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Secrets of Okinawa karate unlocked at museum

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-01-06

Karate is a revered sport in Asia.

For many, it is much, much more. While there are numerous forms of karate practiced in Okinawa and around the world, one which has millions of practitioners—including more than 10,000 in Okinawa—is Kobudo. Officially administered by the Okinawa Gjuryu Kenshi-Kai Karate Kobudo Association, the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo Koryu Kan, and International Karate Kobudo Federation, it is committed to preserving the “old ways” of karate.

A leader in kobudo karate is the Goju Ryu and Kobudo in Okinawa, where countless hundreds have come to the karate mecca to study under grand masters like Tetsuhiro Hokama. Body conditioning, pressure points and vital points, throws and take downs, grappling, and ground fighting are key elements of the kobudo. So are physical locks, chocks and strangles, as well as knife fighting and defenses.

Hokama, born in Taiwan of Okinawan parents in 1944 (his father was a commander in the Japanese Navy), is a crusader for traditional kobudo karate, away from the popular sport karate forms practiced by many. He began his life in the karate doju at the hands of his grandfather, Seiken Tokuyama, when only eight. Now headmaster of Kenshi Kai, he’s called by some “the encyclopedia of Okinawan Goju Ryu.

He’s also the curator of the only karate museum in the world, located in Nishihara, near Naha. Kenshi Kai has branches around the world, with key offices in Japan, South Africa, the United States and Canada. Hokama comes from royal Okinawan lineage, and ancestors were samurai of the Tokuyama family.

The 60-year-old master is involved in all aspects of the karate business, from training to maintaining proficiency even today. He began the grueling apprenticeship as a teenager under Goju Ryu Grandmaster Seiko Higa, then continued on to research martial arts. He trained with Higa until his death in 1966, then stepped forward to follow another Master, Seikichi Fuguchi. Only after Fuguchi’s death did Hokama assume the organization’s leadership mantle.

Hokama’s also a master Shudo calligrapher, the art of Japanese writing, and is current 9th Dan Karate and Kobudo. He’s also an accomplished author, writing books on karate and Okinawa culture. He holds a Doctorate in Karate, a Master’s degree in Okinawa’s mineral and Stone Research, and is president of the Nishihara Machi Cultural Association. Hokama also serves as technical advisor for the All Japan Karate Do Ken Yu Kai, and as secretary for the All Okinawa Karate Do Association.

The Karate Museum in Nishihara is unique, the only one of its kind in the world. Within its walls on the second floor above the Kenshi Kai dojo are 15,000 photographs and artifacts documenting karate’s history in Okinawa. Included are maps and drawings tracing more than 500 years of travel that brought the sport to the Ryukyu Kingdom.

One area focuses upon the knives and weapons, with examples of the fighting tools being modified through the years. Another features training devices, including heavy polished stones used in building leg muscles.

Hokama, who speaks fluent English, personally conducts many of the tours through the museum, meticulously taking time to explain the finer points of karate and its history.

The Cost

The Karate Museum is open Tuesdays and Saturdays 9am ~ 5pm. It is also open by request to Hokama Sensei. The entry fee is a nominal ¥100. Literatures, books, photographs and calligraphy are available for sale in the gift shop. Some materials are in English.

Getting There

A visit to the Karate Museum and Kenshi Kai doju and headquarters isn’t easy, but a “must” for the serious karate enthusiast. Travel south on the Expressway from military bases, exiting at Nishihara (Exit 2). Turn left and proceed south one kilometer to the sign for Shuri and Nishihara. Turn left, proceed three kilometers to Nishihara route. Turn left again, then proceed down the hill to the main intersection (Kentucky Fried Chicken is on left). Turn left and proceed up the hill two kilometers. At Au Sign, turn left again. Travel 600 meters and turn left at car dealership. Museum is one block from car dealership on left side. Vines and yellow signs draw attention.

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