Every Saturday morning, long before some people have even finished dealing with the previous Friday, members of Juneau's Shotokan Karate Club gather to practice a traditional form of Japanese karate.
Quietly tucked away from the modern world, the club's meeting place, or dojo, has an atmosphere of a hidden spiritual refuge.
Despite its location near Juneau International Airport, the Shotokan dojo at 9447 LaParouse Ave. is a place that could not be more distant from the noise and hurried pace of life that swarms just outside its doors. The dojo, above all else, is a place of concentration.
In essence, the dojo is a set of full-body, anti-noise headphones.
Incidentally, Shotokan has nothing to do with botokan. Meaning, members of the club are not trying to hit each other with bamboo sticks. There are also no two-by-fours lying around, the kind destined to be splintered against someone's forehead.
Inside the dojo it is silence and concentration that reigns supreme. On the back wall, alone in quiet reverence, hang two portraits of the Japanese founders of the Shotokan form of karate. The guiding principles, called the Dojo Kun, are still followed today by Juneau's club.
Recited in Japanese and in English at the end of every class, the Dojo Kun reads, "Seek perfection of character; Be faithful; Endeavor; Respect others; and Refrain from violent behavior."
The chief instructor, or sensei, of this practice in Juneau is the soft-spoken Diana Stevens. One of the co-founders of the Juneau Shotokan club, Stevens has volunteered her time to the nonprofit Shotokan club for more than 23 years.
Stevens started in 1982 at the age 30, and currently holds the rank of fourth-degree black belt.
"Shotokan is really about self-awareness and self-control," Stevens said. "It teaches your mind and your body to be focused.
"Shotokan karate is definitely meant to be and is practiced as a lifetime study."
Stevens leads classes of a dozen or more in performing the three elements of Shotokan - forms, basics and sparring.
Frequently the only noise in the dojo is Stevens' voice, hollering commands in small doses of Japanese.
For more on Juneau Shotokan, check out the club's Web site at http://www.juneaushotokan.org or call 790-4199.
Tenents of Juneau Shotokan
Seek perfection of character
Refrain from violent behavior
Her voice holds an intensity and concentration that belies her slight stature and friendly demeanor.
Her classes feature adults and children as young as 7.
It is not a strange sight for Stevens or the other members of Juneau Shotokan to see a small child sitting in quiet meditation or proceeding through his movements with intense focus and dedication.
Considering the modern world swarms just outside the dojo's front door, the contrast is shocking.
"Concentration is truly the essence of Shotokan," Stevens said. "In fact, quite often the parents of some of our younger students in the class say that their child's concentration has really gone up since joining."
In a modern world and culture seeming to move further away from anything related to reverence, and adults, let alone children, rarely focusing on anything that doesn't come with its own remote control, the dojo seems to be a portal to another place.
Discipline, focus, and reverence are the values held by Juneau Shotokan.
One thing not taught in the dojo is violence. "In fact, quite the opposite," Stevens said. "What we are really teaching is a way of life. How we pay attention, how we walk, talk, live and interact with others.
"We are certainly learning self defense, but always inside the principles of the Dojo Kun. The key to self-defense is really to be aware of and how to get out of situations or not into situations to begin with. We definitely teach that."
Operating in Juneau continuously for the last 23 years, the Juneau Shotokan Karate Club is a nonprofit volunteer organization. All new members 7 and older are welcomed to join.
"It's very easy for new members to begin," Stevens said. "I mean, even I was a beginner coming in.
"The beginning students, the white belts, are taught by themselves until they get the basics. In fact, they get their own instructor. Even if it's only one new white belt, they will get their own instructor."
Stevens added, "Anyone can learn it as long as it's something they want to do. Honestly, it's just determination and repetition, not magic."
The Juneau Empire sports department can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org