I’m pleased to present this interview with Katherine Loukopoulos Sensei, a globally renowned karateka, particularly noted for her breadth and depth of kobudo knowledge.
In a time when martial arts doors were often closed to women, Loukopoulos Sensei showed incredible bravery and fortitude to pursue her training and prove herself to multiple high profile instructors. Loukopoulos Sensei spent over 14 years on Okinawa itself and traveled extensively before and after her time on the island. While she credits multiple individuals as significant influences on her development, Loukopoulos Sensei’s journey began with Heshiki Zenko and Ueshiro Ansei, two key individuals in the spread of Matsubayashi Ryu (the art of Nagamine Shoshin) to America.
As Loukopoulos Sensei grew as a martial artist, she also proved herself in the competitive arena, becoming a champion in both the United States and abroad. She established herself as a valued martial arts resource in her family’s home country of Greece, which she has used as a base of operation as she continues to spread her teachings all over the world, including locations such as the Ukraine and Zimbabwe.
Q: In what year did you first immigrate to America?
My mother and I came to the United States several times because she had an older brother in Utah. My father was a Police Officer in Greece, and remained in Greece. My mother and I traveled back and forth. In 1967, I stayed on by myself…I was 15 years old.
Q: Where did you end up and what was the motivation for coming?
For a few months I was in Newark, New Jersey; however, I quickly moved to Manhattan. It was not my motivation to stay in the United States; it was the belief of my parents that I would have a better opportunity.
Q: When did you first hear about martial arts as a youth in the USA? What was it that caught your attention?
Without knowing the English language, and being completely unskilled, I took the only jobs available to me: cleaning apartments, washing dishes in restaurants, altering women’s clothing, waitressing at various restaurants, and later on, bar tending at various bar. In all of those jobs I was frequently cornered and groped by the male staff, and had other several serious close calls…I needed to do something to protect myself. Discussing my woes with my school mates, I was told that I needed to learn “Karate.” Reporting the incidents to the police was not an option as I was a minor and was working off the books.
Q: What was the first dojo you joined? What made you take the leap?
At first I went to see the martial arts classes of one of my schoolmates, but I was not impressed. I consulted the Yellow Pages and visited every single school that was listed. I selected Heshiki Sensei’s Dojo (Satsuma Bushi Karate Dojo) because of the Spartan training and attitude. The dojo did not accept females. Nevertheless, I went every afternoon for about two months, and eventually, Heshiki Sensei offered me the opportunity to take one class. Heshiki Sensei further stated that if I survived the class I could study there free of charge. So, I took the class and for the next five months I did not pay dojo fees.
Q: Did you encounter any resistance from the instructors or students on account of being female? If so, what was that like?
I was the second female to be accepted in the Heshiki Sensei dojo. The first female was Susan Bailey who was a married woman. Married women, out of male mutual respect, were afforded entrance as long as their husbands were also students there.
I saw most females who followed after me ending up as bedroom material…Male students did not want us there. Male students would frequently create secret group trainings in order to practice without us. Females were not told where, when, and what time those secret trainings took place. After a while, I made it my business to observe and learn about those secret trainings and I would show up uninvited…I ignored their grimaces and acted as one of the group. Often the training would stop and would not continue…so I became an actress as well as a karateka.
Q: What was Heshiki Zenko like as an instructor and person? How did he balance teaching kata, sparring, basics, etc.?
That’s a pretty lengthy answer which occupies a chapter in my upcoming book. suffice to say that Heshiki Sensei, in spite of his severe discrimination towards women and anything female, was an excellent instructor. Because his training was very good, I overlooked all the difficulties and stayed on training… after all, that was early 70s and Victimology and Victim Assistance had not been born yet. Women were fighting to get into male professions and so my woes were simply one more on the list of gender discrimination in the United States. I knew all about discrimination as I had already experienced it in Greece at a very young age, so experiencing discrimination in the United States was not something new.
Q: Did you enjoy the Zen influence of Heshiki Sensei’s teaching? How did it help in your training?
I started training when I was 16 or 17 years old…therefore, I was very impressionable. Having a strong Greek cultural background I saw Zen as a form of training and nothing more. Zen was not easy, but Heshiki Sensei’s training was not easy either. To be able to sit still and endure the extreme pain and numbness in the legs was the exact opposite of the severe training to the point of exhaustion and fainting in the karate training. Both methods required patience and endurance.
Did Zen training help me? I would say, “yes it did.” I know I can out-wait anyone. I have the patience of a donkey, but I don’t know if it is my Zen training or my Greek DNA that is responsible for my capacity to endure.
Q: After Heshiki Sensei left for Hawaii you were left to discover the next phase of your training, which led you to Ueshiro Ansei Sensei. Could you discuss what made you seek him out and what that first meeting was like?
Please see the PDF Document: As I remember Ansei Ueshiro.
Q: Did you notice any differences in the Matsubayashi Ryu of Heshiki Sensei and Ueshiro Sensei?
Yes. They are also discussed in the PDF Document: As I remember Ansei Ueshiro.
Q: Your competition career began in 1979. How did this affect the course of your training and did you enjoy competing?
I loved competing! By nature I am competitive and I loved every minute of it. I met many wonderful karateka, and I came in contact with people that were truly great human beings. Thomas Carroll LaPuppet Sensei took an interest in me and taught me all about kumite. Toyotaro Miyazaki Sensei contributed to my travel expenses, and eventually we became training partners. We traveled and competed in the open tournament circuit and we also did demonstrations together. Through me, he came in contact with Okinawan instructors who influenced his karate perspective. My own training took another turn. I trained long and hard, but I also learned to train smart and efficient.
I quickly realized that in order to be better than the best names at that time, I had to do something different. So I started researching other sports. I investigated Olympic gymnasts, top names in track and field, boxing and wrestling…and they all had one thing in common: they lifted weights. Quickly I incorporated weight lifting into my training program as well as road work, and the results were encouraging.
Q: When did you choose to travel to Okinawa? Was it difficult making arrangements for that to happen?
I don’t want to say much on this because it will be covered in my book. Suffice to say that I went to Okinawa for the first time for the entire month of December 1982. In that visit, I also had the opportunity to run the Naha City Marathon which I completed within the allotted time.
When I decided that I wanted to visit Okinawa for a lengthy period of time, it was right after the last US National Championships in August of 1985 when I finished with my athletic competitive career.
How I did it?
Please wait until I publish my book… smile…
Stay Tuned For part 2 with Katherine Loukopoulos Sensei!
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.
Let’s agree on one thing right away – Christmas is way too over-commercialized. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but every time I turn it on from October through December I am subjected to generic versions of Santa giving away cars, toys, jewelry…you name it. If I have to see one more teary eyed engagement ring commercial (Ohh my god! Yes! This proposal is so surprising and spontaneous!) I’m going to cut my TV in half with a single clean katana stroke.
Despite our persistent cultural momentum of ruining things that are nice, the actual spirit of gift-giving remains pure. Showing thoughtfulness and insight in a gift remains just as valuable as monetary cost, despite marketing efforts to prick our egos into believing otherwise.
It’s with that spirit in mind that I would like to present some martial arts gift ideas for this holiday season. Books on Bruce lee and famous quotes from Chinese philosophers are too easy and obvious. I want to go a little deeper and provide some unique options that the martial artist in your life may have never considered (or even heard of). These gifts come from a variety of resources and websites that I have worked with both presently and in the past.
Enjoy, and happy holidays to you and yours!
Cool Martial Art Book Gifts
|_||Okinawa No Bushi No Te– Ronald Lindsey||_||This book represents decades of study and research by Ronald Lindsey Sensei, a senior practitioner of Matsumura Seito Karatedo. In addition to deeper historical studies on karate, Lindsey Sensei provides unique insight into the world of White Crane and how it relates to karate. He also explores theories on fighting strategy and tactics gleaned from the teachers of karate before the intregration of sport and school system alterations.|
|Tai Chi Chin Na– Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming||For individuals looking for step-by-step technique advice, this book by noted expert Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming is for you. Tai Chi Chin Na takes aspects of the popular and restorative art of Tai Chi and explores some of the grappling and off-balancing nuances of it. If you’re interested in the grappling aspects of softer Chinese arts – here you go.|
|Research of Martial Arts– Jonathan Bluestein||This book is rich with information. I haven’t personally made it all the way through yet. I include it on this list though because I think it is a good all-around gift for someone who isn’t a style-specific practitioner. There are plenty of short “wisdom tidbits” as well as deep research to keep most martial artists happy.|
|The Art of the Japanese Sword– Kapp / Yoshihara||I wanted to include this book because it is beautiful in its own right. This is definitely a coffee table book, filled with beautiful images and skillful layout that will impress anyone leafing through it. Besides the aesthetics, it has deep and valuable information on the construction and appreciation of the Japanese Katana.|
Cool Martial Art DVD Gifts
|_||Meridian Qigong– Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming||_||I’m really happy to include this item on the list because it is healing in nature. We spend a lot of time on destruction in the martial arts but we sometimes neglect how to repair others and ourselves. This DVD includes a routine of yoga stretches, qigong movements, and acupressure technique to create a daily restorative and healing practice. The best part is most of is done sitting or lying down!|
|Facing Violence– Rory Miller||Rory Miller is my go-to thought leader for modern violence and the law. I consider his books and DVDs complimentary to one another, although I really like hearing him speak and explain things in his videos. He has a way of outlining complex theories on violence in a retainable way, which is key for potentially high stress situations.|
Cool Gear and Mementos
|_||Hanko Signature Seals||_||I’m tempted to get one of these for myself. These are personalized Hanko stamp seals that can be used on certificates, letters, promotion certifications, etc.|
|Stocking Stuffers||This is a catch-all if you need a bunch of little martial arts items to give to kids on your classes or as giveaways at a party. Neat little trinkets!|
|Spiral Kubotan||A fantastic and cost-effective gift. This is a small self defense implement that packs a mean punch. Avoid getting on airplanes with it, but otherwise have it on your keys where you go.|
|Dit Da Jow||If you or someone you know has an interest in body toughening as part of martial arts training, Dit Da Jow has to become a staple of that training. Good Jow can not only speed recovery from impacts and injuries, it can also help ease problems like arhtritis. Plum Dragon Herbs is where I go for my Jow, but more importantly I know a few people who are way smarter than me that use Plum Dragon too. Check out the links to the left for their special buy 2 get 1 one free offer.|
I hope these ideas have helped in your Christmas shopping. If you have any great gift ideas that might help other readers, be sure to include them in the comments below!