- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - A 10-year journey to the top echelon of her art is just the beginning for Kalispell’s Tina Malkuch.

Malkuch just completed a decade-long odyssey to become a certified instructor in the International Shotokan Karate Federation, one of the nation’s largest martial arts groups.

“I never thought I’d finish,” she said. “You have to take a written exam and a practical one. It’s intimidating performing in front of these masters. You’re a nervous wreck.”

The exhaustive process involves attending 30 special training sessions across the nation and getting signatures for each one proving she has sufficient mastery. It also involves submitting an independent research paper and nearly 50 essays on each distinct part of karate.

Karate, which means “open hand” in Japanese, remains close to its heritage. Malkuch knows the commands in Japanese and uses them among other instructors and at her dojo on Airport Road.

The International Shotokan Karate Federation has more than 50,000 members in 30 countries. Malkuch, as a 5th Dan (or fifth-level blackbelt) is one of just a handful of certified instructors around the world and the only one in Montana.

The 60-year-old said her effort to become a certified instructor was like preparing a business plan, and she has the binder to prove it. Her research subject, “Proper Foot Placement and Orientation” is a study on how stance can affect power in strikes.

It’s a subject close to her heart, since she has had to adjust her own foot placement and stance.

As a child, Malkuch contracted polio. She went periodically to a Shriners Hospital from 5 years old until just before she turned 18.

“I wore leg braces day and night until seventh grade,” Malkuch said. “I don’t have the same muscles in my legs other people have. I’ve had to make quite a bit of adjustment. But to the untrained eye you would never notice.”

She continued to wear braces as night until she was 16. Malkuch compensated for her childhood illness by remaining active. In 1991 Malkuch discovered the world of karate when her son Stefan expressed interest.

“He was always stealing my bathrobe and yelling noises like he was doing karate,” she said. “He eventually stopped doing it. I don’t think he liked mom being his sensei.”

When the local instructor moved away in 1993, Malkuch and her friend Kirby Campbell-Rierson took over the dojo.

The International Shotokan Karate Federation’s vice-chief instructor, Yutaka Yaguchi, assisted the Montana dojo to help keep it running. The two had dozens of students ranging from children to people in their 50s. Campbell-Rierson is now in Beijing working on U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus’ staff.

Yaguchi, who witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima in his hometown of Kure, Japan, is in his 80s, so Malkuch said she feels she has a long road ahead of her in karate.

“It’s a lifestyle,” she said. “It humbles you. I feel a huge responsibility to pass on the art.”

Malkuch attributes a lot of things to her practice of the martial art. These came to light several years ago when she was involved in a serious car wreck.

“It was about three or four years ago in winter,” she said. “I was in Creston doing some work for a water business I own. The guy lost control of his vehicle and was perpendicular in my lane. I couldn’t go in the ditch or in the other lane because of traffic. I T-boned him.”

The collision was at such a high speed that the man’s passenger seat flew out the door. His vehicle flipped over Malkuch’s car. Another vehicle behind her slammed into the rear of her car. She shattered her leg and ankles.

“Paramedics were surprised with how calm my heart rate and blood pressure were. I attribute that to karate,” she said. “I had surgery the next day. It was a real uphill battle and really hard to recover.”

Malkuch owns the water business and is also a computer-aided designer at Carver Engineering in Kalispell. After work she spends time at the dojo and with family. Her students helped inspire her to recover after the car crash and come back to karate.

“I have wonderful students who are patient and understanding,” she said. “I came in wearing boots and on crutches. Expectations weren’t off the charts. You develop a special relationship with your students. They are like family.”

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Information from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com

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