Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.

The following article originally appeared in Fighting Arts International, Issue No. 93, 1997 (pages 42 - 48) and is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Graham Noble. The article has not been updated or edited. Photographs have been omitted. Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.

See part 1 of the article.


Graham Noble on Karate Books

Part Two

The West Learns About The 'Empty Hand'

by Graham Noble


(Part One of this article, entitled 'The First Karate Books', was featured in FAI No. 90).


The Western world did not become aware of Karate until the 1950s and even then, for quite a few years, anybody with an interest in this mysterious Martial Art would find information scarce.

The first English language book with a Karate slant was probably 'What Is Self Defense? Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu' by James M. Mitose, published in Hawaii in 1953. This was over a decade after Mitose had begun teaching his style of 'Kenpo' (with an 'n'), and for the most part it was fairly typical for the time. Its portrayal of self-defence techniques was similar to Kawashima and Welch's 'Judo. Forty One Lessons in the Modern Science of Jiu-Jitsu'. Where it differed, however, was in its inclusion of striking and kicking techniques, and its description of makiwara (striking post) training.

Mitose was one of the most unusual characters in modern Martial Arts history. He styled himself the Reverend James Mitose, a respected member of the community who preached world peace and love of his fellow-man, yet his stranger-than-fiction career eventually ended in San Quentin State Prison, serving a life sentence for 'first degree murder, attempted murder, extortion, grand theft, conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation of murder'.

As a teacher of Martial Arts, he claimed to be the 21st generation headmaster of Kosho-ryu Kenpo, which he had learned from the age of 5 at the family temple in Japan. But no-one has been able to identify such a style of Japanese Martial Art or locate the temple, and this is just one of several problems with Mitose's lineage. There is, for example, the intriguing question of his relationship to the Okinawan Karateman Choki Motobu, a contemporary of the famed Gichin Funakoshi. There is a portrait of Motobu in 'What Is Self Defense', and some writers have said that Mitose was actually Choki Motobu's nephew. Mitose may well have encouraged these stories himself.

In fact, the photo of Choki Motobu came from his book 'My Method of Karate' ('Watashi-no Tode-jutsu') (see Part One). The section of James Mitose's book dealing with makiwara (striking post) training was almost a direct copy from Motobu, and Mitose also used translations from 'Watashi-no Tode-jutsu' as teaching material. He also taught 'Nai-hanchi', which happened to be Motobu's favourite kata (form).

So there was a link there, but I don't think it came from any family tree. It may have gone back to an occasion when Choki Motobu actually visited Hawaii. According to Bruce Haines' book, 'Karate's History and Traditions', Motobu was brought to Hawaii in the early 1930s to take part in contests against boxers and judokas, but for some reason was refused entry by the immigration authorities. The story seems to end there, but in fact Motobu stayed for maybe a month at the immigration headquarters at Ala Moana Boulevard, and he was able to receive some visitors. We know this because Thomas Miyashiro, one of the early pioneers of Karate in Hawaii, visited Motobu for instruction over a period of a month or so.

It has been claimed that James Mitose also met Motobu at this time and learned the basics of Karate - or 'Kempo Karate' as it was often then called - from him. If that is true, then a lot of things become clearer. This would have been where Mitose picked up 'Nai-hanchi' kata, and possibly a copy of Choki Motobu's book - interestingly it was published the same year - 1932 - as Motobu's Hawaiian trip. Mitose could then have taken the basic techniques of Karate, added them to Ju-jutsu techniques already practised in Hawaii, and begun teaching his hybrid art of 'Kenpo'.

I'm not saying that's what happened but it seems more plausible than the story of a young James Mitose training at a Japanese temple that no-one has been able to identify in a style no-one has ever heard of. And it shouldn't affect anyone's view of modern Kenpo styles which can now stand on their own feet. The question of James Mitose's Martial Acts lineage is interesting though because he was the spiritual father of all the 'Kenpo' now practised in America. 'Kenpo Karate', in fact, was one of the first versions of the art to be introduced to the States. It was already established in several forms in Hawaii in the early 1950s when Ed Parker moved to mainland America and began teaching the style he had learned from William Chow, a one-time Mitose student.

Ed Parker was a big name in American Martial Arts for over 30 years. until his death a few years ago. Over the years he wrote several books, the first of which was 'Kenpo Karate. The Law of the Fist and the Empty Hand" in 1960. This was published by Iron Man Industries, which dealt primarily with weightlifting and bodybuilding material, so it wasn't actually too well-known in Karate circles. It was an interesting book though, and whilst not as well organised as later instructional works, it did have a lot of technical content.

Parker's techniques generally utilised a series, or combination of strikes, rather than the 'one-punch knock-out' style of traditional Karate, and that is still a characteristic of Kenpo styles. 'Kenpo Karate was mainly a book of self-defence techniques, but this is also where Ed Parker set out his creed: "I come to you with only 'Karate' - empty hands. I have no weapons; but should I be forced to defend myself, my principals or my honor; should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong; then here are my weapons - 'Karate' - my empty hands".

And he gave the usual 'historical' story of Daruma teaching his student monks self-defence techniques. According to Parker, Daruma told his monks that:

"War and killing are wrong, but so is it wrong not to be prepared to defend one's self. They have taken our weapons, but we have our bodies. We have no knives, so make every fist unto a mace. Without spears every arm must be unto a spear and every open hand a sword".

Strange words indeed for a man of religion, but many readers would have lapped it up.

For a few more years the Western world had to be content with fragments of information in the form of occasional articles in general interest magazines. Still, a few rare works were published and today their mixture of enthusiasm and (sometimes) naivete give them a kind of rough charm.

James Y. Lee, for example, published works on Martial Arts from his home in Oakland, California. Besides putting out Bruce Lee's 'Chinese Kung-fu, The Philosophical Art of Self Defence' and Wong Ark-Yuey's 'Modern Kung-fu Karate', he also published a couple of his own works: 'Secret Fighting Arts of the Orient' and then 'Kung Fu Karate: Iron Hand/Poison Hand Training' (in two volumes, Part A and Part B). These books are products of their time and now look dated, but for some reason I have always liked them. It has something to do with their tone, which is modest, straight-forward and realistic.

Karate was added to the titles because, at that time, no-one had even heard of Kung-fu. James Lee's two-volume set gave some background on the art, showed striking methods, simple self-defence techniques and exercises for physical conditioning, but the main attraction of the books was their instruction in how to break a brick. As Lee wrote: "For some unknown reason the American public seems mesmerised by brick-breaking feats. Actually this won't improve one's fighting ability one iota".

Actually - no-one wanted to hear that; they just wanted to break a brick. That was a big deal in those simple days, and in fact to many people it seemed the very essence of Karate. Lee's books contained copies of letters from satisfied readers, ordinary guys who had trained hard in their homes and gained great satisfaction from their new-found ability to break a brick. Their letters to James Lee were full of enthusiasm and gratitude.

Some small-scale works may have preceded it, but the first real mainstream Karate book in English was (I think) Masutatsu Oyama's 'What Is Karate?', the first edition of which was published in 1958. In the late 1950s Oyama was struggling to get his style established, and he may have seen in this book an opportunity to promote his name outside Japan. That was part of a pattern, as around that time he was also featured in magazines such as Look, True, Strength and Health, and Muscular Development, getting much more foreign exposure than any other Karate expert in Japan.

'What Is Karate?' was also the first Karate book to be published in large format. It showed the fundamental striking and blocking techniques of the art, some basic kata ('Pinan' 1-3, and 'Saifa'), some examples of breaking, and kumite (sparring) and self-defence techniques, including a section for women. Oyama showed many of the techniques himself and also included an autobiography which covered his early training, the time he spent in special training in the mountains, and how he fought a bull at Tateyama.

That first edition of 'What Is Karate?' must have been quite popular because, a year later (1959), a revised edition was released and the number of pages was increased from 98 to 144. Extra material was added on kata ('Pinan' 3-5 and 'Seiunchin'), kumite and self-defence. Several other revisions took place over the next few years, until a completely new edition came out in 1966.

A year before that, Oyama's 368-page 'This Is Karate' had been published. I think I was a green belt or something when I first came across this book, quite unexpectedly, and my eyes nearly popped out. I thought it was terrific, and even though money was short, it was a book I just had to have. The photography was superb and the large section on breaking technique would have impressed anyone. Whatever anyone thought of Mas. Oyama, there was a kind of grandeur about this book, and I still have a fondness for it.

'This Is Karate' was really a big advance over the early editions of 'What Is Karate?', but those books are important too. As I said, in those early editions, Mas. Oyama posed for many of the kumite and self-defence techniques, whereas in the later versions these movements were re-photographed, using Kyokushinkai students. That makes the early editions more valuable in a way, but all the versions of 'What Is Karate?' are interesting for their portrait of early Kyokushinkai. Pioneer instructors are there, such as Eiji Yasuda (who posed for many of the kata), and you can also spot the young Steve Arneil, Peter Urban, and Shigeru Oyama in some shots.

'What Is Karate?' is also important because of the extensive autobiographical sections, which included Oyama's account of his 1952 American tour. Some critics felt that this made the book little more than a personal scrapbook. Perhaps there's some truth in this, but these sections also gave the book its particular flavour and are a prime historical record of Oyama's early career. They also give a picture of a 1950s Karate expert that is interesting and attractive.

A similar, but more extensive exercise in Karate autobiography came in 1968 with Gogen Yamaguchi's 'Karate: Goju-Ryu By The Cat'. Back in 1966 Yamaguchi had published 'Goju-no-Ibuki', a little 248-page softback, and it was this which was translated and expanded. It was a collector's item from the day it was published.

This was not a technical work, but there were many pages of Karate technique, usually shown by Yamaguchi ('The Cat') himself, and the book was well illustrated throughout with photographs of Goju-kai clubs and instructors. The main body of the text was Yamaguchi's life-story and he wrote of his early training in Karate, his adventures as an official in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo (Manchuria), how he was forced to use his Karate many times, and how he fought a life-or-death match with the Chinese Master Ryu Kaku-rei - of his harsh imprisonment as a prisoner of war in Mongolia, and of his return to Japan, when an attempt at seppuku (hara-kiri [ritual suicide]) led to a divine revelation and a decision to dedicate his life to Karate teaching. It all seemed to confirm the glamourous image he then had.

It's a little surprising, but over the years few Karate autobiographies have been published. There is a small kind of sub-genre among ex-Kyokushinkai men which is worth a mention. Tadashi Nakamura's 'The Human Face Of Karate' is fascinating, and Joki Ninomiya's 'My Journey In Karate' is a nice book too. Both men come over as honest and likeable. Hideyuki Ashihara, Ninomiya's sensei and the founder of Ashihara Karate, has also written his autobiography, but unfortunately this has not been translated into English.

Yamaguchi and Oyama were already legendary figures to Western Karate-ka in the early 1960s. Both masters featured in Jay Gluck's 'Zen Combat' (1962), a minor classic which, because of its romantic overview of Japanese Martial Arts, is still good to read. Gluck knew Mas. Oyama quite well, and so he is well represented in the first part of the book. In fact, the Oyama part of the book was simply a recycling of an article Gluck had written for True magazine back in 1957. At that time Mas. Oyama had been associated with Gogen Yamaguchi, and as a matter of interest that is how Jay Gluck made his visit to the Yamaguchi dojo described in 'Zen Combat'.

The Karate part of the book was interesting enough, but Gluck also covered a lot of other Martial Arts, including the exploits of the Ninja (one of the first, if not the first, reference in English), and the (supposedly) supernatural feats of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. There was a lot of exaggeration, but in those days the Eastern Martial Arts must really have seemed wonderful to 'Zen Combat' readers. Even today the book retains much of its charm.

The same applies to Peter Urban's 'Karate Dojo', which came out in 1967. This was a small book about Karate's philosophy and history, and although most of that history was wrong - Choki Motobu, for example, was described as "A giant of seven-foot four inches", whereas actually he wasn't much over five feet - and most of the stories far-fetched, Urban wrote with an enthusiasm and love of the art which was infectious. He was a romantic who could write lines such as "There are limits to how far a fighter can go, but there are no limits to how far a good Karate man can go!". This made for a really nice read, and so despite the inaccuracies, 'Karate Dojo' is one of the few Karate books I have kept in my collection.

Getting back to technical works - these were really thin on the ground for some years. An early attempt to cater for the demand was 'The Manual of Karate' by E. J. Harrison (1959). Actually, this was a translation of the Japanese book 'Karate-do Nyumon' ('Introduction to Karate') by Reikichi Oya. Harrison was one of the real veterans of Judo, with many books on that art to his credit, but he had no experience of Karate and that was the problem. His translation was unclear and his old-fashioned style of writing didn't help either. In addition, the book was illustrated by only a limited number of drawings, which failed to transmit the nature of Karate technique. 'The Manual of Karate' was an honest attempt to satisfy a demand, but I don't think it worked.

What was still needed was a good instructional work on the art. It came in 1961 with 'Karate. The Art of Empty Hand Fighting', and it was just about all you could have asked for.

The authors were Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard C. Brown. Nishiyama was one of the top instructors in the Japan Karate Association (J.K.A.), but who was Brown? After years of reading Martial Arts books and magazines, I am none-the-wiser. In fact, I have never come across a single reference to Richard C. Brown, yet he must have made a significant contribution to the book to be given co-author status. The technical knowledge would have been Nishiyama's, but Brown could have had input with the book's organisation, presentation and, of course, English text.

At any rate, the two authors hit the right formula at their first attempt. The book was comprehensive (particularly for 1961) but easy to follow. Instruction was split into explanations of Karate techniques, kata and kumite, and it was helped greatly by the extensive use of sequence photographs. The photography was excellent and the top instructors of the J.K.A. demonstrated all the techniques: Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa and Nishiyama himself.

'Karate. The Art of Empty Hand Fighting' was a breakthrough book which immediately set a new standard for Karate instructional texts. And whereas other books from that era have dated badly, it is still in print and still being used over 30 years after its original publication.

In 1962 came Henri Plee's 'Karate By Pictures', and here you could begin to get an idea of the art. Plee, the pioneer of French and European Karate, did his best to give an introduction to its methods, and he wrote well. Although technically the book now looks rudimentary, it is still quite nice to read. Rather than just repeat the orthodoxies of Karate in a dry, text-book manner, Plee tried to interpret the idea of Karate for a Western readership, and he wrote with a feeling for the art. His second book in English, 'Karate. Beginner to Black Belt' (1967) was a much-improved work, which extended the ideas of 'Karate By Pictures' and was well illustrated by both old and new photos. It was here that I first saw photographs of Yoshitaka Funakoshi, the 'forgotten genius' of Shotokan, and my interest in him was kindled. 'Beginner to Black Belt' is still one of my favourite Karate books.

Over that 30-year period, book has followed book - hundreds of them! And with the proliferation of magazines and journals it has become almost impossible to keep on top of Martial Arts literature. From the 1980s there has also been the increasing use of video, and although Karate books will always find a readership, some instructors are now by-passing the written word altogether to concentrate on video-tape as their teaching medium.

Acknowledgments and Notes

The early Karate books are very difficult to obtain, and without the help of other enthusiasts, I could never have obtained copies or photocopies. So thanks to: Pat McCarthy, Harry Cook, Mitsusuke Harada, Shingo Ohgami, Henri Plee and John Sparks.

Some of the early Japanese books have been reprinted. Funakoshi's 'Ryukyu Kempo Karate (Tode)' came out last year, and modern reprints have also been made of his 1935 'Karate-do Kyohan' as well as Motobu's two books, and Nakasone's 'Karate-do Taikan'.

Motobu's 'Okinawan Karate Kumite-hen' was printed in an English-language edition some years back (1977) by Ryukyu Imports of Olathe, Kansas, U.S.A. This was in the form of a booklet and unfortunately it was taken from a poor photocopy of the original, which made the illustrations difficult to follow. However, the translation was pretty complete and this little book is worth having.

A translation of Funakoshi's 1925 'Rentan Goshin Karate (Tode)-Jutsu' was recently published in Canada at a steep $100, and in the last few years there have been reprints of Mitose's 'What Is Self Defense?' and one book of James Y. Lee's, 'Kung Fu Karate'. Yamaguchi's 'Karate: Goju-Ryu By The Cat' has also been republished by the Goju-Kai. Copies might still be available. Write to: Mrs. M. Inoue, I.K.G.A., Japan Karate-do College, 16-23, I-Chome, Zenpukuji, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan (enclose a copy of international reply coupons).

Anyone interested in second-hand Martial Arts books and magazines can write for a list, enclosing two 25p stamps, to: C.A.A., 12 Berkeley Road, Darlington DL1 5ED.

Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.


Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.