Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Aug and Oct 2012 Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Sessions

On Aug 12 and Oct 14, 2012, the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai gathered to study the Pinan / Heian Shodan, Nidan, and Yondan Kata, the Kyan Bo no Kata Sho and Kyan Sai no Kata Sho, and the Gekisai Shodan and Nidan Kata.

As mentioned in previous writeups, Itosu Anko Sensei created the Pinan Shodan kata for the Okinawan school system in the early 1900s as a simplified version of Kusanku, which would be easier for the schoolchildren to learn both in terms of kata length and the literal duration of the physical education classes. While there was initially meant to be only one Pinan kata, Itosu Sensei created four more in successive years to give returning students  more kata to practice. Funakoshi Sensei renamed the Pinan Kata to Heian, a change which carried over into schools which had ties to Shotokan. In addition, because Pinan/Heian Shodan was viewed as more complex than the Nidan kata, Funakoshi Sensei switched the teaching order, which is why the Heian Nidan kata is equivalent to the Pinan Shodan kata. Variations of the naming convention over the years across different styles is responsible for the difference in the Pinan / Heian kata names listed further below, which are all the same kata.

Steve Chun and Grant Kawasaki performing Pinan Shodan
Sean Roberts Sensei performing Heian Shodan
Ralph Sakauye Sensei perfoming Pinan Shodan

The Kyan Bo no Kata Sho and Sai no Kata Sho refer to the bo and sai kata taught by Kyan Shinei Sensei, which he had learned from his instructor Kina Shosei Sensei. These kata likely originated from Kina Sensei’s teacher, “Ufuchiku” Kanagusuku Sensei. Ufuchiku Sensei’s bo system is often considered to be a “northern” style due to the influence of Jigen Ryu, which was popular sword style amongst the Satsuma samurai. Evidence to support can be seen via the prevalent use of the “jodan kamae” (upper ready position) where the bo is held over head in a similar fashion as the sword.

Alan Yokota Sensei and John Oberle performing the Kyan Bo no Kata Sho

[DSC_26: Alan Yokota and John Oberle performing the Kyan Bo no Kata Sho]

The Gekisai kata were originally created in the attempt to have a simple, universal kata that the many different styles of karate on Okinawa could practice and perform together during exhibitions, study sessions, or just in general. The Gekisai kata were created by Miyagi Chojun of Goju Ryu. While the goal of having a universal kata shared by all karate styles on Okinawa was never quite realized, these kata remained in practice.

For these study sessions we ushered in a newer format. Every school still performed two rounds of their kata, but after the second round, the meanings / applications of the kata movements were explained and demonstrated with a partner move-by-move from start to finish. Following this round, we split into pairs and each school shared one of those meanings for everyone to practice with a partner.

Pat Nakata Sensei explains a riding block and arm break from the Pinan Shodan kata

Steve Chun demonstrates a strike from the Pinan Shodan kata

Hisae Ishii-Chang Sensei demonstrates a thrust from the Heian Nidan kata

Robert Matsushita Sensei executing a block from Pinan Shodan

Herb Ishida Sensei demonstrates a block from Pinan Sono Ni

Alan Yokota Sensei executes a hook / disarm followed by a strike

Alan Lee Sensei demonstrates a strike from Gekisai Shodan
Charles Goodin Sensei explains a block and strike from Pinan Shodan

There was an interesting discussion on the development of karate “terminology” as we know it today, and how that in turn can affect our understanding of various techniques. Karate terminology isn’t just a matter of translation; it’s all Greek even to Japanese and Okinawans as well. I’ll never forget the time I visited the dojo of Yonamine Kousuke Sensei (Uechi Ryu) during a trip to Okinawa back in 2007. Yonamine Sensei was preparing some of his students for promotion testing, and he was quizzing them on specific karate terminology, in Japanese of course. It never occurred to me that karate terminology would be foreign even to native speakers, although now it seems to make sense.

Chibana Sensei often demonstrated techniques rather than using “standard terminology”. Upon being asked, he mentioned to Nakata Sensei that back in the old days, there was no real set terminology used in karate. Teaching was done in standard conversational Okinawan or Japanese, and most everything was demonstrated for proper visualization. It was only much later that “formalized” karate terminology emerged, largely due to the efforts of mainland Japanese to catalogue their techniques and stances. Yoko te (side of the hand) became shuto (knife or sword hand), yoko ashi (side of the foot) is now called sokuto (sword foot), and mae nagai dachi (forward long stance) is now referred to as zenkutsu-dachi (forward bent knee stance). In comparing some of the old kata to the modernized kata, it seems that when a move or stance in the old version of a kata did not fit neatly into the confines of the new terminology, then that move or stance was modified.

One of the more evident examples of terminology affecting understanding is the distinction between what are now called yoko geri and mae geri. Geri (keri) means “kick”, while yoko means “side” and mae means “front”. Therefore yoko geri is taken literally to mean “side kick” in the sense of a kick towards the side, while mae geri refers to a  “front kick” in the sense of a kick towards the front. 

Originally, yoko geri was called “yoko ashi yoko geri,” which breaks out to: yoko ashi (side of the foot) yoko geri (side kick). Simply put, a kick to the side using the side of your foot. Over time, the term was shortened to “yoko geri.” Mae geri on the other hand used to be called “tsuma saki mae geri”, which breaks out to: tsuma (toe) saki (tip) mae geri (front kick). In other words, a toe kick to the front. This too was shortened simply to “mae geri.” These abbreviations became so ingrained that soon, kicks using the side of the foot were only done to the side and toe kicks were only done to the front.

However, in some original Shorin Ryu kata such as Pinan Yondan or the two Kusanku, there is a kick that was originally called “tsuma saki yoko geri”, or in other words, a toe kick towards the side (with the body still facing forward). Using modern terminology, one would view this kick as a mix between mae geri and yoko geri. Some schools focused more on the “toe kick” aspect and altered the move so the performer turns their body fully towards the side to execute their mae geri (with a toe kick). Others focused more on the “to the side” portion and instead performed a yoko geri (hitting with the side of their foot) while still keeping their body oriented forwards. In both cases, there was a modification to the original movement and meaning, which again was having your body oriented forwards, but kicking with your toe towards your side.

To me, this goes to show that karate terms must always be specific and demonstrated fully for students to understand. Thinking about it, I suppose this would apply even to our kenkyukai study sessions, where many different schools gather together to share their techniques with one another. Sometimes it is useful to remember that our semantics can make our karate terminology a foreign language, even to other other karate schools!

Once we finished, we all stayed afterwards to talk story and enjoy refreshments. On 12 Aug these were provided by Steve Chun (C.Q. Yee Hop Co./Commercial Enterprises), Grant Kawasaki (Hanapa’a Sushi), Lee Sensei, Nakasone Sensei, Ishii-Chang Sensei, Matsushita Sensei, Loma Lopes, Nakata Sensei, and Yokota Sensei.

After our 14 Oct, we had a birthday celebration for Nakata Sensei, which Goodin Sensei helped to organize. Ishii-Chang Sensei outdid herself with a delicious and organic birthday cake. She claims to very rarely bake cakes... but if that’s true, then what a shame! We had a veritable feast, with additional refreshments provided by Steve Chun (C.Q. Yee Hop Co./Commercial Enterprises), Grant Kawasaki (Hanapa’a Sushi), Goodin Sensei, Hamakawa Sensei, Harada Sensei, Hiramatsu Sensei, Lee Sensei, Nakata Sensei, Roberts Sensei, Shimabukuro Sensei, Yokota Sensei, and Loma Lopes. Thank you everyone!

Performing the kata on 12 Aug (in order):
  • Pinan Shodan - OSKA - Steve Chun, Grant Kawasaki
  • Heian Shodan - Minakami Dojo - Sean Roberts Sensei 
  • Heian Nidan - Island Ki Dojo - Taylour Chang, Frank Lopes, and Loma Lopes (Round 1) and Hisae Ishii-Chang Sensei (Round 2 / Explanation)
  • Pinan Nidan - International Karate League - Robert Matsushita Sensei (representing Walter Nishioka Sensei) and M.J. Matsushita
  • Pinan Shodan - Hikari Dojo - Charles Goodin Sensei
  • Pinan Shodan - Kenshukan Karate Kobudo Association - Ralph Sakauye Sensei(representing James Miyaji Sensei) 
  • Pinan Sono Ni - Kyokushin Karate - Herb Ishida Sensei, Dean Harada Sensei 
  • Kyan Bo no Kata Sho - Ryukyu Kobudo - Alan Yokota Sensei, John Oberle 
  • Gekisai Shodan - Senbukan Dojo - Alan Lee Sensei, Kyle Nakasone Sensei
James Miyaji Sensei
Rodney Shimabukuro Sensei
Carl and Clyde Kinoshita
Tommy Terayama

Special thanks to Clyde and Carl Kinoshita for their photography during the 12 Aug session.

Performing the kata on 14 Oct (in order):
  • Pinan Nidan and Pinan Yondan - OSKA - Alan Yokota Sensei, Steve Chun, John Oberle
  • Heian Nidan and Heian Yondan - Minakami Dojo - Sean Roberts Sensei 
  • Heian Shodan and Heian Yondan - Island Ki Dojo - Frank Lopes and Loma Lopes (Round 1) and Hisae Ishii-Chang Sensei (Round 2 / Explanation)
  • Pinan Shodan and Pinan Yondan - International Karate League - Craig Hamakawa Sensei and Gary Hiramatsu Sensei (representing Walter Nishioka Sensei)
  • Pinan Nidan and Pinan Yondan - Hikari Dojo - Charles Goodin Sensei
  • Pinan Shodan and Pinan Yondan - Kenshukan Karate Kobudo Association - Ralph Sakauye and Shawna Carino Sensei (representing James Miyaji Sensei) 
  • Pinan Sono Ichi and Pinan Sono Yon - Kyokushin Karate - Dean Harada Sensei 
  • Kyan Sai no Kata Sho - Ryukyu Kobudo - Alan Yokota Sensei, John Oberle 
  • Gekisai Nidan - Senbukan Dojo - Alan Lee Sensei, Ryan Okata

Rodney Shimabukuro Sensei
Stephen Lodge Sensei
Robin Sagadraca


Bill Lucas said...

What an awesome training opportunity these sessions must be!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for continuing "Bujutsu Blogger", and Many Thanks for the photos in your latest entry!

It's really good to put some faces to names you've mentioned over the years in your Blog!

In Friendship,

Danny Emerick
Tallahassee, Florida

Anonymous said...

I posted on what may have been an older post, therefore I will re-post here in hopes you will read my request. During the period of 1980 to 1981 I trained under Sensei James Miyaji. Many years have passed and I have thought often of Sensei as to his wellbeing. Could you provide me an update please?

Mark A. Dabbs
Hueytown, Alabama

Bujutsu Blogger said...


He is alive and well, and still loves watching people do kata. I can provide his representative with your contact info if you would like.


Anonymous said...


Thank you. I am hoping I will be able to return to Hawaii this year about the time of his birthday; Sensei will be 85 this year as I recall. If you don't object, would you mind contacting via Facebook; search for mark a. dabbs. May have been years since my time there with Sensei, yet the lessons learned from him have stayed with me well all these years.


Bujutsu Blogger said...

Sorry for not being in touch, I was quite busy. I haven't been able to find you on facebook. You can just email me at

Damian Perea said...

Dear Yokota Sensei
I have wanted to send my condolences on the passing of our Sensei. It was a great privilege to have trained under Nakata Sensei and I miss him as I know you do too. You can contact me at
Damian Perea student of Nakata Sensei Ventura California