Upholding Tradition


“What’s important to me is preserving the forms of traditional martial arts,” said Kim Geary, over a coffee in south Austin earlier this year. “It’s almost a lost art. My teacher would say, this is your job. You preserve the system.”

Indeed, Geary has been doing just that as a practitioner of traditional karate for the past 35 years.

After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas, Geary took the route that many of her classmates followed: she signed up for a job on an offshore oil production platform 300 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. This male-dominated industry was intimidating, and although Geary was a little scared, she didn’t let them see her sweat.

“I had to buck up,” she said, noting that she slept in a room with four guys in bunk beds. “I was well treated. If you could take a razzing and you did your job, that’s all they cared about.”

2-7Geary had already earned
her Black Belt in Chayonryu (“Natural Way”) karate.
She fell in love with the
movements of karate at an
early age, even though she’d never even seen a Bruce lee movie prior to taking her first karate class. After working briefly as an oil lease operator in the desert of New Mexico, Geary came back to Austin. Her first teaching job, at the shamrock Hilton in Houston, was as a swimming instructor. In learning how to teach swimming to adults, Geary said that teaching karate became much easier.

Geary had a commercial school on West Fifth Street for seven years. After taking a few years off, what brought her back was the passion of her students for the craft. In 2005, she found a lot that was big enough for her house and a private studio. Her 1,000-square-foot private studio, off Heather Street in south Austin, is airy and filled with light.

“My teacher has always got something new to work on,” Geary said. “He’s in his 70’s and he won’t quit.”

Since there is no regulatory body for teaching the martial arts, Geary said that teaching styles vary widely. “With martial arts, most of the time you’re doing something with an imaginary opponent or target,” she emphasized. “With tennis, if you don’t hit the ball right, it’s obvious.”

For her, it’s about traditional movements and forms and proper breathing. in karate, a form is a series of movements, performed in a pattern, as if you have enemies all around you. “I’m preserving these traditional forms that go back over 100 years,” she said. “It gets to be artistic and beautiful.”

In addition to two trips to visit her master in south Korea, in 1990 and again last year, Geary is active in the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation, having coordinated the group’s four-day camp and served as an instructor for 200 to 400 women who come from around the world to train. When she’s not in the studio teaching, she makes time for canoeing on Lady Bird Lake and, sometimes, a game of tennis or some golf. “I’m trying to create five teachers under me who will

Continue teaching when  I get too old,” Geary said.
 Watching Geary do forms is awe inspiring, for the impressive physicality and the sheer concentrated focus that’s required. There’s a beauty and reverence in the formality of traditional karate, something that she relishes. Everything from the formal classroom setting and the uniform, to bowing to one another and sitting quietly at the start of each class. “We refer to it as moving meditation,” she said. “In a way, it’s relaxing for people. If you’re a good teacher, [students] get in the present completely. They’re not thinking about anything but their kicks and forms.”