Interviews
Posted By Matthew

Interview: Bruce Heilman, 10th Dan Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudo


Bruce Heilman is the founder of the International Karate Kobudo Federation and owner of the Heilman Karate Academy. Hanshi Heilman has spent over 45 years in the pursuit of martial arts and has contributed significantly to the growth and propagation of the Okinawa Kenpo style.

hanshi bruce heilman with bo

In addition to creating an original video series exploring the forms and concepts of Okinawa Kenpo, Hanshi Heilman has been featured in multiple martial arts publications and programs. For a full look at Hanshi Heilman’s experience consult his martial arts resume here. Mr. Heilman has a diverse background in jujutsu, karate, and kobudo, and has studied with some excellent instructors including Hank Talbot, Robert Trias, and Seikichi Odo (who’s style Hanshi Heilman continues to spread today).

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mr. Heilman about a wide array of topics, ranging from childhood troubles to building organizations. I’ve included this interview in digestible video pieces so that you can enjoy as much as your time allows.

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Early Experiences

 

In this video I ask Mr. Heilman about his very first experiences in the late 60’s with the martial arts and what made him step into a dojo for the first time. Also discussed is the character and teaching methods of his unique jujutsu instructor Hank Talbot (pictured here), who was known to use his cigar as an implement while on the mat.

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Study with Robert Trias

In this next video I ask Hanshi about how he transferred from studying with Hank Talbot in karate and jujutsu to full-on karate study with Robert Trias. For those who are unfamiliar with him, Robert Trias is considered one of the fathers of American karate (along with Ed Parker) and was one of the strongest driving forces in the states for karate study. in fact, Trias Sensei is accredited with opening the first commercial martial arts dojo in the United States and the development of the United States Karate Alliance.

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Study with Seikichi Odo

Next Heilman Sensei discusses how he came to know Seikichi Odo, and what drew him to his eventual teacher. Hanshi also elaborates on his love for weapons and why he chose to pursue them so passionately when other opportunities (such as continuing study with Robert Trias) were present. For those who are unfamiliar with Seikichi Odo, he was the successor to Shigeru Nakamura, the man credited with developing Okinawa Kenpo. Odo Sensei was a world renowned karateka and weapons practitioner and did much to bring Okinawa Kenpo to the United States.

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The Birth of Okinawa Kenpo,  And The Struggles to Organize

In this video Hanshi Heilman explores the beginnings of Okinawa Kenpo and what Shigeru Nakamura had originally intended for the style.

Early in this video Hanshi refers to a picture of a gathering of Okinawan Karateka, which can be viewed here. Also discussed is how Okinawa Kenpo shifted and changed after the eventual deaths of Shigeru Nakamura and Zenryo Shimabukuro, the two figureheads of the group.

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The Future of Martial Arts, And Hanshi Heilman’s Concerns

 

This video steps away from the biographical and explores some of the ideas Heilman Sensei has about the future of the martial arts. Hanshi begins by explaining why he chose to name his federation the IKKF (International Karate Kobudo Federation) rather than something Okinawa-Kenpo-Specific. He goes on to explain his concerns about the focus on theatrics and gymnastics over fundamentals and application. Also discussed is the current trend toward quick gratification, and the need to teach students how to overcome failure.

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A Gathering of Styles

In the final video Hanshi Heilman talks about how he came to know some of the most influential martial artists in the United States, and how he turned potential competition into an opportunity to learn and grow together. Some of the practitioners mentioned in this video include Bill Hayes of Shobayashi Shorin Ryu, George Alexander of Matsumura Shorin Ryu and Hakutsuru Kenpo, Chuck Merriman of Goju Ryu, Patrick McCarthy of Koryu Uchinadi, Miguel Ibarra of Aikijujutsu, Jody Paul of Motobu Udundi, and more.

Hanshi Heilman also explains how he first developed his annual training event at the International Karate Kobudo Federation’s honbu dojo, and why he believes it is critical to stay exposed to skillful practitioners of other styles.

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I hope you enjoyed learning about the early days of Okinawa Kenpo and Hanshi Heilman’s experience in developing the arts. If you’d like to learn more, visit the book project “Tales From the Western Generation”. In addition to the topics covered here, Hanshi Heilman discusses how his teachers influenced him, what he believes is the optimal learning process for karate, what his motivations were for establishing the IKKF, and what trials he had to endure to make that happen.

Thank you to Hanshi Heilman for this interview and to you the readers for being a part of this site!