“ A long time ago, there was a karateka whose name was Machaa Buntoku or Kinjo Matsu in Itoman village, Okinawa. He was born in 1867. People said that he had been practicing karate in Fuzhou city, Fujian province, China and mastered the fighting arts in depth.
Hearing about Machaa Buntoku, Miyagi Sensei, the founder of Gojuryu, visited him together with Sensei’s disciples, Jin-an Shinzato and Seiko Higa. Miyagi Sensei asked him to show them his best Kata that he mastered in China. Then Machaa Buntoku put on Hachimaki (=headband) and performed a strange dance in front of them. He danced and danced. Seeing his strange dance, Seiko Higa thought this old man must be crazy or mad because of his old age. Jin-an Shinzato who was yet young at that time lost his temper to see his dance and told him “OK. Dance is enough! Show me your fighting technique! I will be your opponent.” Shinzato delivered a karate blow at him, but Shinzato was thrown down by the dancing old man and hurt his back. He lost face. Everyone there felt awkward about it, so they bowed to the old man and went home. On the way home no one spoke.” – by Kiyohiko Higa, Translated by Sanzinsoo
Dance has always been an important part of Okinawan culture. Ranging from the famous Eisa Dance During Obon Festival to rarely seen village dances, the breadth of Okinawan musical expression is almost as diverse as it’s martial arts. What many people don’t realize is that martial arts and dance did not simply coexist throughout Ryukyuan history, but came together in very important ways so as to preserve the essence and spirit of Okinawa itself.
In this article we’ll explore how and why dance and karate intermingled. We’ll also discuss how the concepts preserved in dance are important to the understanding of karate as a complete life protection system.
Our study begins primarily in the 1600s. Before that time both dance and martial study existed, but we have very little information on how they might have influenced each other. However, in 1609 a cataclysmic shift in Okinawan culture and history occurred, bringing on a sharp need for secrecy and subterfuge.
The Shimazu Clan of Satsuma, Japan had a long standing claim on Okinawa, but their concerns on mainland Japan never allowed them to focus much on the small island chain. Unfortunately, as the Warring States Period dragged on and Tokugawa Ieyasu made his push for dominance over Japan, the Satsuma Samurai found themselves on the losing side of the Battle of Sekigahara and ultimately the war. Ieyasu, once comfortable in victory, realized the bubbling cauldron of potential trouble that the Shimazu represented. Instead of allowing them to fume away and scheme their eventual reprisal, Ieyasu suggested they set their sites on conquering the Ryukyu island chain to the south which had for years skirted their responsibilities and tributes ‘owed’ to the Japanese.
The Shimazu clan, seeing an opportunity to extend their influence and test their skills once again, agreed and set sail. The Okinawans, while fierce fighters and brave warriors, were under-equipped and under-manned. They stood little chance against the Satsuma fighting machine.
Going Underground and Adding Disguise
When the Satsuma conquered Okinawa they laid down a series of rules. First, they realized that Okinawan weaponry was already centralized around Shuri (the general populace was disarmed so as to avoid splintering factions on the island). The Satsuma decided to go one step further and remove all potential for a standing army on the island. The only individuals allowed to have weapons were the highest warrior and royal families, and most of that was just for ritual. In addition, the Japanese planted roaming informants known as metsuke to keep an eye on all Okinawan activity and either report misconduct or cut it down directly.
As a result of the Satsuma occupation the Okinawans had to be extremely cautious regarding the militaristic arts they demonstrated. Practicing tode (the predecessor to karate) and kobudo (weapons arts) became a dangerous proposition, even when training in private. As such, many teachers took their arts ‘underground’ and only studied at night or in locations away from prying eyes.
The royal court at Shuri became aware of their conundrum: they needed to continue developing their skills in order to protect the king but could not openly practice their most effective techniques. Being privileged members of Okinawan society, they still had rights to art forms like calligraphy, poetry, and dance. They decided upon an ingenious solution…bring the worlds of dance and martial arts together.
The Dancers with Dangerous Hands
“The te-waza in Tuiti are believed to arise from variations on three hand applied positions that correspond to those used in the Ryukyuan Court Classical Dances: oshi-te (forward push hands), ogami-te (supplication hands), and koneri-te (kneading hands). Positions appear in the earliest poetry collection of Ryukyu, Omorosaushi (1531-1623), and gestures seem to have been used in rituals and ceremony in ancient Okinawa. These gestures are said to have been incorporated into the court dances by Tamagusuku Chokun (born 1684), who was connected to the Motobu Udun.” – MotobuRyu.org
Tamagusuku Chokun may have been an important figure, but the overall integration of dance with martial arts cannot be traced back to a single individual. Most villages on Okinawa and the outlying islands had their own cultural dances serving varying purposes, including celebrations, tributes, and commemorations. However, there are two specific ‘groups’ who did extensive work in building and preserving dance, and must be mentioned explicitly.
The first group is women. Ancient Okinawan culture placed women in positions of high regard when it came to spirituality, history, and cultural expression. As such, while dance was expressed by both genders it frequently fell to women to preserve and transfer forms. It was only natural then for the women to uphold dancing traditions even as the resident martial experts infused deadly concepts into the movements.
This example is the Hatuma Bushi dance executed by Chibana Kazuko:
The second group that requires further mention is the Shuri court. The court eventually involved individuals like the great Matsumura Sokon, but was centralized around the Motobu family. For generations the Motobu’s were responsible for the protection of the king and served as his closest aids. They often traveled with him and were always present during court events. The Motobu’s also represent the longest discernible linear lineage in Okinawan karate history. They developed and preserved Motobu Udun Di, the Palace Hand.
The Motobu’s were an interesting group because not only did they have to protect the king, but also had to put on impressive demonstrations whenever Chinese Envoys came around. Even though Okinawa was dominated by Japan after 1609, trade with China still took place. This was unusual since economic and political relationships between China and Japan were extremely strained at this time. As a solution, the Japanese and Chinese played a clever game of look-the-other-way while on Okinawa so as to continue trading with each other through the Okinawans. As we’ll see, that continued connection to China was integral in the martial/dance development of Okinawa.
Flowing Fundamentals from Across the Sea
“There is a clear correlation between traditions of martial arts and the dances which are indigenous to regions in which those martial arts may be found. In Okinawa it is likely that Chinese martial arts and dances influenced the interpretation and performance of Okinawan martial arts and dance.” – Hakuda Ryu
Many of the connections between dance and tode seem to relate back to fundamental Chinese sources. The effects of Chinese chuanfa on tode is undeniable, and the flowing grace of Chinese techniques seem to have lent themselves naturally to dance. The Chinese families who settled on Okinawa (predominantly in Kumemura) were heavily involved with court life. Therefore, it is a likely possibility that dance and martial arts were simultaneously influenced by the respected Chinese residents.
One important aspect of integrating Chinese elements into dance and tode was the full range of effective damage those techniques allowed. The royal court and guard were responsible for a wide variety of activities, ranging from killing intruders and pirates, to subduing rabble-rousers, to performing for Chinese Sapposhi (dignitaries). As such, they needed a full arsenal of techniques that could quickly and effectively activate pain compliance, mechanical compliance, or lethal force (very much like modern day police officers). In fact, there was an element of honor in control specifically associated with the royal family’s martial practices:
“In addition to the hard techniques of strikes and kicks, Motobu Udundi had a system of joint locks and throws called Tuiti . Among the Ryukyuan Royalty, use of Tuiti was passed down in secret only Udun among the Motobu. The aim of Tuiti is to subdue an opponent without causing harm, in the spirit of royal benevolence.” – MotobuRyu.org
The Motobu traditions were certainly unique, but the concepts of preserving tode via dance manifested all across the island.
Modern Examples of Dance in Action
Thanks to the efforts of a few skilled martial artists and Okinawan culturalists we have examples passed down to us of Okinawan dance. Even more valuable are those individuals who have preserved some of the meaning behind the movements.
Our first modern example demonstrates that tode wasn’t the only beneficiary of dance preservation; kobudo was just as positively affected. In fact, in the days of the Satsuma occupation it may have been even more important to preserve weapon arts in a hidden manner.
|These skilled ladies execute a graceful and powerful dance using shortened Eiku (oars). The practitioners are clearly formal martial artists as well as able dancers:||__||This Ryukyuan festival demonstrates multiple different weapon dances set to music. The forms are probably modern influenced, but still provide a wonderful connection:|
Next is one of the most important karateka of our time, Uehara Seikichi. Uehara Sensei was the heir of the Motobu Udun Di line (the first none Motobu to claim that title). He worked diligently to explore the connections between his art and the popular dances of Okinawa. In the following video, a skilled dancer performs Hamachidori and Uehara Sensei explains some of the most basic tuiti joint locking concepts hidden within. Uehara Sensei also executes an important footwork concept known as Tachu Gwaa in which he walks around his opponent using a very natural posture:
‘Dance techniques’ are not just relegated to graceful and slow demonstrations. When used in earnest they can express the most fundamentally effective aspects of karate. They also tend to excel at ‘chaining’, providing opportunities to strike/grab/kick/bend/push in a smooth series without pause.
Bill Hayes Sensei occasionally demonstrates a portion of technique based off the popular dance Kachashi. The intriguing thing about Kachashi is that it has fundamental movements similar to those expressed by Uehara Sensei in the video above. However, it is also considered a ‘freestyle’ dance form. Hayes Sensei uses this set of concepts to execute a string of techniques that combine striking, tuiti, kicking, and kyusho activation. Furthermore, he enters the ‘dance’ against full speed attacks.
Neglected but Important
Dance is not (and probably will never be) a well known part of karate’s history. It is not useful in tournaments and does not particularly appeal to Western sensibilities. Nevertheless, some of the most effective and important aspects of karate are contained within and understanding karate history is impossible without factoring in all of the cultural elements that were so crucial to survival on the island.
While dance is certainly not required to be a good karateka, being aware of it honors the efforts of prior generations of both men and women on Okinawa and helps modern practitioners grasp the full possibilities of the art.
This is a continuation of the interview with Kimo Wall, Kyoshi. Wall Sensei is a senior Goju Ryu and Kingai Ryu practitioner, studying directly under some of the great masters of Okinawa while stationed on Okinawa as a marine. In part 1 Wall Sensei discussed his early training and experiences with Higa Seiko Sensei. In part 2 presented here Wall Sensei will discuss Matayoshi Sensei, bringing karate to Western cultures, and more.
MA: Could you discuss your relationship with Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei, the great White Crane and Kobudo luminary?
KW: Master Matayoshi was quite a unique Master. He was very sharp and disciplined, but he had a most pleasant and comical personality. When I was in the Marine Corps my duties usually required me to be on post at night, so I spent my days with him. Master Matayoshi taught me all the Kobudo that I know except Chizi-kun-bo (aka tekkos) and two training Bo kata that I developed. Plus, he taught me his Kingai Ryu kata that he learned from Gokenki.
Wall Sensei performing Chizi-kun-bo:
I spent many wonderful years with the Matayoshi family. For 10 years the family lived at Higa Sensei’s dojo in Yogi Machi. Then Matayoshi bought land on Sobe hill in Naha and built his beautiful dojo and home. When he moved, it was only a few miles from Yogi Machi, I went to both dojos to continue my training in Kobudo, usually training in the daytime. Like in the Marine Corps, most work I got in Okinawa was night work. When I became a civilian, Sensei helped me get jobs when I was on the island, like teaching English, unloading ships, working at Naha city market, etc.
Master Matayoshi and family visited me and my wife in California. Sensei came to the States several times and my students and I hosted him. Sensei and I took a round trip tour of all America and Puerto Rico from LAX back to LAX in my Plymouth Voyager van, except flying to PR.
Wall Sensei performing Matayoshi kata Hakutsuru no Mai:
In 1992 Sensei and I were invited to participate at the Butokukai in Kyoto, Japan, with demos from all of Japan’s top martial arts.
MA: What was the butokukai demonstration like in 1992? Did you demonstrate anything yourself?
KW: The Butokukai, in Kyoto, Japan, happens once a year. The top Martial Arts Masters of Japan and students get a chance to demonstrate in the Great Hall of the Butokukai. That year I was given the honor of demonstrating with Master Matayoshi. He did White Crane kata from Gokenki and I did Pichurin and Kama.
|Butokukai with Master Matayoshi, 1992||Wall & Matayoshi at Butokukai|
I’m sure you are familiar with Master Wally Jay, from Hawaii. He did his Small Circle jiujitsu and Sensei Patrick McCarthy, did Tonfa and Sai. I think we were the only foreigners there. It was a great honor for me. I will never forget how amazing Master Matayoshi’s Kingai Ryu kata was and how much he was respected by the whole group of demonstrators and the government officials.
MA: Where did Matayoshi Sensei collect his extensive kobudo and white crane repertoire?
KW: Master Matayoshi’s extensive repertoire of Okinawan Martial arts was taught to him by his father, Shinko. He learned Shorin Ryu Karate from his father. The Kingai Ryu was taught to him by Gokenki, a Chinese immigrant from Fuchou, Fukien, China. He learned Goju Ryu from Master Higa Seiko and Grand Master Miyagi Chojun.
MA: The Matayoshi Kingai Ryu has very well preserved elements of white crane. Was Matayoshi Shinko (father to Shinpo) the senior student of Gokenki? Also, did the Matayoshi White Crane System involve Kyusho vital point striking as well as seizing and gripping techniques?
KW: Yes, Matayoshi Kin Gai Ryu is a very powerful and complete system. Gokenki taught several people his system, especially Matayoshi Shinko. I know Shinko Sensei was a top student of Gokenki. Gokenki was a tea merchant from Fuchou and Shinko Sensei was a customer of his. In the beginning, Gokenki was a guest at the Matayoshi home. Eventually, Gokenki stayed in Okinawa, married and had a family. He has many family members there today.
Matayoshi Shinpo performing Kingai Ryu kata Hakkucho:
The vital point, Kyusho, was taught only after you reached a high level of proficiency. Not many people reached that point. But, it is very similar to what we are taught in Goju Ryu. Like Goju Ryu, it came from Fuchou and some things are the same.
MA: You mentioned eariler (in part 1) that Odo Seikichi Sensei was at the Sho Do Kan with Matayoshi Sensei on your first day there, and you got to know Odo Sensei more over time. Did you train directly with Odo Sensei at any point, and if so what was that training like?
KW: Yes, I met Odo Seikichi Sensei on my first trip to Sho Do Kan dojo. It was one week after I was on the Island. I was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps and was new on the Island. You had to stay on base in those days for one week taking indoctrination course about Okinawa.
I took a bus to Naha bus station. Almost nothing had been rebuilt. Homes, highways, big buildings, stores and banks were very quickly built after WWII. Kokusai Dori was mostly dirt road in those days. From the station I took a “sukoshi cab”. The driver knew exactly where the dojo was.
Right after my first meeting with Matayoshi and Odo Sensei I became a member of the dojo. Odo Sensei came once in a while to train the Sanchin and Tensho kata with the karate class. This was after 9 PM, when older men trained with Seiko Sensei. On the weekends Odo Sensei came to train Kobudo with Master Matayoshi and that is when we became friends. His dojo was on the way to my Marine base so I gave him a ride home many times.
I was a beginner in Kobudo at that time and Master Odo was a very high level student. He had even trained before the war with Master Matayoshi’s father, Shinko. I trained, usually in the day time, with Master Matayoshi, but on the weekends Odo Sensei came and he and I both studied together. His kata was higher than mine as he was a very advanced student. Often, he would get information from Master Matayoshi and train by himself. I always had the chance to watch his training. I was amazed at his skill and power. He could make the Bo quiver with power at the end of each technique. After a few years I was studying the Kama and he was studying it with me. He knew another Kama kata but this one was a new one for him, so we shared the time together. I could always remember, he was what I would aspire to be like.
Odo Sensei was a very confident martial artist. He had trained with Master Nakamura up in Nago for many years who was a very respected leader in Okinawa Kenpo. Until he passed away, every time I went to Okinawa, Mr. Nakasone from SHUREIDO would call Odo Sensei and he would come to Naha to meet me. Sometimes we went to Nakasone’s home or to eat soki soba at a restaurant. Mr Nakasone is another wonderful person who became very close to me. I will make this story a little quick.
Mr. Nakasone trained karate and at that time he had a sports store (this was around 1967). His store sold general sports equipment, baseball stuff mostly, but he had someone who could make gis. So I had one made through him. I suggested that he should concentrate on martial arts equipment. There was a growing amount of karate students, mostly GIs. Finally he did give up regular sports and did only martial arts equipment. A friend of mine, Toshio Tamano Sensei, made the first SHUREIDO emblem and I made the first ad, in English, for his store. If you have been to Naha, Okinawa, you must have gone to SHUREIDO. You will see what a great businessman he is.
MA: As a westerner, did you ever feel like you were being kept in an ‘outer circle’, different from how the Okinawans trained amongst themselves? How long did it take for the Okinawans to trust you given the wartime history between America and Japan, culminating in the Battle of Okinawa?
KW: I don’t think I was ever kept in an outer circle from anyone in the dojo. The only thing that separated us was the language but I had many friends who helped me. I learned to take notes in the Marines so I took many notes and had a friend try to explain things to me. Some things are complicated, even for Okinawans to understand (like the meaning of what comes after bunkai). It is very deep and you must love what you are doing and be there for a long time.
Trust happened right away. Understand, the Japanese caused a lot more damage than the Americans. They caused the Okinawans to commit suicide (the term “suicide cliff” is well known in Okinawa). My wife’s father was shot by the Japanese army for stealing food from a garbage can to feed his family.
There was even a Statehood Party on Okinawa at one time. In our modern times, Communism has done a job in Okinawa as well as rape by a few American GIs, but there are many cases that you never hear of such as rape done by Okinawans themselves and many other foreigners. I think most Okinawans are very welcoming to Americans and have really benefited from the U.S. Forces paid to be there. You talk to any American who has spent many years on Okinawa and they can tell you the same. I love Okinawa, the people, and its culture.
MA: What were the early days like starting a program in the USA? Did people understand what you were trying to teach?
KW: In the States, at first, I only taught in the Marine Corps. I began teaching in Puerto Rico in 1965 while stationed at the Marine Barracks, San Juan, Puerto Rico. A lot of Marines and Sailors trained but I had a few civilians in the dojo and some are still training today. Then when I got out of the Marine Corps, 1970, I returned to the University of Puerto Rico to teach again. In 1965 I think true karate was very much unknown in PR, but from my dojo we developed a large group of very strong and talented followers.
MA: What was your primary objective in establishing Kodokan Goju Ryu?
KW: It was to help promote Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate and Kobudo outside of Okinawa. KODOKAN means “Home of the Ancient Ways”.
MA: What have been the biggest challenges in growing the Kodokan while maintaining a level of quality and integrity in your art?
KW: Time, is the answer. If you have a chance to live on Okinawa, military is the best and cheapest way. Go there and live with the dojo and learn from the people. I lived in Okinawa for a long time. Since those times I traveled a lot and didn’t spend enough time with most students to take them to higher levels, but I am very proud of those who have been able to continue and I see them often. Puerto Rico, Guatemala, California, UMASS, Tennessee, New Mexico, Arizona and the list goes on.
MA: What inspired you to investigate Thai style massage and physical therapy?
KW: In the Sho Do Kan dojo there was a teacher who taught acupuncture and herbology on Saturdays. I took advantage of this and studied until he passed away. Many teachers in the old days practiced some type of healing. It was the dojo responsibility to help anyone who might get injured in training. That inspired me to study more about ways to heal people in my dojo. I studied Thai Massage in Chiang Mai, Thailand and received a teaching diploma from The Traditional Medicine Hospital and The International Thai Massage Center. It is used in Thailand by Mauy Thai fighters at all boxing camps for healing and therapy. It is a proven and effective means of healing and conditioning. In Thailand it is known as THE FAMILY HEALTH SYSTEM.
MA: How has your training changed as you have gotten older? Are there any forms or training methods which you have come to prefer? Is there anything you did as a youth which you would warn others against?
KW: I am almost 70 so I don’t put as much time on rigorous training. Kata and meaning is important. Just grow old gracefully. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, have faith and believe in God.
Train hard train often. Always practice kata with Sanchin/Tensho. Replace fear and doubt with knowledge and understanding. Open mind, joyful training. Train everyday. Really LOVE what you are doing.
All our katas were developed by Grand Master Miyagi Chojun. Unfortunately, there was WWII that destroyed Okinawa and set it back several years. He passed away before he finished his development of Goju Ryu. Now, we who love Goju Ryu must find our way through the kata. I don’t think there is any ‘Superior Kata’. All have their importance and meaning. Grand Master Miyagi said, “The secrets of Goju Ryu are in the kata”. So, we must always study kata…even the simple kata. Gekisai Sho has a whole system within itself.
MA: Wall Sensei, thank you very much for giving us some insight into your training and personal history. We thank you for your continued efforts in preserving the old ways of karate and kobudo!
I’m very pleased to present this interview with Kimo Wall, Kyoshi. After World War II and throughout the Vietnam era a handful of Air Force, Navy, and Marine members had the opportunity to learn classical karate directly from the masters on Okinawa. Much of this learning took place before sport and business made karate a global phenomenon. Kimo Wall is one of those “koryu” practitioners working hard to preserve the old ways as they were handed down to him.
As a marine stationed on Okinawa before and after the Vietnam conflict Wall Sensei had the opportunity to learn Goju Ryu directly from Higa Seiko Sensei. He also became a student of Matayoshi Shinpo and a friend of Odo Seikichi, two of the great kobudo luminaries in Okinawan history.
Wall Sensei was one of the early influencers of western karate as he brought back Goju Ryu, Kingai Ryu, and even Thai massage. Wall Sensei eventually became one of the most traveled instructors in the world, sharing his art throughout the Americas and beyond.
Please enjoy this Q&A as Wall Sensei shares some of his experiences and theories on classical martial arts.
MA: You began training in Goju Ryu when you were 6 years old. Who was that training with and how long did it last? Was the dojo you attended one of the first Goju programs in the United States?
KW: My training began in Kamuela, (Waimea) Hawaii, in 1949. Hawaii wasn’t an actual state yet, believe it or not, so I don’t know if it counts as an early US program.
As a kid I had a breathing problem. One day the mother of a playmate of mine (who also happened to be the wife of a karate instructor in our community) mentioned that she could help me with some breathing exercises that would make my lungs and heart stronger. I will never forget it. It was a simple warm up and stretching exercise and after a few days we started something like San Chin with lots of deep breathing and slow punching but no turns. Just walking forward and backwards doing the same thing concentrating on posture, relaxing and listening to my heart and lungs. Before long, I could hear my heart beat and the air going deeper into my lungs. I did this for several weeks. It didn’t take much time to get my breathing and heart in good shape.
The formal karate teachers in my village were Walter and Sam Higa, (Higa is a common name in Okinawa) father and son. The father, Sam, had learned in Okinawa sometime before WWII. He had studied with Master Miyagi Chojun and Higa Seiko in the early days of its development. I know he studied under Master Higa Seiko because he sometimes received letters from him and sent a letter of introduction with me when I went to Okinawa in the Marine Corps. Sam Higa Sensei immigrated to Hawaii with his wife, Haruko and son, who was born in Okinawa. I think they arrived in Hawaii about 1939. In 1949 Sam Sensei was about 60 years old and Walter was about 35. Walter learned from his father and Master Higa Seiko from an early age. Sensei taught katas Gekisai ichi and ni, Sanchin, Tensho, Saifa, Seiunchin, Shisochin, Seisan, Naihanchin, (Naihanchin was a part of Master Miyagi’s training in the early years) and Kururunfa. There were more katas in Master Miyagi’s system but I think that was all Sam Sensei learned before he immigrated for Hawaii. I only studied up through Shisochin. Sam Sensei passed away in 1968 and Walter passed away in 1988.
Wall Sensei demonstrating Higa Seiko’s Tensho:
MA: What led you to join the Marines in 1961, and were you stationed on Okinawa right away?
KW: I joined the Marine Corps in 1961 after working in Vidalia, Ga. for a few months. I went to Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC, Infantry Training at Camp Lejeune, Weapons Training at USMC Schools, at Quantico, Va. and other schools during my first year, then I was sent to Okinawa.
MA: Could you tell us a little bit about your time in the Marines, where you were moved around to, and how long you stayed in?
KW: I was in the Marine Corps for ten years. After Boot Camp and my schooling, my first duty station was Camp Pendleton, Ca. and on to Okinawa. I returned to the States and went to the Cuban Crisis from Camp Pendleton. Then I returned to Camp Pendleton and shipped out to Okinawa once again. After that I returned to Quantico, Va. followed by the Marine Barracks in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Finally I returned to Okinawa and SE Asia. I left the Marines in 1970 and returned to teach at the University Of Puerto Rico, Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, and Roosevelt-Baldrich. I trained with some of the best young men and women in Puerto Rico. Some are still training today.
MA: How did you first meet Higa Seiko Sensei on Okinawa? What made you decide that this was the individual you wanted to study with?
I met the Higa family at their dojo in Yogi Machi, Naha, Okinawa. I came with a letter of introduction from my teacher in Hawaii. My teacher had studied before with Master Higa Seiko before WWII, before he immigrated to Hawaii. The Higa dojo, Sho Do Kan, was a typical dojo of the times. It was old and in a residential area. Master Higa lived with his son and daughter-in-law, their two sons and, soon, a little girl. Their home was a nice home just in back of the dojo. I always considered it my home dojo, but I also studied at Sho Rei Kan in Koza City. I’ll explain that more a little later.
At the same time I met Master Matayoshi, who lived in an extra room in the dojo. He lived there with his wife and daughter, and soon, his son. He had recently returned from living in Kawasaki, Japan where he had lived since WWII. Master Matayoshi lived in the Higa dojo until about 1972.
It was interesting because I met Master Matayoshi on the first day that I went to Sho Do Kan. He was in the dojo with Odo Seikichi Sensei. I didn’t know Matayoshi Sensei at this time so I introduced myself and he said Higa Sensei was with Takamine Sensei in Naha and would be back soon. He said to just wait. So I got a little familiar with him and Odo Sensei. Wow, it was quite a surprise. Odo sensei seemed like a very relaxed fellow, sitting and drinking tea, maybe around 5′ + tall. He stood up to do a kata, slow and easy. He faced the kami dana and bowed, then turned to the dojo. His eyes and his manor seemed to change, he was so fast and smooth and jumped so high. I had never seen much about other styles before and he really made an impression on me. I think the kata he did was Chinto. His movement was like lighting and kiai was so strong. When he finished, I’ll never forget, he just melted back down to the floor, like nothing had happened. Master Matayoshi did Kakuho kata. They looked amazing. I was just a kid (19) in the Marines and here I was watching two of the best martial artists in the world.
MA: What was day-to-day training like at the Sho Do Kan dojo?
KW: I think the training was like most Goju Ryu dojos or other styles on the island. From 7-9 each night we trained. Strong warm ups, a lot of hojo undo with many implements, basics, lots of kata and imi-wa niwaka touben (bunkai). For several years there was training after the 7-9 class at the honbu dojo, sometimes until midnight. Most senior students came to this session where Higa Sensei and Takamine Sensei taught. We trained with many hojo undo implements. After training we had tea and cake or sushi and always went to local public bath, sinto, for 15 cents. In those days most homes in Okinawa didn’t have baths. In the Marine Corps, while stationed in Okinawa, I had mostly night duties so I spent most of my days at the dojo. It was like a lot of private lessons from the great masters. Master Higa passed away in 1966.
At the dojo I met many life long friends from Okinawa, such as Master Takamine, Gibo, Kanai, Kyuna, Ushiro, Yamagawa, Yamashiro, Gakiya, Tamano, Shinoda and especially Odo Seikichi who was a great teacher of Okinawa Kenpo. He came to our dojo to study Kobudo, Sanchin, and Tensho with Master Matayoshi.
My peers in the dojo helped to inspire me to be as good as I could be. I spent many special, private hours in the dojo doing extra training.
MA: Could you share an interesting story about Higa Sensei that people might not know?
KW: Once Higa Sensei was visiting Masanobu Shinjo Sensei in Koza. He was on the street when a young boy asked him to watch his shoeshine things for a moment. Koza is just outside of Kadena Air Base and of course, many GI’s. One GI was a little drunk and stopped and asked Higa Sensei to shine his shoes. Sensei did not speak much English at all. The GI got a little heated, “Papa-San, shine my shoes!” Master stepped back and said “waiting.” Maybe the GI thought Sensei was ” waiting” for some action. He rushed Higa Sensei and landed on the ground. Angrily, the GI started to swear at Sensei. Sensei again said, “WAIT!” He picked up the shoeshine box and punched it so hard it went flying across the street and Sensei hardly moved is body. The GI was so surprised; he looked where the box had gone, looked at Sensei, and apologized.
MA: You mentioned the term imi-wa niwaka touben when discussing your day-to-day training. Could you break down what that phrase literally means, and if it is different than the typical western idea of bunkai? Is it similar to the term used by Bill Hayes Sensei called ti chi ki?
KW: Good question. Bunkai means to analyze, which means that a punch, or kick, that is thrown at you is blocked. In most bunkai that you see everything is blocked until the end of the kata, and then someone wins. In a real situation, you must end the altercation as soon as possible. You would never have the chance or opportunity to do a whole string of movements. The term imi-wa niwaka touben was explained to me with those words, and in other several ways. There are meanings in the Okinawan languages that can’t be explained in simple terms. It kind of means, after a block or a movement from a sudden confrontation, what will you do? By training your kata for many years you will respond with the right answer. This means lots of work.
Video below demonstrates base level Gekisai Sho Bunkai:
You can break any Okinawan kata down and find the meaning behind “What would you do after the block, or movement, that you do?” The answer is, “punch, kick or throw, TO KILL, as quick as possible.”
Bill Hayes Sensei. Great Okinawan martial artist and most respected. Yes, I believe his term ti chi ki is similar to what I have said. He is another person who has had combat experience and knows “What would you do after the block”?
MA: Did you study with Toguchi Seikichi at the same time as Higa Sensei?
KW: Actually I never trained personally with Toguchi Sensei. He lived in Tokyo all the time that I was in the Marines but came to Okinawa once in a while. I met him in Okinawa around 1969 and then in New York City in 1972. He and Master Matayoshi came for a demonstration for Sho Rei Kan. Then, at the end of 1972, he came to my wedding in Okinawa.
During my Marine Corps years I trained mostly with Higa Seikichi Sensei, Matayoshi, Takamine, and a few other sensei. Master Higa Seiko was always there until he passed away in 1966. His son lived at the dojo so I was with him everyday. When Seiko Sensei passed away his son, Seikichi, was not the senior dojo member. Takamine Sensei was. In 1989 there was a celebration turning the dojo over to the son, Master Higa Seikichi. Many Sho Do Kan senior members were there including Toguchi Sensei from Sho Rei Kan. Me and some of my students from UMASS attended the ceremony.
In 1968 I met Toshio Tamano and Nobuharu Shinoda, from mainlad Japan, who studied at Sho Rei Kan, Master Toguchi’s Okinawa dojo in Naka-No-Machi, Koza, Okinawa. They were karate club captains at their universities in Japan. I went to a demonstration where I saw their students do two man katas with Fukyu, Gekisai, Gekiha, and Kakuha, with bunkai. I was really drawn to the idea and later I joined to learn more about it. It turned out to be very valuable to my training and my own ideas. I talked about this at Sho Do Kan. I learned that Master Toguchi had been a student of Master Higa Seiko for thirty years. In the ’50′s he was working on his ideas at Sho Do Kan dojo, but according to tradition he opened his own dojo. Of course, he was a master in his own right with many followers.
The training was very close to training at Master Higa’s Sho Do Kan. Master Toguchi studied with Master Higa very well before developing Sho Rei Kan. Master Toguchi made his Sho Rei Kan dojo because he developed his own kata and ideas, so out of politeness he started his own Kan. He was even helped by Master Higa for setting up his dojo in Koza. That was just a few years before I first went to Okinawa. That was a great point in Master Higa’s personality. He was very kind and understanding.
I had a similar reason for starting my own Ko Do Kan dojo. I adopted some of Master Toguchi’s ideas and I studied Kobudo under Master Matayoshi. However, there is still a strong family tie between me and Sho Do Kan. When I go to Okinawa I only study at Sho Do Kan. At the memorial of Master Higa Seiko’s 33rd and Master Higa Seikichi’s 3rd anniversary of their passing, in 2002, the only foreigners there were me and my students from the States, Jay Schwarzman, Dan Rajic, Brian Conz and Ivan Shiff.
Click here for Part 2 as Wall Sensei discusses experiences with Matayoshi Sensei, Odo Sensei, and more. He also provides thoughts on spreading the martial arts to the West.