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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

Karate, old-style

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Karate, the "empty hand" among martial arts, has kept Charles Goodin's hands full for most of his life.

Charles Goodin demonstrates a pre-World War II sai during a class at the Halawa park gym. Traditionally, the trident-shaped weapon was used against swords.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

An instructor since he was 17, the 43-year-old Goodin has built his life around the martial art, his livelihood around the practice of law. The Foster Village lawyer and his wife, Nina, both work at a Pearl Ridge office building. Twice a week they and their four children converge on the Halawa District Park Gym, where the family dojo (karate school), Hikari (meaning "light"), takes up residence Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.

The fee to students: $5 a month. Goodin charges this token amount merely to convey some formality to the classes; certainly, it can't be in pursuit of a profit.

"In the old days, teachers didn't believe in teaching for money," he said with a smile. "I still feel bad about it.

"There's a method in this, though. We're trying to preserve the art, and make more teachers."

Feeling bad about the money, any money, is part of the old way of karate, a way that Goodin still observes in most of its manifestations, which include:

• Training for its own sake, not for tournament points. More fluid, efficient and ultimately effective moves; where a modern school might favor a high punch, Goodin said, the no-nonsense, old-style move might be a grab at the throat.

• Minimal belt distinctions, black accorded only to ages 17 and up, not the endless color gradations signifying each promotion. Inner perfection, not the outward showiness of trophies.

"People ask me, 'Can I enter tournaments here?'" he said. "And I say, "Yes! But please quit first!"

Chojun Miyagi (seated), founded the Goju-Ryu style of karate. Chinyei Kinjo (left), Seichu Yamashiro and Seisho Tokunaga were businessmen who supported Miyagi's 1934 visit to Hawai‘i.

Photo courtesy J. Arakawa

In Hawai'i, Goodin's not alone in these preferences, owing to the long history of karate in the Islands, a history that he has been researching for four years. He has chronicled much of this online (www.seinenkai.com), but also hopes one day to showcase the photos and artifacts he has gathered in a bricks-and-mortar museum, under the aegis of his nonprofit corporation, the Hikari Institute.

Karate, an art that came to full flower in Okinawa, has had a foothold in Hawai'i longer than anywhere outside its home base and Japan, he said. That is because of the persistence of Isle teachers who were, in their youth, students of the old way.

One is Walter Nishioka, 69, who holds classes, mainly for other teachers, in his home dojo in Manoa. The practice of the kata (forms) of karate moves is Nishioka's emphasis, too. Tournaments demand adherence to numerous rules that don't exist in the traditional art, he said.

"A lot of commercial schools, they do tournaments," Nishioka said. "People like to feel like they're champions, but that doesn't really bring out the real karate. Just because you win the tournament, that doesn't mean you're the best."

Karate may have exploded in popularity after World War II, he said, but Okinawan immigrants brought it to Hawai'i upon their arrival in 1900. His research has unearthed early newspaper accounts of karate demonstrations, the first at Kekaha, Kaua'i, in 1910.

In those days, even its practitioners hadn't quite settled on a name for what was variously called in the English-language Hawai'i press "Japanese boxing," "Japanese wrestling," and, even more mysteriously, "the Okinawan secret art."

In Japanese, Goodin said, the fighting style was called by various names, most commonly "To-de." The "To" character means "China" and the "de" (alternately spelled in Western fashion as "te") means "hand." "China hand" referred to the fact that the art, originating first in China, employs the hand is the primary weapon.

In 1936, the reference to China had become politically unpopular. The kanji character for To can also be pronounced "kara," which can also mean "empty." People seemed to like the Zen concept of power residing in emptiness, Goodin said, so that's the name that stuck.

Goodin's mother is Japanese, and he spent five of his childhood years living in Misawa, in northern Honshu in Japan. But he does not speak or read Japanese, so researching karate in the Islands' Japanese-language newspapers was a true labor of love. He first memorized the look of the kanji characters for karate and then scanned randomly for them as he ran the microfilmed papers through the machine. Then he'd bring the articles to his mother for translation.

"Sometimes she'd say, 'No, that's not karate, that's 'baseball,' or something," he said.

Eventually he started to work out what part of the paper to search, or follow references in one article to events reported in another edition.

In this laborious way, he found more than 150 articles mentioning karate in English- and Japanese-language pre-war newspapers.

In many of the earliest references, karate was chronicled as a little-understood but mysteriously effective means of fighting.

One story he cherishes is a police report from 1925, an account of a gang of six men who jumped a man named Taro Ginoza on St. Louis Heights. Ginoza used the "Okinawan secret" to trounce all six.

"Then he revived the gang leader, gave him a good lecture and sent him on his way," Goodin said.

Another story told of a 1933 karate demonstration at the Civic Auditorium, in which the audience essentially reacted with a yawn.

"They were still doing it the old way," he said. "They hadn't yet figured out how to be showmen."

As painstaking as archival research has been, the greater challenge lay in persuading reticent primary sources — elderly, old-school teachers or other authorities — to add to Goodin's oral-history archive. These are not people who relish talking about themselves, he said.

"I've spent two years trying to get an interview with some of them," he said. "And they're dying ... it's a race. I should have done this in the '70s, but I was a kid then."

 •  Contacting Charles Goodin

Direct inquiries about Hikari Dojo and plans for a karate museum to Charles Goodin:

Phone 488-5773

E-mail goodin@lava.net

After the war, the export of karate began in earnest, but it was revised in the process, Goodin said. For starters, an abbreviated karate curriculum was devised for Japan's university students based on the abridged version of the art taught to younger schoolchildren in Okinawa, a version meant to downplay the use of weaponry and certain forms. Some of this found its way abroad because of the U.S. occupation of Japan: American students brought it home with them.

The competition element and the varied belt colors that distinguish skill levels were adapted from judo and aikido; in the West, tournaments helped popularize the art.

Goodin doesn't dismiss the appeal or value of tournaments or the other variations. Neither do many of his colleagues in koryu (the "old way"). One is Waipahu teacher Jimmy Miyaji, 72, who has studied karate since 1950.

"In the old days, very few people were taking karate, and they had no choice: There were no tournaments," he said. "From the '60s, the tournaments started to bloom and because of that, the popularity of karate grew.

"If you stick to the traditional way, for the youngsters it gets boring. There's nothing to look forward to. As you get older, you're interested in it for the forms and practicing, but when you're young and you're lively, you want action."

However, Goodin will argue that the vitality of new approaches shouldn't overshadow the full richness of the art.

He's fond of a comparison between karate and hula, and cites this as an example: Hula students chant for permission to enter their halau, and karate students are taught to bow before setting foot in the dojo. Mirroring the Hawaiian reverence for a teaching legacy, they bow toward the front of the class, where photographs of ancestral teachers are often mounted, to honor all the sensei who have come before. Also, a halau is often a family affair, and are many dojo, with parents and children of different ages participating and a sense of loyalty and belonging very much to the fore.

Finally, hula is another art in which a contemporary variation (hula 'auana) for a time virtually displaced the traditional style (hula kahiko), he said. In the renaissance of Hawaiian culture, kahiko, the old way, has enjoyed a renewal, and Goodin wants to nurture the same development in karate.

"You feel the presence of the teachers in the art. It's a living, breathing tradition, and it's your responsibility to preserve it," he said.

"For years, it wasn't in vogue to be traditional, to think that tournaments aren't the most important thing, that you don't have to make little kids black belts.

"But there are old teachers here. It's not that common, but it's not that unusual if you know where to look, to find the old, old teachers. And old, old teachers, have old, old values which are not commercial."