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Preparing for a Grading

By Sensei Fortunato Restagno

A grading is designed to support your progress as a practitioner of the art and build ones character. Karateka know, whether you are young or old, never give up on bettering yourself. Getting your next belt is a sign of achievement and a recognition to your Sensei's that you have put the time, passion and effort into your training. At the same time, we can put too much emphasis on getting the belt and end up loosing focus on realistic preparations.

Here are some grading Do's and Don'ts

- Focused on getting a belt more than learning the content.
- Look like you are trying to remember the moves in kata and partner work.
- Show lack effort, spirit and power
- Miss classes prior a grading
- Unrealistic goals setting. Wants to go for a grading even if you are not ready.
- Looking tired and distracted. Not serious about the grading.
- You put off paying your grading fee

The biggest one I see - we are all guilty of this as one time or another.
Someone who puts effort in a grading but less effort in regular class. This sends out several negative messages to your Sensei's and other members. It's easy to get caught up in this trap. In karate you are your worst enemy. Put your best effort into every class. Soon as you walk into the dojo floor think of three things. Cooperation, friendship, best effort.

- Ask your Sensei if you are ready to be graded prior and is there anything in particular you should work on.
- Learn the terminology. It's part of your grading.
- Think of every regular class as a grading. Give each class your best effort. I guarantee you will feel great at the end of class. This will also help you mentally prepare for gradings.
- If your Sensei asks you to do a kata in front of a class treat it like an opportunity. Yes it is confronting but it's great for building character and confidence.
- Talk to your Sensei after a grading for an evaluation on what to improve on.


Fathers' of Karates

The history of the 'fathers' of Karate is not well known. Information gets more speculative as we go further back in time. While we hope to have it right, it will require more work by experienced historians to further sift the truth from the fiction.

Peichin Takahara (1683-1760)
Takahara is thought to be an Okinawan monk who would have been a teacher as well. He was revered as a great warrior and is attributed to have been the first to explain the aspects or principles of the "Do" ("way"). These principals are: 1) "ijo" the way of compassion, humility and love; 2) "katsu" the laws-complete understanding of all techniques and forms of karate, and 3) "fo", the dedication and seriousness of karate that must be understood not only in practice, but in actual combat. The collective translation is: "One's duty to himself and his fellow man."

Most importantly, Takahara was the first teacher of Satsunuku Sakugawa who was to become known as the "father of Okinawan karate."

Kusanku's teachings would influence the development of Shuri-te and eventually Shorin-ryu. He brought some of his other students from China to Okinawa and they would spread his style of Chinese Kempo on the island.
It is rumoured that Kusanku was the person who introduced the corkscrew motion to Karate's punch. He taught students to chamber a closed fist against the side of their torso and then, from this position, the punch was thrown out in a twisting motion at the intended target. He is also credited with creating a new type of kumite (sparring) for the Okinawans. It was referred to as Kumiai Jutsu or "fighting technique".
Kusanku was the second teacher to Satsunuku Sakugawa.

Satsunuku Sakugawa (1733-1815)
Satsunuku Sakugawa was born in Shuri, the capital of Okinawa in 1733. He began his martial arts training at age 17, under Peichin Takahara. At age 23, Takahara granted Sakugawa permission to train under Kusanku, a Chinese envoy who had been settled in Okinawa. For the next six years, Sakugawa studied under Kusanku, travelling to China with Kusanku to study and learn valuable lessons from Kung Fu and went on to become a great master himself.
Sakugawa learned valuable lessons from Kusanku. Sakugawa returned to Okinawa in 1762 to teach. He combined the techniques of Chinese Kempo "ch-uan fa" with the native Okinawan techniques he had learned from Takahara to create the basis of Okinawan Karate and form "Te" into a structured training system.
Sakugawa was awarded the title of Satunushi for his services to the Okinawa King, He is credited with forming several kata including the kata Kusanku and several "Bo" kata, which are still practiced today. In addition, Sakugawa also created the concept of the Dojo Kun (dojo etiquette/rules) which has become a tradition with many styles.
It is believed that Sakugawa was almost 78 when he began teaching his greatest student of all, Sokon Chikatosinumjo Matsumura.

Matsumura Sokon (1796-1893)
Matsumura was recruited into the service of the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom. In 1818 he married Yonamine Chiru, also a martial arts expert. Matsumura eventually became the chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for the Okinawan king. Matsumura traveled on behalf of the royal government, studied martial arts in China and brought what he learned back to Okinawa.
With the records of the development of karate sometimes conflicting, Matsumura is credited with passing on the kata known as Naihanchi, Channan, Seisan, Chinto, Gojushiho, Kusanku and Hakutsuru. The Hakutsuru kata contain elements of the Fujian White Crane system from the Chinese Shaolin system. He is believed to have created the Tsuken Bo tradition as well.
Matsumura was given the title "bushi" (warrior) by the Okinawan king in recognition of his martial arts skills. Described as a sensei with a terrifying presence, he was tall, blindingly fast and deceptively strong, Matsumura was never defeated in any of the many duels he fought. Ultimately, all modern styles of karate evolving from the Shuri-te lineage (Shorin-ryu, Shotokan, and Shito-ryu) can be traced back to his teachings.

Anko (Yasutsune) Itosu (1831-1915)
Itosu played an important role as the personal secretary to the last king of the Ryukyu Islands.
Itosu began to study the martial arts under the eye of Nagahama Chikudon. He continued his training with Matsumora Kosaku and is said to have begun training with Matsumura Sokon following the death of Nagahama Sensei.
Itosu took the old Channan kata he had practised and created the Pinan which he thought would be more appealing to students. Later he expanded the Naihanchi by creating Nidan and Sandan, and possibly Kusanku Sho and Passai Sho.

In 1901 he began teaching karate to students in the schools of Okinawa. His greatest testament is the skilled students he trained including Shinpan Gusukuma, Chosin Chibana, Gichin Funakoshi, Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Jiro Shiroma, Chojo Oshiro, Shigeru Nakamura, Anbun Tokuda, Moden Yabiku, Kenwa Mabuni, Moden Yabiku, Motobu Choki and Kanken Toyama.

In October 1908, Itosu wrote the "Ten Precepts of Karate," to draw Okinawan Karate to the attention of the Japanese Ministry of Education and Ministry of War.

Motobu Choki (1870-1944)
A direct descendent of the Okinawan royalty. Motobu was extremely agile. He began practicing karate under Matsumura Sokon and continued under Anko Itosu.
Motobu focused on the Naihanchi kata and deemed it the "fundamental of karate". He was committed to using the makiwara and was instrumental in developing the kumite and was reported to have developed his own kata: Shiro Kuma (White Bear). He created Motobu-ryu which differs from Motobu Udun Di, which is the unique style of the Motobu royal family.
Motobu trained many students who became key leaders in developing karate, including: Katsuya Miyahira, founder of Shorin-ryu Shidokan, Nakamura Shigeru, founder of Okinawa Kenpo, Hironori Otsuka, founder of Wado-ryu, Tatsuo Shimabuku, founder of Isshin-ryu and Shoshin Nagamine, founder of Matsubayashi-ryu.
He published two books on karate, Okinawa Kenpo Karate-jutsu Kumite-hen (1926) and Watashi no Karate Jutsu (1933).

Gusukuma Shinpan (1890-1954)
Although a peer of Chibana Choshin, very little is said about the master technician, Gusukuma Shinpan. He began teaching shortly after WWII and was close friends with Miyagi Chojun, Kyoda Jyuhatsu and Kyan Chotoku. He taught regularly at Shuri Castle and had a dojo at his home in Nishihara City. He was a school teacher by profession but his first love was Shuri-style karate.

One of his former students was Iha Seikichi (who presently resides in East Lansing, Michigan) who often talks about his teacher. The following are some thoughts concerning how it was like to train in the l950's under Gusukuma:

Training under Gusukuma-sensei was very strict and traditional. It was a lot of self-training where he would watch to see how hard you wanted to learn. All students would first become an apprentice student and help clean the dojo for six months to a year. They could watch training but could not take part in receiving instructions.

When Gusukuma-sensei thought that they were ready, he would then tell them to join in. Sensei never actively taught but would have the senior students do all the teaching. Sensei would only teach the top two or three students and then have them pass on the knowledge. This was a very traditional way of teaching.

During class, sensei would evaluate every student and advise them of their weaknesses. He would allow each student to demonstrate two kata for him while he watched. Sensei would then tell them that they needed work on their stances, or their power, etc. They would then train themselves based on sensei's evaluation. Sensei would sometimes show a student a technique and then say, "Ha, I showed you something! You are very lucky I did this! Now go train!!!"

Gusukuma-sensei would personally teach the top two or three senior students and it was then their responsibility to pass on the methods to the rest of the students. One senior would always be there to teach while sensei observed or trained by himself. Sensei was about 5'1" and weighed about 125 pounds. He was extremely strong and trained his fists and toes on the makiwara everyday. He believed a karate-man must be able to generate power equivalent to three times their own body weight with either fist or foot. Needless to say, the students were constantly repairing the makiwara punching boards.

If a student did not train hard, Gusukuma-sensei would tell him that he should leave and come back when he was ready to train. If the student continued with this attitude, Gusukuma-sensei would tell him not to come back unless he was serious about learning and training. Sensei was hardest on students that did not listen. He had a good memory and would often tell a student to work on his punch or kick or kata. If the student did not do this then sensei would bring it to their attention and kick him out of the dojo for wasting his time by not listening.


Taba Sensei

On July 6, 2012, Kensei Taba Sensei passed away peacefully. Our sympathies go out to his family, his friends, his students and to all in the Shogen Ryu Association. He will be greatly missed.

Sensei Roy Paul, Taba Sensei, Sensei Fortunato Restagno in Okinawa 2009.

YouTube Clips
Teaching kata
Performing Kata Wankan

The following was written by Tony Partlow, Shogen-Ryu Karate-Do Minamoto Dojo Okinawa Shogen-Ryu Karate-Do Association

Kensei Taba Sensei was born in July of 1933 in Okinawa. By his early teens, he was a student of the late Nagamine Sensei with whom he trained under until Nagamine's passing in November of 1997.

Taba Sensei became a respected member of Matsubayashi-Ryu and was classified as one of the "young masters" under the senior Matsubayashi-Ryu sensei: Shoshin Nagamine, Jokei Kushi, Shinyei Kyan and Seigi Nakamura.

In 1967, Taba Sensei, along with Kadatsu Iha (Kobayashi-Ryu) and Santos Kina, came to the U.S. to spread True Okinawan Karate. The three instructors, all 7th-Dan at the time, were interviewed by BlackBelt Magazine (Feb 1968 issue) explaining Okinawan Karate.

Taba Sensei never ran his own dojo. Being one of the few karate masters to also have a demanding career (Taba Sensei is Vice President of one of the largest Okinawan bus companies), he prefered to partner with other strong karate teachers, such as Shima and Kishaba Senseis. However, Taba Sensei always required a makiwara be installed in his work office so he would not be too far away from training.

Taba Sensei was promoted to 9th-Dan by Nagamine Sensei and given the position of President of Matsubayashi-Ryu. He held that position for the last several years of Nagamine Sensei's life. After the passing of Nagamine Sensei, Taba Sensei resigned from his position as President of Matsubayashi-Ryu to create Shogen-Ryu with the assistance of two other prominent Matsubayashi-Ryu masters, Takeshi Tamaki and Seie Shiroma. Taba Sensei was promoted to 10th-Dan by the All Okinawan Karate-Do Association.

As the most senior living student of Nagamine Sensei, Taba Sensei's purpose for creating Shogen-Ryu ('Sho' in honor of Shoshin Nagamine and Shorin. 'Gen' meaning root or beginning) is to teach Nagamine Sensei's karate in the form he was originally taught with the application of his understanding of technique and reasons for them.


The Importance of Balance

By Jay Collins

Let's ignore the more philosophical elements of the term "balance" for the moment. Balance is a basic principle of motion. Walking, for example, has been described as a controlled loss of balance that causes us to move forward.

Balance comes in two forms: static, i.e., standing still; and dynamic, i.e., moving. Practicing karate has been shown to improve both kinds of balance through the repetition of the proper karate actions. These movements are primarily designed for more effective delivery of karate techniques, but have the side benefit of improving this useful aspect of movement in general.

Balance and stability are necessary to basic techniques. When one leg supports the entire body during a kick, or when shifting either your own or your opponent's body's center of gravity for a deflection or throw are examples of techniques that require an understanding of balance.

Controlling your opponent's body is called "Happo No Kuzushi" in Japanese. "Happo" literally means eight (or all) directions. "Kuzushi" means "to destroy or break down". Understanding this principle allows you to destroy an opponent's balance in eight, or any, direction.

"Tai sabaki" is the technique of controlling your own body movements to evade, deflect or counter an attack, as well as what Aikido practitioners call "blending your force with your opponent's", which is largely a function of joining your center of gravity with your opponent's and leading their body to where any attacking force is nullified.

Of course, it's necessary for a beginning student to practice seemingly endless hours of drills to achieve a good balance. There are two simple points that, once mastered, will allow the karateka to move on to more involved techniques with confidence.

The first principle is to have a solid foundation from which to act. This may seem obvious, but lifting a heel or turning your body at the wrong moment can rob you of a very large portion of your effectiveness, not to mention exposing you to your opponent's techniques.

For almost all techniques, one leg or the other bears more weight than the other. This is your supporting leg and should have three points of contact with the floor - your heel and the ball of your foot near the little and big toes. The toes themselves should not be used as supporting elements, except perhaps where a technique is meant to be holding something down. The knee of the supporting leg should be bent and the knee vertically aligned with the supporting foot. The degree of bend will depend on the technique in use. Keeping your supporting foot flat rather than letting it roll onto its edge will cause your hip to align itself as well. If you are standing on one leg, your whole center of gravity should be aligned over the supporting foot and the springy bent knee. A bent knee gives you the ability to shift and move your body as necessary, which is one of the reasons that your leg is rarely fully extended in karate.

Since most of us don't spend a lot of time statically standing on one leg, this may appear to have limited use. However, even with both feet on the ground, we dynamically shift our weight (and center of gravity) from leg to leg. The same principles apply. A savvy opponent can time our footsteps and sweep our legs out from under us when we are momentarily unbalanced, so it's necessary to try not to commit to a given stance until the last possible moment.
A stance can be narrow or wide - each has its uses. A narrow stance decreases stability but increases mobility. The opposite is, of course, true for a wide stance. This difference in purpose is a hallmark of the differences between styles like Goju-ryu, Shotokan and Shorin-ryu.

The second principle involves keeping your eyes (and therefore your ears) level. Tiny hairs in the ear canal are used to sense your orientation in space. You sacrifice the ability to maintain your balance when you tilt your head. How many times have we been told to watch our opponent, keep our eyes up, etc.? If our opponent is the same size as we are, as it is when performing kata, then we will naturally be eye-to-eye with them, and therefore level.

Of course, it's not always possible to stand still or even remain vertical. Two useful tricks to gaining a sense of balance are to practice visualization of your own and your opponent's center of gravity/vertical body line, and to train in slow motion, such as is performed in Tai Chi, for example. A "slow-mo" kick has the added advantage of gradually increasing muscle strength and flexibility. Enough reading! Time to train!