Enso athlete Zachary Gin wins two medals representing AAU U.S. Team in Budapest

Great news from Budapest! Enso’s very own Zachary Gin won a silver medal in kumite and a bronze medal in kata at the the Hayashi Shito-Ryu Open International Karate Championships. The event was held on Dec. 9th in Budapest, Hungary, where Zachary had traveled as part of the AAU National Karate Team.

Zachary, 15, has been training with Enso since he was 7 years old, and he earned the rank of shodan (1st degree black belt) in 2016. He has been competing with the Enso Elite Tournament Team since it formed, and he has been a member of the National Team for the last two years.

Congratulations, Zachary, on your impressive performance on and off the tatami!

17 Enso Athletes Qualify for Elite International Competitions

Seventeen Enso athletes have qualified for highly selective international competitions in 2018. We are so proud to have our students representing themselves, our dojo, and the United States of America as they travel around the world this spring.


International School Sport Federation (ISF) High School Games
Marrakesh, Morocco
May 2-9, 2018

Team USA is bringing just seven athletes to this competition – and three are from Enso Karate! Very big congratulations to A.J. Cesar, Christine Conanan, and Zachary Gin. They qualified for the games based on their impressive performances at the ISF USA Team Trials in February 2018.

The International School Sport Federation (ISF) is recognized by the International Olympic Committee and promotes the values and interests of education through sport.

“This is an impressive honor to represent your country in this prestigious event,” said Sensei J.B. Mirza, AAU National Director, in a letter sent to qualifying athletes. “Your commitment and dedication to the sport of karate has given you this opportunity to compete against the best.”

  • AJ Cesar, 16, is a junior at Oak Park River Forest High School who earned the rank of Nidan (2nd degree black belt) in July 2017. He is a three-time national champion in kata (forms) as well as a national silver medalist in kumite (sparring) at the AAU National Karate Championships. He represented Team USA in 2014 at the WUKF World Karate Championships in Poland and in 2016 at the Honolulu International Karate Championships.
  • Christine Conanan, 15, is a sophomore at Oak Park River Forest High School. She earned the rank of Shodan (1st degree black belt) in July 2017. She has won four national medals at the AAU National Karate Championships, including gold in kata in 2016 and gold in kumite in 2017.
  • Zachary Gin, 14, is an 8th grader at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. He earned the rank of Shodan in February 2016. He was the 2017 national champion in both kata and kumite at at the AAU National Karate Championships.


World Union of Karate-do Federations (WUKF) World Karate Championships
Dundee, Scotland
June 14-17, 2018

Fifteen Enso students will represent the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)’s U.S. Team at this year’s WUKF world championships. They qualified by either earning an individual medal at the 2017 AAU National Championships or through a rigorous team trial event held in Ft. Lauderdale earlier in 2018. Those athletes are:

  • Sensei Jay Nacu (42)
  • Sensei Denise Nacu (44)
  • Pamela Wolf (64)
  • Toby Nierras (18)
  • Victoria Gin (18)
  • Milen Rios (17)
  • AJ Cesar (16)
  • Christine Conanan (15)
  • Angel Conanan (14)
  • Zachary Gin (14)
  • Maxine Ivey (13)
  • Maile Nacu (13)
  • Mateo Nacu (11)
  • Milo Platz-Walker (11)
  • Brianna Santucci (10)

Two additional students – Ryan Daly (13) and Davian Barber (12) – also qualified for the competition but are unable to attend.

“We are so proud of how hard each of these athletes have worked to earn the honor of representing their country in international competition,” said Sensei Jay Nacu, owner and director of Enso Karate. “They will learn a lot from preparing for and competing at these games, and they will bring those lessons back to Enso and make all of us stronger.”

Sensei Denise Nacu, co-owner and director at Enso Karate, added: “The entire Enso community is behind these amazing athletes. All our students are pushing a little harder in class to help them prepare. All our instructors and coaches are helping them think about strategy and prepare mentally. Many of our dedicated parents are making sure the kids have everything they need before they travel. And of course AAU is helping them prepare and strategize. It’s truly an all-in effort. The cheers in Chicago will reach us in Morocco and Scotland!”

Adult Karate Students Retreat to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

A special event for the adult karate students of the dojo was held on September 15-17, 2017 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The Adult Karate Retreat took place on the campus of George Williams College and featured karate training sessions and activities to build the bonds of dojo friendship.  We had many fine meals together, time for a hike around the lake, and late night chats around the fire pit. Our 3rd annual retreat is in the books and we’re already talking about next year!








Enso Elite Karate Team makes strong showing at 2017 AAU Karate Nationals

The Enso Elite Karate Team participated in the  2017 AAU Karate National Championships which was held in Raleigh, NC June 29 – July 1, 2017.

Our team took home 47 medals (16 gold, 20 silver, 11 bronze), and many of our athletes landed in 4th or 5th place in huge, tough divisions. We are so proud of how hard our athletes worked all year to prepare themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally for this intense week. Be sure to check out some of the live stream videos we posted on our Enso Karate Facebook page.



Sensei Jay (35-44yo) — 1st place senior kata

Sensei Denise (35-44yo) — 3rd place senior kata, 1st place team kata

AJ Cesar (15yo) — 1st place kata, 2nd place kumite

Angel C. (13yo) — 3rd place kata, 3rd place kumite, 1st place team kata, 2nd place team kumite

Brianna S. (9yo) — 2nd place kata, 2nd place kumite

Christine C. (14yo) — 3rd place kata, 1st place kumite, 1st place team kata, 2nd place team kumite

Davian B. (11yo) — 2nd place kumite, 2nd place team kata, 2nd place team kumite

Dominique C. (16yo) — 1st place kata, 1st place kumite

Elaine C. (18-34yo) — 1st place team kata

Gabriel M. (9yo) — 2nd place team kumite

Gabriel T. (12yo) — 1st place kata, 1st place kumite

Katie C. (18-34yo) — 1st place team kata

Kepler B. (15yo) — National team athlete

Maile N. (12yo) — 3rd place kata, 1st place kumite, 1st place team kata, 2nd place team kumite

Mateo N. (10yo) — 3rd place kata, 2nd place kumite, 2nd place team kumite (X2)

Maxine Ivey (13yo) — 2nd place team kumite

Milo P. (10yo) — 3rd place kumite, 2nd place team kumite, 2nd place team kata

Pamela W. (55+ yo) — 2nd place senior kata

Richard S. (11yo) — National team athlete

Ryan D. (12yo) — 3rd place kumite, 2nd place team kata, 2nd place team kumite

Suna H. (8yo) — 3rd place kumite

Toby N. (17yo) — 3rd place kumite

Victoria G. (16yo) — 3rd place team kumite

Zachary G. (13yo) — 1st place kata, 1st place kumite, 2nd place ippon kumite

2017 Chicagoland Karate-do Challenge: Tournament & Seminars Announced

The Chicagoland Karate-Do Challenge is an invitational karate tournament which will take place on Sunday, March 26, 2017.

Athletes can compete in kihon (beginners only), kata, kumite, team kata, family team kata, and team kumite. With your support, we will be able to host a successful event with a high level of competition offering athletes the chance to test their skills, forge new friendships, and make new connections.

Registration information can be found here. We hope to see you in March!

Linda Donner
Jay Nacu
Denise Nacu
Tournament Hosts and Organizers

This tournament is hosted and organized by Nisei Dojo and Enso Karate, and licensed by AAU USA. 

Kaminari Zoku 2016, Enso’s Friendly Flash Mob – Glow Version!

In October 2016, Enso Karate students surprised Chicagoans with a glow version performance of Shotokan kata at one of the city’s most recognized sites. Dozens of adults and kids of all ages joined the group to demonstrate kata in synchrony!

Enso Elite Karate Team Wraps Up Its 2014-15 Season

For any sport, a national championship is the time and place to test one’s abilities and aim for success among top athletes from across the country. Our karate team has attended tournaments throughout the season, both local and regional, and have trained multiple hours to prepare mentally and physically for the high level of competition at Nationals.
This year, we sent a total of 33 athletes to Raleigh, North Carolina for the 2015 AAU Karate National Championship. As expected, our athletes faced large divisions with other athletes who share the same drive and passion for the art. From June 30th to July 4th, our team of athletes, coaches, and officials worked hard and represented the dojo well. All in all, we took home 39 medals (10 gold, 14 silver, and 15 bronze)! Congratulations to all participants of the AAU Karate National Championships!

But our season didn’t end there! The 2015 AAU Karate Junior Olympics was held in Chesapeake, Virginia. We sent a smaller team of 9 athletes to participate in this event and took home 16 medals (5 gold, 3 silver, and 8 bronze). The Junior Olympics has been a great place for our students to face tough competition at a smaller scale than Nationals.

Our weekend concluded with our students who took part in the team trials for the AAU Karate Junior and Senior Team. A great showing from all! Letters with results will be sent out in the next few weeks.

As the season comes to a close, we often like to reflect not on how many medals we’ve earned throughout the year, but other awards and lessons that have a more lasting effect: discipline, hard work, resilience, appreciation, confidence, friendship, and respect. The greatest outcome to see from our team is the continuous passion for karate and the improvement of character in and outside of the dojo.

We’d like to thank our sensei who have been encouraging and motivating role models and coaches throughout the year. And of course, a big, big thank you to the parents of our athletes who have always looked out for all of us! None of this would be possible without all of you!

Congratulations on a successful season for our 2014-2015 Enso Elite Karate Team! For more information about our tournament team, see here. Some pictures and videos can also be seen on Instagram and Facebook. An informational meeting for parents interested in the 2015-2016 team will be scheduled in early fall.
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Enso Guest Blog: Using the Mind in Karate

By Dr. E. Cruz Eusebio, 2nd Kyu

Karate GiThe very essence of karate and, perhaps the main purpose of training, is to improve oneself. Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan karate, stressed that practitioners must strive to seek perfection of character. In doing so, it is essential to obtain a clear, focused mind in pursuit of a mental and physical state that is harnessed for perfection. When learning karate, particularly as it involves both physical and mental tasks, one must first start with the mindset of discipline. Attending to the work of the mind may not come naturally at first, but with discipline and practice, it can be utilized both in and out of the dojo.

When training, it is useful for a practitioner to continually reset their mind by clearing it from any past or future thoughts. With practice, tuning into a present awareness will become natural. Setting and being mindful of one’s goals is also fundamental to success. Not adhering to your goals is much like riding a bicycle in tiny circles to get to your destination. When away from the dojo, practitioners are encouraged to apply the mental aspects of karate to their own personal challenges in life. In this way, mental training occurs seamlessly with the physical demands of karate as it permeates all areas of one’s life.

Mind-body connections also aid in the progression of building muscle memory in addition to learning sensory motor movements essential to karate. It takes both the mind and body to develop a strong and present awareness in order to optimally enhance the structured sequence of movements in karate called kata. Of course, it is also essential to obtain good teachers to model these movements, provide feedback, and help the student reach their goals. The mind, at a fundamental level, adds to the vigor and spirit of each movement that the body is directed to perform. Anyone, with enough practice, can go through the motions, but it’s through these mental connections that one can become the greatest among the great.

Occasionally, a martial artist may arrive at a plateau in training where they feel they aren’t gaining or excelling or they are faced with greater challenges or even an injury. Our minds are powerful and can lead us to believe we are stuck when, in fact, the very act of attending a class or performing visualization is beneficial to the practitioner. One can envision and practice the various forms in karate while paying attention to their breathing without physically performing them. This is why it is essential to tap into a focused mindset. It helps you to use the strength of the mind to breakthrough and identify any potential barriers. One way this can be accomplished is by resetting the mind, thereby clearing any exterior distractions, past and present, in an effort to obtain a blank slate or tabula rasa, thereby forgiving the self of any extraneous events of the day. Another method is to simply check in with oneself, asking “Where am I with my kata, stances, or flow?” followed by “Where do I want to go with my kata, stances, or flow.” Then, visualize the steps and envision accomplishing them in progression and with success. The idea is to reset the mind continually throughout your training in an effort to optimize learning the skills without distraction, thereby gaining a thorough and new perspective of the areas in which to work.

With mindfulness, karate-kas can complete tasks that involve mental acuity with more fervor. It helps in a way that focus and concentration cannot by themselves. The reason is that mindfulness works a step further, utilizing both the unconscious and conscious minds. Using the unconscious mind is a bit like adding water to a reservoir one drop at a time to fill the cup when it’s most needed. Mindfulness attends to present moments,
particularly when the goal is to remain focused with optimal attention to learning forms and detail. Renowned mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks to it as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.” In training, it comes down to looking inward to explore the mental strength to perform the physical movements while focusing on areas to improve. It is not about criticizing, but rather finding ways to grow. The methods utilized may vary from sitting silently in zazen while aware of one’s breathing to practicing walking meditation or silent meditation on a daily basis. The idea is to practice using the mind regularly in and out of the dojo with as much frequency and integrity as you practice using your body. Ultimately, the hope is that when the mind and body are in tune, one can achieve optimal states of mental and physical awareness in order to demonstrate their own perfection of character and love for karate.


Dr. E. Cruz Eusebio is a 2nd Kyu student in Shotokan Karate at Enso. He is an assistant professor of psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology where he serves as director of the Center for Optimal Performance in Education. He has published, presented, and been interviewed by the media on various topics of child and adolescent psychology, education, technology, and neuroscience. His current focus is on the correlation between mind-body mechanics, optimal experience, and a practice he calls proflection, the art of manifesting positive change.


Guest Blog: Pondering Links to Sensei Funakoshi’s Time

Guest Blog By Katie Coleman, 1st Dan

When preparing for my black belt exam, I re-read Gichin Funakoshi’s auto-biography, “Karate-Do: My Way of Life.” This fun, short book includes snippets of karate history as well as a window into Master Funakoshi’s remarkable life, following his karate journey from Okinawa in the 1860s to the United States in the 1940s. As I read, I couldn’t help but see corollaries between Master Funakoshi’s training and the training students receive at the Enso Karate dojo today. While I’d never be so arrogant as to compare our skills to his, or our modern struggles to the hard life he led, I found comfort in the fact that the essence of karate remained despite the distance of years and cultures. Here are some of my observations.

1. Late nights. When Funakoshi was a student, practicing karate was forbidden and therefore conducted in secret. These clandestine classes were held very late at night and very far from Funakoshi’s home. He recalls: “Once my enthusiasm for the art began to take hold, I never found that nighttime walk too long.” In some ways, Enso’s late-night classes are the modern equivalent of his experience. Before I embraced karate, I could not have imagined getting home at 9:30-10 p.m. several nights per week. Now I love that

trek home – high on exercise endorphins, enjoying the company of my classmates as the cool night air hits our sticky bodies.

2. Different sides of sensei. Funakoshi noted that after practice ended, his Sensei Azato would “become a different kind of teacher … theorizing about the essence of karate or, like a kindly parent, questioning me about my life.” Certainly all of us at Enso have experienced this with various sensei and sempai, especially with Sensei Jay, who truly cares about seeing his students succeed on and off the dojo floor.

3. Learning from the greats. During times when Funakoshi trained with two masters, Sensei Azato and Sensei Itosu, he would “listen most attentively to the discussions between the two, and by doing so learned a great deal about the art.” How many of us have witnessed friendly debates between Enso’s senseis? And how many of us have attended one of Enso’s regular seminars, welcoming the greats from around the region and around the world? Enso truly brings this spirit of “learning from all the masters” to our dojo.

4. Being asked stupid questions about karate. As Funakoshi said: “A man who is relatively unfamiliar with the art may say to an adept: ‘I understand you practice karate. Tell me, can you really shatter a huge rock with your fingers? Can you really make a hole in a man’s belly with them?’” I can say for certain that every time someone learns that I do karate, they ask me how many boards I can break with my bare hands. It’s apparently been an annoyance for over 100 years!

5. Teachers who are great at other stuff. Funakoshi noted that his master Azato was a highly skilled fencer as well as a politically astute man. He was astonished that someone who was such a master at karate could also be such a master at so many other things. This, too, is clearly seen in the Enso community. Look at Sensei Denise, who is a Ph.D. professor, amazing designer, and decent piano player, not to mention a phenomenal mom! Enso also relies on its network of students and instructors to help keep the non-karate aspects of the dojo running – Sensei Chris’ legal expertise, Judie’s awesome design skills, Elaine’s amazing organizing abilities, etc.

6. Growth. Funakoshi saw hockey-stick-like growth in karate’s popularity in Japan. What began as a forbidden practice conducted on the Okinawan islands, to its first introduction in Tokyo in the 1920s, to its inclusion by the Japanese education department at all schools nationwide, and then to its introduction to the U.S. Air Force at the end of World War II. While I have only been an Enso student for 5 of the 12 years it has existed, I know enough from senseis’ stories that we have grown quite significantly – from just a couple dozen students learning from Sensei Jay at the Michigan Avenue dojo into nearly 300 students taught by a dozen well-respected instructors at three different locations in downtown Chicago, the south side, and Oak Park.

7. Building the dojo. Funakoshi built and re-built dojos during his career spreading karate throughout Japan. He speaks of his students and benefactors literally helping him procure materials and build the structure. This, too, happened at Enso. I witnessed it when we moved to the current Wells Street location. Students packed up and cleaned the old dojo, unpacked the moving truck, painted walls, installed shelves, etc. Truly, it took a village.

8. Embracing karate. Throughout Funakoshi’s book, there are many references to the importance of embracing the spirit of karate with one’s heart and soul. He frequently recounts tales when he was proud to avoid using karate or ashamed to use karate because, to him and his instructors, mastering karate was just as much about this self-control and respect as it was about mastering kata and kumite. Certainly this spirit lives on at Enso, where respect and tradition have found their place from the littlest tikes to the most experienced seniors.

I’ve only trained at Enso, but my guess is that other great dojos also share a lot in common with Funakoshi’s story and legacy. That’s one of the things that’s so great about karate-ka and karate-do around the world: We share a commitment to discipline, respect, and self-improvement. Osu.


Katie Coleman is a 1st Dan student in Shotokan Karate at Enso.

Enso Karate Summer Camp

Enso Karate Camp 2015!

It’s time to register for Karate Camp at Enso!

Kids ages 5-12 will love our fun-filled camp which will be held this year from August 17-21, 2015.  Open to current karate students as well as kids new to martial arts, this camp involves learning new skills; practicing basics, kata, and kumite; fitness games; and more.

Sensei Jay and his amazing team of instructors will keep all campers moving in a positive, social setting.  The highlight is the “Camp Show” and Pizza Party on Friday to showcase their camp experience!

Camp dates:  August 17-21, 2015

Time:  9:00am-12:30pm

Cost: $250 per week

We are also happy to continue our Junior Camp Counselor program for brown and black belt youth, which gives them the chance to build their leadership and teaching skills.  Parents: please assist your child in applying online by May 16, 2015.

Learn more and register.

Creating "Enso" Art at Summer Camp