Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Karate Dojo, by Peter Urban

A review of reviews, and
personal findings, by Steven L. Malanoski

Much has been said, written and therefore believed and passed on, about this most famous book. There have been constant praises since it’s writing, and in the past few years, quite a bit of critique.

The purpose of this article, is to clarify, and hopefully put to rest, some of the critique, questions, innuendoes, confusions, and misunderstandings that have arose since its first being written by my teacher, Peter G. Urban, in 1962 through 64 when it was privately published by Urban who was thirty years old, and later in 1967, published by the Charles E. Tuttle Company of Rutland Vermont, and Tokyo Japan.

This book has been a required reading for not just GoJu,but many, many styles, and is easily as popular as Funakoshi’s KaraTe Do My Way Of Life. The only book similar, that was published in English, before The KaraTe DoJo, was Jay Gluck’s Zen Combat, in which, incidentally, there is a sketch of Urban that was taken from a picture in Oyama’s What is KaraTe?

In an article published in Black Belt Magazine’s March 1969 issue, The Budo Books review by Phillip J. Rasch was a bit less than complimentary. Although this article had absolutely no effect on it’s becoming a best seller and a book that continues to this day to be a revered MUST READ, it
was a bit of a slap in the face considering that in the same magazine, there is also an article about Grand Master Urban.

The book review read, and I quote:

Budo Books, by Phillip Rasch “ The contents of this little book are better described by its subtitle, Traditions and tales of a martial art, than by its title. About half of the text is devoted to a general description of karate; the second half is free association relating to the martial arts, much of it in the form of folk tales, recollections of personalities, observations on the current scene, etc.

The author eschews all mystic explanations of Ki describing it as the ability to focus “all physical, mental, and spiritual energies of a human being … upon a particular point with all the concentration of which a person is capable.” This seems scientifically acceptable. Under the stress of strong emotion a human being may perform feats normally beyond his capacity. It appears entirely possible that proper methods of training might bring about these same capabilities under voluntary control.

It is not possible to be equally happy with the contention (pp. 45 – 46) that in the martial arts, the student’s advancement from one level to the next depends as much on the development of his character as upon his skill. Urban himself goes on to say (p. 142) that many masters of the martial
arts engage in “petty jealousies and squabbles.” In essence, this the same question that the Japanese failed to answer when confronted with questions about the treatment of prisoners in WW2 often received from high ranking JuDoKa who had similarly advance a path of alleged spiritual development. The reviewer has had a good deal of psychiatric training and has been particularly interested in the validity of such claims. He has observed no particular personality change in his friends as they advanced in one or another of the martial arts. Perhaps more to the point, a recent study by Kroll and Carlson has shown that the Cattell sixteen personality factor questionnaire reveals no significant profile differences between novice, intermediate, and advanced karateka. Neither are there differences between karateka and non karateka.

Occasionally the book contains references that will cause the psychologist to wince! An example is the description of the kiai as a scream “propelled by the muscles of the lower diaphragm.” The diaphragm is a domed musculo – tendanus sheet. Just what constitutes the “muscles of the lower
diaphragm” or how one contracts any given part of this muscle without contraction of the rest is not apparent. In this connection one would expect a reference to the work of Ikai and Steinhaus, but it is not mentioned.

The little stories which make up most of the second part of the text are pleasant reading. Relevant to the sensei who ran up and down the ladder of sword blades, years ago the reviewer heard from a circus performer who featured this same feat that it was not particularly difficult one was careful to maintain an absolute lack of horizontal movement when placing the feet. The account of the unnamed karate master killing a tiger with his bare hands may seem unbelievable, but Sir Edward Winter is supposed to have actually done this while in command of Fort Saint George in Madras, India.

The book will be particularly enjoyed by those who have only heard of karate, know nothing of it, and would like to learn something of its background rather than its technique.” 

End quote

In an article published in the Vol. 5 no. 2 issue of the British magazine, Fighting Arts, that was written by Graham Noble, the topic of the story about Gogen Yamaguchi fighting a tiger is discussed. Mention is made, as to how Yamaguchi had denied having fought a tiger, as per Urban’s story in The KaraTe DoJo, when asked about it by James Genovese.

Malanoski’s notes:
1. I had also heard elsewhere, that Yamaguchi’s reply when asked about the tiger was, “Peter was exaggerating.”, however, also mentioned in the Fighting Arts magazine article, is the fact that in his interview with Ronlad Gailec in the French magazine KaraTe in the April 1977 issue, Yamaguchi is quoted as saying, “In Manchuria one day I went away into the mountains and had a fight with a
tiger, with bare hands. It was a terrible experience… I repeated this experience later, before witnesses. “(J’ai reneouvele cette experience par la suite, devant temoins).”

2. When I asked Grand Master Urban about this, he told me that Yamaguchi had personally told him the tiger story. There has been mention on the internet that The KaraTe DoJo has caused many to have erroneous beliefs about Choki Motobu, i.e.: his being 11 ft. tall etc. The fact of the matter is that the Okinawan Champion story was not actually supposed to be Choki Motobu, but a fictional character Choku Matobu. Yes, there is a definite influence, ie: his being aced out of teaching fame by Gichin Funakoshi, but let me make a couple of points clear.

It is a fact, that many people peruse books, which is to say, they flip from page to page at random, rather than reading from cover to cover in proper order. Because of this, there are many of these “literary geniuses” that completely missed pages 81 and 82 which I will quote here:
Famous DoJo Stories Researching thehistory of the martial arts is in the final analysis a matter of accumulating the best of the living oriental scholars and the great practitioners. It cannot realistically
be determined when any of these arts began or by whom. It is generally accepted by KaraTe devotees that Bodhidharma started the original martial arts concept with the propagation of his Zen sect into China and, through Zen Buddhism, into Japan. But no one can state unequivocally that this is a fact, for, although ancient Chinese and Japanese documents regarding the martial arts do exist, they contradict each other. The general practice of martial arts scholars is to accept the most authentic the opinions of the most erudite and intellectually superior individuals only because their guesses are more educated; however, all scholars, no matter how erudite, preface their findings with an apology for their lack of responsibility for historical accuracy. The following collection of stories represents the history of karate as I envision it, having gleaned what seems to me to be the most feasible from the massive amounts of contradictory material written on the subject. I have found from my brief experience of only fifteen and a half years of formal practice and research that nothing is impossible in the martial arts, and therefore take the liberty to depict the past as I believe it was or mite well have been. I do not choose to argue with the greater Oriental scholars in the event of disputes with my opinions, but will bow to them on the premise that my guesses are based on less experience than theirs. However I believe my findings to be more profound than all the tales and myths about Karate that have been handed down to martial arts devotees for generations. I am basing my conclusions on the admixture of intimate experience, creative imagination, free observation, personal reason, and logic. I have written this book in accordance with the view that sometimes it is better to tell the truth in the guise of stories so as to offend the fewest people, and entertain the most readers. Also, I hope to inform the few who do not need academic accreditation and the dictates of others to help them decide what is true, what is not true, what is good, what is bad.” End Quote

In Urban’s last work, published after his death, KaraTe Stories and Values, he explains that the Matobu in the story and Choki Motobu are not the same people. This point is also covered in DoJo 2, the talking book CDs which are available at

On a more jovial note, someone from Hollywood obviously skipped the affore mentioned pages, or perhaps downright plagiarized my teacher when they wrote the script for the original TV series Kung Fu. Those of you, who are old enough to remember this show, will remember the scene from the first episode in which Kwai Chang Kain picks up the red hot urn with his forearms, thus burning the dragon and tiger seal of shaolin on his inner forearms.

Well guess what? If you look on page 83 of The KaraTe DoJo, you will find the story from which the Kung Fu red hot urn scene came from. Incidentally, Grand Master Urban told me himself, that he made that story up, as he laughed about how it was stolen by Hollywood and his
never given any stipend, much less any credit.

It goes without saying, that the purpose of this article is not to disrespect my teacher, but to give the reader a clear and concise understanding of what it is that the book contains, and what can and cannot be gleaned from it.
Less there be misunderstanding.
And as my teacher would say; MISUNDERSTANDINGS

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Arakaki Story.

  In 1980 - 82, I was stationed in Okinawa Japan, with the 3rd Recon Battalion Deep Reconnaissance Platoon, at Ona point, (Now known as 5th Force Recon). I was also assigned to the ANGLICO naval gunfire scout observer 2nd Battalion 12th Marines, at Camp Foster, of which you see a picture above. That's your's truly bottom right corner.

This was an opportunity that martial artists mostly only dream of, as I was just about to turn 20 yrs. Old, and as a 4th Dan from Maestro Urban, and mokuroku from my father, was able to travel, study, train in, and experience, all that Okinawa, not to mention mainland Japan, Korea, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand, had to offer as far as martial arts and their cognates go.

Seikichi Odo Sensei, of Okinawa Kenpo, was an electrician on Camp Foster, and gave classes on base as well as at his dojo, next to Camp Courtney = "The Brig". I met him at Kadena Air force Base at Fuse Kise's tournament at the USO. Funny, we where next to each other at the urinals, when he leaned over and asked who my teacher was. Anyway, needless to say, I had some interesting experiences with him.

Also on base at Foster, were Kise Sensei of ShoRin Ryu, and Ueizu Angi of IsShin Ryu, who was a Japanese Police Liaison Gate Guard at Foster. Quality time indeed.

Up the hill was Futenma, where Ueichi Sensei's Ueichi Ryu Hombu is, and I was accepted and treated like one of the boys. I also trained in Ueichi and KoBuDo with Yonemeini Sensei not all that far away = had to take the bus. Also in Futenma was Seikichi Arakaki, not the Arakaki, that this story is about, but a fine master of ShoRin Ryu and great guy. He, his son, and dojo deshi, were very receptive of me, and I had a blast.

Ikemiyagi Sensei of MeiBuKan GoJu Ryu was a bike ride away, and through him, I was able to make the GoJu connection, and also train with his teacher, Meitoku Yagi, in Naha.

Also just a bike ride away, was Zenpo Shimabukuro Sensei of Shorinji Ryu. I would have long conversations with him, me to learn more about KaraTe, and he to practice his English. I think I made out on the deal!!!

When I went to the rifle range and Nuclear Biological Chemical Warfare School at Camp Foster, I was able to train across the street in Kin Village with Eizo Shimabuku Sensei of ShoRin Ryu.

Naha was a hub of martial arts action.

Of course, anyone in their right mind goes to Shureido which is THE store for KaraTe supplies, and info.

In another story, I will speak of my meeting with The Miyagi Bust, while conducting official business with the Naha Police Department. (Now that's a story!)

Matayoshi Sensei of KoBuDo, was near by and I took full advantage of that.

Also having met with on numerous occasions, Miyazato, Shinjo, Toguchi, Shimabuku Kichiro, Nakamura, Ueihara, Sensei's to sweat and experience, I made a point to at least meet almost everybody else, that taught or used to teach, on the island.

Yes, I went to mainland Japan, and visited the KoDoKan,. JKA Hombu, AiKiKai Hombu, and trained at the dojos of my teacher's teachers = Yamaguchi Gogen, and Mas Oyama, Sensei's, not to mention KuKiWan in Korea, and of course various HapKiDo and YuSool DoJangs. KunTao headquarters in Olongapo Phillipines, as well as Arnis Kali and Escrima, especially while doing work in Mindanao.

Taiwan which was called Formosa when my Mom and Dad where there, was an opportunity to learn some internal technique, and actually meet and sweat with some people who not only practiced SobuDo, but knew my Dad from Hokkaido.

Hokkaido was interesting, as I traced my fathers JuJitsu lineage, learned about our history, and was able to demonstrate for Tenamura Sensei, so as for him to see my father's work.

Hong Kong was great. A potpourri of hard and soft, as well as a good place to get into a match with overzealous full contact fighters.

In Thailand, I left a piece of myself at a bar that instead of a go go dancing stage had a Muay Thai = (Thai boxing), ring. My buddies talked me into participating in "bet fights". I did well the fist few times, but they threw in a Bankok Ringer one time, and that was the beginning of my meniscus destruction in my knee, later to be further aggravated by 184 jumps and NYC punk rock slam dancing at CBGB's. Oh! We = my home boys from NY and NJ, found the equivalent of CBGB's in Okinawa, replete with the infamous bartender Daijiro, who was a man before his time, and a happy smoke connoisseur to say the least. We also established the slam dancing kata at various rock clubs in Okinawa City, by influencing DJs to play our Sex Pistols and Clash albums, and not call the JPs when we would instigate what would later be referred to as the MOSH PIT.

With all of this, you would think there could be no more to brag about.

But the most interesting of experiences, happened on Okinawa, while I was riding my 15 speed Nishiki racing bike around the area, up and down the winding roads of hill and dale, in search of dojo, and or good looking Okinawan females. Both of which, were everywhere.

I had already met and trained with numerous Sensei's in the area, and scoped out some severe hotties around also, so my marathon bike sojourns being so fruitful, made me relentless in continuing my quest, at every given opportunity.

Being familiar with the Kanji for KaraTe DoJo and also for various Ryu, I had good luck finding dojo that would otherwise be invisible to those "GaiJin", who had no Kanji Savvy. Heck, I found Ikemiyagi Sensei, by hearing the unmistakable sound of a heavy bag being hit by a heavier mawashi geri = Ikemiyagi's kick. (That's no lie).

I found Sikichi Arakaki Sensi, (no relation to the Arakaki that I am about to speak of), by following a guy with REALLY big knuckles dressed in a track suit, to his dojo. I think the guy, who turned out to be one of his san dans, and my sparring partner, thought that we were going to jump him. Good thing I announced us as KaraTeKa, when we turned the corner into the alley that was the entrance to the dojo, (he was waiting for us to catch up with him in, as we turned the corner).

But that's not it.

The most interesting experience of my 3 year stay, was my meeting of Hanso Arakaki Sensei of Naha Te Kempo and KoBuDo.

Now, one must realize that before the term KaraTe came into vogue, the martial arts where either referred to as Te = hand, or as Kempo which is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Kanji for Chuan Fa = Fist Law.

The district that the art was spawned from was also used as a moniquor.

There was Naha Te, Shuri Te and Tomari Te.

Ok, back to the story.

I was riding my 15 speed Nishiki racing bike up Snake Hill, as I did frequently, in search of the affore spoken of, when as what had become usual, an old man sitting in front of a house that I passed all the time, spit and cursed in what sounded like Hogan = old Okinawan dialect, at me, as he did each time I had passed before.

This time, I felt that I needed to rectify, what I knew was a misunderstanding between this old man who I had never met, and myself.

Realizing that there was little doubt that he saw my obvious US Marine haircut, and at his age, had bad memories of my particular fraternal organization from WW2, I figured that it was time to change his mind about a few things.

I noticed that whenever I passed, he was drinking Orion beer.

I went to the nearest store, and bought a case of Orion.

I returned to the house were the old man sat, and entered his front yard.

As the old man looked up at me with disgust, I put the case of Orion in front of him, and bowed deeply.

I said "I am very sorry for what happened during WW2. I realize that you probably lost family and friends, but even though I am a Marine, please understand that I was not even born in those days".

To the reader: Don't get me wrong. I am not even trying to insinuate that the Japanese didn't start it, but remember that many Okinawans who had nothing to do with anything, got the shit end of the stick because of what the Japanese military was up to.

After bowing, I turned away, satisfied that AI had done my bit to make peace with the man who spit and cursed at me every time I rode by.

I was surprised by the perfect English response of "Hey! You hate CocoJin don't you? "

Understanding CocoJin as meaning Black folk, I responded that I was from New York City, and that some of my best friends were CocoJin.

The old man said, "Americans have prejudice, so you should know how I think of you!"

I said "ok, I understand, and I am sorry." I bowed again, and turned away again.

The old man said, "Why do you come here all the time? Are you looking for Okinawan girl?"

I said, "Of course, but I am also looking for KaraTe Dojo."

The 0ld man said, "Are you KaraTeKa?"

I said "Yes, but I need to learn more."

The old man said, "Ok! Come back at 7:30 and I will introduce you to KaraTe Sensei, I will show you KaraTe dojo."

I returned to the old man's house, and walked up to him at his stoop.

The old man said, "Where's my beer?????"

Feeling as if I was being "played", I figured that I had nothing to lose, and went up to the store and purchased another case of Orion.

When I returned to the old man's house, he motioned me inside and through his home, into the back yard, and into a barn like building behind his house.

The old man told me to wait, and that KaraTe Sensei would come soon.

I looked around to see that I was standing in what was the picture that one would have in their head of a dojo circa, back when men were men.

15 minutes later the old man entered the dojo, in a black gi with red obi

I remember thinking to myself, "It's the Okinawan URBAN!!!!!!"

This began my relationship with Dai Sensei Hanso Arakaki, the head of Arakaki Naha Te, and Arakaki KoBuDo. He sequestered me for all I knew, both physically and technically = brain knowledge. For the next 3 years, I would train with him, building on what I already knew. He recognized my knowledge instead of the usual tunnel vision of most Okinawan teachers who only recognize their own material. Considering that Naha Te is where GoJu came from, it only made sense.

A particular memory that I would like to share, is when Arakaki Sensei asked that I punch his stomach with gyaku zuki as hard as I could.

At first I hesitated and delivered a semi hard blow.

Arakaki said "Hard! You hit hard! Or is that hard to you?"

I hit him with everything I had, and at the end of my kime, he had succeeded in catching my fist in his stomach, much like a catcher at a baseball game catching a ball with his glove.

I could not retract my fist!

After Arakaki got done laughing, he released my hand and said, "Are you ready to begin?"

NahaTe used only Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi grading. Other than that, you were either a white belt = beginner, or an adept = yudansha = black belt.

Knowing that I was YoDan = 4th Dan when I met him, Arakaki Sensei gave me Renshi 3 years later when I left Okinawa, and told me that the equivalent in Dan grade was GoDan.

When I returned to the US, and reported to maestro Urban that I had received this ranking, Maestro Urban recognized it, and was quite proud. I remained GoDan renshi for the next 11 years.