This is the first public look at a project I have been working on for a long time. I’m excited to share it with you, and I hope you’ll join me as this book draws closer to completion over the next few months. Read on to find out what the project is and what I have in store for readers who help me spread the word!
What is “Tales From the Western Generation”?
Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve collected a number of interviews over the years with impactful instructors of various martial arts. My goal has always been to highlight individuals who have distinguished themselves through skill, effort, contribution to the arts. I wanted to showcase men and women worthy of emulation and whom future generations may need to know more about as they pursue martial arts in their own time.
If you’re a martial arts enthusiast, you’ve probably thought to yourself how wonderful it would be to have more a complete record of the life and times of the masters who have gone before us. In the karate world, we would all summarily have benefited from a treatise by Matsumura Sokon, or Kyan Chotoku, or Gokenki the tea merchant. To have their thoughts and beliefs down on paper…what a difference that could make! I realized one day while digging around in old texts that history was going on all around me and it was fading away, unrecorded.
It can be difficult to see history as it’s being made, but we live in a time where Karate outside of Okinawa is a very new development. Some of the first individuals who traveled to Okinawa and Japan, studied with the great masters, and brought it back are still with us or just recently passed. There is a rare and finite window for us to record the thoughts and experiences of these great men and women who studied directly with masters like Soken Hohan, Shimabukuro Zenryo, and Shimabukuro Tatsuo. We can learn from their trials and difficulties as they attempted to meld Eastern and Western cultures in order to start schools and organizations of their own.
That is the goal of “Tales From the Western Generation”. To gain a small sense of what it was like and what was learned from the masters, so that we can quell myths, understand philosophies, and grow from the efforts of the past.
Over 30 Interviews with Karate Pioneers
Many people don’t realize just how young karate is outside of Okinawa. With taekwondo and karate schools in every corner strip mall in America it would be easy to assume that these arts have been growing in the West for 100 years or more. It’s astounding to think that in 1940 there wasn’t a single known karate program in the entire country. In the 1950s the word “karate” was barely known and the art could only be found on a handful of military bases and small schools. The earliest American pioneers of karate are barely removed from us, most passing away just before the turn of the century. However, the first true generation that spent significant time in the East, opening doors and getting to know the great eastern masters in earnest, are the ones who share their stories in this book.
“Tales From the Western Generation” grants us access into the stories of over 30 men and women who have dedicated their lives to the study and propagation of karate. They span most of the major styles (Goju Ryu, Isshin Ryu, Shotokan, Matsumura Seito, etc.) and span a wide variety of backgrounds. They overcame difficulties of war, racial prejudice, extreme poverty, and more, and as a result have acquired reputations worthy of preservation.
Intertwining Worlds – Illuminating Our Place in Karate’s Grand Story
We live in a compartmentalized world, especially when it comes to martial arts. Karate styles expend a lot of energy explaining why they are superior, more realistic, and more legitimate than other karate styles. Feuding karateka may be surprised to learn that karate practitioners of the past worked carefully and quietly together to enhance one another’s life protection capabilities. It made sense – the goal of karate was not to win trophies or beat other karateka in duels, but to protect villages and families from grave danger.
The earliest Westerner karateka in Okinawa saw this martial sharing first-hand, and were exposed to a variety of instructors themselves. Of course, as karate gained worldwide growth and prestige it also suffered from greed, jealousy, pride, and pettiness. Hence the eventual posturing and fracturing, leading us to where we are today.
The history and interview content featured in this book can help us understand what karate used to look like, what happened to it as it spread across the globe, and what pitfalls we need to be aware of as we cultivate karate’s growth.
Many of the interview guests provide insights into teachers from multiple styles, and even discuss how they crossed paths with other interview guests. The result is an intertwined experienced, demonstrating that the karate world was not so big, once-upon-a-time.
Ask the Experts, Win a Free Copy, and More!
There are a lot of interesting events planned as we get closer and closer to publication. I’ll be rewarding loyal readers with giveaways, free copies of the book, and access to unique information. To stay updated, sign up for the mailing list below. This is a private mailing group and will only send out occasional messages about “Tales From the Western Generation”.
That’s all for now, but stay tuned. I intend to tell you a lot more about this project and hopefully gain your support in helping spread the word. I think this book could be a serious tool for education, both in terms of understanding history and helping guide us into the future.
I’ve had the good fortune of training with Jody Paul Sensei for over a decade. He has been a staple figure at the International Karate Kobudo Federation’s quarterly training events for as long as I can remember and has been a close and loyal friend to my primary instructors, Bruce and Ann Marie Heilman. Paul Sensei is a unique character, having trained directly with Toma Shian (Seidokan), Uehara Seikichi (Motobu Udundi), and Odo Seikichi (Okinawa Kenpo). Now, sadly, he is in serious medical condition and could use the support of the martial arts community.
What Happened to Jody Paul Hanshi
While driving near his Georgia home a deer sprang out from the side of the road in front of Paul Sensei’s car. Attempting to dodge the impact, Paul Sensei swerved but lost control of the vehicle, causing it to roll multiple times. The impact caused serious damage to his spine and neck. A series of emergency surgeries saved Paul Sensei’s life, but left him paralyzed from the neck down. He is in stable condition, rotating between assisted breathing and self-powered breathing. He is struggling to communicate under his own power and needs attentive care to avoid atrophy, bed sores, and blood clotting.
How We Can Help Paul Sensei
As a result of Paul Sensei’s extensive military career we are trying to garner appropriate aid from Veteran’s Assistance. However, due to the extent of care needed to help Paul Sensei, additional funding is urgently needed. Our goal is to provide Sensei with the best possible chance for recovery and aid in his comfort and ability to communicate.
We have started a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.com, a very reputable donation management website. Using the link below, please visit the fundraiser and provide whatever assistance you can:
All money collected through this fundraiser will go directly toward medical equipment and bills associated with Paul Sensei’s recovery. Usage of funds will receive direct oversight from Bruce Heilman, Ann Marie Heilman, and myself.
Together we can provide a better quality of life for Paul Sensei, and, with any luck, give him the opportunity to share his knowledge once again.
More on Paul Sensei’s Martial Arts Career
Paul Sensei’s martial arts career began while stationed in Japan. He studied Shorinji Ryu under So Doshin (and one of So’s senior students). Once transferred to Okinawa, Paul Sensei continued his journey with Uehara Seikichi, Toma Shian, and Odo Seikichi. Mr. Paul was known throughout the island and had the opportunity to meet and train with a myriad of important karateka. Since that time he has worked tirelessly to maintain contact with Okinawa and spread his art here in the United States.
(This is a fictional story with fabricated characters and events. Resemblance to real life individuals or incidences is purely coincidental.)
Coby’s black belt was beginning to show the first signs of frayed, white strands around the edges. He was by no means a master, but had become a regular at Yahara Sensei’s dojo. He fell in love with karate at a young age and never found a reason to stop. That is, until his work moved him hours away from his old home. He faced a choice – quit training, or find a new teacher for the first time since he started his martial arts journey.
Luck was with Coby as he was browsing schools online. Konishi Tsuyoshi, a nearby instructor, taught the same style as Yahara Sensei. Coby visited the Konishi school and was asked to sit and watch a class. Coby observed Konishi Sensei take command of the room, gliding across the floor in a stern and disciplined manner. Konishi lead the students through a brief etiquette ceremony, and then began the class. The training was hard and heavy. Konishi expected focus and effort from the students; anything less was met with a disapproving glare.
Coby shifted in his seat nervously, feeling a combination of fear and admiration for the Sensei. When it came time to sign up for class, Coby agreed. It was such a sharp contrast from his days with Yahara Sensei. He recalled his old teacher fondly; certainly Yahara made his students work and sweat, but he always had a grin on his face and music to his step. This would be a change of pace for certain.
* * * * * * * * * *
Coby trained diligently with Konishi Sensei. At first he found the dojo challenging, but soon came to welcome the rigorous workouts. It wasn’t until a full year had passed that Coby actually sat down with his teacher in a more informal setting, chatting and getting to know the man as more than just a Sensei.
While relaxing with Konishi Sensei at lunch Coby pulled out a small laptop. “Look Sensei,” Coby said. “I found an interesting video online. This appears to be some form of Jujitsu. They spend a lot of time closing distance and going to the ground. What do you think?”
Konishi Sensei eyed the video, then shook his head disapprovingly. “Too much time on the ground,” he said. “That’s exactly where you don’t want to be in a fight. While you’re down there, that close, you can get kicked by other people or stabbed if the opponent has a hidden knife. We always train to prevent going to the ground.” Coby nodded his head, accepting the obvious wisdom of the statement.
Later that week Coby returned to his hometown to visit family. While there, he stopped in to see Yahara Sensei. They sipped tea together and Coby recalled the Jujitsu video. “Yahara Sensei, there is a video online I would like you to watch.” “Ohh?” Yahara remarked, “Ok.” Coby showed the clip of Jujitsu practitioners throwing and grappling. Yahara Sensei stroked his short beard and eventually said, “I had a friend once who was tackled from behind while walking down the street at night. I bet he could have used some of these techniques to recover from the disadvantage, or, at least, escape the ground more easily.”
Coby hadn’t considered that possibility.
* * * * * * * * * *
Two weeks later Coby found himself enjoying more down time with Konishi. “Sensei,” he said.”I’ve got another video for you. This time it’s karate.” Coby showed a clip of two practitioners in flamboyant uniforms performing jumps, kicks, and rolls throughout their kata. Konishi Sensei shook his head in dismay. “How can this pass for karate?” he asked. “This resembles nothing of the art from my homeland. We work so hard to preserve the culture, kata, and art of karate. Yet here we have people propagating something completely wrong.” Konishi’s disappointment was palpable, and Coby wondered how the practitioners in the video could excuse their wayward performance.
Remembering his previous experience with Yahara Sensei, Coby decided to show the video to his old Sensei the next time he visited home. Yahara watched the video thoughtfully. After the performance concluded, Coby remarked, “What do you think Sensei? Certainly this doesn’t resemble the karate we do.”
“True,” Yahara Sensei said. “But you can see the passion with which they perform. We should appreciate their commitment to a craft.”
Coby found himself less-than-convinced. What if people continued to post videos of fake, watered down karate? It could increase in popularity and the real art could be lost forever.
* * * * * * * * * *
Coby continued to train diligently. He focused less on the internet and more on the dojo, until one day he stumbled upon a video of the very same style of karate he studied. Surprised and excited to see someone who’s kata and techniques resembled that of his instructors, he decided to approach Konishi once again. “Sensei,” he said. “I know our style isn’t the most widespread in the world, but I found someone else performing our art online. Take a look!” Konishi Sensei viewed the video, then pressed his lips thinly together while shaking his head. “This is not good Coby-san. I know the man in the video. He lacks our understanding of kata and application. You can see it all the way down to his foundation and his stances. Of all people to post videos online, it should not be him. This speaks to his arrogance.”
Coby understood Konishi Sensei’s point. It was definitely audacious of the man in the video to think he was the best representative for the style.
When last Coby and Yahara Sensei spoke, Yahara provided thin answers to Coby’s concerns. Nevertheless, Coby still respected the man’s opinion. He visited home a few weeks later and arranged to speak to Yahara once again. “Sensei,” he said. “I found a video of our style online. Would you take a look?” Coby showed the video to Yahara, waiting tensely and attempting to read the old man’s face as he watched. After the video concluded, Yahara nodded and scratched the small hairs of his beard.
“What do you think Sensei? Should this be posted online?” Yahara Sensei looked up in surprise. “That is not for me to say Coby! I do not control the actions of others. However, if it raises awareness of our style’s history and methods, I don’t see the harm in it.”
“But Sensei,” Coby replied. “Don’t you think this man is lacking foundation? Doesn’t he seem arrogant in his own knowledge, despite how much he lacks?” Yahara Sensei sighed, then said, “If we are all overly humble and choose not to share, the art will die with our humility. Even if this gentleman is not the best, perhaps it will inspire students to seek out the more senior teachers of the style.”
Coby considered the matter closed, but Yahara Sensei continued, “Coby-san, your critiques have merit. But be careful. The spirit of karate is not one of judgment, but of acceptance. One of support and protection, not of aggression. When watching others we may not see what we think karate should be, but our aim is to help them, not to steal their passion from them.”
“Sensei,” Coby replied. “isn’t it our job to protect our art and see it preserved properly? Aren’t we doing a disservice to others by not correcting videos like these?”
“I admire your sense of duty,” Yahara said. “But if you wish to make others richer, do not begin by stealing what they already have. Find what is valuable in what they do, and do your best to build on it. If they truly aim to achieve their best, they will likewise find the wisdom in your teaching and correct their path. I don’t dismiss the faults you observed in your videos…but I hope you see the importance of the mindset in which you judge.”
Coby thanked his instructor, and bid him farewell…until the next meeting for tea.