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  • 26 FALL2016


    A visit to Okinawa experiencing and exploring the heart of traditional Karate-Do

    By Brad Wells

    okInaWa tRaDItIons

    In early July of last year with typhoons approaching, generations of Karateka from Okinawa and the United States gathered in Naha, Okinawa, at the Tokashiki Dojo. What they had in common was the fact that they have studied practiced and taught in the tradition of the Nagamine Dojo for decades. Their common purpose was to honor their commitment to continuing the teachings and essence of Grand Master Shoshin Nagamines art.There is a growing sentiment that these types of opportunities must be sought out and, ever more pressing by the tremendous loss of karate masters in recent years. These were masters of not only Shorin-ryu, but also Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, Kempo, and Motobu-ryu. The masters lost where men whose own training was firmly rooted in the Karate-Do prior to World War II and the many changes that occurred with the globalization of the arts. Traveling to Okinawa is often said to be going to the birthplace of Karate. It is also where you find its heart.

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    Shoshin Nagamine was internationally renowned many years before his death in 1997. He was once a police superintendent who stepped down from his position to open one of the first public schools of Oki-nawan Karate. From that resignation, he went on to receive the Order of Rising Sun, Fifth Class, from the Prime Ministers Office for his contributions to Karate, chief among them the creation of Matsub-ayashi-ryu.

    Osensei Nagamines own instruction is credited to men through whom you can trace Okinawa- Te to its very deepest roots. His first instructor was Sensei Arakaki a student of Shinpan Gusukuma, and Chosin Chibana (founder of Kobayashi Shorin-ryu). The second of the three instructors was the great Chotoku Kyan. The third was Motobu Choki who began his studies of karate under Anko Itosu, continuing under Matsumura Sokon, Sakuma Pechin and Kosaku Matsumora.

    It is the outcome of these teachings that Master Shshin Nagamines art represents and what the generations of students gathered every morning to train in at the Hombu Dojo. Among them Takeshi Ta-maki: 9th Dan: Hanshi, Kyudan and president of International Sho-gen-Ryu Karate-Do Kyokai. Also present was Masahiko Tokashiki: 8th Dan Kyoshi, Hachidan Vice President, and Sadahiro Makino sensei, who was kind enough to act as Translator. Tamake Sensei (the most senior living student of the Nagamine Dojo) began his training at the Nagamine Dojo in 1955, at the age of 15. Also present 18-year-old yadanshi student Asataro Shiroma fortunate enough to be a student of Tamaki sensei. Shiroma, who was born nearly 60 years after his own senseis birth, represented the face of the generations who continue to learn the art.

    The American group of fourteen led by Jerry Figgiani, 8th Dan and president of the Shorin Ryu Karatedo International (S.R.K.D.I.) found themselves in a whirlwind, both metaphorically and literally. The group was begun at the urging of Sensei Joseph Carbonara. Car-bonara was a senior student of the first instructors sent to teach in the US by Osensei Nagamine Ansei Ueshiro and Chotoku Omine.

    The word Typhoon comes from the Chinese word tai fung great wind. When it is influenced in English by the Greek term tuphon it is whirlwind. The days in Naha were an incredible whirlwind that brought a tremendous change in the relationship between the two groups. As the S.R.K.D.I. members entered the dojo they noticed a copy of the Shomei-sho (certificate) that recognized the official affili-ation between the two organizations hanging on the front wall of the dojo. The certificate hung there with the photos of Okinawan Karate masters Choki Motobu, Kensei Taba, and Shoshin Nagamine.

    The Shomei-sho presented in 2013 on the last evening of the S.R.K.D.I. trip to Okinawa is very unique and special given contem-porary martial arts in generals divisiveness. But in fact, it is indicative of the earliest days of Karate-do when the Okinawa Karate-do Federa-tion was founded and Matsubayashi-ryu was one of the styles repre-sented. Also represented in the Okinawa Karate-do Federation where other styles of Shorin-ryu, along with Goju-ryu, and Uechi-ryu. Of

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    aRtICLE tItLE

    course, today it is difficult enough to get factions of the same style to agree, let alone various ones to form an alliance such as the Okinawa Karate-do Federation. But history shows that such division has not always been the case and it is good I think to reflect on that from time to time.

    The certificate of cooperation was the culmination of bonds that went back over a half century between the dojos of New York, and Naha. But to Figgiani it was a hum-bling almost overwhelming experience. He was momentarily taken back thinking of Sensei Joseph Carbonaras encouragement, just six years earlier. Since then the under-taking was made possible by the hard work, effort and support of Figgianis students and contemporaries, without which the journey would have never taken place, let alone achieved so much.

    You could say the support, certificate, and relationship dated to the time when Ameri-can servicemen were allowed to enter Nagamine dojo in Okinawa, following World War II. Eventually these men returned to the United States and some begin teaching, includ-ing James Wax, Shshin Nagamines first American black belt. Then the Grand Master, handpicked first Ansei Ueshiro and then Chotoku Omine to go to the United States and teach. Sensei Terry Maccarrone, an early student of Ansei Ueshiro has commented on the importance of these men being sent to the United States and then students within their lineage like Jerry Figgiani being sent to Okinawa to represent the American dojos. He went on to explain their demonstration of respect and cultural awareness was evident and Okinawan senseis felt comfortable with the foreign interests. Sensei Terry Maccarrone believes it is this great interest in Okinawa as a cultural experience that is still evident today within members of the S.R.K.D.I. that contributes to the strong ties the group has seen with Okinawa.

    Sensei Maccarrone in fact encouraged Figgiani to train with Carbonara, who was a student of Omine. It was in this way that members of the S.R.K.D.I. benefited from An-sei Ueshiro and Chotoku Omine instruction, both of whom were senior most instructors at the Nagamine dojo prior to being sent to America. This technical expertise was in-valuable in the early years of the development of the East Coast dojos understanding of the art. That technical guidance today continues with the announcement that Takeshi

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    The certicate of cooperation

    was the culmina-tion of bonds that went back over a half century be-tween the dojos of New York, and


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    Tamaki Sensei will serve as Technical Director to the Shorin Ryu Karatedo International organization.

    This opportunity under the guidance of Takeshi Tamaki Sensei is indicative of a relationship that seems a bit like the eye of a typhoon itself, with the winds of change blowing in the kind of relative still-ness firmly planted in the teachings of Shshin Nagamine. The prac-tice of the style does not take place in a vacuum. It is not immune to the differences of opinion that are common once a great leader has passed. What intrigues the writer is the growing number of kara-teka that look to the commonalities between interpretations, and the search for the in-depth meaning of the Masters words and teachings.

    Tamaki Sensei serving as Technical Director of the S.R.K.D.I. will serve as a continuation of the training experience the group has had visiting Okinawa. The groups practice began at 6:30 in the morn-ing an hour before breakfast when they gathered to train in kata. Weather permitting outside (in the wind). If not, in the basement of the hotel they would review and prepare for the days visit to the dojo. Prior to training at 7:30 AM, generally there would be breakfast at the hotel. At 10:30 AM the group would be picked up by van for sightseeing including visits to Shurijo Castle, and Nakagusuku Castle, as well as paying respects to the late Taba Sensei at his family shrine and gravesite. Sightseeing was followed by afternoon training, many hours of hard work, exploring the nuances of kihon, basic and advanced kata, as well as kihon and kata for bo.

    Hours in the dojo were always followed by a meal. Topics of his-tory, culture, and of course the techniques and kata that have been practiced that day and in preceding sessions were discussed. During one such meal Zenpo Shimabukuro Sensei Head of Shorin Ryu Sei-bukan Karate joined the group. He explained he always enjoys meet-ing karate enthusiasts and talking with them about Okinawan Karate and history. He made the point that he had known Tamaki sensei for many years, reminding them that he is the oldest student of Shoshin Nagamine sensei. He went on to communicate how fortunate they were to have their association with Tamaki sensei to help preserve Matsubayashi style (Shogen-ryu). Adding I hope you can promote the style in the United States. These are interesting comments com-ing today from a master who has dojos of his own in the United States. His visit and subsequent communications are a wonderful example of the Okinawan philosophy promoting the art as a whole.

    Okinawan Karate can be a very different experience when you actually train in Okinawa. Sensei David S. Hogsette a member of the party (An English professor) wrote of the groups visit Train-ing in Okinawa under the highest-ranking Shorin Ryu senseis is an experience that cannot be accurately described in words. It must be experi


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