I'm very happy to present this interview with Jody Paul Hanshi. Counted among some of the earliest westerners to experience karate on the island of Okinawa, Paul Sensei has a rare combination of influences. He is a senior practitioner of Seidokan and Motobu Udundi, as well as having extensive experience in Okinawa Kenpo Karate/Kobudo and Shorinji Kempo.
Paul Sensei has distinguished himself through years of military service and deligent training. Some of his accomplishments include being a part of the inaugural Seal Team Two, as well as being one of the first western students accepted by Uehara Seikichi into the previously closed Motobu Udundi system.
Paul Sensei has continued to pass on the lessons taught to him by his instructors, and brings a special energy to each of his classes.
I recently had a chance to sit down with him and ask a few questions about his training and theories surrounding the martial arts.
JP: I was listening to a couple of guys talking about it. Actually it was judo. Later I watched them throwing each other around and I thought that was kinda neat. I got into karate because of watching the judo guys.
MA: How old were you when you made the leap into karate?
JP: I was about 19 or 20 at that time.
MA: When did you enlist in the military?
JP: It was about 1960. Around 1962 we had the cuban missile crisis. I was involved there, and it was one thing or another for the next several years. Soon after I retired it got a little better, haha.
MA: As I recall you were involved with the Navy throughout your career, including the Seals. What can you tell me about the early days of the Navy Seals?
JP: back in 1960, around March or April, Lt. Commander Roy Boehm was the Officer in Charge of Team Two. That was right in time for the cuban crisis. Team Two was comprised of the new navy seals and the UDT teams.
MA: Were you handpicked to be part of that team?
JP: Yes, most of the guys selected were divers and UDTs.
MA: When you were stationed in Japan, because of your experience in karate, did you immediately try to get involved with martial arts?
JP: Yes I did.
MA: Who did you end up connecting with?
JP: I trained with Watanabe Sensei, who was one of master Doshin So's students. Then from there, I continued with So Sensei in Shorinji Kempo.
MA: Was the training regimented?
JP: In Japan it's a lot more regimented than Okinawa. everything is very stand in line, and so forth.
MA: How did they take to you as a westerner? Was there any friction?
JP: A little bit of…skepticism. of course. but overall fair treatment. I thnink in some instances I got more preferential treatment because they wanted to make sure I got it right, haha.
MA: What ultimately led you to transfer to Okinawa?
JP: Okinawa was the departing point to Vietnam in the early days. We staged a lot of people out of Okinawa. I didn't have a choice in that matter. My teacher (Doshin So) had trained years and years before with some people on Okinawa, and I had a letter of recommendation from him to show to Okinawan sensei.
MA: Did you spend any time in Vietnam itself?
JP: Yes, I spent a bit more than three tours there. I got to come back to Okinawa between and after.
MA: When you had your letter of recommmendation, which Sensei did you choose to go to?
JP: I went to Toma Shian Sensei and Uehara Seikichi Sensei.
MA: Was there something in particular that stood out about Toma Sensei?
JP: Ohh yes, he was very strong. His techniques were similar to what I learned in Japan and I felt comfortable doing his style. In kumite, weapons, and everything he does you could sense the power.
MA: Could you describe a bit about the Okinawan training culture?
JP: In the dojo it wasn't quite as regimented as it was in Japan. It was loose, people were warming up and training on different areas of the floor. There wasn't as much 'yes sir no sir'. There was respect of course. Another thing I noticed was the kids that would run through the dojo. You might be working out and doing kata and a little one would run under your feet. It was more of a family environment. It was like one big family. Everyone would take care of each other.
MA: Did you find that there was a lot of opportunities for cross training, or perhaps teachers visiting each other?
JP: Yes, a lot of times. For Toma Sensei, he had one kata for each weapon. if you wanted anything more advanced, he would send us over to Odo Seikichi Sensei. he would say "you need to do more weapons, you go see Odo." Odo Sensei was happy with that too. They were both of the same mindset.
MA: Speaking of Odo Sensei, could you describe your time with him? You were one of the earliest westerners to train with him.
JP: He was an integral part of my kobudo and karate training. I did a lot of the tuide for his forms and his weapons forms. It was quite similar to what Toma Sensei did. Back then a lot of it was similar to each other, there were only different nuances depending on how the person was built and how they liked to act. There were a lot of common threads. Odo sensei could show you 20 minutes of connections to a 2 minute question. And that was great because I was always asking why, how, how comes…, he was always happy to share. Odo also had a very good way of showing you new forms, he explained it to you very well.
MA: Asking questions seems to be a western approach to learning. Did they ever seem to mind it?
JP: It depended a lot on what you asked. Sometimes they minded, but other times they would jump right in to explain. Toma sensei's English wasn't too good so he usually would grab you, throw you to the mat and say "you do this way". You could feel where it was hurting, so you got the picture.
MA: Did that generation ever have big training gatherings?
JP: It was more of a "sharing students" type of perspective. Students would go to certain instructors depending on their interest and the instructor's area of expertise. but sometimes we would have a big function on the beach or something like that. It was an outing where we all brought our gis and worked out.
MA: Could you talk a bit about what day-to-day training was like? Was there a certain amount of time you trained, and was it the same time every day?
JP: The training wasn't a strict regiment of a certain number of kicks, punches etc. We would go to the dojo or beach and do some basics. We would train some punches and kicks and throws in the ocean with water up to our neck. Then get out on the beach and do some running (Uehara Sensei was always good for this kind of training). It was very very hot there, so you couldn't train for as long. We would work out for an hour and then have a beer break. It was tough for me to go back to training after one of those.
In the dojo at night, you could bring a gallon milk jug of water and a six pack of beer. You would drink the water during the class and then the beer after. We would hear a lot of interesting stories and ideas then.
MA: Uehara sensei is an interesting story because he comes from the Motobu Udundi line, which has a unique history and flavor to it. could you talk about how you met him and came to train with him?
JP: Uehara sensei is one of the people I was introduced to by So Sensei. when I got to Okinawa and started training with Toma Sensei I saw that Toma was friends with Uehara (With the rengokai coming together, Toma Sensei got a chance to learn more of the toide from Uehara Sensei). Everything fell into place then, I went to visit with Toma and began training after that. Uehara Sensei was a very interesting person. He was very close with his students, which I enjoyed a lot because he took a lot of time with his students individually.
MA: Toma sensei had a lot of power and impact with his method, while Uehara Sensei's style features a lot of flow and dynamics. Was it difficult trying to learn Uehara Sensei's methods at first?
JP: Ohh yes, every time I would punch and kick Uehara would say "ohh…you do like shorinji ryu" (back from my Japan days). He spotted me right away. It took several years for me to get used to the ideas of hard and soft. The older I got the softer I got I guess, haha.
MA: What was Uehara Sensei like as an instructor? Did he demonstrate a lot and was there a lot of conversation?
JP: Doing the toide techniques, he would demonstrate a lot. Then everyone would break up and try to do it. Uehara Sensei would then come around to each person and correct things and fix us. He didn't teach everyone the same way. I asked him this question one time – "why does so-and-so do it this way, a little bit different than me", and the answer was that my body was different than the body he had. If you were powerful like Toma Sensei, he would have you punching real strong, but the long tall skinny guys couldn't do it the same way so he adjusted what would work for them.
MA: Did Uehara Sensei ever talk about why he decided to open up his style to non-family students? This was rather unprecedented in the Udundi line.
JP: To me that was a hands-off topic. They never really discussed that with me. That was mostly a matter for the family itself.
MA: When you came back to the US, were you given instructions to begin a school or organization?
JP: Toma Sensei had requested that I start a school and association. I came back in 1970, but in 1984 we brought Toma Sensei to Pennsylvania. at that time we started our first association. We had a big seminar and formed the first USA Seidokan association where Toma Sensei appointed the different officers.
MA: Did you spend a lot of time at tournaments in the earlier days?
JP: Not that much. I went to a few of the original tournaments. To me it didn't show what the arts were all about anyway. Also I wasn't used to pulling punches and kicks which was a problem. Master Odo and Master Toma tended to fight with bogu gear and hard contact. so if you got in the "ring" you hit the other person. Here if you did that they would throw you out. That's what happened to me at least. I never denied my students the experience though. If they wanted to give it a try I would support them and go with them.
MA: With your experience across Okinawa Kenpo, Seidokan, and Motobu Udundi, how important do you feel natural movement is to success at higher levels?
JP: Kihon, basics, and everything is set in iron because you have to learn the core of the movements. Without that you can't get into doing natural stancework and techniques later on. So it's important, but not without the earlier stuff.
MA: Do you have any tips for individuals who have good kihon but are trying to get to that next level?
JP: Sure – relax and train. When Toma Sensei would see something that's not quite right he would just say "…more practice".
MA: Modern karate tends to be a mix of business and training, the balance of which can be difficult. What do you see as necessary for keeping the Okinawan spirit of karate alive?
JP: Toma Sensei always wanted us to open schools, and if you do that you have to have some business with it too. Here in the states that's just the way it is. Uehara Sensei didn't believe as much in having a formal school where you charge money for classes and so forth, so he never did that. I think if we stay true to the art and the way that we learned, the original way that we learned from our teachers and carry on what they were trying to give us, martial arts can still go a long way.
MA: Thanks a lot for your time and insight Paul Sensei!
If you stay in the martial arts long enough you’ll find someone who doesn’t like you (I know, I’m a total buzz kill).
It’s true, though. Martial arts affect people in a very profound, fundamental way. Because of that, divergent viewpoints on martial matters can take drastic turns for the worse…quickly.
This isn’t a new phenomenon; I imagine a lot of readers have experienced it. In fact, this kind of conflict goes back about as far as karate was recorded. One of the earliest examples is Sokon Bushi Matsumura referring to Palace Hand (Motobu Udundi) as light and formless, a rather incomplete art.
But the feud I’d like to mention today is perhaps one of the most famous – that between Funakoshi Gichin and Motobu Choki. Both are men of great fame and reputation, but in most ways they were diametric opposites.
Two Men of Different Methods
Funakoshi Gichin is the founder of what is now called Shotokan Karatedo. He is commonly referred to as the father of Japanese Karate, and rightly so. No one did more to bring karate to the forefront in Japan, and Funakoshi’s efforts to get karate recognized by the Japanese Butokukai were immensely impressive.
Interestingly, among his peers and teachers, Funakoshi was never considered a dominant fighter or technician. He gained his reputation as a gentleman of elegant thought; a man of philosophy, linguistic skill, political acumen, and of course karate talent. As for forms and technique…Funakoshi showed his wisdom there too by associating heavily with one of the great savants in modern history – Mabuni Kenwa. Kenwa’s retention of kata was staggering, and many top tier instructors poured knowledge into him like a basin, hoping that he could help pass along their dying arts.
Mabuni, like Funakoshi, was a refined man. Perhaps that is why they got along so well. But standing on the other side of the aisle, gruff and distant and displeased, was a man known for fearsome fighting prowess. This man was Motobu Choki, Motobu Saru the Monkey, and he would prove to be the yang to Funakoshi’s ever present yin.
Two Men of Different Means
The development of these two men was as different as their personalities. From a class standpoint, Motobu was of higher dignity than Funakoshi. Funakoshi’s family possessed some minor status, but Motobu was from one of the grandest lines on Okinawa. It was his family that retained and passed along Ti, the Palace Hand (now known as Motobu Udundi).
Despite this class difference, the growth of the two men would prove quite opposite from what you’d expect. Motobu Choki, being the third born son, had no right to his families prestigious art. He developed a resentment toward that fact, and often attempted to sneak peeks at his older brother’s training. In time Motobu retained techniques and tested them in rougher parts of Naha, whereupon he would engage in fights as frequently as possible. Soon his ego, prowess, and reputation as a ruffian grew.
At first very few teachers would take him as a true student. It took many years of slowly piecing together experience before Motobu Choki began training in earnest underneath instructors like Matsumora Kosaku (Tomari Te), Ankoh Itosu, and Tokumini Peichin. Throughout his growth and maturation, Motobu was always regarded as a fearsome fighter.
On the opposite side was Funakoshi. Funakoshi, while not possessing the remarkable class distinction as possessed by Motobu, was a bright and likable child who befriended the son of Azato Ankoh. Azato was a man of some prestige, both from a karate and governmental standpoint, and he took a liking to young Gichin. From then on, Funakoshi’s experience under quality instructor’s like Azato, Itosu Ankoh, and Higaonna Kanryo would help him develop into a fine karateka.
While pursuing his martial arts career, Funakoshi also improved his education and schooling, ultimately becoming a teacher himself. Like his instructor Ankoh Itosu, Funakoshi was in favor of Japanese reforms and quickly became a go-to resource for the Japanese on this still rather mysterious art of karate.
Two Men of Divergent Viewpoints
The differences between Funakoshi and Motobu weren’t just theoretical; they encountered and disliked one another. Motobu considered Funakoshi to be rather soft and superficial in his understanding karate. He observed the changes Funakoshi was making and decried them as moving away from the true core of Okinawan karate that he had seen from the Motobu line and his other instructors.
Funakoshi, on the other hand, looked upon Motobu with disdain due to his constant rough behavior and lack of social grace. Funakoshi did not believe Motobu was a proper representative of karate.
There were a few alleged meetings between Motobu and Funakoshi, one in which Motobu dared Funakoshi to attempt techniques on him. At every turn Motobu would simply throw Funakoshi down and foil his efforts. This of course could be folklore. One thing that certainly did happen was a boxing match between Motobu and a European Boxer (exact country of origin debated). Motobu apparently knocked the big, bruising boxer unconscious even after the man had defeated all comers prior to Motobu. When the event was reported, Funakoshi’s picture was used in Motobu’s place as the karate man of prestige.
You might imagine how that went over with Motobu.
All of these factors and many more contributed to the ongoing feud between two of the top karateka of their time.
In and of itself, this is a very interesting study. But there is another layer. Two men of high importance to the development of Japanese karate not only knew about this feud, but studied under both men anyway.
The Brave Konishi Yasuhiro and Bold Ohtsuka Hironori
In Japanese karate circles, these names are well known. Konishi would go on to develop Shindo Jinen Ryu, and Ohtsuka would head Wado Ryu.
Both of these men spent significant time studying under Funakoshi and helped the spread of karate in Japan. Interestingly, they also facilitated and supported Motobu Choki as he spread his own brand of karate knowledge.
By most accounts, it is stated that Konishi and Ohtsuka wished to take their basics, forms, and physical fitness as developed by Funakoshi and augment them with the feared fighting prowess of Motobu. Motobu had also become one of the most famous practitioners of Naihanchi kata (long considered a cornerstone of Okinawa karate) and was a highly sought after resource for understanding the deeper aspects of that particular system.
We needn’t stretch our imaginations to realize what Funakoshi and Motobu must have thought about the others influence on these two young men. Yet, the culture of martial sharing on Okinawa was strong. The act of Konishi and Ohtsuka seeking out instructors highly skilled in particular areas was not unusual. In fact, you might say it stuck to tradition.
Of course, when put through a Japanese lens these actions were almost unthinkable. The Ryu/ha of Japanese Koryu arts were highly secretive and exclusive, a habit born from centuries of in-fighting and rigid class identification. The idea of going to another instructor was not smiled upon, especially if one of the headmasters happened to hate the other.
Nevertheless, this is what happened with Konishi and Ohtsuka and they both became highly skilled and refined practitioners.
A Hint of Things to Come
These two masters, Funakoshi and Motobu, were not members of each other’s fan club. Yet we see instances of old Okinawan culture poking through – that of sharing and cross training despite frictional differences. At the same time we see the beginnings of Japanese influence as each branch of karate became named, labeled, and sectionalized. Konishi and Ohtsuka lived at an interesting time where their desire to improve their learning began to rub against the trend of modern karate.
This conflict of interest exists today as we see the very same kind of feuds develop and the same impulse to label and confine each style. Perhaps we can use the experiences of these karate greats to better inform our overall perspective on the martial arts.
It’s that time of year again. Time for Martial Arts Santa to make his appearance!
For those of you who remember the previous exploits of Martial Arts Santa, thanks for sticking around the blog for so long! This year he’s going to focus on that wonderful tradition of gift-giving.
As opposed to normal martial arts gifts like a new bo or a copy of “Karate-Do: My Way of Life” (great book btw), M.A.Santa is going to dig a little deeper and try to recommend some resources and items that the martial artist in your life may not have heard of.
Whether you need some fresh ideas for yourself or a loved one, check out these M.A.Santa approved items:
In 1609 the Shimazu Clan of Satsuma, Japan staged a bold takeover of the Ryukyu island chain. Unfortunately, most karate resources briefly mention the event, state that the Shimazu reinforced weapons bans on the island, and move on.
This excellent book delves deeply into the details of the conflict, exploring the military capabilities of both the Japanese and the Okinawans.
Richard Kim is a very well known researcher and practitioner of the classical arts. He had a large impact on the development of western martial arts.
In this book, Kim Sensei tells a series of stories that illustrate the character, skill, and mindset of classical individuals throughout our collective martial past.
Included are stories of Funakoshi, Musashi, Higashionna, Miyagi, and more.
When I first began my sword training, my instructor recommended this book to me. It was a real game changer! The author, Dave Lowry, is a highly respected researcher and storyteller in the realm of Koryu arts.
In this book, he explains the unlikely circumstances of how he met a true Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Master and became a disciple of the art.
If you’re in the first few years of karate training, or would just like to establish a better understanding of history, “Okinawa: Island of Karate” might be a good choice for you.
This DVD, presented by George Alexander Sensei, provides a quality walkthrough of karate and kobudo history. Also featured are unique video clips from old masters, and a trip through Okinawa’s Budokan Museum.
It’s quite likely that this is my favorite martial arts documentary of all time.
“Budo, the Art of Killing” was filmed in the late 70s and features high level experts in a multitude of Japanese and Okinawan arts.
The thing that makes this documentary special is that it touches upon the heart of each art and doesn’t get caught up in gimmickry.
Bill Hayes Sensei tells an amazing story in his book “My Journey with the Grandmaster”.
This book provides discussion of concept, mindset, and spirit, mixed with personal experiences of the author on Okinawa.
These are all top shelf resources and I hope you’ve seen something here that you’ve never seen before.
Happy gift giving!