The philosophy of the
Tomo No Kai began long before Kensho Tokumura named
it in 1997. It can be said to have started when
I first arrived on Okinawa in November of 1958 as
a young Marine Corps Corporal.
In 1946, At the age of eight,
my father began my martial arts training in the
Filipino knife and stick fighting art eskrima (escrima)
and what my instructors called combat judo. Two
of my instructors, Tony Navarro and Pete Rado, who
were friends of my father, were "close combat" instructors
in the Philippine Scouts (Army). When I was about
10 years old I also had some training in gung fu
by another friend of my father, a Chinese cook named
Pang Yao. I also tried to study from books on jujitsu
and anything else I could. My father at the time
worked for the Army Air Corps and he started me
training with my first instructors. My father brought
returning GI's, who had studied Asian martial arts,
over to instruct me in their art, whatever it was.
So, I had a basic understanding of different Asian
martial arts before I arrived on Okinawa.
I began my training in Isshinryu
Karate on my first day of liberty which was about
three or four days after arriving on Okinawa. This
was not by design but by chance. As all of those
in the military know, when you first report or arrive
at a new duty station, you must "check in" to all
the different places on the base, for example; sick
bay (where one goes for medical treatment), disbursing
(where ones pay record is located), mess hall (now
called a dinning facility), chapel, special services
(where one goes for recreation and sports), and
other places that are important to your military
functions. At each of these places the administrators
will sign your "check-in- sheet". After you get
it signed at each location, you report back to your
unit. If you get all the signatures, your unit knows
you can locate them and now you can go to work.
After an indoctrination about Okinawa, its people
and customs, and what you can or can not do, you
are allowed to go on what the Marines and Navy call
"liberty", or "go-to-the-ville" which is another
term we used.
When I first checked in to Special
Services at Camp S.D.Butler, which was located next
to Camp McTureous, near the village of Kawasaki,
I saw a large sign on the wall which read; "Sign
up for free judo lessons". So, when I reported to
my NCOIC (Noncommissioned Officer In Charge) who
was a Sergeant, he asked if I had any questions
about Okinawa, my job, or anything else. I said,
"Yes, how do I sign up for free judo lessons?" He
answered, "Why judo? You can study karate in the
ville (village) from Papasan." I replied, "Karate,
they have karate here?" "Yes, this is where karate
originated from. We have one of the top karate instructors
off base", he replied. I asked, "How much will it
cost?" The Sergeant said, "Its free. Special Services
pays for it. Why take judo when you can study karate.
I'll take you. I'm a green belt from Papasan". I
don't recall him mentioning the style or the name
of the instructor although, he might have. At the
time, these names would have been strange to me
anyhow. I remember my first liberty or first venture
into the village of Agena. The Sergeant (I forget
his name) took me from our base, Camp Smedly Butler,
on a bus located outside the base, to Agena Village
where it stopped about a half a block away from
Tatsuo's dojo. We walked to the dojo and I remember
as we got closer, I could hear strange smacking
sounds of what I later learned was someone punching
a "makiwara". I remember the Sergeant led me through
the entrance door into the dojo. There were several
people in white karate "gi", striking or punching
"makiwara". Some were doing karate moves which I
later found out to be "kata". He took me straight
up to Shimabuku Sensei and told him he brought a
new student. He introduced Tatsuo as "Papasan".
I signed up, filled out a special service card,
Sensei stamped it and sold me a white karate gi.
I started my first day of what later I would learn
was Isshinryu Karate.
On my first
tour of duty, I worked at the Camp Butler carpenter
shop which at the time was located at Camp Courtney
near the Village of Tengan. I worked with Okinawans
and it was from them I learned who "Papasan" was.
When I told them I was studying karate from "Papasan",
they admonished me and said I should call him "Sensei".
From that day, I began calling my instructor, Shimabuku,
"Sensei". This was my first introduction to the
culture of Okinawa. I remember that most of the
Americans learning Isshinryu were Marines, with
a few Navy medical personnel who were attached to
our sickbay. Most continued to call Tatsuo Shimabuku
"Papasan". The senior Americans at the dojo never
tried to correct this fault. Later, when some of
us became senior, it was corrected.
I remember when I first arrived
on the Talagega, a Navy transport ship to Okinawa.
I had my first experience of cultural shock. Many
of the roofs on houses were covered with either
red or gray concrete roof tiles or had thatched
roofs. At the time, you could still see some of
the all-grass houses that were made of "miscanthus",
whose strong, brittle, hollow stalks resemble small
bamboo woven diagonally. This was used for walls
with the thatched roofs. There were very few cars
but many bicycles, three wheeled motor vehicles,
taxies and buses. The names I remember of some of
these vehicles were Datsun, Hino, and Mitsubishi.
Most signs on the store fronts were in Japanese
but many near the military bases were in misspelled
English. Okinawans dressed in kimonos, jenbai, and
in various American clothes. Many of the Okinawan
males wore parts of U.S. military clothing. Many
wore "geta" (wooden clogs), straw sandals, rubber
shower shoe sandals, and some were barefooted. Some
of the older men could be seen riding bicycles while
their wives walked behind them. Women worked at
hard labor on the streets doing road repairs or
cleaning the street. Only the main roads were paved
and there were very few of them. There were many
open markets with various fruits, vegetables, and
roots being sold in small makeshift stands or booths.
Fish and large slabs of meat were also present in
the fish or meat market. Octopus and squid were
also seen and Americans would always openly joke
about what to them was strange and exotic foods.
Many of the older women over sixty years could still
be seen with tattoos on the back of their hands.
American goods could also be seen openly being sold
in the shopping areas. I remember that insect repellents
in olive drab cans were in high demand because of
the numerous bugs and mosquitoes on this semitropical
island. Cigarettes were sold in packs or individually.
Many of the Okinawan men could be seen smoking a
"kiseru", a very small pipe where only a little
amount of tobacco was placed in it and only a few
drags could be puffed from them before it had to
be recharged. Some would just place a regular cigarette
in the "kiseru" like a cigarette holder. On numerous
occasions I saw Sensei Shimabuku using the "kiseru".
On base, the Marines had house boys or house girls
who washed our clothes or shined our boots and shoes.
They also would starch and press our utility or
work uniforms and blocked our utility covers (hats),
starching and ironing them. As a Corporal pay grade
E-3 at the time, I made about $90 a month. While
this amount was small in the U.S., on Okinawa it
was a hefty sum. On mainland Japan the exchange
rate was 360 yen to a dollar. By the time I arrived
on the rock (Okinawa), dollars were being used instead
of Okinawan yen which was different than the Japanese
yen. Okinawa was under the administration of the
U.S Government and would be until its reversion
back to the Japanese Government on May 15, 1972.
with other now well known Americans. Harold Mitchum
had started before me in March the same year. Others
who started after me were Steve Armstrong, Bill
Blond, Don Bohan, Jake Eckenrode, Clarence Ewing,
Sherman Harrill, Louis King and Ed Johnson. Kensho
Tokumura, was an Okinawan schoolboy who was already
studying Isshinryu before me. It is Tokumura who
eventually will give the "Tomo No Kai" it's name.
After learning that Isshinryu
was a combination of Gojuryu and two modes of Shorinryu
karate, I always wondered what Shimabuku Sensei
had added or deleted from his system. On one occasion
while relaxing after a class, Shimabuku Sensei and
several others students were sitting around a table
drinking beer and "awamori" (a Okinawan brandy made
from rice) and pine-juice (pineapple soda) to mix
with the potent "awamori". Tatsuo asked which was
the best bottle? On the table were various sizes
of bottles. Some present picked large bottles and
others picked the smaller bottles depending on what
they were drinking. Tatsuo replied that all bottles
were good and that size had nothing to do with which
was the better bottle. He explained that all of
the bottles served a purpose. At the time, early
1959, Isshinryu was only three years old and some
of the other Sensei from other styles were knocking
this new style. I believe that this is the reason
Tatsuo told the story so that we would understand
that all styles were good. Tatsuo stated that from
Shorinryu he took the kata Naifanchi and from Gojuryu
he took the kata Sanchin. Tatsuo explained that
Shorinryu had no Sanchin and Goju-ryu had no Naifanchi.
He said that Naifanchi, the softer of the two kata,
was the Mother and Sanchin, the harder of the two
because it is performed using dynamic tension, was
the Father. From this union came Isshinryu, the
offspring or baby. The kata Naifanchi is performed
going in the direction left then to right while
Sanchin goes forward and back. Between the two bonded
in union (+) is Isshinryu. It is from this philosophy
that the Tomo No Kai began. The following years,
because of this, I have trained in Gojuryu, Shorinryu,
Uechiryu, Hindiandi and Kobudo. To this day I will
study and learn from other Sensei to get a better
understanding of what Shimabuku Tatsuo taught me.
He studied from several different Sensei in different
styles and continued after he was in his fifties.
All martial arts are good and this is the reason
for the Tomo No Kai, to get a better understanding
of all things Okinawan and to learn not only about
Ryukuyan martial arts but also its cultural aspects.
I conducted four tours to Okinawa, 1994 to 1997,
and billed them as "Okinawan Cultural Martial Arts
Tours". In 1994, I was told of another group of
people from another style of Okinawan karate that
was going to do a group tour to Okinawa and were
going to stay on one of the military bases. Someone
suggested that I do the same and stay on one of
the military bases to save money. I replied, "No,
if you want to learn about the cultural of Okinawa
you must live with the Okinawans as they do." Mr.Jeff
Perkins has already explained this in his article
about going on his first trip to Okinawa in 1994.
Kensho Tokumura, who was an Isshinryu dojo classmate
with me in 1958, and Kotaro Iha who I studied Kobudo
and Shorinryu from 1975, have helped me in my quest
for knowledge as has Horoshi Ikemiya, my brother-in-
law, who helps especially in translating writings
I want to welcome you to Okinawan Karate Kobudo
Kokusai Tomo No Kai,......."mensori".