Masters Speak

Jan 13, 2019 | in Masters Speak

Dec, 17th,

When Bruce Lee moved to Oakland, California, in 1964, he stayed at the home of his friend and student James Yimm Lee. Over the next few years, Bruce Lee modified the wing chun kung fu he’d learned in Hong Kong, mixing it with boxing and other arts. During that period, Bruce Lee met and became friends with Leo Fong, a former Golden Gloves boxer and AAU champ who was learning kung fu from some of San Francisco’s top masters. The time they spent together ultimately changed the course of martial arts history.

If you’re a believer in Chinese astrology, you’ll agree that it was meant to be. Both Bruce Lee and Leo Fong were born in the Year of the Dragon (1940 and 1928, respectively), and both used the name “Dragon.” (Lee went by the Chinese screen name Lee Siu Lung, or “Little Dragon,” and Fong was given the name Fung Tin Lung, or Sky Dragon, when he was born.) It was only natural that they should become close friends.

Leo Fong

Aug 6, 2018 | in Masters Speak

depiction of martial arts body parts to strike withAs Westerners we can be quite the idiots. We have this belief system "Orientals" are inscrutable, mystical and in contact with the mysteries of the universe which elude us. So in karate we look for the "hidden secrets". When the Okinawan masters say "there are no secrets" we don't accept it, we think "Ahhh. . . they're hiding something!?" If its hidden, its hiding in plain sight.

  If the Okinawan Masters doesn't admit there are secrets we set out to discover them for ourselves. Worse case scenario, the Okinawans acquiesce and reveal the "secrets" i.e. make them up. Then we walk around, obi tied tight, secure in the knowledge we have received transmission of the "secrets" of Okinawan karate-do. Heck even my old (1973) promotion certificates states "This is to certify that the above named person has learned Karate-Do secrets of karate training…"

  Somehow this belief in undiscovered secrets has worked it's way into our dojo training. Not only that but it has colored that training and not in a very helpful way.

  Take the Naihanchi katas. Most American Masters still teach the Naihanchis have no actual bunkai applications. Yet martial arts history researchers now know the Naihanchis are taken from the Chinese Niafunchin forms which do have bunkai as it was originally a Chinese grappling kata.

Aug 6, 2018 | in Masters Speak

Gogen YamaguchiSome readers may have seen a movie which came out a few years ago (1976), entitled "Way of the Sword." It was only a short film, a supporting feature, but it was about the traditional Japanese budo. Various martial arts were shown such as aikido, kendo, and kusarigama but the most intriguing part was the short section on karate, because this featured Gogen Yamaguchi, the headmaster of the Japan Karate-do Goju-kai (Goju Association).

Gogen Yamaguchi was shown sitting in front of a crystal ball. He performed various mudras (mystic hand movements) in the direction of the crystal ball, while doing special breathing exercises. He beat on a drum to summon up the spirits. According to the narration, Yamaguchi uses the crystal ball to communicate with the spirits of fighters past and future. They give him their secrets.

Yamaguchi was also shown doing Tensho kata, a slow, breathing form of the Goju style--I was unfamiliar with the Goju style at this time, and I thought the breathing method looked forced and unnatural--and then two young instructors from the Goju-kai did an exhibition of free style sparring. This looked good, fast, continuous, and with a sharp staccato-type of power. In fact, it was nice to watch--exciting and varied. The fighting was carried out at a little closer distance than, say, in the JKA or Wado-ryu, and the two karatemen stuck to basic fast and strong attacks, with both hand and foot. The blocking was sharp and performed with the open hand. No doubt these two had sparred many times, and it was only a demonstration but still quite impressive.

It was difficult to know what to make of this glimpse of Master Yamaguchi, but he did have "charisma." He always wears traditional Japanese dress. And, although he wears his hair long, this does not make him look up to date, but more like some Yamabushi (mountain warrior) from days gone by, transported incongruously to the Tokyo suburbs. I knew that he was a sort of semi-legendary karate master, a practitioner of yoga and a priest of the Shinto religion. In person I had heard he was generous and helpful.

Aug 5, 2018 | in Masters Speak

Steve Anderson is an icon in the sport-karate universe. The native of Toledo, Ohio, spent time in various parts of the country before settling in Southern California in 1973, where he rose to the top of the circuit and acquired the nickname “Nasty.” The Black Belt Hall of Famer now operates two schools in Ontario, Canada, and oversees the instruction of some 500 students. We caught up with him for the purposes of this interview. We’re confident you will find his recollections as enlightening and entertaining as we did. You started training with your first instructors, “Chicken” Gabriel and Reynaldo Leal, when you were 15. What was it about karate that appealed to you? Steve Anderson: It was the Bruce Lee thing. Karate carried a mysticism back in those days. All the Orientals were doing it, and I wanted to have their speed and power. I wanted to be able to touch somebody and then have that person die in a few years. (laughs)

Steve "Nasty" Anderson (left) and "Chicken" Gabriel
Steve "Nasty" Anderson (left) and "Chicken" Gabriel

How did you get interested in competition? Steve Anderson: Chicken’s school was the most dominant one in Southern California — and in all of California. It was right there with the Black Karate Federation. We were actually a bit better, I thought. Rey was one of the top brown belts in Southern California, and Chicken was one of the top black belts. What enabled you to build your phenomenal tournament record? Steve Anderson: Those guys were so competitive, and that helped me set my sights on winning. I thought, If they can do it, I’ve got a good opportunity to do it, too, because I was a better athlete than most of those guys. So I started going to tournaments every week — even when they didn’t go, I’d go by myself. And I’d win and win. It was an addiction. What was your first significant win? Steve Anderson: It was in 1980 at a tournament run by Steve Fisher. That was where I first beat Keith Vitali, the No. 1 fighter. Then I beat him again later that year in the U.S. Top 10 Nationals in Stockton, California. Then I beat him in Atlanta at the U.S. Open in October of the same year. So we had three fights that year, and I won them all. Karate Illustrated rated me the No. 1 fighter in the country — in my rookie year.

Aug 5, 2018 | in Masters Speak

Master He Il ChoLegendary taekwondo master Hee Il Cho was about 10 years old when he started studying the martial arts. That was back in the 1950s when South Korea was in a state of chaos because the Korean War had just ended. The people were poor and undernourished. Cho and his family lived in a small, poverty-stricken city called Pohang. Until fairly recently, it used to take Pohang resident 12 or 13 hours on a train to reach Seoul, the nation’s capital. Back then, Koreans used names like subak, tang soo do, kong soo do and tae soo do to describe their fighting arts. “After the Korean War, Gen. Choi Hong-hi said people should get rid of all the names and call it taekwondo,” Cho says. In the 1950s, martial arts training wasn’t for exercise, he says. It was for survival. “Although they were not really gang members, young people used to roam from town to town and beat up kids and take away their toys,” Cho says. “One time I was beaten up by some boys around 12 or 13 years old. At the time, I thought it was pretty bad, so I wanted to protect myself.” Taekwondo turned out to be the answer...

by Dr. Alex Sternberg
Jun 29, 2018 | in Masters Speak

Dr Alex SternbergDuring the past 60 years, we have seen lots of changes affecting our karate community. The technical skill of todays champions is on a higher level than the early fighters, although most old timers would argue that fighters were tougher ‘back in the day.’

In the early sixties when I started to train, very few people ever heard of or knew what karate was. When I wanted to explain to someone what I was doing I used to ask if they ever heard of Judo. Then I would explain, karate is ”very similar, with the white gi and all, but we kick and punch and not throw.” Today, with the tremendous growth in the martial arts industry, everyone is familiar with what karate is. The hundreds of movies with karate trained heroes and villains, with ninja turtles and other popular karate themed shows having created a generation of children kicking and punching and doing karate. Millions have trained in some dojo or other as there are tens of thousands of local schools teaching karate throughout the USA. 

One thing, though, has not changed with all the evolution. We still have almost as many organizations as there are dojos. In fact, I defy anyone to come up with a new name for a karate association or group that hasn’t already been taken.

As karate training has flourished many students have become senseis, masters and grandmasters. Naturally, each grandmaster is entitled to start  his or her federation and add to the already crowded  field of “alphabet soup” groups.

And what’s wrong with this picture?...

by Dr. Alex Sternberg
Jun 28, 2018 | in Masters Speak

Dr Alex SternbergJews and blacks have many shared experiences of discrimination, suffering, and poverty that has made us natural allies for many years. During the civil rights movement, many Jews and prominent rabbis participated in demonstrations and marches with Dr King and were arrested. Some Jews like Schwerner and Goodman were killed by the Klan for leading voter registration drives among poor southern blacks in Mississippi. I, however, grew up in an all black Brooklyn ghetto and learned about black life from personal experience.

In 1965, four short years after emigrating to NY from Hungary, I found myself with a summer job in Brownsville Brooklyn. The year before, Brownsville erupted in one of the most destructive riots that made the community a household name across America.  Buildings were set on fire, stores were looted and people were hurt. Many were arrested.  A year later I was a 15 year old student attending one of the most respected and rigorous Rabbinical seminaries in Brooklyn when my father got me a summer job as a ‘gopher’ in his garment factory. Most of my friends from the seminary were off to camps and vacations while I was off working in a sweat shop because we needed the money.

Shortly after the summer began, I joined a local karate ‘dojo’ on Fulton street. Needles to say, I was the only rabbinical student and was training alongside some of the hard core denizens of one of America’s poorest black neighborhoods. I was an oddity but just as I was learning about black people, they were learning about me. The students were tough physically with hard-core attitudes. We didn’t have much interaction in the beginning, as I really didn’t understand the black lingo. I showed up and trained then went home...

by Bill Wallace
Jun 11, 2016 | in Masters Speak

Bill Wallace PhotosBill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace is a kicking legend. With his kicks clocked at over 60mph, and the ability to throw a hook kick, roundhouse (turning) and sidekick from the same chamber, he was as great a pioneer in kicking as Bruce Lee was in concepts.

Such was his influence in kicking, that many people now use his chamber without realising where it came from in the first place.

With an active career spanning more than 30 years, Bill is still as good a kicker now, as he was when he started. His view on training however, has moved with the times.

“I don’t want to do the same things that I’ve done before. My body just doesn’t do the things that I used to do. Number two, my ideas have changed, my priorities have changed. When I was younger all I wanted to do was workout, spar, and fight. And now there are other things to do. Your priorities change as you get older. Your body changes and gets different. But I still love it.”

These conflicting priorities are otherwise known as ‘life’. Fortunately, Bill used his nimble footwork to out manoeuvre life, and still gets to train whilst working, “I do seminars every weekend and that’s when I get to do my workouts. That’s my job. I get paid to work out. It’s perfect, I’m having fun.”

Having fun whilst training in the martial arts, is one of the most overlooked but important, factors. If you’re not having fun whilst training, then it becomes a chore. If you’re losing students, it could well be due to apathy or (more likely) they’ve become bored and disenchanted.

This certainly isn’t the case for Bill as he explains: “I find the training is still great. I don’t like to fight as much as I used to, I’m 61 years old. I like to have someone come out and say to them ‘okay, now you block this kick’. I’ll show them where it’s going and have them try to block the kick. Then I move onto the creation of a combination, so I have the guy able to block the first technique and hit him with something else. That’s the fun part of it.”

Hearing Bill say this took me back a few years to when I was watching a VMA release. Bill was teaching a seminar, and called Bob Sykes out to the front of the class. Doing exactly what he said above, he threw an excellent combination that ended with a good clock to the chin. He had a grin on his face all the way through...

Oct 21, 2015 | in Masters Speak

japanese art

by Jack M. Sabat
Oct 20, 2015 | in Masters Speak

O'Sensei Brian Frost‘O’Sensei Frost held an 8th degree black-belt (Hachi-dan) and an International Instructor’s Certificate in Koei-Kan Karate-Do. A strong advocate for old style martial arts, ‘O’Sensei Frost trained in Boxing, Okinawan Karate, Judo, and eventually Koei-Kan Karate-Do.

Sensei Frost trained as Uchi-Deshi (live in student) under the tutelage of the founder of Koei-Kan Karate-Do, ‘Kancho Eizo Onishi’. ‘O’Sensei Frost served as the Chief Technical Instructor and National Director for Koei-Kan Karate-Do in the United States. 1972, ‘O’Sensei Frost captured the All Japan Koei-Kan Championship held in Kamata Sports Stadium in Tokyo, as well as competing and demonstrating the art of Koei-Kan world-wide. His efforts took Koei-Kan to Venezuela / Spain / Italy / Greece / and England. For over 40 years of experience in Karate, ‘O’Sensei Frost was the guiding force that light the way in the promulgation of Koei-Kan system...