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"A Collaborative Interview with a few students of Isshinryu Founder Tatsuo Shimabuku"

"PART THREE"

    

(This interview was done both electronically and by phone conversations.)

Interviewer's note;

 

"I had been contemplating doing a multiple member interview for some time now.  I got the idea from an old “Official Karate” magazine interview in which several prominent martial artists of different backgrounds (karate, kung fu, tae kwon do, etc) got together and answered some general questions regarding the state of martial arts at that time. Originally, I had planned on interviewing four first generation students who weren’t part of the famous Agena dojo of the late 50’s/early sixties, and getting a different view of Isshinryu which was by then, a few years older.  Instead, I decided that the Isshinryu community would get greater benefit from hearing from thirteen first generation students from different eras.  I want to personally thank these gentlemen (who I affectionately call the lucky thirteen....we’re lucky that they agreed to do it, not everyone approached was as....delightful) for agreeing to do this interview and I also wanted to let the readers know that all participants were enthusiastic about the project.  As always, I hope you enjoy reading the interview as well as I had doing it."

 

Respectfully,

H.P. Henry

 

Interview Questions - "Part Three"

 

 

Q5. Of your dojo mates, who stood out to you and why?

 

A5. - Paul Heffernan - “John Bartusevics my dojo mate stood out to me most because we were and still are to this day, the best of friends; working out all of the time together.  We would go to the Dojo on weekends, as John had the key to the Dojo.  We would work out for 3-4 hours.  Then we would run for miles; barefooted, to the end of the Island.  Jim Advincula and I became friends around the same period of time.  Later, Harold Mitchum, Jim and I opened the first Karate school in Carlsbad California, the year was 1964.”

 

This picture was taken at John Bartusevics's house in Tengan, Okinawa (1963). Master Bartusevics is performing Tokumine No Kun-Bo Kata.

(This picture is courtesy of John Bartusevics)

 

 

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A5. - Ed Johnson - “The karate-ka I most admired was Jake Eckenrode and Kiaha.  They were strong and graceful doing kata.  Interestingly, at the demonstration we did at the Okinawan Theatre, the Americans who broke roofing tiles would take their time measuring the distance to the tiles before they broke them.  The Okinawans on the other hand, walked up to their stacked tiles without measuring at all would break the tiles with their right hand and on the way back up would grab the bottom tile with their left hand and pull it up to show that they had broken all the tiles. This really impressed me!”

 

Rodney Kiaha and Jake Eckenrode

(This picture is courtesy of Jake Eckenrode )

This picture was taken at grand master Tatsuo Shimabuku's Agena Dojo.  Master Eckenrode wrote in his photo album: Learning Sanchin Kata with Rodney Kiaha.

 

 

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A5. - Tom Lewis - “Harold Mitchum, I tried to imitate his front kick, Jake Eckenrode, trained very hard and was excellent at breaking and Rodney Kiaha, beautiful techniques.”

 

(L-R) - Seishin Kikiyama / Rodney Kiaha / Tatsuo Shimabuku / Jake Eckenrode

(This picture is courtesy of Jake Eckenrode )

(Master Eckenrode referred to Seishin Kikiyama as "MuleKick" in the picture album dated April 1960.)

 

 

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A5. - Vern Miller - “Bill Blond stood out to me most because he led most of my classes. I got a kick out of how he poured in on to us in regards to push ups on our knuckles.  He had some of the Marines cussing and one got sick and I can still see his little grin as he kept giving us more push ups on the slick sweat soaked concrete floor.  That's what kept me going, I couldn't let Marines see me giving up so I endured.  Bill pushed me farther than I thought I could go.”

 

William Blond and Tatsuo Shimabuku

(This picture is courtesy of William "Bill" Blond )

 

 

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A5. - Harold Mitchum - "Some of the people who stood out at the dojo were Ralph Bove and William Blond because they trained regularly and were consistent in their practice.  Dawson, Meyers, Brantley, Dillam, Betner, Parrish and Bennett.  Those were the ones who I remember standing out because of their diligence and they trained hard."

 

Front Row (L-R)- William Blond / Kinjo Chinsako / Grandmaster Tatsuo Shimabuku / Harold Mitchum / Ralph Bove

Second Row (L-R) - Unknown / Mae Kana / Unknown / Kinjo Chinjo / Unknown / Unknown

Third Row L-R - Louis King / Isaac Dawson / Unknown / Unknown / Unknown / Unknown / Unknown

Back Row (L-R) - Unknown / Unknown / Unknown / Unknown / Unknown / Unknown / Unknown

 

 

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A5. - Charles Murray -  “It was fortunate for me while I was there that an American, John Molinaro, from Ohio had come to train with Master Shimabuku.  John's story is interesting in that he had heard of Master Shimabuku while working as a security guard with Harry Acklin in Cleveland Ohio.  John (without any way of supporting himself and not knowing any Japanese) just showed up at the Agena Dojo one day.  Over the year that he was there John learned to speak Japanese pretty well and trained most of every day and night in the dojo.  I remember that Master Shimabuku would sometimes give him a quarter or so to go to the bathhouse to take a bath or buy a bowl of noodles to eat and he slept in literally a closet shaped very, very small room (literally the size of just a bed).  The only thing in this room was the Tatami mat that he slept on and the insect net which was used to keep the rats off of him.  One night when I also was flat broke, John let me sleep there and in the middle of the night you could hear the gigantic Okinawan rats crawling on the insect net that was just above you.  Bottom line is that this was a tough way to live.  I was happy to help sponsor John with a plane ticket back to America when I was ready to return in July 1972.  Also I remember that most of the Okinawans back then couldn't spar worth a darn, largely because they were little and largely because they just never practiced sparring.  I remember one day that John wanted me to teach him to spar and in return he would teach me to spar with a Bo and Sai and throw a Sai.  This seemed like a fun thing to do until he almost took off my head with his big Oak Bo - lesson learned here was never fight someone with a Bo with a Sai.  Especially if you're a little skinny kid and the guy with the Bo is an accomplished body builder.  John was Mr. Cleveland (Ohio) in 1965.” 

 

 

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A5. - Bill Steigner - “ The one person who stood out was a guy named James "Ralph" Rowe.  He was so dedicated and very fit....he worked very hard.”

 

 

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A5. - Carl Sutherlin - “The student that stood out most to me at the time, was Jim Vodar, a young Marine Officer who was also very close to Sensei and his family.  He seemed to mirror Sensei fairly closely, and was the most helpful person in the dojo to new students. I still have a high amount of respect for Jim Vodar.”

 

 

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A5. - Frank Van Lenten - “I was impressed with Harold Mitchum’s speed and flexibility.”

 

Grand Master Harold Mitchum demonstrates Naihanchi kata to the students during a training seminar in

New Orleans, April 2005.

(This picture is courtesy of Tom Lewis )

 

 

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A5. - John Bartusevics - “I would say Sensei Kikiyama and Sensei Mitchum both had ferocious side kicks and were natural in their techniques.  Both were living legends already when I arrived on the Island.  When I became a Black Belt, Sensei Robert Safreed stood out as an excellent sparring partner as he was big and tough.  Worth mentioning was Russ Best.  He was all game and worked hard to get it right.  Another Okinawan from the Hamada Dojo Iha, was a senior in school who became a Black Belt and was a natural fighter.  He ended up becoming a Police Officer when he got older.”

 

(Front row L-R) - Unknown / Unknown / Seishin Kikuyama / Unknown

(Back row L-R) - Unknown / Robert Safreed / Bill Blond / Unknown

 

 

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A5. - Russell Best - “Sensei John Bartusevics.  John helped the newer students perfect their techniques and katas. He showed his knowledge and skill while performing demonstrations or “challenges” from visitors to our dojo.  There was another senior student (Black Belt, Okinawan) the name I don’t recall, that was on par with Bartusevics Sensei.” 

 

Grandmaster Tatsuo Shimabuku and John Bartusevics work on bunkai of kata during a workout at the Master's Agena Dojo - (1963).

(This picture is courtesy of John Bartusevics)

 

 

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A5. - Jake Eckenrode - “Of course it was Tokumura Kensho as we became friends instantly.  I admired his friendliness, character, good technique and willingness to help me at any time.  Basically, it was difficult to learn from him but we persisted until he was satisfied with my progress.  When demonstrating a punch, kick or block, it was always done at full speed, so I had to ask him to repeat numerous times.  For this reason, I nicknamed Tokumura “Speedo”.  I was astonished how advanced he was in both character and skill for a boy I considered to be 15 years old.”

 

Tokumura "Speedo" Kensho

(This picture is courtesy of Jake Eckenrode)

Master Eckenrode wrote in his photo album: Kensho always did everything at full speed. My first sparring match was with him - I lost, score = 14-2.

 

 

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A5. - Clarence Ewing - “Kiaha stood out because of his preciseness and power.  Ciso was my favorite, because of his friendliness and his willingness to help.  I was impressed because he always wore a white belt, but knew all the katas. Besides he was just a kid.”

 

This picture was taken in April 1960 at the Sukiran Army Field House in Sukiran, Okinawa.

Rodney Siu Kiaha was killed in November 1968 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He is on the Vietnam War Memorial: panel 39W, row 27.

(This picture is courtesy of Jake Eckenrode)

 

 

(This picture is courtesy of Jake Eckenrode)

Master Eckenrode wrote in his photo album: (1960) Shinso Shimabuku, Papasan's son, demonstrating Seisan kata at Naha Gekeijo.  Shinso is an outstanding young boy, friend, and a great Karate-Ka.  He taught and polished me up to receive 1-Dan.  He taught me all I could ever want to know and he teaches the marine with black belts although he only holds a white belt - you figure it out!  Guess it does not matter to the Okinawans as they are pure and don't boast.

 

 


 

Q6. Mizu Gami or Mae Gami, what do you remember the Isshinryu goddess seen on the patch being referred to as?

 

Interviewers note;  Isshinryu - “One Heart....Many Ways”!

 

A6. - Ed Johnson - "To my knowledge, the goddess in sensei’s shrine was never named nor did I ever hear anyone ask about it.  In retrospect, if I had known it would be such a “hot” topic, I would have asked about it."

 

 

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A6. - Tom Lewis - “There was no Mizu Gami patch during my stay.”

 

 

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A6. - Vern Miller - “I was told that Mizu Gami was a rendering of a vision Sensei had and it was adopted as a symbol of Isshinryu Karate.”

 

 

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A6. - Harold Mitchum - “In all the time I spent training in Isshinryu I never heard Master Shimabuku refer to the Goddess by any other name than MIZU GAMI.  I never heard him or any other person in the dojo utter the word Me Gami.  Master Shimabuku told me the name Mizu Gami.  If I were to see an exact replica of our figurine standing on dry ground, (which I never have) I would perhaps refer to it as a Me Gami, which would be correct.  This I know, because one of my senior Karate students, Daniel Holloway, 8th Dan, who speaks and writes the Japanese language very fluently related the following story to me.  While traveling in Japan a few years ago, and riding through a mountainous area on a bus, the Japanese gentleman sitting beside him pointed to a statue on a hillside which resembled our Goddess and said "Me-Gami".  Therefore, technically speaking, Me-Gami would be correct. Historically speaking Mizu Gami is and should always be the only name we speak when we refer to our Goddess. Why?  Because Master Shimabuku said it.

 

Interviewers Note; The above answer was a direct quote from Grandmaster Mitchum’s interview in “Sensei Speaks”.

 

 

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A6. - Charles Murray - “I remember it as Mizu Gami or Water Goddess.”

 

 

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A6. - Bill Steigner -  “Angi Uezu referred to it as Mizu Gami, other dojomates referred to it as Mae Gami.  I never heard Shimabuku Sensei say one way or the other.  I personally call it Mae Gami.”

 

 

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A6. - Carl Sutherlin - “I always heard it referred to as “the Goddess,” until I got back to the states and everyone was arguing about what the right name for it was.  After that, Mizu Gami seemed to stick with me, but I don’t know if I picked that up in Okinawa, or in the United States.”

 

 

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A6. - Frank Van Lenten - “Mizu Gami.”

 

 

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A6. - John Bartusevics - “During my first tour on Okinawa and later, I just remember calling it the Isshinryu Goddess"

 

 

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A6. - Russ Best - “To the best of my memory, I am sure that whenever Soke referred to the Isshin-Ryu goddess it was the “Mizu Gami” water goddess.”

 

 

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A6. - Jake Eckenrode - "I do not recall seeing a patch as commonly worn on a Gi today.  I vaguely remember the image of the goddess on a picture posted on the interior wall of the dojo.  The first patch I acquired was sent to me by Steve Armstrong in 1967 and it may have been a window sticker which I still have.  The goddess on this sticker has two clenched fists.  I learned later that her left hand was open symbolizing gentleness and restraint, a gesture to avoid conflict.  Her right hand was clenched signifying readiness to defend and attack only when needed.  In my view, Sensei’s Advincula and Jeff Perkins would be the most knowledgeable about this topic."

 

 

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A6. - Clarence Ewing - “Mizu Gami.”

 

 

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A6. - Paul Heffernan - “Mizu-Gami “The water Goddess” half Serpent / half woman.  One hand open for peace with the other closed.  If provoked she would become a complete serpent.  Sensei explained that she came to him in a dream.”

 

Click here to view "Part One"

 

Click here to view "Part Two"


 

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