Wheeler did I have the opportunity to work on realistic kata bunkai and for the first time start to understand the true benefit of kata. Kata deals with almost any self defense situation that would arise provided the practitioner has been first shown the technique correctly, and second he/she must be able to make the transition from a static movement to a fluid, fighting technique. Once upon a time, traditional kata was a method used to pass along a system’s unique fighting techniques, which included all striking techniques (kicks, punches, etc…), joint locks, chokes, and throws. Most instructors of today, even in the more traditional dojo, completely disregard kata when it comes to fighting, in fact in open tournament sparring competition there is very little visible difference between an Isshin-Ryu, Tae Kwon Do, or Kempo stylist. Any advantage that one system would have over another has slowly disappeared into the world of generic; one size fits all martial arts.
In closing, there is much to learn from cross training in other systems of martial arts, provided the student has a good foundation in one system. It is better to be a master of one art, than be a novice of many. My background is Okinawan Karate and regardless of what other systems I have an opportunity to study, it all relates back to what I have the most experience in, Isshin-Ryu. If you want to learn to be able to gain devastating power in your punches and kicks, Okinawan Karate has it. If your goal is to learn crippling joint locks or bone shattering throws, systems such as Isshin-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, and Goju-Ryu have all of these techniques contained their kata. Let’s say your interests are in pressure point techniques or chi development, again you don’t have to look any farther than Okinawan Karate. It is important for martial arts students to become well rounded, but classical karate shouldn’t suffer from it. If you choose to cross train in other systems that’s great, there 20 lifetimes of information to learn, just be careful to keep traditional kata as they are and in tact. Beware of permitting the latest Mixed Martial Arts craze promote the creation of “generic martial arts” that rob future generations of the classical systems that have made martial arts what they are today.
Posted by jcliftonalley
at 8:55 AM EDT