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Okinawan Sumo

Karate and Okinawan Sumo

By Charles C. Goodin

This article appears at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website.

For almost two years now, I have been searching for information about the early Karate teachers and students in Hawaii. Since Karate was practiced almost exclusively in private -- very few people let it be known that they knew Karate and some were actually very secretive about the matter -- it is very difficult to find these Karate pioneers. Before World War Two, Karate was largely limited to the Okinawan community. Many isei learned the art in Okinawa before emigrating to Hawaii, and some continued practicing here.

Through the course of my research I have learned that Karate was part of the Okinawan culture: it was not studied in isolation from other cultural activities. Thus, many of the early Karate practitioners were also proficient in Okinawan music (particularly the sanshin), dance, calligraphy, poetry, and other martial arts such as kenjutsu or iaido, kobujutsu (various weapons arts using the bo, sai, tonfa, nunchanku, etc.), kendo, ju jutsu, judo and sumo. In fact, several of the Karate teachers I have located were also teachers of one or more of these other arts.

There is a particularly high correlation between the practice of Okinawan sumo and Karate. Many of those who were active in sumo also studied Karate, and vice versa. This was a very helpful discovery because while early Karate was a "hidden" art, Okinawan sumo was a public sport, practiced openly and with well-known champions. Okinawan sumo was covered by the Japanese language newspapers and even by the Advertiser, Star-Bulletin and neighbor island newspapers.

Okinawan vs. Japanese Sumo.

For many of us, the only images of sumo we have seen are of giants like Akebono, Musashimaru, and Konishiki on NGN. There are several differences, however, between Japanese and Okinawan sumo. Okinawan sumo arose from the grappling tradition known as tegumi (the same characters as in kumite, but in reverse order) or motou. In the forthcoming Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters, Shoshin Nagamine (hanshi, 10th dan, founder of the Matsubayashi-Ryu form of karate) writes:

"Because Okinawan sumo had never been promoted in the same spectacular way as its Japanese counterpart on Japan's mainland, islanders never bothered building permanent sumo rings or venues to host such local events or championships. To the Okinawans of yesteryear, sumo wrestling had been an exciting cultural recreation for everyone to enjoy. It was not a commodity to be exploited in such grandeur. That is simply not the Okinawan way. In the old days, any open space, field, or mountainside where people could freely gather and watch in their own comfort was sufficient. During that time there were no special rules or regulations about the size or configuration of the ring. The only condition was that the grappling surface had to be free of small stones or anything else that might be of danger to the grapplers. Usually, such bouts took place on a lawn, or surface covered by sand or sawdust to ensure safety for the athletes."

The participants in Okinawan sumo typically wore shorts with a thick cloth, or mawashi, tied around the waist. In Okinawa, participants sometimes wore a judo gi, with the mawashi.

The rules for Okinawan sumo also differ from the Japanese sport. Going outside of the ring or merely touching or falling on the ground does not end the match. Instead, the winner must cause his opponent's back to touch the ground while inside the ring. This requires a high degree of grappling ability, speed and dexterity, rather than mere size or brute strength. In this respect, Okinawan sumo may be compared to certain aspects of judo and ju jutsu.

Tegumi Lead to Karate.

When practiced as a sport, tegumi became Okinawan sumo. When practiced for self-defense, and with the addition of the Chinese techniques of striking (particularly vital point and nerve attacks known as kyosho jutsu), blocking and kicking, tegumi became karate. In fact, the characters for the old name "karate" or "tote," meant "China" (for the Chinese arts) and "Hand" (for "tegumi").

Before 1900, karate included a strong emphasis on tegumi, or grappling, which includes such techniques as throws, sweeps, trips, joint locks, chokes, holds, traps and parries. Older karate kata such as Wanshu, Wankan, Rohai, and Passai reflect these movements in certain seemingly elaborate open-handed techniques. In Passai, for example, there is sequence in which the opponent throws a left punch. Parrying the punch with his right hand, the defender catches the wrist with his left and applies a joint lock, which causes the attacker to twist in pain and go down on one knee. The defender next raises his right knee, breaking the attacker's arm in the process, and throws a right side kick to the left knee. Already in a vulnerable position, the attacker is completely disabled. This short sequence illustrates the integration of tegumi and striking/kicking techniques which was characteristic of traditional karate.

When karate was introduced to the public school system at the turn of the century, however, it underwent a process of simplification to make it safer for younger students. The emphasis in modern kata such as the five Pinan kata which were developed abound 1905, shifted to closed-handed punching and blocking techniques and open-handed (shuto) strikes. The grappling or tegumi element was minimized or removed completely, as were nerve attacks and vital point techniques. Tegumi remained an integral aspect of the art in the private classes conducted by karate sensei outside of the public schools. It is interesting to note that when karate was introduced to mainland Japan in the early 1920's, several students who were already experts at ju jutsu, immediately combined the two arts. This was not because karate in Okinawa lacked grappling techniques, but rather because this aspect was simply not being emphasized at the time by the early teachers on mainland Japan.

Okinawan Sumo's Karate Men.

Two of the prominent karate sensei in Okinawa who were also very active in promoting Okinawan sumo were Yabu Kentsu and Hanashiro Chomo. Both were distinguished military officers and senior students of Matsumura Sokon and Itosu Anko. Yabu "Gunso" visited Hawaii in 1927 and possibly earlier in 1921. Yabu was famous for several reasons, one of which was for defeating the legendary fighter Chokki Motobu (Motobu No Saru) in a match. While karate instructors occasionally engaged in karate matches, these tended to be very dangerous and serious injuries or even death could result. When a friendly challenge was intended, the participants usually resorted to tegumi or sumo. Yabu's encounter with Motobu is thought to have been such a tegumi contest and in later years, Motobu returned to Yabu to learn the finer points of the ancient karate kata.

Here in Hawaii, Yabu met with former karate and sumo students who had emigrated to Hawaii. He also taught karate and promoted sumo among the younger generation here. On Maui (during a visit accompanying retired Admiral Kenwa Kanna, Okinawa's most senior military officer), Yabu meet with a group of sumo enthusiasts including Oki Shikina, one of the leading young Okinawan sumotori in Hawaii. Shikina also studied ju jutsu and karate (with Yabu and Miyagi Chojun) and became a well-known professional western style wrestler. Although Shikina appears to be a giant in many photographs, a 1938 article listed his height at a mere 5 foot 8 inches and his weight at 218 pounds. During his lengthy career, Shikina excited Hawaii audiences by defeating much larger opponents.

Yabu also met with karate and sumo enthusiasts in Honolulu. One of his former students from Okinawa was Kitatsu Kawamae. Born in Heian-za, Nakagami district, Kawamae was fluent in Japanese, English and Chinese. When he came to Hawaii, Kawamae first drove a taxi on Oahu and later worked at a Chinese wholesale store in Honolulu's Chinatown. Tall and with a muscular build, he also became one of Hawaii's sumo champions. In 1935 he returned to Okinawa and had a sumo match with Masayuki Kinjo. The match was billed as Hawaii's champion versus Okinawa's champion. Hanashiro sensei was one of the referees for the match, which regrettably ended when Kawamae suffered a shoulder injury. The exciting match, nevertheless, brought fame to Kawamae and much credit to Hawaii. Returning to Okinawa the next year, Kawamae later worked as an interpreter for the military and eventually became the mayor of Yonashiro village.

The first Okinawan sumo tournament after the war in Hawaii was held on July 18, 1948. Some of the referees and participants included Seishin Uehara (karate sensei), Sadao Asato (studied Karate with Yabu in 1927), Oki Shikina, Heizo Arakaki, Noboru Kamiya, Charley Shiranuhi, Stan Miyashiro and Ansei Ueshiro.

Ansei Ueshiro was born in Hawaii but was sent to Okinawa at the age of 4. There he learned karate from his uncle, Anho Ueshiro, who was known as "Chin Kami." He trained with his cousin, also named Ansei Ueshiro, who is a well-known karate (Shorin-Ryu) teacher in New York. In addition, he is the brother-in-law of Thomas Shigeru Miyashiro, Hawaii's first nisei karate sensei.

Ueshiro told me that he did not practice or teach karate in Hawaii, but that once when he was driving a taxi, he was held up. Convincing the robber that his money was in the trunk, he stepped out of the car and walked around to the back. There he subdued the robber until the police arrived. I wonder whether he used karate or his Okinawan sumo!

It may be impossible to find all the early karate instructors who lived in Hawaii. Fortunately, many of these usually shy experts, may be found in photographs, articles and stories about Okinawan sumo.

Do you have a story or photographs of Hawaii's early Karate students or sensei? If so, please contact the author.

Charles C. Goodin
98-211 Pali Momi Street, Suite 640C
Aiea, Hawaii 96701

Telephone: (808) 488-5773
Fax: (808) 488-5778
E-mail: goodin@hawaii.rr.com

Copyright © Charles C. Goodin. All rights reserved.

Accumulating Bad Habits

I have met Karate students who have copied every bad habit they have ever seen. They tilt their head to the left like one sensei, raise their shoulders like another, flip their wrists like a third, and stomp like another.

Then they adopt a pseudo-Japanese or Okinawan accent to further mimick their favorite sensei.

Students should copy their sensei -- but copy the good things.

The sensei should be careful to identify his own bad habits so that his students can avoid them.


Charles C. Goodin

Higaonna Sensei's Hands

Sensei Morio Higaonna (see IOGKF.com) was kind enough to visit my dojo and teach. I acted as his uke for some techniques.

Afterwards, some of my students commented that they were worried because it looked like Higaonna Sensei was killing me.

I replied that Higaonna Sensei had the softest touch. He could take my arm, for example, right to the point where it could be dislocated.

The only person I have met with such a soft but controlled touch was Sensei Sadao Yoshioka. Yoshioka Sensei taught Aikido in Hawaii.

One night, I took Higaonna Sensei back to his hotel in Waikiki. While I was speaking to him on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, two young men walked up and started to ask incoherent questions. I was concerned that they might be troublemakers.

Being the host, I positioned myself between Higaonna Sensei and the two men. In the back of my mind I was thinking, "do you two know who this is?" I also could not help feeling amused by how silly it was for me to be protecting Higaonna Sensei. But that is what a host must do. I still smile when I think of it.

By the way, the men walked away with no trouble. How lucky!


Charles C. Goodin

Catching a Cold

One of my sensei used to say that you must not be training right if you catch a cold. I used to think that he was exaggerating.

Now I realize that he was right. Karate involves your whole life -- not just punching and kicking. Your health is part of Karate. If you catch a cold, you have to ask yourself whether you have been taking the best care of your health. Have you been eating the right food, taking vitamins, drinking enough water, getting enough rest, etc.?

You are responsible for your own health. If you catch a cold you must not have been training right.


Charles C. Goodin

Os - Osu

I have been to dojo where everyone says os or osu. Quite honestly, I believe that this is common in Japanese dojo rather than Okinawan dojo.

I attended a seminar at a Japanese dojo taught by an Okinawan sensei. At the end of the session, the sensei thanked and said many nice things about the students. They had a dissatisfied look on their faces. The sensei said some more nice things. Still they looked unhappy.

Finally the sensei, looking a bit embarassed, said "os."

Everyone applauded and cheered.


Charles C. Goodin


I often meet Karate students and teachers who have read articles I have written for Classical Fighting Arts (formerly Dragon Times), the Uchinadi Journal (formerly Koryu Journal), Furyu: The Budo Journal, or other periodicals.

Sometimes they look so disappointed. I think they thought I would be much taller!


Charles C. Goodin

One Year Student

When a person starts training in my dojo, I tell them that they will not be considered to be a student until one year has passed. There are two reasons for this.

First, many people quit within the first year. If they are not yet a student, they will not have to feel badly. Students often carry regret for quite a while. I want to avoid imposing this regret on people who only train briefly.

From my perspective, I feel very attached to my students. This feeling lasts for a lifetime.

Sometimes, a person might want to be able to say that they trained with me. Everyone should know that only people who have trained with me for at least a year are considered to be students. Until then, they are more like guests.

Certainly, I would not promote anyone, regardless of their rank from any other sensei, until they have trained with me for at least one year, usually much longer.


Charles C. Goodin

World in Slippers

There is a saying that when you enter the dojo you should leave the world in your slippers. Your slippers should be arranged neatly outside of the dojo.

If you have thoughts about work, school, relationships, etc., you should leave them in your slippers. When you are in the dojo, you should be ready to learn. Your attention should be on nothing else.

If your mind wanders, not only will you not be able to learn, you could become injured or harm someone else.

There is time for the world after training. You must cultivate the mental discipline to be able to concentrate on training while you are in the dojo.

By the way, one of my sensei would collect any slippers that were not arranged neatly and throw them in the trash can.


Charles C. Goodin

A Cheap Bokken

From time to time we practice with bokken in the dojo. Because we make contact with the bokken, I purchased several inexpensive ones for use in the dojo. They were very light colored, almost like a white oak.

One of my students purchased one of these bokken at the store and refinished it. He stripped off the finish, nicely sanded the surface, and applied a light coat of oil that brought out the natural color of the wood.

The cheap bokken did not look cheap any more. It was beautiful.

Sometimes a student too needs just a little work and polishing to reveal the beauty of their true character.


Charles C. Goodin

Being Considerate

It is important for students to be considerate. They should come to the dojo early to help clean and set up, wear a clean gi, have a clean body, keep their fingernails and toenails short, and clean up after training.

Part of courtesy is to be considerate of others, not just in the dojo but at home, work, school, church, etc.

A Karate student should be able to anticipate and respond to another's need before assistance is asked for.


Charles C. Goodin

Speed vs Timing

Pat Nakata often tells me that his sensei, Choshin Chibana, said that timing is more important than speed.

When you are young, speed is everything. But as you age, you will naturally become slower. Then, timing becomes essential.

Actually, even when young it is best to learn good timing.

William H. Rabacal advised me to learn how to juggle in order to gain better timing. It was hard at first, but within a couple of weeks I learned how to juggle three objects. Rabacal Sensei was right! Juggling teaches good timing. You cannot juggle the balls faster than they fall. You have to be in rhythm with the balls -- just as you have to be in rhythm with punches.

I practiced Kendo with Chiuchi Fureyama. He was already very old when I started training (I had just started college) and I was already a yudansha in Karate. I thought for sure that I would be able to hit him. No matter how hard I tried or how fast I thought that I was, I never hit him. His timing was just too good.


Charles C. Goodin

Karate and Religion

At the beginning and end of class we sit mokuso. Essentially we sit in the seiza position and clear our minds for a short while.

I always emphasize that we are not doing Zen or saying prayers. We are simply sitting to quiet our minds so that we can develop a keener sense of awareness.

I believe that it is important to keep Karate and religion completely separate. I should not impose my religious beliefs on my students.

Karate teaches a code of conduct and a way of non-violence. It develops character and self-desicipline. These are not religious in nature.

There is a saying that when confronted we should turn the other cheek. I believe that this is a good example of tai sabaki.


Charles C. Goodin

Karate and Zen

Some people teach that Karate and Zen should be practiced together. See Nagamine Shoshin: "Karate and Zen As One". While I respect this opinion (I wrote that article), I feel that the two are unrelated and that it is not necessary to practice Zen when you already practice Karate.

If Zen is needed, it means that Karate is incomplete. If Karate is required, it means that Zen is incomplete.

If I practice Karate and feel that I am lacking something, I should practice Karate more dilligently, not start something new. It is far better to be good at one thing rather than mediocre at two things.

In my opinion, Karate is a complete art in and of itself. You should realize the stillness between movements and the movements between stillness.


Charles C. Goodin

Kobudo: Weapon Arts

Kobudo: Weapon Arts

by Charles C. Goodin

This article appears at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website.

Karate is an important cultural legacy of Okinawa. Today, "karate" means "empty hand," but this was not always the case. Prior to 1936, "karate," which could also be pronounced "tote," meant "China hand." This older terminology was used in Hawaii even after World War Two. The modern usage of the term "empty hand" has incorrectly led some people to believe that Okinawa lacks a weapons tradition -- after all, by definition how can an empty hand hold a weapon? In fact, Okinawa has a rich kobudo (weapons arts) tradition. Karate and kobudo were often practiced together.

The development of karate in Okinawa is often attributed to a ban on the ownership of weapons in the country by King Shoshin (1477-1526) and later by Lord Shimazu of Satsuma. Stripped of weapons, the civilians were forced to develop unarmed methods of self-defense, literally to turn their hands into swords and their arms into clubs. There is some controversy about the extent of the weapons ban in Okinawa. In any event, the sword and samurai class certainly did not play as central a role in Okinawa as they did in mainland Japan.

Over the centuries, Okinawan martial artists actually used a wide variety of weapons. These weapons originated in places such as China, Japan and in Okinawa itself. Some of the more well-known Okinawan weapons are the bo (6 foot wooden staff), sai (iron truncheon usually used in pairs but sometimes in sets of three), nunchaku (wooden flail), tuifa or tonfa (a section of wood with handles, usually used in pairs), and kama or nichogama (sickles, usually used in pairs and sometimes with a long chain attached). In recent years, the use of the eku (wooden paddle) has also become popular.

Several of these weapons were derived from farming implements. The bo was readily available in the form of long-handled tools. The nunchaku is said to have come from a horse bridal and the tuifa originated as the handle of a grinding stone. The kama (sickle) is little changed from the ones still used in farms and gardens.

There are also variations of these weapons. A short staff is called a jo. While most bo are about 6 feet in length, there are also longer and shorter versions. Bo can be tapered, straight or even octagonal. Most sai are as shown in the accompanying photograph. There is also a type of sai with prongs in opposite directions. This is called a manji sai. When a manji sai is attached to a bo, it becomes a nunti bo.

Other weapons used in Okinawa include the tekko (metal knuckles), tinbei (short sword and shield), and double bladed sword. Many Okinawans were educated in Japan and/or China and thus had opportunities to learn the weapons arts of these countries. Thus, some Okinawans were educated in the use of traditional Japanese weapons such as the long and short swords, yari (spear), naginata (halberd), and bow and arrow. Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura, the bodyguard and karate instructor to the King of Okinawa, for example, was a master of the Jigen-ryu form of swordsmanship. Some Okinawans also mastered one or more of the many forms of Chinese weapons.

The most commonly used weapon in Okinawa was the bo. Bo training in Okinawa is documented as far back as the 14th century. A wooden staff was readily available in farms and villages. In fact, it is sometimes said that karate training was more popular in the cities in towns while bo training was more prevalent in outlying areas. Each village usually had one or more bojutsu masters. A village style was unique to that village and it generally would not be taught to outsiders.

Unlike the sai, nunchaku and tonfa, which are short-range, generally concealed weapons, the bo offers the advantage of length, particularly against a weapon such as a sword. One expert I spoke to said that the bo is the easiest weapon to learn and the most difficult to master. In the hands of an expert, the bo moves almost invisibly and actually cuts through the air (and the opponent) like a sword. Imagine a skilled kendo sensei. His precise movements are literally too quick to see. The same is true of a bo expert. And unlike a swordsman, a bo expert can strike with either end of his weapon!

There have been many kobudo masters in Okinawa this century. Some of the more well-known are Yabiku Moden, Chojo Oshiro, Kenwa Mabuni, Kamiya Jinsei, Shiken Taira, Shinpo Matayoshi, Shinyei Kyan, Jokei Kushi, and Chogi Kishaba. Although he rarely instructed students in their use, Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of the Shotokan form of karate), was also skilled with the bo and sai.

The art of bojutsu, like karate, came to Hawaii with the first Okinawan immigrants in 1900. Demonstrations of bo kata or bo odori were common at festivals and gatherings here in Honolulu and on the neighbor islands. Some experts practiced bojutsu alone, but others also practiced karate. During my research, I have discovered several bo experts, but none who taught the art after they arrived in Hawaii.

Chinese martial artists also used the bo. One of my karate teachers mentioned that one of the experts he knew back in the "old days" was a manapua man who carried his wares hanging on the ends of his bo. When trouble arose, the manapua man was quick to drop his goods and grab his bo. His attackers usually ran for their lives!

Fortunately, Okinawa's weapons arts have experienced a resurgence in Hawaii, due in part to their popularity in tournaments. Ironically, a company I contacted that manufactures bo, reported to me that their most popular model is a "toothpick" bo, one that is extremely thin and light weight. Something I have always found amazing is how a true bo expert can make a heavy, hardwood bo seem weightless. Such an expert would snap such a light weight bo in half.

Weapons arts are also practiced in traditional dojo as an adjunct to empty hand practice. In our dojo, shodan (first degree black belts) are expected to train with at least one weapon. Each person will usually select a primary and secondary weapon. For example, I primarily practice with the bo but also train with the sai. Yudansha (black belts generally) are expected to show proficiency with various weapons as they advance.

Aside from their direct self-defense value, weapons are useful training aids. The heavy metal sai, for example, offer an effective form of weight training. After practicing with sai, the arms are strengthened and the hands feel very light. The same is true of tuifa (or tonfa) practice. The bo is useful to make a student relax. It is impossible to use the bo correctly when the body is tight or stiff. Because the bo is so rigid, the student must learn to relax and harmonize with its weight, speed and momentum.

Kobudo involves much more than merely using weapons in an existing karate kata. Some karate students are known to do just that. For example, the sai can be held along the forearm and used in a conventional jodan uke (upper block). Many modern karate students practice such a movement. In ancient kata, the blade of the sai would usually be flipped out, rather then held against the forearm. This increased the engagement distance (maai) and also deflected the attack rather than transferring the shock directly to the arm. In addition, the sai could be thrown, particularly at the opponent's feet. It was for this reason that a third sai was often carried concealed in the obi (belt). The unique advantages of the sai and other weapons are maintained in the ancient kobudo kata.

By practicing the weapons arts, we are helping to preserve an important aspect of Okinawa's rich cultural heritage. Do you know of a bo or other weapon's expert who practiced or demonstrated in Hawaii before World War Two? If so, please contact me so that I can include the information in my book on the early history of karate in Hawaii.

Charles C. Goodin
98-211 Pali Momi Street, Suite 640C
Aiea, Hawaii 96701

Telephone: (808) 488-5773
Fax: (808) 488-5778
E-mail: goodin@hawaii.rr.com

Copyright © Charles C. Goodin. All rights reserved.

Compliment the Student

We always can find errors with a student's technique. A teacher might make hundreds of corrections over the years.

We should be careful not to only find errors but to compliment the student's improvement as well. Even if there are 10 things wrong with a student's kata, there may be 2 or 3 things to praise.

I believe that my first Shorin-Ryu instructor, Rodney Shimabukuro, learned this from his sensei, Tommy Morita.

When I went to Okinawa, there must have been literally thousands of things wrong with my kata because I had poor basics. When Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato taught me, he was extremely encouraging, even if I made the slightest progress -- actually, I could only make the slightest progress. I can still hear him saying, "so, so, so, so, so!"

Compliment your students when they make progress.


Charles C. Goodin

Break It Down

My first Shorin-Ryu sensei, Rodney Shimabukuro, always taught us to break down each movement into its basic parts. When you can do the basics correctly, advanced movements are easy.

Teachers should always break the movements down so that each part is clear. Any errors in the parts can be corrected. In this way, the parts can be assembled to make a proper movement.

Sometimes a student can do a movement correctly but cannot break it down. They almost certainly do not understand the movement very well and will have a difficult time teaching it.

No matter what rank a person may have, they can never advance in Karate without good basics. It is very sad when you hear that a godan should actually be a gokyu. This is because they lack good basics.


Charles C. Goodin

75 Down Blocks

Professor Rick Clark wrote a book entitled "75 Down Blocks: Refining Karate Technique", Tuttle Publishing, 2003, 185 pages.

If he found 75 interpretations for a simple down block (gedan barai or uke), how many more interpretations must there be for other techniques (waza)?

The riddles of kata are revealed through constant practice and reflection.


Charles C. Goodin

Thomas Shigeru Miyashiro

Thomas Shigeru Miyashiro:
Hawaii's First Nisei Karate Sensei

by Charles C. Goodin

This article appears at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website.

Born on April 25, 1915, in Waimanalo, Hawaii, to parents Kana Miyashiro, of Aragusuku, Ginowan, Okinawa, and Uto (Shinshiro) Miyashiro, Thomas Shigeru Miyashiro was an active member of Hawaii's Okinawan community. He was a member of the Ginowan Shijun Kai and the Wahiawa Hongwanji, where he often performed volunteer work. Married at a young age, he and wife had four daughters and a son. For most of his adult life he worked for the City and County of Honolulu, first at Ala Moana Park, next at Foster Botanical Garden, and later as superintenent of Wahiawa Botanical Garden, where he eventually retired. His specialty was orchids. He was remembered as a Good Samaritan, a friend to those in need.

Few people are aware, however, that Miyashiro was Hawaii's first nisei Karate sensei. He certainly was the first local sensei to make the Okinawan art of self-defense available to the public. His tireless efforts to preserve and promote the art continued until his passing on March 22, 1977....

For the remainder of this article, please see: http://seinenkai.com/art-miyashiro.html

If you have any information about or photographs of the early days of Karate in Hawaii, please contact the author. He can be reached at:

Charles C. Goodin
98-211 Pali Momi Street, Suite 640C
Aiea, Hawaii 96701

Telephone: (808) 488-5773
Fax: (808) 488-5778
E-mail: goodin@hawaii.rr.com

Copyright © Charles C. Goodin. All rights reserved.

Family First

No matter how much you enjoy Karate, it is important that you put your family first. I have always emphasized this.

My first Shorin-Ryu sensei, Rodney Shimabukuro, told me this. His sensei, Tommy Morita told him this. His sensei, Masaichi Oshiro told him this.

One of Oshiro Sensei's students came to my class and I heard me say, "remember to put your family first." He said, "my sensei used to say the same thing!"

Family must come first, then work or school. You should only attend Karate class after you have fulfilled your obligations. Nothing is more important than your family.


Charles C. Goodin

My Favorite Patch

My favorite patch is the one on the knee of my gi bottom. That gi used to belong to my third son. One afternoon after class he slipped in the parking lot and ripped the gi bottom.

I had a patch sewn on and have worn it ever since. I want to see how long it will last.

Karate students should be thrifty. The best patches are the ones that hold your gi together.


Charles C. Goodin

Judo First

I am often asked at what age a child should begin Karate training. I usually recommend that children start at the age of 11 or 12. Before that, I recommend that they learn Judo.

We usually do not have the time or facilities to properly teach rolling and breakfalls in Karate class. Judo students learn these essential skills extremely well.

Judo also gives a Karate student a better appreciation of grappling techniques. In a real fight (or attack), the parties often end up on the ground where Judoka and wrestlers have the advantage.

Parents should be very careful about selecting a Judo class. They should watch the class first and make sure that it is safe. I do not think that a tournament emphasis is necessary. The emphasis should be on basic Judo skills and character development.

I practiced Judo during elementary school in Japan. It formed an excellent foundation for my subsequent martial arts training (Kenpo, Karate, Aikido, Kendo, Tai Chi, and Iaido). Many other Karate sensei that I know also began their martial arts training in Judo.

Judo, Karate and Kendo are an excellent combination.


Charles C. Goodin

Ten Thousand Kata

A sensei I know, Pat Nakata, performs at least 10,000 kata each year. That is ten thousand kata. Actually, I think that he did 12,000 kata last year. He is in his early 60s.

His sensei was Choshin Chibana, from whom he learned this practice. Chibana Sensei was a student of Anko Itosu, who introduced the art of Karate to the Okinawan school system. I wonder how many Kobayashi-Ryu followers perform 10,000 kata each year?

Nakata Sensei shows that Karate is something you practice, not just think or speak about.


Charles C. Goodin

Learning From Students

Students learn from their Karate teacher. However, the teacher learns just as much, or even more, from his students.

There is a saying that you learn 50% when you are taught and the other 50% when you teach. I think the percentages are wrong. They should be about 10% and 90%.

When you see a fine Karate sensei, there may be hundreds of students who helped him to acquire his skill.

Sometimes I will break my class into groups and ask them to analyze a particular movement. I am always amazed when the groups get together and report their findings. I learn so much!


Charles C. Goodin


Some teachers make their students do push-ups as punishment. Push-ups are a good form of exercise. They should not be used as punishment.

I try never to punish my students. It is far better to positively encourage the students to practice. The best thing an instructor can do is to provide a good example.

If the class is unruly, perhaps the instructor should do the push-ups.


Charles C. Goodin

Bunkai - Analysis

Bunkai, in a basic sense, means to study the applications of the movements of kata. To practice kata without understanding the bunkai would be like reciting a speech without understanding any of the words.

Some applications are straightforward. Sometime a punch is just a punch. However, many grappling and joint manipulation techniques are also present in the kata, sometimes hidden as striking or blocking techniques.

Okinawan kata generally presume very close contact -- only as far as you can reach with your elbow. At that distance, the potential range of bunkai is very great. When you look at books explaining bunkai, the engagement distance is often too great.

The next time you are standing in a crowded elevator, ask yourself how you might apply the techniques of your favorite kata. Now imagine how it would be if the lights of the elevator were turned off and the elevator was shaking!

Bunkai brings kata to life.


Charles C. Goodin

Dying Belts

Tommy Morita, a leading Shorin-Ryu and Kenpo sensei in Hawaii, used to dye white belts various colors so that he could give them to his students. He is an example of the fine sensei in Hawaii who generously gave of their knowledge, time and even money to promote the art. They never sought to become rich by teaching -- instead, they enriched the lives of their students.


Charles C. Goodin

One Sensei Per Dojo

Each dojo will usually have only one sensei. The sensei is the head of the dojo.

There may be quite senior people in the dojo who would not be addressed as sensei, unless they have their own dojo. Thus, a shodan with a dojo might be addressed as "Sensei" while a rokudan who assists the head instructor might not be addressed as "Sensei" even though his is senior to the shodan. This is simply how it is in some dojo.

In other dojo, all yudansha (black belts holders) are called sensei.

In Japan, elders are also called "sensei". The term is not limited to Karate.

If you are in doubt, it is probably best to address seniors as "sensei." If they instruct you not to do so, then you can ask about the proper way to address them.

When you address a sensei, it is best to bow, even if slightly. Remember that you are showing respect to the position as well as the person.


Charles C. Goodin

The Title "Sensei"

"Sensei" is a term that your students (and perhaps others) call you. It is not a title that you would use to describe yourself.

If I call someone, I would say, "This is Charles Goodin." I would not say, "this is Goodin Sensei." I would not use the term "Sensei" in connection with my name.

If I were speaking to a sensei, I might refer to him as "Smith Sensei." It is not correct to say "Sensei Smith," nor would I call him "Sensei Bill." Sensei follows the surname. But because of awkwardness of translation, I might introduce Bill Smith as "Sensei Bill Smith."

I would never address my sensei by his name only. In my case, I would address my sensei as "Sensei" or "Shinzato Sensei" (or "Shimabukuro Sensei").

Here in Hawaii, several sensei who are senior to me (by decades) refer to me as sensei when we meet. This does not mean that I am senior to them (certainly not!). It just shows that they are showing respect to another dojo head. The position itself is shown respect.

Don't let titles go to your head. A "Sensei" should have good sense!


Charles C. Goodin

False Courtesy

There is a saying that Karate begins and ends with courtesy.

The formalities of courtesy (reigi) are easy to learn. In fact, some people become quite good at it although lacking courtesy in their heart.

Bowing correctly does not mean that a student is respectful. But even if a student bows incorrectly, if he or she has a respectful attitude and heart, then they have done well.

Courtesy is only part of it. Students should be humble -- truly humble. Students should be thoughtful of others. Students should be grateful for the opportunity to learn. And everyone (teachers and students) should maintain the attitude of a beginner.


Charles C. Goodin


There is too much emphasis today on Karate styles, as if Karate was a pair of shoes.

Karate is much more than a style, organization, patch, or name. These are often just ways to retain and charge students.

Karate is really a personal art. One sensei told me that in Okinawa they learn from teachers, not associations. That may or may not be true today. But what he said was correct in the old days.

A student of Chotoku Kyan was a student of Chotoku Kyan. One of his students told me that they simply called the art Shuri-Ryu.

Styles and associations come and go. Learn as much as you can about your sensei and his or her lineage. You are part of a chain going back for many generations of people.


Charles C. Goodin

Tree Farmers

Aikido Sensei Sadao Yoshioka gave a lecture once about his ancestor's business in Japan. They raised trees for lumber.

One generation would plant the trees. The third generation would harvest them. Each generation was tied to the past and the future.

This is how it is in the martial arts. What you know now is the result of those who came before you. The students you teach are like sapplings, which may mature long after you are gone.

Each generation of martial artists is tied to the past and future.


Charles C. Goodin

Bad Examples

We can learn from good examples. We can also learn from bad examples.

If you see a person destroy his or her life by drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, infidelity, etc., you can learn not to do this. Unfortunately, many people seem to fall into the same trap that caught their parents or other relatives.

We can learn from others' experiences -- both positive and negative ones.

Karate gives us the self-discipline to resist vices and live positive lives.


Charles C. Goodin

Yoshioka Sensei's Lectures

I practiced Aikido with Sadao Yoshioka, first at the Waialae Dojo and later at the Nuuanu YMCA. During each class, Yoshioka Sensei would give a lecture. We would all sit in the seiza position and listen.

After class, the students would discuss the lecture. "Sensei must have heard about what I did," one student would say. "He was talking about me today."

"You're wrong," another student would say. "He was talking about me."

I knew they both were wrong because the lecture was certainly about me!

Somehow, Yoshioka's lectures would touch each student personally. See: Not About You.

I'm glad that Yoshioka Sensei would make time during each class to give us such special lectures. All sensei can learn from his example. Martial arts are only relevant if they apply in our daily lives.

Yoshioka Sensei passed away in 1990. Sometimes I still think I see him.


Charles C. Goodin

A Single Technique

If you can do one technique properly, you can do all techniques properly.

Techniques are the DNA of Karate. When you break down DNA, you find that it is made up of common building blocks in different arrangements. When you break down techniques, you will find the same.

So, if you can perform one technique properly, you can apply what you know to every other technique. It is just a matter of breaking the techniques down and understanding them.

I like to teach shuto uke as a base techniques. This is just my personal preference.

Naihanchi Shodan and Nidan are basically pure DNA. If you study them carefully, the key to all other techniques will be revealed.


Charles C. Goodin

Quitting Karate - Politics

Do you know why many senior Karate instructors, often the most sincere ones, quit? The answer is politics.

When Karate is practiced in a large school or as part of a large organization, politics can become a problem. Who is in charge? Who determines rank? Who can talk to whom? Who can teach where?

Politicians are usually kuchi bushi (mouth warriors).

It is much simpler, and satisfying, to teach in a small dojo where you know everyone. The measure of a dojo is not how many students it has, but the quality of each student. In Okinawa at the turn of the 20th century, even 10 students was a lot. Actually, to have even one student who can pass on the art is an incredible accomplishment.

To the extent possible, avoid politics. Training is much more productive and rewarding.

See: Politics -- A Reason To Continue.


Charles C. Goodin

A Karate Ring

It is not appropriate to wear any jewelry during Karate training.

While attending a seminar on the mainland, I saw a young man wearing what appeared to be a high school graduation ring. I walked over and mentioned to him that jewelry should not be worn during training.

He quickly explained that it was OK because it was a Karate ring. Sure enough, it was a Karate design ring sold by his dojo.

I was at a loss for words. I guess that Karate rings could be worn in his dojo -- after all, his sensei had sold it to him.

I do not allow jewelry to be worn in my dojo. It is a safety issue. In addition, Karate training should be austere.


Charles C. Goodin

The Best Sensei

During the course of my Karate research, I am often asked "who is the best Karate sensei in Hawaii?"

I always answer that the best sensei is the one who taught you, or your children. The best sensei is the one who has given up his or her free time to pass on the art to others. Whether in a magnificent hall, garage, church, cafeteria, yard, or temple, Hawaii's sensei, of all the arts, have given selflessly of their knowledge and time.

The best sensei is not necessarily the one who learned from the most famous teacher. Many who learned from famous sensei declined to teach.

I admire sensei, such as Tomu Arakawa, Jimmy Miyaji, Bobby Lowe, Walter Nishioka, and Pat Nakata, who have taught in Hawaii for over 40 years.

Do you have a sensei to whom you have not spoken for several years. Give him or her a call to say "thank you Sensei."


Charles C. Goodin

A Kick to the Head

There is an old saying that if you want to kick someone in the head, throw them to the ground first. Then you can "stomp the cockaroach juice out of them" (quoting my friend Prof. Kimo Ferreira). I know that the word is spelled "cockroach," but in Hawaii we pronounce it "cock-a- roach."

High kicks are very risky, particularly on rough terrain, in the dark, or against multiple attackers. Grapplers love it when you try to kick them high.

In the old days, kicks were directed below the waist. Stomping, sweeps, trips, traps, knee presses, etc. were much more common.

High kicks are largely designed to impress the public, which has no Karate expertise.

Of course, Karate techniques should only be used as a last resort.


Charles C. Goodin

Train for your 70s

I know many Karate sensei who are in their 70s or older. Many have knee and/or back injuries that resulted from overzealous training in their youth. Such injuries often result in arthritis.

Your life may be quite long. If you train only for your 20s, you might suffer later. Obviously, you cannot practice the same in your 50s as you did in your 20s.

The other night I watch a Tai Chi demonstration. The sifu was in his 60s. After demonstrating a long form, he continued his duties as the emcee. He was not out of breath in the least.

We students of Karate can learn a lot from Tai Chi instructors!

If you rely on physical strength, your Karate will suffer as your strength declines. You should plan for this and seek to understand core body principles.


Charles C. Goodin

Karate Secrets

There are no secrets in Karate -- only things you might not have learned yet.

The key to Karate is to practice.

If your technique is poor, practice. If your character is poor, practice. Practice polishes your character and reveals your true self.

People who speak about secrets usually want to sell you something.


Charles C. Goodin

Crabs in a Bucket

You cannot build your reputation by tearing down others.

I heard an expression. Crabs in a bucket will pull down the ones that try to escape.

Some people are the same. Instead of working on improving themselves, they sit at the bottom of the bucket waiting to pull down others. Such people usually train little and talk a lot (behind the back).

Karate researcher Patrick McCarthy uses the expression "standing on the shoulders of giants" to describe how fortunate we are to have had such great pioneers as Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Choki Motobu, Gichin Funakoshi, and many others. We are lucky to be be able to stand on their broad shoulders.

If you have the chance, give others a boost rather than trying to drag them down.


Charles C. Goodin

Sensei - Before Person

Sensei does not exactly mean teacher, certainly not master. "Sen" means "before" and "sei" means "person." Thus, a "sensei" is someone prior to you.

When you enter the dojo, there will be many people who were there before you. You might learn from all of them.

Sensei usually means the most senior person in the dojo, the one who was there before all others. However, learning is a progession. There were others who came before him too.

One day, you might be the sensei. At that time, remember those who came before you.


Charles C. Goodin

Ratty Belts

Sometimes you will see black belts who are wearing threadbare belts -- belts that are literally falling apart.

Karate is an austere art. However, attachment to aged belts is silly.

I found out something interesting. Expensive belts fall apart more quickly than cheap belts. Some belts, it seems, are made to age quickly -- to get that worn out look. Some have only a thin layer of black cloth over a white base. Hmmm.

A belt should simply hold your gi together. In an emergency, it can be used as a sling or to immobilize a broken limb or sprained joint.

We should not be attached to petty things such a belts, patches, titles, certificates, etc. These are just trifles.

How you conduct yourself in your daily life is what counts most. They don't give belts for that.


Charles C. Goodin

Know 10, Show 5

As you advance in Karate, your knowledge will naturally increase. When you learn something new, do not be eager to show it. Allow yourself time to more fully understand it. Sometimes how it seems at first will differ from how it seems after you have given it some thought.

In an article entitled Humility at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website, Morio Higaonna writes: "What he meant by this is, as your power and technical abilities grow stronger to the level of 10, your confidence will also increase and so you need only to display your abilities to the level of 5."

If you know 10, you should only show 5. Part of this has to do with humility. Another reason has to do with protecting your advantage. If someone sees your best, he will have an advantage. If he only sees you at half-level, you will have an advantage (unless he knows that you are holding back).

It is said that here in Hawaii, the dojo windows would be closed once class began to keep out uninvited eyes.

My first instructor of Kenpo Karate, Florentino S. Pancipanci, used to say: learn to know yourself, make sure you know yourself; don't show yourself.

If you know 10, show only 5.


Charles C. Goodin

Karate Killer

I suspect that two things have killed many strong Karate sensei: smoking and drinking.

It makes no sense to spend years or even decades conditioning your body in Karate, while at the same time poisoning it. Adopt a healthy lifestyle.


Charles C. Goodin

Winning and Losing

There is too much emphasis on winning and losing in some modern Karate schools. More emphasis should be put on escaping.

Karate is a civilian form of self-defense. It is not a gladiatorial form of sport, nor is it meant for warfare. In the civilian context, escaping from an attack should be considered a "win." However, we are conditioned to think that winning requires that we defeat an opponent.

If you are attacked by multiple opponents, escape might be the only option. I understand that the founder of Kenpo in Hawaii, Masayoshi James Mitose, taught the importance of escape techniques. The idea was not to go head to head, unless it was unavoidable.

Destructive Karate techniques should only be used as a last resort. At that point, there is a saying that a Karate expert fears his own hand -- he fears the consequences of the use of Karate.

Sometimes a real expert will lose on purpose, and in so doing, wins.


Charles C. Goodin

Paying Your Dues

In traditional Karate, the student cannot pay for lessons. Even if dues are paid, it is not for the privilege of training, but to help maintain the dojo or pay for necessary expenses. Karate is not a product that you can pay for. It is more like a cold -- through exposure to it, you catch it.

If you think of Karate as a product, then you might feel like your are entitled to something in exchange for payment. In some schools this might be true. In traditional schools, however, payment is simply a token... because Karate is so precious that a value cannot be placed on it.

You earn the right to train in a dojo by your hard work and by helping other students. You pay by your sweat and by working to improve your character.

My first Shorin-Ryu sensei would refuse to accept any payment. Once a month, his wife would come to collect our tuition envelopes, each containing $5. These would be turned over to the church where we trained. The sensei kept nothing for himself.

This does not mean that a reasonable tuition cannot be charged. But no matter how small or large the tuition may be, the student must never feel that he is purchasing something. Anything you can purchase can be lost. Karate becomes an inseparable part of you and of your daily life.


Charles C. Goodin

On Rank

We often ask what rank a student or sensei might be. Rank is a relatively modern invention (or convention). It was not emphasized in Okinawa before World War II.

You must be very careful when you meet older Karate sensei. Sometimes they will have no rank in a modern sense, but will be senior to younger sensei with very high rank.

What rank is your mother? What rank is your father? Can you rank them at parenthood? It would seem silly. And yet rank can take on great importance in some Karate circles.

Practically speaking, rank and titles will not protect you if you are attacked. They will not improve your health. I understand that rank and titles might be useful if you have a dojo, but it is best not to emphasize them.

When I was a child, I practiced Judo at Misawa Air Force Base in Northern Honshu. Our Sensei was named Sato. I was a brown belt. One day, we went to a tournament off base. The Japanese students all wore white belts. My friends and I thought that we would have an easy time.

We were wiped out! I remember hearing hajime and ippon at the same time!

It turns out that the Japanese students all wore white belts irrespective of their kyu ranking.

That is one reason that I do not give colored belts in my Karate dojo, nor do I issue kyu ranks. I do issue dan ranking, but do not emphasize the issue. The emphasis is on learning.

In Hawaii, many of us remember Tomu Arakawa, a Goju-Ryu instructor. Everyone you ask will say that Arakawa Sensei was a dignified gentleman. That should be our goal in training -- to be like Arakawa Sensei -- not to seek rank.

What kind of student are you? What kind of son, brother, father, friend? What kind of person are you?

Sometimes we say that rank should follow you like a shadow. It is always behind you. You do not chase after it. It should seem almost trivial to you, compared to the goals of learning and improving your life.

If you are in a dojo where rank is part of the system, then try your best and accept any promotion with a sense of gratitude and a feeling that you must try harder. Help those who are junior to you and learn from those who are senior.

Remember that anything that can be given to you (such as rank and titles) can also be taken away. But your skill is yours to keep.

One day, people might remember you the way we remember Arakawa Sensei.


Charles C. Goodin

On Effort

Your Karate sensei might urge you to try your best.

It is important to keep in mind that you should try your best, not someone else's best. You should try to be the best you can be. If you try to be a good as another student, you might accomplish this goal. However, you might find that his or her level was far below your potential. You should strive for your best without reference to others.

Jigoro Kano, the founder of modern Judo, said that what's important is not that you are better than others, but that you are better than yesterday. Constant improvement should be your goal. Even if you improve only a little bit, over time it will add up.

Some students learn very quickly. They often quit quickly too. The best teacher is usually someone who had to struggle to learn. Such a teacher understands how hard it is for some students. In addition, learning slowly gives you a better understanding of each technique and the progression of training. Sometimes we say that quick learners learn "shallow" while slower learners learn "deep".

Karate requires a lifetime of effort. It is not something to learn in a few years or months. The finest sensei always say that they are still learning.

Try your best in your Karate practice. Also try your best in everything that you do. Try your best without reference to others. Improve each day.


Charles C. Goodin