Karate West still at home in Issaquah | Community sports feature

Now in its third location in Issaquah, Karate West is larger than ever and still dedicated to the same founding principles.

For Randy Holeman, it isn’t about the flashy finishes.

Of course, the state-of-the-art fabric duct system, new locker rooms and 9,000 square feet between its two newly zoned and constructed buildings are nice. But what makes the new site of Karate West special for Holeman, who opened the dojo with his wife Jan more than two decades ago, is the chance to come home.

After opening in the current Dominos Pizza location in downtown Issaquah back in 1989, Karate West quickly outgrew its roots, moving to a larger space down E. Lake Sammamish Pkwy. That parcel eventually got annexed to Sammamish and when it also became too small to accommodate the always growing number of youth, parents and experienced martial arts practitioners who frequent the dojo, Holeman saw an opportunity.

“I picked Issaquah because of what it offered,” he said of locating the gym there decades ago. “It is a family community.”

Ginni Crawford and her family don’t call Issaquah home, and took a roundabout path to Karate West, but their story is representative of countless others over the years.

“We drove to five or six other martial arts schools,” Crawford said. “When we stopped in, it just didn’t click.”

Their search for a dojo originated in part because of her husband’s battle with cancer, which left both parents in search of an outlet for their children that would reinforce the values they were teaching at home.

Her son, five-years-old at the time and described by Crawford as, “very shy,” was having an especially difficult time with his father’s illness.

“When we got to Karate West, (manager) Ken (Watrous) walked up and shook my son’s hand,” she said. “It was a perfect match.”

For more than 15 years, as her kids grew up and became adults, and through the most difficult time in their lives, the synergy only grew. Crawford, who said she had trained in a different style of Karate previously, began attending classes a year after her son at Karate West. Along with the emphasis on traditional and basic techniques, Crawford said she has been impressed with Holeman’s willingness to ensure students of all ages and ability levels can grow their skills and more importantly, their confidence.

“It is almost as if they teach karate on the side, with life-skills as the main focus,” she said. “Every parent looks for that type of setup.”

Sammamish resident Kara Hobbs was no exception, and said her children were eager to find a place to continue practicing the sport they had come to love while living in Los Angeles. When she heard about the programs at instructors at Karate West through word-of-mouth, they decided to give it a try.

Nearly seven years later, Hobbs is a black belt and her 12-year-old is set to earn one in short order, with those accomplishments telling only a small part of the story.

“You can learn self-defense anywhere,” she said. “What Ken and Sensei Holeman bring to the table is a way of life — being responsible, respectful, having a goal and working hard to achieve it.”

Those principles have been the pillars of Karate West in each of its past lives around Issaquah and with its new facility providing 40 percent more training space and 9,000 square feet of over three separate floors, Holeman said instructors will be able to provide more efficient instruction to even more students.

While the building is new, the connection Karate West has to Issaquah has not changed despite the move.

Holeman said he does not allow youths to test for black belts unless they are maintaining a 3.0 grade point average, and requires students be passing all of their classes in order to test for any belt. To that ends, Karate West established a scholarship fund and has given out more than $250,000 in $1,000 scholarships over the past 25 years. The only requirements for eligibility are graduating from high school with a 3.0 GPA and earning a black belt.

“It is what we’re all about,” Holeman said, adding the dojo also hosts a program called, “Academic All-Stars,” where students are encouraged toward high achievement in school and offered assistance with studying techniques. “We really believe being a black belt between the ears is more important than being one between the fists.”

The new Karate West is located at 5828 221st Pl. SE, in the former home of Budget Rentals.

One of the training floors at the new Karate West. JOSH SUMAN, ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER

The second building on-site, which includes rolling doors, a fabric duct system and the longest training space in the facility. JOSH SUMAN, ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER