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Disruptor: Samuel Diaz III

samuel diaz III


If you are competing in sport karate or have been following the expansion of traditional karate on the open circuit over the past few years, chances are you have heard the tagline “Karate from the Heart,” a motto that has become synonymous with Samuel Diaz III. At 36 years old, the Shotokan Karate practitioner and Team Paul Mitchell member is one of the most dominant veteran competitors, claiming titles in London, South Africa, Austria, Germany, and across North America in both open and traditional karate competitions.



You have stayed on a very focused path of traditional martial arts and have succeeded, what was the inspiration and decision specific to tournament competition in taking this direction?


During my competition career, I have been blessed to have been exposed to the traditional martial arts circuit along with the open circuit. When I decided to commit to competition on the open circuit, there was a mindset shift that took place for our competitors. More competitors were looking towards XMA style sport karate to win titles. Some were entering the traditional division with a more creative (creational) form that brought together traditional technique combinations in a unique form pattern. While these forms showcased great speed, balance and accuracy of technique, our traditional Kata was being overlooked as a viable, competitive option. My goal when deciding to compete with classical Kata was to showcase Karate in its purest form and inspire our next generation to honor their roots and dedicate themselves to the craft of competitive karate while breathing life into the beauty of the art.



There is a martial artist saying, “kicks together, sticks together.” Your father was a martial artist and you trained together as a very young man, share that experience of your early days with your family and how it helped forge your path?


It has been a blessing to share the in the arts with my family. From the beginning of this journey, Karate has been the unique element to our relationship that very few can relate too. My start in Karate-Do was by way of my mother. At 2 years old, She was luckily able to connect me with a Goju-Ryu/Shotokan instructor in Bridgeport, CT by the name of Matty Melisi. Approximately a year later, my father began training in the adult classes at the Dojo and would work with me at home on the weekends to polish out my kihon & kata. I truly feel that through these sessions, our bond of father and son became unbreakable. We connect on a level that transcends any of my wildest dreams. As the years went on, I began training with Errol Bennett, Shihan out of the Bronx, NY. During these rides to NY, my father and mother would talk with me about my training and things taking place in the world around us. These conversations were tools to guide me in creating the correlations between the adversity I would face in training and the struggles that can arise in daily life. When my brother, Angel Diaz was born, he fell right into the mix of Karate for the family. I would begin working with him in the same ways that Dad worked with me… sometimes a little too strict lol but it was all growth non-the-less. By recommendation of Shihan Bennett, my father would eventually test for the rank of Sandan under T.Ohshima, Shihan (Shotokan Karate of America). Life came full circle at this grading because I was also recommended to test for the rank of Shodan at that same training camp….and my father would be one of the seniors who would administer the Kihon and Kumite portions of the test. I thank God for that blessing to share such a momentous occasion with my best friend. Years later, this would mount would repeat itself. but with myself testing for the rank of Sandan and my brother testing for his rank of Shodan.


This was all accomplished under the watchful eye of my mother who is the glue that holds us all together. Today we are blessed to all operate our own Dojo together as a family. Mom handles the office, the boys teach classes; 34 years in the making and the journey keeps getting better.




The Shotokan style of Karate has always been known for its strict adherence to tradition. However, as an open tournament competitor you have been exposed to so many styles and systems. Are you inspired or encouraged ever to add or modify, which technically is not the traditional path?


Excellent question! When evaluating the study of karate - we must remember the various facets to the art.  We can train from the vantage point of Budo or sport competition. Regardless of your choice, we must remain open and cognizant of the four mindsets that are found in the martial arts - Shoshin, Mushin, Fudoshin, Zanshin - as they will help to guide us on the path to enlightenment in the arts.


The style of Shotokan is my foundation and what I represent in my heart. My view is that as martial artist, we must remain open-minded as to not hinder our personal evolution. I have found value in cross-training with my Budo brothers and sisters. As a hard style (Shotokan) practitioner, it was not until I began cross-training in Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu, that I would learn the softer and more fluid movements to Karate and how to incorporate them into my training in Shotokan. Originally, we only had the art of -Te-, from this we had an evolution of styles which brought emphasis to specific, elements of Karate based on individual application. As you explore other styles and concepts, you will have a heightened awareness to the cross-over between them and thus guiding your personal journey toward brining your best karate to the world. We can always pay homage and honor what was…. while still embracing what could be.


samuel diaz III


On that same subject: Do you have “room” to insert your own personality or methodology into your teaching and is this encouraged by the Shotokan Karate community?


As we know, Shotokan has many fractions with each appealing to a unique type of practitioner. Depending on your organization, there was a strict adherence to the principles of your individual lineage as it has evolved. I think this is a valuable element to the traditional arts, as it can help to ensure that the purity of the art does not become lost…. but we should be mindful as too not let our adherence handicap our growth over time.


The beauty of Karate (and most martial arts) is that you will be taught techniques, and then through individual training, you will figure out how to make it best fit for your application based on body type, strengths/weakness, abilities. When we allow our personality to shine through our art, that is the intersection of concepts and actions. This is what will bring our Karate to life and be a gift of inspiration to those around us. Gichin Funakoshi once said “Time changes, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too.” This quote was originally made in reference to the transition of Karate from ‘Jutsu’ to ‘Do’ as it spread to mainland Japan. But we can see how it will come full circle as the art continues to evolve.



You have an amazing and diverse skill set of weapons, including kama and even the oar, can you share your discovery and why you choose a weapon as rare as the oar for open competition?


The study of Kobudo has always been a passion of mine. As a child, my first weapon was Sai. They were far too big for my wrists and forearms to wield but I was confident that I could be Raphael from the Ninja Turtles. When choosing to dive back into weapons competition on the open circuit, I was looking for ways to stand out in the crowd. It seemed that the most common weapon (and still holding the title) was the Bo and Sword. Looking to spice up the division and play to my strengths, I chose to compete with Kama and Tanbo (similar to eskrima) During the Quebec Open in Canada, I was tied for 1st place with two other competitors from Team Paul Mitchell (we would later become teammates) and as a challenge of skill, I proposed the challenge that we all run our forms a second time but with new weapons. I spotted a Canadian competitor who happen to be carrying an Oar. I asked to borrow the weapon and ran a new form. From that point on, I chose to use Oar in competition as it was able to compete with the spins of the Bo competitors but offered me an opportunity to showcase a different level of strength, accuracy and showcased the art of Kobudo.



As a black belt, you have learned many forms, what is your favorite kata for training and why?


My favorite Kata for train in the Dojo is Sochin. This Kata helps me to clear my mind, get lost in my training and feel connected to the earth.

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As a competitor, what is your favorite kata for tournaments and why?


It is a toss-up between the Gensei-Ryu kata - Kishimoto Kushanku and the Shotokan Kata Hyakuhachi-ho. Both are very dynamic, three-dimensional katas with various level changes, strong forward energy towards the judges and moments of light/whirlwind movement as you manipulate the opponent.



What is the most difficult kata and why?


My most difficult kata for training is probably my most basic kata - Taikyoku Shodan. Mainly this is because it holds the answer to so many other katas when we think of balance, posture, efficiency of technique and transitions. There is ALWAYS something new that I will realize in training that will bring me back to the beginning. That is the beauty of martial arts.



Do you believe kata has an application to fighting in both tournament and street self-defense and if so, how do apply it?


Technique practiced can be technique applied. As the years have passed, Kata has gotten the short stick in conversations about practical applications. Bunkai found within kata must be extracted by the practitioner and adapted for application based on a particular situation. This was best showcased by Michael Jai White in Never back Down 3 where they showed bunker from sections of the katas Annan and Sepai.


What is going through your mind when performing kata?


At my highest points - my mind is completely clear. This clarity is initiated at Rei before entering the ring. As I rise from my bow, I look from my back eye - past the judges… my mind, body and spirit become one. My goal is to share my karate from the heart in its purest form and when this happens, it is as if I am watching my kata from a birds-eye view.



Is the mindset doing kata in competition different from training in the dojo?


Completely different mindsets. When training for competition, I am approaching my prep-camp from a performance standpoint. I am critiquing lines of site for the judges/audience. I am evaluating energy levels, speed of techniques, pause points and structuring the story that I would like to share through my performance. When I am training at the Dojo, I am having a mindset of application. I am looking to understand smaller details like pivot points, balance and transitions as it relates to an opponent giving resistance. While the mindsets may differ, I do feel that each has helped me to grow overall as a martial artist.



Do you modify your traditional teaching for your students when preparing for competition?


The traditional teachings of Kihon, Kata and Kumite will always remain to strengthen our foundation. For any student who wishes to compete at a high level, we approach our training camp as an athlete. We are looking to develop a training plan that is movement specific to build explosive energy, speed/whip in technique execution and enhance the students Kime to command the tatami in competition.



What is the best advice for a traditional martial artist entering competition today?


Karate from the Heart! When you enter the tatami, that is your moment to share your heart with the world and tell your story. We are all blessed to practice in our respective arts and this blessing is one that is meant to be shared with those around us and to inspire the next generation to continue to evolve.

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Coming up, who were your heroes in martial arts?


I was blessed to come up in a legendary Dojo under the instruction of Errol Bennett, Shihan in the Bronx, NY. I was exposed to a variety of seniors who I looked up to within the Dojo including Bennett, Shihan, My Father Samuel Diaz Jr., Marcus Herrera, Billy Beason, Ryon Richards, Maurice Baker, Byron Snowball, Matty Melisi, Michael Jai White. These warriors gave me a grit to my Karate that has kept it raw throughout the years.


In terms of competition, my heroes included Kevin Thompson, Damon Gilbert, Mike Pombiero, Adriel Muniz, Chris Rappold, Hakim Walker, Keith Weston,



Where do you see the growth of traditional karate in open competition?


I believe that traditional karate will continue to grow in open competition. Over the past 15 years, we have seen and increase in the younger competitors looking to learn traditional Japanese karate for competition purposes. I believe that once it was announced that Karate would be included into the Tokyo Olympics, that helped to spark interest in many of our next generation to see a future for the sport that would include a competitive career at the highest level. There are performance elements that you can learn by competing on the open circuit and help to develop the package as these younger competitors cross over to various competition circuits (open or traditional)



You have done every aspect of karate: training, teaching, forms, fighting, weapons, is there a favorite for you and why?


Teaching is my passion, but I will always remain a student. I love to train develop myself as a well-rounded martial artist. I am happiest when I am in the Dojo sharing energy with those around me - let it be as instructor or as student, there is no bond stronger than the bond which is forged on the Dojo floor through sweat.



Who are you excited about in the future generation of traditional martial competitors?


There are many young competitors who are excelling early as athletes. They are stronger, faster, and well-versed in the martial movement. One person that I am excited to see grow is Caio DaSilva. He has an excellent team of Sensei/Coaches around him, and the young warrior is a work horse. Not only is Caio an excellent Shotokan competitor, but most importantly, he is a respectful and intelligent young man.



As far as the martial arts industry, what excites you now?


I am excited to see martial arts becoming a more commonly practiced lifestyle. We are all facing adversity on a daily basis. Martial arts as a way of life can offer us opportunity for balance, support mental health, it can help to soften our heart to view the world through a lens of gratitude. With this collective effort, we can begin to positively impact our communities for the next generation.

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What are some things we can look forward to from you in the future?


I am looking forward to expanding my family Dojos and creating a few satellite programs within the surrounding communities. I am also excited to build out my brand “Karate from the Heart” to help expose our youth to the benefits of competitive martial arts and community educational programming. My vision is to create an institute where we can offer young men and women an opportunity to leverage the study of Karate/martial arts as a vehicle for academic success and job placement.




Along this journey, Samuel has been able to live his art each day and inspire those around him to lead with love. At the intersection of community health advocacy and martial arts passion, Samuel began to craft the idea of “Karate from the Heart,” a foundation which he hopes to be a catalyst in exposing inner-city youth to the benefits of karate training and competition.


Samuel is currently the co-owner of Stratford Shotokan Karate, his family's Dojo in Stratford, CT. Additionally, Samuel is the Chief Strategy Officer for a Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport, CT. 


To connect with Samuel Diaz III, go here:


Instagram - Warrior.1_1

Instagram - StratfordShotokanKarate 

Instagram – KaratefromtheHeart


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