Never give up- the incredible true story of Motti Yifrachstory...

By: Sensei Sara-Rivka Yekutiel – IOGKF Israel

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Motti Yifrach was a normal, healthy, active child who was born in Jerusalem, Israel in 1960.  At age 11 he was stricken with an extremely rare disease that caused his bones to weaken.  Then he broke his femur and spent nine months in bedridden in a cast.  Substandard medical care left him with a shortened left leg and extreme scoliosis.  It also left him angry, irritable and frustrated.

Like many children around the world, Motti loved Kung-Fu movies.  One day he saw a sign outside the home of Dan Russell, an Englishman who had come to live in Jerusalem’s Bucharim neighborhood, right down the street from Motti.  There was Japanese writing on the sign.  It was an advertisement for a Karate class. 

 “Karate rehabilitated me,” says Motti.  It was the perfect outlet for his aggression.  There were brutal workouts which included hours of basics, punishing calisthenics and aggressive fighting. 

Sensei George Andrews, today an 8th dan, visited Israel in 1973 to lead a Gasshuku and made a big impression on the teenager.  “He moved fast like a panther,” Motti recalls today.  “Excellent Karate – and, very, very scary.  I wasn’t scared of him, but I had a ton of respect for him.” 

Motti remembers several gasshuku with Sensei George.  Once they ran 5 kilometers through the challenging desert terrain of Wadi Kelt over mountains and through rivers.  Another time Motti had to plead with his parents to skip school to attend an overnight Gasshuku at the Kinneret Lake. 

By 1977 Motti drifted away from karate.  At 18 he studied sociology and economics at the Hebrew University and at 27 went to Betzalel Art College to study photography.  Since 1995 Motti has worked at the Bilingual High School in Jerusalem where he teaches photography to Jewish and Arab students together.

Six years ago Motti saw another sign with Japanese letters hanging up in his neighborhood.  The words ‘Goju-Ryu’ and ‘IOGKF’ caught his eye.  I still remember his phone call.

I had been struggling, since moving to Israel in 1996, to develop a student base.  Everyone told me that the macho Israeli cultural wouldn’t accept a woman teaching men, so I had been teaching women-only classes with limited success.  When, during the space of one month, two men approached me about teaching them I took that as an omen and hung up signs advertising a new, mixed class.

Motti told me he had trained as a youth and I invited him to a class.  I have to admit that when I first saw that he was physically challenged I was surprised.  But right from the first class Motti worked hard.  I told him that he needed to tell me what moves he couldn’t do, and I would help him find a substitute move.

Today, instead of kicking with one leg he punches or does an elbow strike.  In kata he leaves out certain kicks and simply moves forward.  Motti is very strong and can do more pull-ups than anyone else in the dojo.  His arms are like clubs but when he fights he exhibits Ju at a high level with deep understanding.   He is very patient and kind when working with lower belts and especially loves working with teenage boys.  And when a youngster needs a little assistance with attitude adjustment, Motti’s my man.

After his first two years of training I asked Motti if he wanted to get his black belt.  I realized that he was in need of motivation.  I also realized that I was reticent to push him the way I push other students, so when he said he wanted that black belt, I made a vow to start pushing. 

I met wheelchair-bound Sensei  John Marrable, Godan from New Zealand,  in 2010 at the European Gasshuku in Sweden.  Inspired by speaking with him and seeing his demonstration, I was even more determined to help Motti progress.

I began correcting Motti more and instead of assuming that he couldn’t do certain moves I told him to try.  His kata improved steadily and he began to move up the ranks.  In July of 2011 he received the rank of 1st Kyu and in January 2012 we began an intensive program of preparation for his black belt test, including a lot of hojo-undo, kata, self-defense, basics and randori – in the dojo – plus homework.  My other students enthusiastically worked with Motti and we were all excited about helping him achieve his goal.

On Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 Motti participated in a grueling, four-hour test at IOGKF Israel’s honbu dojo in Netanya.  The temperature was close to 40 degrees Celsius with humidity hovering around 95%.  With the 20 other people testing for brown belt and up moving and sweating it felt like a tropical rain forest.

Basics, moving basics, one-step sparring, chi-ishi, makiwara, sandan-gi, bunkai, push-ups, sit-ups, nigiri-game, randori , bag work and then kata.  Motti punched hard, gave 100% and demonstrated a high level of technical proficiency.  In the middle of the test, Sensei George Andrews (who by coincidence was here in Israel to teach and vacation) showed up to watch.

Motti’s kata was strong, powerful and beautiful.  His fierce fighting spirit flowed through every punch, kick and block.  His kime and focused tanden were impressive.  The grading panel signed his IOGKF booklet.  Sensei George presented it to him, and thunderous applause broke out in the dojo. 

Sensei George told us about meeting Motti so many years ago.  He reminisced about his first Gasshuku, running through Wadi Kelt.  “I kept looking back to see if Motti’d given up, but he was always right behind me.  He never gave up.”

I thanked Motti for being my student.  Without my students, I am not a teacher; my students make me what I am.  What I respect most about Motti is that not only does he never quit, but he neither makes nor seeks excuses for being physically challenged.  ‘Everyone has something wrong with them, Sensei,’ he told me.  ‘It’s just that with me, it shows.’

I then presented Motti with my own black belt.  I’ve had many students reach black belt over the years, but have never done this before.  It was the only way I knew to express what I felt.

Sara-Rivka Yekutiel