Special Dragon Times ONLINE Interview. . .
Exponent of the Uechi Ryu form of Karate.
me his card rather formally,
he said that he practised Ryokokaku karate and also taught kobudo. After a
brief conversation in which we exchanged references, I realized that he had
trained with many of the top Uechi Ryu teachers in Okinawa, and was therefore
was in all probability a very talented karate instructor. His appearance was,
however, puzzling to me. His hands and feet were so very small, and his body
so slim and apparently delicate, one had to wonder just what his karate was
I asked, "Would you please give me a small demonstration of Uechi Ryu?"
He replied, "We don't call it Uechi Ryu anymore because it displeases
one particular member of the Uechi family, but yes, I will show you what I
do. I will perform Sanchin."
Removing his jacket, shirt and tie, he tied up his long grey hair more tightly
with the hair pin worn by all men in Okinawa at one time, and stood motionless
for a moment or two. "Sanchin," he growled, then suddenly, hunching
forward slightly and thrusting his arms violently down at his sides, he began
a transformation that would rival in dramatic effect the metamorphosis of
Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde.
His body became instantly hard with a tension that defies description; sinews
grew from nowhere and became steel cords; muscles swelled from the torso and
solidified under my gaze; the eyes were transformed into ferocious slits from
which shone malevolence, and from within nature's most dangerous creation--the
creature that walks upright--came the primordial sound of the beast mustering
its physical and mental power in preparation for a fight to the death. I felt
the hair on the back of my neck rising, as my primordial instincts reacted
to the sight before me.
I felt as one does when the beloved family pet, who will willingly endure
mashed potatoes in both ears providing the kids will let him eat it afterwards,
becomes a wolf in defence of his pack; a snarling mass of tensed muscle and
bared fangs to whom no reason will appeal.
This was not the pasteurized, shrink-wrapped and sanitized kata of the ladies
synchronized demonstration team, complete with squeaky kiai. This was the
way things were in a previous time when diplomacy and reason failed; when
the court of justice was ruled by the logic that sprang from the hands and
feet of the strongest fighter.
Almost as soon as it had begun, it was over. My visitor changed back into
the uniform of today's corporate warrior--on this occasion pinstriped grey
flannel--and, as if nothing had transpired, bid me good-bye, and left. The
impression he made on me was a lasting one which is why I followed up with
a request for an interview.
conducted in November 1996, at the studio of Tsunami Productions in Oxnard,
Times Interviewer: When and where were you born, Gushi sensei?
Shinyu Gushi: I was born in Okinawa just before World War II. My father
was killed in the fighting in 1945, and I was brought up by my mother who
is still alive.
Times: How did your interest in karate begin.
Gushi: I was always small so the other boys at school would give me a
hard time. I was not strong, but resolved to do something about that. When
I was fifteen I started training at the dojo of Saburo Uehara in Oroko City
who was Uechi Kanbun sensei's top student.
Times: How was training at that time?
Gushi: Very different from now. It was very severe. I did Sanchin and
almost nothing else for the first six months. The only other thing we practised
was some basics and some of the more difficult sequences of techniques in
Sesan. It's difficult for students these days to understand that what we practised
was real karate. It had no sporting elements, we learned to fight that's all.
Times: Your Sanchin kata is tremendous, is this part of the fighting strategy
of your style.
Gushi: Of course! The reason that we practised Sanchin for at least six
months was to make our bodies strong and capable of taking punishment. If
your Sanchin is good, you can protect your whole body with the exception of
the face. If your opponent cannot hurt you enough to stop you fighting he
will loose. See (tensing the muscles around the neck so they looked like a
thick strand of rope wound around beneath his chin) even if I am hit here
(indicating his vulnerable throat by hitting it with his fist) I can protect
myself with Sanchin.
Times: Would you say that Sanchin is the most important kata.
Gushi: Yes! If you only studied Sanchin kata that would be enough for
any karate man. It has everything.
Times: I saw your high school photo and your muscle development was really
splendid, and still is. Is this due to Sanchin?
Gushi: Fundamentally yes, although you must study basics and exercise
your body as well. Sanshin is important because it allows you to build a shield
of muscle that you can use at will, and that will both protect your body and
give you a lot of power to attack with. I am ashamed for you to see me now,
I do not have the physique I once had. (unnecessary but nonetheless very welcome
modesty from a man whose body would be the envy of men thirty years younger,
and that appears to be machined from steel).
Times: When you started training did you have to pay a dojo fee?
Gushi: I wouldn't call it as fee as such, rather a very small contribution
towards expenses. We trained at Uehara Sensei's house, which was common at
the time, people didn't really have dojos as such. When we became more skillful
we would help teach the juniors, and take classes when the sensei couldn't,
and that became our contribution rather than money. Real martial arts is not
a business, it's usually practised in small groups as we still do today.
Times: How often did you train?
Gushi: I would train for several hours at school, originally I did Shorin
Ryu, then I would go straight to the dojo after school to continue my training.
I trained about four hours each day, six days a week.
Times: I understand that you studied with Seiyu Shinjo as well.
Gushi: That's right I did. I studied kata with him a lot. Then he moved
to Kadena which was too far for me to travel so I started training with Seiko
Itokazu Sensei who was the head of the Pangai Noon, (the original name of
the style that Kanbun Uechi brought back from China). I was an instructor
by this time, and was aware therefore that karate was already changing.
Times: What do you mean by changing?
Gushi: Well, in 1958 our first dan grade examinations in Okinawa were
held. We were told to attend by our respective instructors and were examined
by a large number of seniors for basics and kata performance. Then we were
told to fight each other.
Times: What form did the examination take?
Gushi: We did Sanchin while seniors instructor tested us (shime) by hitting
and punching us as we performed the Kata. Then we did Sanseru in front of
the seniors, then they told us to fight.
Times: What do you mean by "fight?"
Gushi: It was nothing like now. We were always taught in the dojo just
to attack the enemy and beat him. We didn't assume a stance and then circle
warily. We went straight at each other, and using Sanchin, tried to avoid
injury while beating up the opponent. Only direct strikes to the face were
forbidden, everything else was allowed, so we attacked with everything we
had and a lot of students were injured. The problem was that the instructors
who were supposed to be conducting the grading became so enthralled with the
fighting that they would forget to stop us. Only when one of the pair of combatants
started to take a real beating would they remember to intervene, and by that
time ten minutes of no holds barred fighting had taken their toll.
Times: I'm not clear about the rules for the sparring.
Gushi: We were allowed to hit full power to any target with any technique
except the face. We could attack the opponent's face, but not make contact.
Times: What techniques were used most often?
Gushi: Well we used everything. Sokuto kicks were used, hand techniques
like the dragon strike to the throat, it was a fight rather than sparring.
Times: How did you do at the grading?
Gushi: All right! I survived the battles and was graded second dan but
when I look back I have to view this as the beginning of the change in Karate.
Until this point we practised in the dojo individually under the supervision
of a senior--there were no organized classes as such, or grades. We practised
techniques that the first grading in 1958 showed all too clearly were far
too dangerous to use in competition. I feel that from this point on "modern"
karate started to develop along sporting lines while the old, "real"
karate stayed in the background, and backyards of Okinawan teachers where
it had always been.
I still believe firmly that if you want sport, you don't need karate. If you
want to be strong and be able to defend yourself, you do.
Times: Do you have strong opinions about sport karate?
Gushi: Not really. It's good for small children and because it's much
less demanding than budo karate, you can train from childhood to your later
years. But many people who practice sport karate don't understand about budo
karate, and that's a pity. Actually you should do both, and I want to teach
sport karate people real karate techniques so that they understand sport karate
better by understanding its roots.
Times: Would you view karate's acceptance as an Olympic sport as a positive
Gushi: I think so. Sport karate is designed for competition so naturally
it would be appropriate, but not real karate. Budo karate is dangerous and
can result in severe injury unless rules are made and strictly adhered to.
But as soon as you make rules, it's not budo karate any more because real
fights can't have rules as they are about survival and not point scoring.
Times: What are your opinions on girls training.
Gushi: Well that's fine, but I believe the female body needs a completely
different type of training than the male body does, and I'm not sure that
it gets it from karate. If a girl is really serious she can train with us,
and a number have. However, I only really teach black belts students who mainly
come from the so called "traditional" karate styles and they usually
leave after only a few weeks of personal training with our group. This makes
me think that it would be difficult for a girl to accept this intensity of
training, when her male counterparts can't.
When you are marching up and down a dojo it's easy to be anonymous--there's
a certain feeling of belonging to a group that is reassuring. But when you
fight, you fight alone, so we train alone, student with instructor. In this
way you can't hide anything as you can with group training. I see the student's
flaws and I correct them so that the student can improve. I offer individual
training of an intense nature so people who really want to improve their karate
skills can. That's not to say that what other people are doing is no good--just
that what we do is different.
Times: How does training differ from when you were beginning karate and
Gushi: If I think about the past I remember that I trained hard every
day. I never took it easy, never. That's why I don't recommend real karate
for everyone. It's so hard, you're always tired and often in pain from training.
If you really want to become an instructor, however, this is the only way,
and personally I enjoy it very much.
Times: When you started training were the seniors in the dojo very hard
Gushi: Of course. That was a different age completely so it's really not
possible to compare it with now. Because it was often too tough, most people
didn't last long in the dojo. Sport karate was invented as an alternative
to that sort of brutally hard training; it satisfies the needs of modern students,
in the modern times in which we live now.
Times: Did training then emphasize the use of the Makiwara?
Gushi: Yes, of course! We used it to develop our techniques; boshi ken,
seken, like that. We nearly all had makiwara, my karate friends and I, and
we used to try and break makiwaras to see how strong we were. In Pangai Noon
style karate we don't use the normal (seken) fist so much. We prefer soken,
hira ken, boshi ken, shukoken, nukite, and shuto. Seken we don't use so much.
We also used the makiwara to develop our kicking techniques: front kick, side
kick, roundhouse kick, like that.
Times: Why is test breaking do important in your style of karate?
Gushi: That's a difficult question (laughter). I suppose that it basically
to make sure that what you are doing is correct. How much power you are developing.
A test to see if you really have power or not--a very personal test.
Times: When you were learning karate as a young student, did the seniors
teach you kyusho (nerve points)?
Gushi: Yes. We learned from our seniors and teachers but not to use in
the dojo of course, it's too dangerous. Also we were not allowed to use them
from the time of the first dan grading I told you about because they are so
Times: When you tense your body, does it protect you from attacks to your
Gushi: Of course! That's why we practice Sanchin to learn how to do this--to
protect ourselves in a fight.
Times: So if you had to protect yourself the first thing you would do
would be to tense your body.
Times: What is the biggest difference between karate now and when you
Gushi: Time changes things you know, so does transmission from one instructor
to another. Everyone has their own interpretation of things that varies by
a tiny amount from everyone else, and as these are passed on things change.
We are all human and this is natural. I try very hard to pass on only what
I learned. I make a conscious effort to do only this.
Times: What are your hopes for the future?
Gushi: There are many karate men these days and dojos everywhere, and
that's fine. I hope to do many demonstrations of karate for everyone to see.
So that they can say, this is how karate was a long time ago in Okinawa. This
is Okinawan karate!
joined by Tsukasa Gushi, son of Shinyu and an instructor specializing in Ryukyu
Times: When did you start training?
Gushi: I can't remember, I was so small. All I remember as a child is
following my father around--following him to the dojo and watching him train.
He never pushed me to do karate, it was just a natural sort of thing with
us. In 1975 they held the Okinawan Expo and my father would go everyday to
demonstrate karate to the Japanese (mainland) people, and I would go with
him to watch. I think my commitment to karate started at that time.
Times: When did your interest in the weapon arts begin?
Gushi: At that time, the same as karate. I remember having a kid's bo,
you know a small one, and I would practice. My dad would teach me techniques
then I would practice on my own. When I was about twelve he opened a dojo
in Oroku City and I helped as much as I could. When he was too busy to teach,
I would help. We had students, so the dojo had to be kept open at all times.
Times: Why did you come to this country
Gushi: We both decided to come at the same time. There are Uechi Ryu groups
here who wanted to study with a high level teacher, and they also wanted to
study the traditional weapon arts that I teach. I think when students reaches
a certain level they realize how important these arts are and want high level
tuition. Previously they had to go back to Okinawa which is not always possible,
so many groups invited us to come here to demonstrate karate and the weapons
Times: Since you came here in 1988 what sort of instruction have you been
Gushi: My father doesn't have a dojo, he trains people in his back yard
like we do at home. Senior students come from other styles and often they
continue practising their original style but come to my father for training
in real karate. It's very hard and the students have to be determined, but
those who are serious improve a lot.
Times: What do you feel is your main goal in America?
Gushi: To spread real karate of course, that is my father's dream, but
also to make people appreciate the culture and history of our homeland and
the fighting arts that developed as a result. We are the only Okinawan teachers
of Uechi Ryu who are easily available to students in America, and we will
both work with anyone who wants to study serious, real, karate and kobudo.