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Teaching the Chonin

In Okinawa, a Karate instructor would make every effort to teach the first son born to his first son. This first grandson was called the "chonin." I believe that a first grandson born to a daughter would not be a chonin, but I am not certain about this.

When I discover an elder Okinawan Karate expert here in Hawaii, or research the life of such an expert who has passed away, I always suspect that he was trained by his grandfather. This tradition goes back to before the introduction of Karate to the Okinawan school system. Before 1900, Karate was a family matter for most people.

Two of my sons are adults and I am looking forward to having grandchildren in the coming years. I am beginning to appreciate the Okinawan custom of teaching the "chonin."

I have taught Karate to all four of my children starting about 15 years ago. But to tell the truth, I did not know as much now as I do then, and I certainly could not teach as well. As I approach 50, I am just beginning to understand the basics of Karate.

When I am a grandfather, I think that the time will be right to teach my grandchildren. Of course, I would not only teach the first son of my first son. I would teach all of my grandchildren (boys and girls), if they would like to learn.

I often hear stories about Karate instructors from their early students. Most agree that their instructors have mellowed with age. I tend to think that it is best to learn from a mellow and wise instructor. Perhaps a grandparent can teach a grandchild with more patience and understanding than a parent.

In fact, I have heard of several cases where a son quit martial arts training under this father. A father tends to be very strict and does not want to show any favoritism to his own son. Sometimes the senior students also take out their displeasure with or envy of the instructor on his son. This could also happen under a grandfather, but I suspect that a grandfather would be better able to handle the group dynamic.

There is a story that Kentsu Yabu went to California in 1919, to await the birth of his first son's son. During the next 8 years, his first son, Kenden, produced four daughters! Yabu Sensei decided to return to Okinawa, but stopped in Hawaii, where he taught Karate for about 8 months. Yabu Sensei acted as the grandfather Sensei to all his students here in Hawaii.


Charles C. Goodin