I’m pleased to present this interview with Ronald Lindsey, Shihan, Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito. Lindsey Sensei is a senior American karate practitioner and military veteran. He was on Okinawa during a very interesting time and had the opportunity to train directly with a number of top masters.
I had a chance to discuss a wide variety of topics with Lindsey Sensei, ranging from his time with senior karateka to his efforts to bring karate back to the United States. We also discussed the nature of martial arts organizations and how Americans were viewed on Okinawa.
The interview below contains a mixture of video, historical photos, and q&a. Please enjoy!
Q: Could you provide us with a brief outline of when you decided to enlist in the military and where it took you geographically?
I actually did not enlist; I was commissioned from the Cadet Corps at Texas A&M University. I could have played professional football but I chose to serve Uncle Sam as an officer instead. I was in the U.S. Army Military Police and went to Okinawa, Korea, the Philippines and so forth. I also went TDY numerous times to South Vietnam. TDY means temporary duty. The years that I served as active duty military were 1968-1969-1970 and for a number of years after as reserve officer. I was first stationed on Okinawa in 1968.
My main job was training military dogs. At one time I had over 300 German military police dogs. We were training sentries and scout dogs; I actually wrote the lesson plan and carried out the program to train the first drug detection dogs ever used in the military.
Q: According to your biography your study of martial arts began in 1963 in Shotokan. This would have been while you were still in the United States. Who did you study with and what prompted you to take it up?
I was from a little town called Hallettsville, Texas. We didn’t have any karate schools there. The summers when I was not at Texas A&M, I worked in Houston Texas. During this time I trained in Shotokan at Japan Ways in the Southern part of Houston. The karate training was good, but it was nothing compared to the football training I got during my college years. What we actually did at Texas A&M was probably the hardest football practices ever conducted in the game, and that was under Gene Stallings, a protégé of Bear Bryant. They made us fight against each other during the off season program. It was not Asian Fighting but it certainly was combat training. In the end there were less than 44 boys who did not quit Gene Stallings’s program out of about 140 athletes who were there when the program started. That was very rigorous training. You learned not to hesitate. This gave me an edge even when I went to Okinawa and participated in karate training, especially bogu sparring.
I don’t recall who was teaching at Japan Ways at that time, but I did pick up a number of kata including the Heian and Tekki forms, so I had some familiarity with karate training when I got to Okinawa in 1968.
Q: When you heard you were going to be stationed on Okinawa did you have karate in mind right away or were you entirely focused on military responsibilities?
The military aspect had to be the number one priority. Nevertheless, I looked for karate as soon as possible. There were two things I wanted right away when I got to Okinawa – I wanted to improve my karate and I wanted to find a Japanese Samurai sword. I was able to accomplish the former. Actually, I only saw four Japanese swords the whole time I was there. At that time on Okinawa you had to have written permission to even own one.
Q: You studied under a number of top tier masters, but who was your first teacher on the island? What drew you to him over other options?
The very first style I studied was Uechi Ryu under Seiyu Shinjo. My wife and I lived in a little housing development called Morgan Manor near Kadena Village. To get there you had to go around the Kadena Village traffic circle. On that circle was Sensei Shinjo’s dojo. This is the father of the now famous Kiyohide Shinjo.
A short time after joining Sensei Shinjo’s Dojo I was on duty as the Armed Forces police duty officer in Okinawa (all company grade officers in the First MP Group were required to serve about once per week as duty officer). One of the Duty Officers “check points” was to check the MP Sub-station in Koza. While I was at the sub-station I told one of our interpreters about how I started karate. He said, “ohh, the person who owns the store next door also does karate”. So I went over there and ended up meeting Seizan Kinjo (alt. spelling: Seizen or Seisan), whose parents actually owned the store. Seizan Kinjo lived either on top or behind the store at that time and was a student of Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito under Grandmaster Hohan Soken and Master Fusei Kise. Matsumura Seito was a direct Shorin style stemming from the famous Matsumura Sokon.
I started training with Kinjo Sensei. We would meet at that store and then go down a nearby alley to Sensei Kise’s dojo where we would work out. At that time I was the only American in the dojo. The training was about 50% kata and 50% bogu gear fighting.
Q: Could you tell us what Seizan Kinjo was like as an individual? Was he stern, fun loving, etc?
His personality was jovial and easy to get along with. He was really strong for his size. At that time in my martial arts career he was the type of teacher I needed. We did kata training but it was not very strict. What he wanted to do was teach both bogu gear fighting (fighting with kendo like armor) and then real fighting techniques. Much of what we did was called tuite but was different than the tuite you see nowadays.
The tuite we did on Okinawa , at least that I learned, was mostly pressure point hitting. The only major difference between our tuite and regular karate was instead of striking we used compression with our thumb or one of the knuckles of the fingers. Now it seems like a lot of modern tuite is almost like jujitsu; we didn’t really do that. Encounters in those days were over in a second or two…or half a second.
Q: How did your training with Seizan Kinjo Sensei eventually lead to your studying with Hohan Soken Sensei?
Well Soken Sensei was the head of the system, so everybody drifted toward him. Especially the summer of 1970 I would go with Seizan Kinjo and we would train in Soken’s dojo.
Q: Was Hohan Soken able to practice/demonstrate/conduct class himself or had old age relegated him to the sideline?
The thing about Hohan Soken is this – he, and people of that generation, did not have formal classes. You did not have classes where you lined up, bowed in, and things like that. They did not use formal terms for a lot of things, you were expected to watch and follow and they would correct. They didn’t focus on a lot of verbal bunkai discussion. Some people found him to be stern but I did not think that. He was very capable for his age and he would demonstrate, counter, and so forth.
Yuichi Kuda said Soken taught 50/50 kata and fighting techniques. I found him to do more fighting technique training than say Sensei Odo (Okinawa Kenpo), who focused more on kata.
Q: Did Soken Sensei have much of an issue with you as a foreigner?
No. That is the biggest falsehood that I hear about American karate is that the Okinawans didn’t like us or train us. Think about it this way – I was side by side with Okinawans training at the same time. When did these Okinawans supposedly learned ‘special techniques’ separate from what I learned…at 3 in the morning? We were there, they were there, it was all the same thing. Sometimes we had difficulty with understanding the language, but that was the only barrier.
Q: Do you feel as if the Okinawans would make character judgments on foreigners and restrict certain teachings as a result?
Not particularly. If a person came to the dojo regularly he received training. Now, there are certain levels of absorption that have to take place before you are able to learn certain things. Some things they tried to teach you and you may not have been capable of learning. Many Americans that studied on Okinawa returned to America shortly after their time there. Now they may have received a black belt rating while there, but they also may have quit practicing or may have never received another teacher.
Had they gone back and found a teacher, the second levels and third levels of learning may have gradually sunk in, but there is a time element involved that cannot be shortened due to the physical and mental level of absorption. On Okinawa, unless a person was a real “jerk”, they received training. In some cases senior students would show us advanced stuff when the senior sensei wasn’t looking.
Q: Could you describe some of the unique characteristics of Matsumura Seito? How much emphasis did Soken Sensei place on Hakutsuru forms and techniques over other methods?
Hohan Soken’s style compared to other Shorin Ryu styles is different. In Soken’s style there was not a lot of block-then-punch and there was no fighting or punching with the hand chambered on the hip; chambering the fist was mainly done only during kata. The hands were always out in front and techniques were done at one time, block and strike at the same moment. Tai sabaki, body change, was used at all times.
Soken’s karate was never associated with the karate that was brought into the Okinawan public schools systems. They (my Okinawan teachers) called Soken’s karate “straight karate”. They meant it was a straight line from Matsumura Soken, through Matsumura Nabe, to Hohan Soken. Other styles of karate that were being modified and put into the school systems they referred to as “school karate”. “Village Karate”, like Soken’s style, was considered by my teachers to be unaltered and different from the school styles.
In Soken’s style the hands were held open and the finger tips were used heavily. A lot of pressure points were used and low kicks. For example, Hohan Soken did not have a back kick. He would just change body 180 degrees and use a low front whipping kick. He did not bring his knee up, he would cock the heel backwards slightly and then whip the foot up from the ground, using the big toe as the impact point.
Hakutsuru was seeded throughout the whole style. A lot of the village karate kept many of the techniques that were discarded in school karate.
Hohan Soken performing Passai Sho, narrated by Ronald Lindsey:
Q: Did Soken Sensei have any anxiety about the changes going on in karate, especially in terms of modified techniques and kata in school karate?
I have a letter in my book where Chibana Choshin wrote to Hohan Soken, inviting him to the meeting in 1956 (where they started the first Okinawan Karate Renmei) to discuss these matters. Soken was troubled at times with the idea that karate was changing and so forth. He made very little changes in his own style from what he learned when he was younger. Some changes were made of course as he got older because he had to adjust what he was capable of doing and what he understood.
Q: There isn’t much known about Hohan Soken’s teacher, Matsumura Nabe, and the other direct students of Matsumura Sokon. Did Soken Sensei ever discuss his teacher or that generation?
It’s important to understand the Okinawan culture in regards to this, especially people of Grandmaster Soken’s generation. They were old and it was considered disrespectful to ask questions like that. They would offer some little things sometimes. One time Soken Sensei told a story of Matsumura Nabe doing his kata and Funakoshi Gichin (the founder of Japanese Karate) was caught watching Nabe Sensei’s kata through a hole in the fence. Besides such stories from time to time he didn’t say much. I know he looked for Matsumura Nabe when he returned to Okinawa in 1952 from Argentina. It seems that Nabe died sometime around World War II or just prior to the War.
In regards to Matsumura Nabe – the “Nabe” was actually just a nickname. If you look at his name when you see it written in Japanese it is never written in kanji, it’s always in hiragana which means it is a pronunciation instead of “picture writing”. Yuichi Kuda said that Nabe was a “baby san” name. Nabe’s last name might not even have been Matsumura, it could have been something else. I have some more extensive research in my book, but off hand I recall that Matsumura Nabe may also have been called Nagahama Nabi no Tanmei and maybe even Ko Ishigawa (Okinawa no Bushi No Te pg.136-137).
The Okinawans often had multiple names throughout their lives. Sometimes they would use their wives maiden surnames. In the case of Nabe specifically, there was a period in his life when he was on the run from the Japanese. He supposedly hid out on Ishima for a while. He might have actively avoided the use of the name Matsumura.
There is little recorded history of Matsumura Nabe and karate in general, and even worse a lot of historic objects were destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa.
Q: How much focus did Soken Sensei place on bunkai during training?
Generally The Okinawans didn’t teach bunkai. The trick was to ask them leading questions. If they showed you something you would have to tell them that it wouldn’t work, then they might show you something a little more. Bunkai, as it appears today, is a non-Okinawan need. The real secret to Okinawan karate is not bunkai, it’s the coordination of trying to perfect kata. That, combined with the principles of shuhari, lead to exceptional coordination and understanding. When your coordination is really good you can do many things as a reflex action; this is the last step in shuhari.
Mr. Kuda would say “your bunkai good, his bunkai good, everybody’s bunkai good”.
A lot of time when asked about bunkai they showed a technique that didn’t resemble the kata. Sometimes information would only come after a bit of quiet discussion, or nudging, or coercing.
Q: Could you talk about when Fusei Kise began his study with Soken Sensei and what role he played in the dojo?
Fusei Kise was a senior in Soken’s dojo, although he was not the only senior. Soken Sensei had what we called the ‘big 5’ – Arakaki Seiki was his senior student. I believe Arakaki’s father and Soken were boyhood friends. They both grew up in Nishihara Village. Arakaki was #1. Mitsuo Inoue was second. In addition there was Kohama Jushin, Nishihira Kosei, and Nakazato Hideo. Those five guys were from the Nishihara village area and studied more with Soken than many others. That being said, there were others that studied too, including Kuda Yuichi, Fusei Kise, Nishimei, Takaya Yabiku, Ushiro, and Saha, etc. Many people also came to Soken Sensei for specialized training, say in the sai or bo or fighting techniques. Even Shinken Taira came to him on some occasions. He had a lot of students.
There is often discussion regarding whether or not Kise was the direct successor to Soken Sensei, and if Kise received a Menkyo Kaiden (scroll of direct transmission). Let’s go ahead and look at that a bit. This should be read with the understanding that I studied with Kise; his skill and mastery of Matsumura Seito are not being called into question.
First of all, it would have been out of character for an Okinawan of Soken’s generation to issue a Menkyo Kaiden to anyone. That was not a widely used Okinawan method of the time; it was more based in Japanese arts and only came into practice later as Japanese influence gained momentum in Okinawa. As such, I do not believe Kise Sensei received a Menko Kaiden from Soken.
Hohan Soken died in 1982. At that time Kise Sensei claimed that he was the successor to Matsumura Seito. I wrote an article back then entitled “The Last Samurai” covering that issue. After extensive research I found no declared heir by Hohan Soken. Arakaki Sensei went directly to Kise and asked if he received a Menkyo Kaiden from Soken, and the answer was no.
Kuda Sensei also said no, that this transmission did not occur and that the successorship would go by age starting with Arakaki.
I have been told that in Kise’s dojo there was/is no Menko Kaiden from Grandmaster Soken.
Hohan Soken had a falling out with Kise in the late 1970s. I don’t know how well they mended those fences before Soken died.
I have been told that Soken Sensei denied Kise permission to use the name Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito, which I think was the wrong thing to do. Certainly Fusei Kise was an expert in Soken’s art. I think that after a number of years went by and people started dying, including Arakaki, Kise took whatever legal action was needed to get permission to use that name. I also believe it was correct for Kise to use the name Matsumura Seito due to his hard work and dedication to the style.
Of course there is the matter of the Japanese Government recognizing Kise as a progenitor of Soken’s style. I don’t think the Japanese government can truly take a family art and give it to another person. They can provide permission to use the name, but can the government give the style over to someone? I think not.
I could be wrong on this topic…but my research has been thorough and I have spoken with a good many Okinawans on this subject, all of whom were close to the situation and tend to agree with me.
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: 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 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!
To learn more about Kimo Wall Sensei visit “Tales From the Western Generation”. This book contains extended interview content as well as extensive Q&A with other senior karateka.
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.