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Karate in Okinawa

Sensei Pat Nakata was very kind to accompany me during my visit to Okinawa. This really helped, since he has been to Okinawan many times since the 1960's, knows many Karate seniors, and speaks Japanese. This was my second visit (my first was in 2002).

Nakata Sensei said that there was recently a survey conducted in Okinawa to determine the number of Karate dojo and classes on the island. The answer was about 400, which is pretty amazing. Okinawa is about twice the size of the island of Oahu. Here, we have many classes, but relatively few full-time dojo. We tend to teach in gyms, recreation centers, churches, and schools. They do the same in Okinawa, but there are more full-time dojo (buildings used exclusively for Karate or Kobudo training).

I was suprised to discover that the Jundokan dojo was right behind our hotel (which was right by the Asato monorail station).

One of the things that distinguishes Okinawan dojo and classes is the seniority of their instructors. It is not unusual to meet 8th and 9th dan (usually men or women in their 60s or older who have trained since childhood). In some ways, Okinawan dojo and classes are like a law firm with many senior partners and few associates. They are extremely top heavy. You also have to remember that a dojo with a 10th dan or 9th dan, will also usually have a group of seniors in the 6th to 8th dan range. Any of these seniors could also head a dojo or group of dojo.

I was surprised to learn that there are many Goju-Ryu dojo in Okinawa. I heard that there may be more Goju-Ryu dojo (and related styles) than there are Shorin-Ryu dojo. On Oahu, we really have only two Goju-Ryu dojo.

During our stay, we were very fortunate to be invited to Sensei Morio Higaonna's dojo, which was not far from the Asato monorail station (actually it is closer to the Makishi station). Higaonna Sensei is one of the most senior Goju-Ryu instructors in the world (see IOGKF.com). His students showed us their hojo undo training with chishi, sashi, kame, makiwara, iron geta, kongo, a big log, a rock, and a heavy striking pad (there might be other tools I do not remember). I had never seen such training and was grateful to learn how the supplementary equipment is used in Karate. We have some of these items in the Hawaii Karate Museum.

Higaonna Sensei also took us out for lunch and to a used bookstore to look for old Karate books. I did not find any for the Hawaii Karate Museum, but did find one that Higaonna Sensei acquired for his collection. Higaonna Sensei is planning to open a Karate museum on the third floor in the building where his dojo is located. I am always happy to see efforts to preserve and perpetuate Karate's history and traditions and look forward to cooperatiopn and sharing between Higaonna Sensei's museum and the Hawaii Karate Museum. I have said that our museums will be like brothers -- I'll be the younger brother.

After watching Higaonna Sensei's students rigorously train and perform kata, I asked them to please remember that I am their sensei's friend!


Charles C. Goodin