Hawaii Karate Seinenkai
The Hawaii Karate Seinenkai Salutes:
Tommy Tomotsugu Morita
1919 - 2000

Few Karate instructors in Hawaii have studied such a wide range of martial arts as Tommy Morita. Born in Wailea on the Big Island of Hawaii, he grew up in Hakalau. He studied Kendo (with Yamamoto Sensei in Hakalau, 1932) , Judo (with Motonaga Sensei in Honomu, 1938) and Boxing (with Mr. Yamanaka at the Hilo Center, 1939). In 1941, he was the 118 pound boxing champion of the Big Island. The next year, he was the Big Island's 112 pound boxing champion and Outstanding Boxer of the Year.

In 1942, he moved to Honolulu where he studied Judo/Ju Jitsu under Sensei Henry Seishiro Okazaki and Kimura Sensei. He also continued to practice and coach boxing both in Hawaii and on the mainland during service in the Army.

In 1949, he started Karate training under Taira Sensei in Waialae. In 1952, he studied Tai Chi at the Mun Lun School under Sifu Lee and Chock. Then in 1955, he started Kenpo Karate training at the Palama Settlement under instructors McKenzie and Joe Emperado. The next year, he began training at the newly opened Te-Ken Jutsu Kai (Hand Fist Technique Club) of Sensei Masaichi Oshiro. Oshiro Sensei had learned Kenpo Karate from Professor William K. S. Chow (1914-1987), one of the original students of Professor James M. Mitose (1916-1981), the founder of modern Kenpo in Hawaii. Morita became one of Oshiro's assistants (along with Takamasa Bingo and Winfred Ho) and was the first student to be promoted to black belt by him.

Jimmy Miyaji, Robert Igarashi (back row), Winfred Ho, Tsuyoshi
Chitose, & Tommy Morita (front row), at the Yamashiro Hotel.

In 1958, Morita opened his own dojo at the Nuuanu YMCA (the same place where Yabu Kentsu had demonstrated in 1927 and James Mitose as well as William K. S. Chow had taught Kenpo classes). He would conduct classes at the Nuuanu YMCA for the rest of his life, and they still continue there (see below). A year later, Morita, along with Winfred Ho and Jimmy Miyaji (both former students of Oshiro Sensei), sponsored the Hawaii visit of Tsuyoshi Chitose (a student of several prominent instructors, including Seisho Aragaki, Kanryo Higashionna, Chomo Hanashiro, and Chotoku Kyan). The next year, Morita was promoted to 7th dan in Chito-Ryu by Chitose Sensei.

In 1964, still seeking to broaden his martial arts experience, Morita studied Kung Fu under Sifu Sora. A year later, he travelled to Kowloon where he studied Kung Fu under Sifu Chan Dow. From Kowloon, he travelled to Tokyo, Japan, where he learned Jodo (short staff) from Akagawa Sensei. Next, he travelled to Okinawa where he learned Kama from Hohan Soken Sensei. It was in Naha, Okinawa, that, almost by accident, he met and trained under Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of the Matsubayashi-Ryu form of Shorin-Ryu. Nagamine had learned from Ankichi Arakaki, Chotoku Kyan, and Choki Motobu. Morita also practiced kobudo with seniors in the Nagamine dojo.

In 1965, Morita starting teaching Matsubayashi-Ryu at his Nuuanu YMCA dojo. Some of his senior students around this time included Charles Morita, Rodney Shimabukuro, Burt Kajitani, Sonny Palabrica, William H. Rabacal, Richard C. Kai. Young, and Lawrence and Anna Uemura. He also taught Frank Baehr who started classes in Toronto, Canada. Morita sponsored visits to Hawaii by Shoshin Nagamine in 1969 and 1978. In 1974, he was promoted to 8th dan in Matsubayashi-Ryu.

Amazingly, in 1975 and 1976 he resumed the study of Tai Chi under Sifu Ing, Chung and Kekina.

With such a wealth of experience, and an incredible ability to memorize and choreograph self-defense patterns, it was perhaps inevitable that Morita would begin to formulate his own system. The art he developed is known as Shinden-Ryu Kenpo ("Shin-den" is the Chinese pronunciation of the characters comprising "Morita"). He started teaching this art around 1980, while at the same time continuing to teach Matsubayashi-Ryu.

Morita charged a minimal tuition for his classes. He would dye old white belts so that he could promote his students to colored belts without charging them any fees. Morita's Shinden-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu classes continue to be taught at the Nuuanu YMCA by his son, Charles Morita (who can be contacted at morita@hawaii.rr.com), and Mitchel Shimamura (who can be contacted at mitch.shimamura@verizon.net). Charles Morita is currently working on a project to document the techniques and philosophies of Shinden-Ryu Kenpo.

Morita devoted his life to studying and promoting the martial arts. Never seeking to become rich by teaching, he instead enriched the lives of his many students in Hawaii, the mainland United States and Canada.

The Hawaii Karate Seinenkai salutes Tommy Morita.

Articles about Tommy Morita:

The spirit of Karate is the Aloha spirit

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