Pat McGale Sensei has gotten about as close as you can get to being born into the martial arts. Growing up in Okinawa under the tutelage of exceptional karatedo instructors, McGale Sensei eventually made his way to the United States where he cut a unique martial path and honed his skillset via multiple styles.
This interview traces McGale Sensei’s path and provides a unique glimpse into the worlds of Okinawa Kenpo, Kishaba Juku, and more. For additional information on McGale Sensei, don’t miss his audio interview conducted by the Okinawa Karate Podcast.
Q: I’d like to start off with just a few basics. When and where were you born?
Futenma, Okinawa, Japan 1964.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your parents?
My Father’s name is Vincent McGale, from Rhode Island, retired GSgt. USMC. Mother, Emiko McGale from Okinawa, Japan. My father had a strict rule that in the house I’d only speak Japanese / Okinawan to my mom and English to him.
Q: When did you begin your martial arts training? How were you introduced to it (was it your idea or your parents idea)?
I was 5 yrs old, and it was my father’s idea.
Q: Early on you connected with Odo Seikichi Sensei of Okinawa Kenpo. What were some of your early impressions of Odo Sensei? How did he treat you and any other children in class?
Odo Sensei was like a father to me. He was always kind and compassionate. He had his gauge of tolerance set by my actual father so he knew that he could press me to do something hard if he knew I could do better. I was the only child in class.
Q: What was class content like for you as a child? Would you train with the adults or did Odo Sensei have you working on separate things?
He had me do everything the adults did. With the exception of yakusoku kumite or kihon practice with partners where I would usually be partnered with Odo Sensei himself.
Q: Can you describe Odo Sensei’s dojo? How big was it, what kind of training aids did he have in it, were there lots of photos, etc.
My early years of training were done outdoors on the lawn of the gym on the Marine Corps base, Camp Foster. I started at Gunners Gym, then classes were moved to Stillwell Field House by the time I was 10 yrs old. Classes used to be 2 hours per class, 5 to 7pm, 7 days a week, then when we moved to Stillwell Field House it was 5 days a week. Odo Sensei would always bring a big bag of kobudo weapons and about 20 bo’s. There were certain days we would do kumite as well, on those days he would bring out the bogu gear to spar in.
Sometime around 1975 Sensei Odo lost his contract with the Military base activities office so he didn’t teach for a couple years. During that time my father felt traveling on public transportation on my own at 10yrs old to go to the Agena dojo was too young, so he started my training with Shiroma Jiro of Shorin Ryu Shorinkan. Similar in kata to that of Okinawa Kenpo, but the fighting style and approach to kumite was different.
Shiroma Sensei taught me much more about kumite, and I was coming of age under his tutelage. During these years I’d go to the Agena Hombu Dojo periodically with my father to visit and train in Okinawa Kenpo. By the time I was about 13 yrs old Shiroma Sensei moved to the United States and my father felt I was ready for public transportation so I started attending regular Kenpo classes at the Agena dojo.
The dojo itself was spacious, about 1000sqft of open wood flooring. Odo Sensei had his desk up against the wall in one corner and there was a heavy leather bag hanging from the ceiling. Another corner had a wall of long weapons, bo, nunte, eku. Another corner was a small dressing room with wall partition separating it from the main training floor. And the other corner had short weapons, sai, nunchaku, kama, tunfa, timbe and sparring bogu. There was an area that also had two makiwara attached to the floor. On the front wall he had a handful of pictures and certificates. The largest wall mounted frame displayed the Dojo Kun.
Q: As you became a teenager and eventually a grown man, how did training with Odo Sensei evolve?
As Odo Sensei and I had a close connection during my childhood, he would come over and talk with me to critique and correct me. Often times he would approach me and describe his corrections in detail in Japanese, which may not have been the same instructions as the rest of the class because it was easier for him to explain.
Q: While you continued to explore Okinawa Kenpo you also trained in Jujitsu with your father. What was that training schedule like, and how were the classes similar/different?
My father had me enrolled in Judo from age 4 to 7, with his friend Sensei Joe Spotsville. This was also during the time of my Karate beginnings. However, these classes were just on certain days of the week earlier in the day. My father was retired at that point, so he had more free time.
The Jujitsu training, was more of a way of life, living with my father than being in a class. He was a Roku Dan (6th degree) in Shobudo Bujitsu Jujitsu, training since the early 50’s under Nakasato Shoshu Sensei, founder of the art. My father didn’t trust many of his beginning students to train with me as they lacked experience and I was still a child. But his classes started at the Stillwell Field House 7 – 9pm. So it was right after karate. Most often he would work with me directly having me take falls while he was executing techniques on me, taking falls, back falls, cross falls, aerial falls. He would show me the details of plane of movement, circles, angles, trajectory and foot work suri ashi. I pretty much stuck with the fundamentals in learning the art Shobudo Bujitsu Jujitsu.
Q: Did your experience in jujitsu aid your karate development and vice versa, or were that sometimes at odds with each other?
It was always complimentary. If anything, I found it provided improvement in terms of engagement with others, and with smooth execution of complex techniques.
Q: Since you were able to communicate in Japanese and Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language), how did that aid in your understanding of Okinawa Kenpo?
I felt as though there was a gap for individuals without the language. Odo Sensei would periodically ask me to clarify for the class in English. But to my personal benefit he would give me guidance with instruction in far greater detail, and in some cases different detail. While people thought I was able to get away with doing something different than everyone else. But the difference was that I was younger and had been already training longer than most and more flexible as result. So it could have been as simple as, “Pat you heel kick high, while everyone else kick to the stomach.” Sometimes Odo Sensei would say, “Its supposed to be like this but I’m old and can’t do it, you can do it the right way so do it this way.” Could have been the stances, kicks, balances, timing etc.
Q: Did other instructions often drop by to teach or visit Odo Sensei?
It was rare to have guests, but usually it was just someone that would train with us. Not so much as to teach us.
Q: Could you explain how testings were conducted? What kind of material was covered and who was present at the time of testing?
It varied depending more on what levels were being promoted from what I recall as we had promotions just within our dojo periodically. But on those days a couple of other sensei(s) would also be present. With dan promotions there were usually a panel of 5 or more senior sensei(s) at the head table. Maehara Seijiro Sensei, Agaril Masuhiro Sensei, Uechi Masaru Sensei, Nakaima Kenko Sensei, Nakamura Taketo Sensei, Kenko Chibana Sensei, Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei, were some that had been in attendance at my promotions. In no particular order. Odo Sensei was generally the one to state what kata I had to do when I was called up to do my part, but in general it was kobudo kata, karate kata, and bogu kumite.
Q: As time went on Odo Sensei became more popular with Western students. How did Odo Sensei accommodate those student’s visits for weeks/months/years? Did the training differ from day-to-day training for regular students?
I didn’t meet many students that were there for just a few weeks. Usually months, but not more than 5 years on rare occasions. The training was pretty standard all the time. If there was any difference it would have changed by one’s advancement in learning or belt color.
Q: Odo Sensei became famous for his kata and kobudo, but some of his contemporaries were known for other skills, like kyusho and tuite. Did Odo Sensei include those elements in his teaching as well?
It was never his forte, however there were times of explanation or demonstration of kata that would necessitate execution on an opponent to show the implied meaning behind the movement. For kyusho it would have been general area of the anatomy, not specific to kansetsu waza which I learned more directly from my father. The tuite implied or applied wasn’t detailed enough to give me much to recall from Odo Sensei, but this was also my father’s specialty from a traditional Jujitsu angle.
Q: One of Odo Sensei’s famous sayings was “you keep my kata straight”. Does that mean he taught the kata the same way all the time, or did he customize the education based on the individual’s skill, experience, body type, etc.?
There are about 3 generations of Odo Sensei’s teachings; as he was aging some slight things would change on emphasis of details or techniques. The “you keep my kata straight” comments were not in my time that I recall. But there is an Odo-ism there, in that style of statement. I don’t think he was stating anything other than “don’t change my kata, keep it the same.” However, a kick is a kick is a kick. For example, he changed some small things in my kata, like the height of my kick, but he was more concerned that the kick was done properly. He didn’t want the structure of the kick to change.
Q: Did you participate in any tournaments or competitions while living on the island? How were they run and what was the experience like?
Yes, too many to guess but I started competing around age 13. I was a young black belt, due to starting my trainign so early in life. Therefore, I always completed in the adult division. In my first competition I earned a 3rd place in kata and kobudo, and I always placed in the top 3 up to the year I left Okinawa 1988. Kumite at 13 years old against military servicemen would have been out of the question as there were some very good fighters, so I didn’t participate in those events. My father and mother were involved and always officers of the organization Okinawa Karate Referees Association. There were other well-known servicemen and high-ranking martial artists helping with the common goal to judge fairly in an open tournament for all styles of martial arts. So, with this said, it opened the doors for all styles to compete on an equal playing ground. Through this organization I was recognized as Man of the year from 1979 – 1983 for Kobudo, 1980 – 1983 for Kata. The tournaments were on a points system for katas and kumite.
Q: When did you ultimately move to the United States? What made you leave? Also, how long was your training with Odo Sensei before you ultimately left?
I left in 1988 and trained with Odo Sensei 18 years. I moved to California as I had a job lined up and was attending school.
Q: What martial arts were available in the USA when you landed, and did you attempt to continue your training right away?
This period was pre-internet and any reputable school was by word-of-mouth. There weren’t any dojo’s in the area. Certainly not Okinawan styles. I ended up mostly training on my own. In college there were Karate Clubs and Tae Kwon Do classes. So I tried them both out. The Karate Club was a far better open and sharing environment. The University had students from all around the world and there were karateka from all over the US, various countries, and even Japan. The Tae Kwon Do classes and dojo(s) outside the college that I tried were not as welcoming and I usually ended up getting rejected at the door or eventually booted out. It was usually politics around the belts, style, intimidation, or straight up jealousy. I feel as though the openness of Okinawan Karate culture and its inclination to share was misunderstood, just on the level of human interaction regarding martial arts.
Q: So you had access to the karate club, but you also took up Tae Kwon Do, right?
Yes. The early programs I encountered didn’t appeal to me, but I eventually found one that I thought would make for a good workout. By way of TKD there was more focus on flexibility, speed, timing, and dynamic movement. To me that’s where the value really stopped. Of the dojangs I visited they really pushed for sporting competition as a group or team rather than an individual.
Q: How long was your stint in Taekwondo before you ultimately moved on?
I probably spent 5 years in and out of TKD dojangs and staying no more than a couple months at each. So I really didn’t get to spend enough time to feel I had learned much about TKD. Around 1998 I was introduced to Wushu by a co-worker which quickly became my focus over TKD.
Q: Why the switch to Wushu, and what kind of value did it provide?
After being frustrated with the other martial arts I was starting to feel empty, without having a sensei to follow and a dojo to practice in. I was cautious and reserved to start as this was farther from what I was used to. The main thing that attracted me was the Coach, Richard Branden. He was experienced in studying Chinese martial arts in a very structured and strict manner. His true spirit came out in his training and teaching, and he paid close attention to helping his students. In the 10 years I trained in Wushu I also competed in local tournaments and International Open tournaments.
Q: Wushu is a Chinese art, of course, but Okinawa Kenpo also has Chinese roots. Could you compare/contrast the two?
You can watch most practitioners in Wushu across the world and I really think it gets misrepresented. Many schools drive the students to perform but lack the martial arts underpinning of real Wushu. So, it just looks like acrobatics and dance. While these may be valid elements of Wushu, without the martial arts represented it really waters down the art and gets misrepresented. While in Okinawa Kenpo during Odo Sensei’s earlier years, he was more dynamic and was actively working with me to get lower in certain stances, or even kick higher in certain katas. At that time and era you could see the origins and influence of the Chinese Arts in Okinawa Kenpo. Currently it seems limited by who your sensei is and what they want to do, reflective of what their capabilities are.
Q: What made you move on from Wushu and continue exploring your training options elsewhere?
While I competed in soft style divisions with Wushu I also competed in the hard style divisions in the same tournament, so that forced me to stay active with my karate training. I longed for the time to get back to my roots. Wushu in its most popular compulsory curriculum is very difficult past 25 years of age. I was often chosen to move one or two age brackets as there was only one or two competitors in my age group. Competing against 20 year olds was a fun…but challenging, to say the least. Many times, the judges would call me up to the table and to confirm my age and ask, “are you really going to do double broad swords?” For those unfamiliar, double broad swords are a particularly energetic and sometimes hazardous weapon to perform. I had to confirm that I did, in fact, intend to demonstrate them.
Many things in my life were serendipitous and timely. I was introduced to a traditional Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu dojo in San Bruno, CA (Omine Karate Dojo) by a friend right around the time when I was starting to yearn to return to karate.
Q: Did you maintain contact with Odo Sensei over the years? How did you see his increased travel to the USA and eventual illness effect his martial arts path?
To this day I still have immediate family on Okinawa so I would travel as often as possible. Back in the 90’s I’d travel every 3 to 5 years. Each time I’d surprise Odo Sensei with a visit. We would always find time for training. While I never went to see him in the USA, most times I would have no idea of his travel. His illness over the years affected him greatly. In the later years, he was forgetful, and memory was challenged. Dementia was also a challenge; I don’t think it was diagnosed early enough to have it addressed but it was sad to see.
Q: How did you first start interacting with the Matsubayashi Ryu dojo? How did the relationship build over time?
After being introduced to Sensei Susan Budge, who was the owner and director of Omine Karate Dojo; I was invited as a guest, then over a short period of time we became close friends. In my heart she was like the Grandmother that any Karateka would want (though she would not like that statement) but to me she was like family and accepted me, understood me, and welcomed me regardless of my prior experience or difference of style. I was asked to then be a guest instructor, and that relationship with the dojo has continued to this day.
The world lost a peaceful warrior in Susan Budge in 2016. Leading up to that point she and other senior students were helping me adapt to Matsubayashi Ryu and Kishaba Juku. As Sensei Susan wanted to turn over the dojo to me to continue Omine Chotoku Sensei’s legacy, and I promised that her legacy will also prevail. The Dojo opened in 1973 with Sensei Susan Budge and Sensei Omine Chotoku. Sensei Omine Chotoku passed away 1976 due to heart conditions.
Q: When you were asked to take over operations of the Omine Dojo, how did you balance the content of the dojo? Did you transition everything to Okinawa Kenpo?
Actually, I personally transitioned to Matsubayashi Ryu and Kishaba Juku. In the end on a basic level all Okinawa karate (especially Shorin Ryu styles) is very similar. Katas are very close. Emphasis in movement can bedifferent; however, that is a deep topic. So I teach Matsubayashi Ryu katas, and curriculum, and periodically will add some Kenpo kata’s like Seisan which don’t exist in Matsubayashi Ryu. However, this dojo was not active with Kobudo, so all of the Kobudo taught there is from Okinawa Kenpo.
Q: Could you dive a bit deeper into that connection to Kishaba Juku?
Kishaba Juku, “Juku” as in extended study, is a subset of Matsubayashi Ryu founded by Sensei Kishaba Chokei. Sensei Kishaba was one of the senior students of Sensei Nagamine Shoshin. While Sensei Susan Budge spent months traveling and training in Okinawa with Sensei Nagamine, she met Sensei Kishaba and another senior student of Sensei Nagamine Shoshin, Sensei Shinzato Katsuhiko, who is now head of Kishaba Juku, after Sensei Kishaba’s passing. Our Omine Karate Dojo has been visited by Sensei Nagamine, and he had sent other senior students from Okinawa to support the Omine Karate Dojo after Sensei Chotoku Omine’s passing. Sensei Shinzato Katsuhiko was one of the last sensei to aid in the survival of the dojo by teaching, and continuing to guide Sensei Susan at his dojo in Okinawa for extended periods.
Q: Could you describe your early impressions of Shinzato Katsuhiko Sensei? What stood out about his technique and personality?
Sensei Shinzato Katsuhiko is an English professor emeritus at University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa. So his English is perfect. He is a jewel within the Okinawa Karate community that is not well known and he prefers it that way. He is sought after worldwide and is also sought after by locals and Japanese from other disciplines such as hard styles, soft styles, fighting styles, even kendo, judo and others. He has an open mind, and always seeks to learn and put to practice what his thoughts and analysis may be. He is a wealth of knowledge in the arts and see’s commonality across disciplines and various arts. Training with him has been enlightening more so than any other in my 50 years of training. He would also be the fastest and strongest karateka that I know of in motion, regardless of his being 80 years old.
Q: When you decided to seriously study Kishaba Juku was it difficult to “de-program” some of your previous experience in order to properly install the Kishaba Juku fundamentals?
The study of Kishaba Juku is always a project in development. Many would see drastic variables from decade to decade. And this is only because the art is evolving as is the constant learning of Sensei Shinzato. Fortunately, my training in Traditional Jujitsu with my father Sensei McGale Vincent, training with Sensei Odo Seikichi, and training in Wushu has made it easier to train in Kishabe Juku as many similarities are consistent for me. By no means is it easy, but I find many moments of affirmation when I train with Sensei Shinzato at his dojo. I have several private trainings with him and regular class sessions when I travel to Okinawa on an annual basis over recent years. I am a student of Kishaba Juku and our dojo (as registered to me) Omine Okinawa Karate Kobudo Dojo is a recognized dojo of Kishaba Juku.
Q: Kishaba Juku is known for having sophisticated internal movements and distinctive usage of the koshi. Obviously the “how’s” and “why’s” of that methodology could fill a whole book, but how would you explain those qualities to someone who might not be familiar?
Well this is a vast topic to cover. It is a case where one must have some experience and training to understand the concept as it goes against our human reflex and response to reaction and body mechanics. We generally overuse and over tension our muscles and align our skeletal structure in the wrong way; where it doesn’t complement or support the intended action or reaction one is trying to do. It has more to do with relaxing and extension than it does with tensioning.
Q: At this point in your life you still have strong physical capabilities, but also a variety of training experiences. How are you balancing all of that and creating a cohesive martial “life” for yourself as well as your students?
While I teach Matsubayashi Ryu, Kishaba Juku, Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo, Shobudo Bujitsu Jujitsu, I am yet just one person. All this along with my Wushu background only refines my way of teaching or communicating details to my students. When the inexperienced ask what style I teach I just respond with Okinawa Karate. Those individuals don’t know what they don’t know. For me personally the only difference in all the arts I’ve studied is pattern of techniques or slight method of delivery.
My father on occasion told me, “if you want to know how to hurt someone, you have to know how to heal them.” So I took this to heart and when the opportunity came up to study pre-med Human Anatomy in College, I was excited to do so and it has completely changed the way I teach, communicate, observe students, and even critique myself. It is the sum of it all that makes it unique and refined. I don’t keep any secrets from my students. I share what I can, if they have a basis to understand it.
Q: On a more philosophical note, how has your journey in the martial arts helped you grow as an individual? In what ways has it guided your character?
I’ve been humbled many times over and I appreciate anyone at any level engaged in martial arts practice because I know its potential. The practice has given me patience not only with myself but with everything. I always question myself and try to best communicate the values I want to share that would be most impactful for those that may be listening. I realize that the martial arts is not for everyone, but it is available for everyone to have. And with the degree of similarities we all have we also have the same degree of differences, therefore there is much to be tried, experienced, absorbed, or let go.
Everyone has an ego. Some have a small, harmless amount and some just too much. So understanding how people are and understanding my own personal challenges I look for ways I can grow in experience and learn from others.
Q: You’ve managed to stay out of rank race and political discordance common in many styles. What was your method and motivation to keep away from those classic trappings?
In my youth I understood that having a black belt didn’t really grant me anything. This was probably best taught and conditioned by my father. While I had trained with all ranks under the sun, through all of my levels of training, it was clear that rank didn’t matter. Over the decades, I’d see people with different belts, stripes, gi, patches, or certificates that they eagerly post on social media. In some cases I may have either competed with them or seen a demo of their skill, which tells the real story. Until I see higher ranks with improved character, or skill, or at least proper remembrance and execution of basic katas, I’m not impressed.
I may be recognized by some organizations / groups as a higher rank and I look at these as honorary ranks with pride and gratitude. However, my true rank I hold dear to my heart are those granted to me by my senseis from whom I’ve studied and evolved as result.
To date, I do not know of anyone that is a longer standing senior student of 18 years under Sensei Odo Seikichi, Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo. This is only counting the years I actually lived on Okinawa and still trained with Sensei Odo, not short visits for a few months or years. But I recognize and respect all those that are senior ranking to me in Okinawa Kenpo and all other arts. I have nothing to gain from the politics and the race for position on some board. In the end let me hear you communicate your teaching, let me see your kata, let me see your attention to detail, and let me see your kobudo. And I will see who you are.