LONDONDERRY - Although their lives followed different paths, Richard Bernard and his son, Greg Porter, have long shared the common passion of helping their students build strength and endurance, both mentally and physically.
Bernard, the longtime owner of the House of the Samurai karate studio in Londonderry, never knew of Porter's existence until Porter was 30.
"By that time, he was already a black belt," Bernard said with a laugh. "It's funny how life happens sometimes."Life has a way of coming full circle, and now Porter, 43, is working next door to his father's Buttrick Road karate studio, having recently opened a business of his own.
Crossfit Stone Warriors opened its doors in January, offering participants a unique style of workout Porter describes as one of "functional movement" that incorporates squats, pushups, gymnastics and Olympic-style lifting.
"In many ways, Greg's art is the same as mine," said Bernard, who owns the building that houses both businesses. "Cross fitness is huge, but no one really knows what it's all about. The same goes for the traditional discipline of karate."
Bernard, who started House of Samurai in the basement of his Raymond home in the early 1970s, knows a few things about starting a business from the bottom up.
"I attended a lot of courses in the school of hard knocks," he said.
Over the years, word spread of Bernard's successful teaching methods, and he ultimately moved his business to a church basement, then to a town hall.
About 25 years ago Bernard, a four-time black belt, opened his Londonderry studio, or dojo, at 28 Buttrick Road.
"It's really a lifestyle," Bernard said. "My teachers passed it down to me."
Then in his early 60s, Bernard sold the business to two longtime students several years ago and began giving lessons at the National Karate Institute in Salem.
"I knew I wasn't going to be around forever and wanted someone to keep the school going as I had," he said. "But like a lot of business transactions, this one went sour fast. It just broke my heart."
Bernard ultimately bought back House of Samurai, with another pair of his longtime students, Jose and Rebecca Dimacali, stepping in as his master instructors.
The Dimacalis, who had been living in Alaska for several years, agreed to relocate to the area to lend their talents to the Londonderry studio.
"It was the only way I would have reconsidered reopening," Bernard said. "At first, I didn't expect them to say yes. That's loyalty, right there."
This past September, House of Samurai reopened its doors. At first, there were only a handful of students; many had moved to other studios.
But soon word spread, and Bernard said his Londonderry classes are quickly filling up once again. He continues to teach at the Salem school one night a week.
When he's not teaching classes, Bernard is the leader of Shidokan USA, a martial arts organization that maintains standards and issues ranks. The organization overseas karate programs throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The House of Samurai currently teaches both Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu styles of karate, both popular in their native Japan, though there are hundreds of styles of the ancient martial art.
"Here, we're a hard-core traditional school of karate," Bernard said. "It's very structured, and everyone wears the same uniform, exactly like the standards established by the Japanese Ministry of Education."
Next door at Crossfit Stone Warriors, fitness programs are less conforming although equally rigorous.
"When you see Greg's studio, it looks a lot like a jungle gym," Bernard said of his son's fitness studio, which is often favored by mixed martial artist fighters.
For some reason, the Cross Fit program tends to appeal to women more than men, according to Porter, though classes are certainly open to everyone.
"We call it the 'Cross Fit Curves,'" he said.
Bernard smiled as he ran his fingers over the frayed ends of the tattered belt tied around his waist. Over the years, the color of his black belt has scratched off to reveal the color white, one of karate's lowest ranks, underneath. "Yes, everything comes full circle," he said.
For more information on House of Samurai, call 434-2265. For more information on Crossfit Stone Warriors, call (978) 884-1996.