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The traditional Okinawan art of Shorin Ryu Karate lives on

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-27

Karate is a form of martial arts that originated in Okinawa. It was a form of self defense practiced by locals of the Ryukyu Kingdom, who were forbidden to carry weapons by invading Japanese samurai. There are also several different styles of Karate, but one of the oldest and most traditional forms of the art is Shorin Ryu.

Because this art of weaponless fighting was practiced in secrecy, there are no written historical records on Shorin Ryu , and much of its history still remains a mystery. Most experts do agree that one of the founding fathers of Shorin Ryu is the well known Sokon Matsumura, who studied under the great Satonushi Sakugawa. Almost all forms of modern Karate can be traced back to Sakugawa, who was born in 1733. The great masters before him all combined different styles and teachings from other Asian martial arts together with local unarmed fighting techniques developed on Okinawa. Matsumura, after studying for many years in China, eventually returned to Okinawa and formed the style of Shorin Ryu. His technique was then handed down to his grandson, who continued the traditional art, and was responsible for helping to bring Shorin Ryu into the modern age.

Fusei Kise is one of the few true "Grand Masters" of Shorin Ryu, and has been practicing the art since 1947. The very gentle but powerful Okinawan has also been teaching the traditional style of Shorin Ryu to the military since 1960. "I was working on base as an electrician and one soldier asked me if I could teach him. That's how I started to teach Americans," explained Master Kise. He stresses the mental and spiritual side of Karate as much as the physical training. "Students focus on developing a good heart, good mind, and a good body," he said.

Watching him demonstrate some basic techniques, you can feel his energy and dedication to the ancient art. He is also very modest and friendly, but possesses a very commanding presence in the dojo. He speaks truly and from the heart about Karate, which has become his way of life.

The Shorin Ryu form of self defense, like other forms of karate, is a combination of punching and kicking. Master Kise explained the biggest difference between Shorin Ryu and other forms of karate. "The stance is short. It enables you to move swiftly- out of the way of an attacker. Then you are in a position to strike back. Most other stances are long, making you less mobile."

Master Kise also sees Shorin Ryu as an important part of Okinawan culture, that should be shown to the rest of the world, and not hidden, as it was during the early years of its existence. He travels to the United states once a year giving demonstrations and meeting with other students of Shorin Ryu karate. "My students that I teach here on Okinawa will also take back with them to America, what they have learned. And, hopefully they will spread this knowledge to others, showing the rest of the world a part of Okinawa's culture," said Master Kise.

One of his faithful students is 5th degree black belt Fransisco Aguilar. The former native of Mexico met Master Kise in 1976, and received his 1st degree black belt in 1980. "I've been back and forth to Okinawa since I first met Master Kise. I've had chances for promotions while I was in the U.S., but I always waited to go for my promotions when I got back to Okinawa, with Master Kise," explained Aguilar about his respect towards his sensei. Aguilar teaches every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Camp Courtney, providing an excellent opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about Shorin Ryu. He teaches two children's classes at the Youth Center from 5 pm until 6 pm, and from 6:05 pm until 7:05 pm. He also teaches a class for both adults and kids at the Courtney gymnasium from 7:30 pm until 9:00 pm. His late class also has the good fortune, and great opportunity to have Master Kise present on Fridays, providing assistance in instruction.

Aguilar also has the same gentle character that radiates calmness and inner strength. Like Master Kise, he is fast, quick, and strong, but his strengths are kept to himself and never flaunted. He commands respect in his class, but always maintains his calm composure. Aguilar truly loves karate and all it stands for. "It's not for being able to beat up somebody. It's an art. It's a daily routine- something you do for the rest of your life," said Aguilar. When talking about why he finds Shorin Ryu to his liking, he said "It's the uniqueness of Shorin Ryu itself. It's not only the short stance, but it is the body change - letting your opponent go by you and then attacking from the side. It's the most difficult thing to learn."

If you are interested in self discipline, or in a traditional part of Okinawan culture you should stop by and check out one of Aguilar's classes. Anyone is welcome to observe, and he will be glad to talk to anyone interested. You can also call the Youth Center at 622-9711 or 622-9202. For information on the adult class call 622-7450 or 622-9261. If it can do for you, what it has done for most students, it is definitely worth the effort.

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