It all began in April of 1992 when Shihan Ken Walsh moved to Maine to become the C.E.O. of the Waterville Boys and Girls Club. His tremendous commitment to providing youth with tools to become more respectful, caring, and responsible individuals quickly led him to establish a karate program. The name of the dojo would be Club Naha, named after the dojo, that he and Shihan Javier established at the Boys and Girls Club in New Rochelle, New York.
The program started with just a few individuals practicing in the art room when it wasn’t being used and soon after a large enough room was cleaned out to be the dojo. The first dojo was to the right of the gymnasium with its tiled floors and stairs that led to the dance studio. However, these stairs were typically used as a place for parents to sit and watch the karate classes. There was the old hanging bag in the corner, the mirrors in the front, and the amazing dove and fist logo painting on the middle of the floor.
It was also during this time that the three-day black belt test occurred. Three days of physical and mental challenges to test one’s heart and desire to press on even when things were tough and seemed almost impossible. Many tests have included five-mile runs, mile swims, strenuous hikes, Native American sweat lodges, rock climbing, and more. The tests were always challenging but the results were even more rewarding.
During those days, classes were offered only three days per week. There were the youth classes in the afternoons, two-hour adult classes in the evenings, and classes on Saturdays for preschool aged children. As the class sizes grew so did our schedule and the need for a larger dojo. Sometime in 1996 we moved to an upstairs room that was on the other side of the gym. Who can’t forget the carpeted floor, the viewing area at the back for the parents to watch the classes. Then there were the two white panels at the front of the dojo, one had the tenets of Wonhwa-Do and the other had the Optimist’s Creed. Both provided positive guidance to become the best person one could be. During that time karate camps became very popular. When there was a school vacation, we would have small day camps filled with karate lessons, swimming, and activities in the gymnasium.
These first two dojos were located at the old Waterville Boys and Girls Club, which was an old building in great need of renovations. However, instead of renovations, with the help of Shihan Ken, the Waterville Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors, the YMCA, and Harald Alfond, a new building was constructed in 1999 and housed both the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA. This building is the Alfond Youth and Community Center (AYCC) and it’s in this building that our dojo resides today. The AYCC has been home of three Club Naha dojos with the first being downstairs near the dance studio. It had vibrant white walls and an amazing hardwood floor and eventually it had nice blue puzzle mats for the flooring.
During that time our classes had grown tremendously, and we were offering classes six days per week. Our classes were now broken up by both age and rank levels. Also, during this time, Shihan Ken reconnected with his first instructor and founder of Club Naha, Shihan Javier Diaz. Shihan and his family moved to Waterville and lived here for about three years. While here, Shihan Javier taught the lessons at the dojo and helped the students excel in competitive karate. In 2001 Shihan Ken Walsh and Shihan Jeff Wood of the Tao Karate Club formed the S.M.A.R.T. (State Martial Arts Ratings & Totals) tournament circuit. which is still going strong to this day with six outstanding tournaments for competitors to test their skills and strive to earn their place as the State Champion at the end of each year at the SMART State Championships.
Our next location would be where the dojo was the longest, for fourteen years (2005 to 2019) the dojo was on the second floor. It had matted floors with the Club Naha mural on the back wall. During this time, we implemented new classes such as the Lil Dragons class and our Tournament Team which has seen much success over the years. For many years, we held annual camping trips up at Cathedral Pines Campgrounds in Eustis. We would enjoy a weekend of hiking, swimming, karate, and other activities. We participated in online karate classes with Shihan Javier by using Skype and started to run a weeklong residential camp where Shihan Javier was our guest instructor for a few years. In September of 2006, Shihan Ken handed the karate program over to one of his first students in Maine, Renshi Craig Sargent. Renshi Craig has been overseeing the karate program ever since. Sometime around 2009, Renshi Craig reconnected with Shihan Javier and began studying Shudokan once again and began teaching it at the Club Naha dojo in Waterville. In March of 2021, Shudokan became the core style taught at the dojo.
Today our dojo is back downstairs in the Peter G. Alfond Pathway to Wellness area. The dojo is floored with a beautiful red mat with the Club Naha logo in the middle and a gorgeous mural on the wall. Our classes are thriving, and many extra learning opportunities are abundant. Beside classes, we offer clinics, seminars, workshops, etc. and now run an international training camp where students from both Club Naha Waterville and Club Naha Mexico come together and train. Today we serve over 100 students each session and it’s not uncommon to have about 20 students or more in a single class. We have had the honor and privilege to promote more than 80 students to the rank of black belt. Our students are excelling in tournaments and even going on to win national and world titles. Students continue to excel academically, and many have become tremendous leaders inside and outside of the dojo.
Over the years there have been many lessons learned, challenges conquered, and friendships developed that hold special places in our hearts. How can we forget the inspiring classes, the exciting tournaments, fun filled camps, and vigorous belt tests that brought us so many positive experiences. Club Naha has a rich and wonderful history and now is the time to develop a flourishing future for our karate program at the AYCC. Let’s continue to make memories and provide opportunities for the future generations of Club Naha students participating in our Founders Club.
Get more information about joining the Founders Club
by calling the Alfond Youth and Community Center at 873-0684.