Celebrating the Legacy of Nobuhiro Higa

Nobuhiro HIga (left) participating in the All-Okinawa Karate Championship.

Over the past several years the martial arts community has lost several pivotal figures in the history and development of Uechi-Ryu, and with the challenges of COVID-19 some may be unaware of these losses. With that in mind, we are acknowledging the passing of and celebrating the life of Jiteki-Jyuku’s own Nobuhiro Higa (1956 – 2020).

Senior student of Sensei Ken Nakamatsu, Nobuhiro Higa passed away after a long illness on October 1, 2020, at the age of 64. Mr. Higa was a Uechi-Ryu kumite champion, having won the All Okinawan Karate Championship 8 times. As anyone who trained with him will attest, he always made an effort to work with every student and make each one feel special. He had such control of his immense power that he could spar with anyone during practice and not injure them – his technique was always relaxed, “as if he were taking a walk in the park.” In addition to karate, he was also passionate about his community and retired as head of the Fire Department.

NAJJA’s technical advisor, Geoff Crouse (7th dan; Portola Valley, CA), spent considerable time training with Nobuhiro Higa on Okinawa, and when asked about Nobuhiro’s passing Crouse shared the following:

“Nobuhiro embodied the essence of a true karateka. He was humble, gentle to the core, serving others in every aspect of his life, and also a master of his art. Perhaps the only thing I ever experienced as powerful as Nobuhiro’s punch was his smile. His kindness always filled Sensei Nakamatsu’s dojo.”

Long-time dojo-mate and fellow student of Sensei Ken Nakamatsu, Tsukasa (Scott) Higa, said:

“… he is the best Champion of the Uechi circle without a doubt. In addition, he was the best disciple of Sensei Nakamatsu. As a matter of fact, he was our champion, and we can be proud of him for our Jiteki-Jyuku members.”

Nobuhiro Higa, you will be missed by all of those who have been impacted by your generosity and kind spirit as well as your immense karate skills. Thank you for your many contributions to making the world a better place.

Nobuhiro Higa with one of his All-Okinawa Karate Championship trophies, originally published in Shigeru Takamiyagi’s 1996 book “The International Personnel Network of the Okinawan Karatedo Association”
Nobuhiro Higa’s wife Keiko and daughter Sinogu standing with his karate trophies. Photo courtesy of Tsukasa (Scott) Higa.
Flowers sent in Nobuhiro Higa’s memory by Igor Pransnikar (Slovenia) and Joachim Roettinger (Germany). Photo courtesy of Tsukasa (Scott) Higa.

An Interview with Sensei Frank Gorman, Part 2

conducted by Robert Kaiser

The following is a continuation of the interview originally introduced in the September 2021 issue of the NAJJA Newsletter.

Geoff Crouse – 7th dan; Portola Valley, CA:

Sensei Gorman, you’re famous for telling stories with deep messages: Luluku the exceptionally slow learner, the young practitioner that wanted to prove his toughness by beating the old master, etc. I’d like to know your top 5 stories, and which one is your favorite and why.

FG: I’ll have to think about that. I do have a story… Walter Mattson called me up one day and said, “Hey Frank, I got this request to do a karate demonstration. Northeastern University has a camp for handicapped kids in Wayland, Massachusetts and none of my guys are available. Do you think you could assist me?” I said, “Sure, no problem Walter. Tell me where and what time to be there.”

We did our katas and we did some self-defense techniques. There were a couple of hundred kids. Some kids were totally disabled, it was a heart-wrenching situation. I said to Walter, “Don’t ever ask me to do this again,” because some of these kids could not even get out of their wheelchairs. So we are walking to change out of our uniforms, and this hand grabs my wrist. I looked down and it’s an 11 or 12 year old boy, shaggy blonde hair, beautiful face, and he’s in a wheelchair with no legs. He looks at me and says: “Oh man, you guys are wonderful. I love karate!” He’s telling me how much he loves karate and that he’s so glad we came and what I remember more than anything are his blue eyes. To this day if I look up into the sky and see blue in the sky, I see his blue eyes, that blonde hair, and his smiling face. I see that boy’s face all the time.

A few years after that a good friend of mine asked me “Hey Frank, are you Catholic?” I replied, “Yeah – not a good one, but I am a Catholic!” He went on to say that his wife had signed him up for a Renew Program at a church in Pittsfield [Massachusetts] and that he didn’t want to go alone. We drove down to Pittsfield, and there were maybe 8 or 10 people in the group, sitting around a large conference table. The monsignor asked everybody to tell a story, and people would tell a story of things that happened to them in their life. When it came to me I didn’t have a story, so I told my story of the little boy I had met at the karate demonstration, and how I see his face every day. The monsignor said: “Well, you know what happened to you that day, Frank? God touched you. He sent one of his angels down to see you.“

Transitions: NYC’s The Downtown Dojo Closes

by Robert Kaiser

It is sad but true: NAJJA member, The Downtown Dojo, in New York City, has closed its doors. David Finkelstein (d.), who was one of our most talented and respected Uechi Ryu practitioners and teachers, opened the dojo in the 1970s. Finkelstein taught and mentored countless exemplary Uechi students decade after decade. When ready to retire from teaching, he wisely chose one of his standout students, Lawrence DeVoe (6th dan; New York City), to take over the leadership of his dojo. Following in the footsteps of such a legendary instructor as David Finkelstein must have seemed a daunting task, but Sensei DeVoe was clearly up to the challenge as he lead the Downtown Dojo for more than 20 years.

When work and family obligations became too demanding, Sensei DeVoe turned the dojo over to his very capable senior student, Jeff Fichera (4th dan; Copake, NY). It was a big undertaking as the city was just starting to open after the worst of the COVID 19 pandemic began to wane. Sensei Fichera hit the ground running: he reworked the website, bought new equipment, and filled the dojo with his infectious enthusiasm and energy. However, Fichera’s life also changed directions as he and his family moved out of the city after just 6 months of such a promising beginning. Unfortunately for the dojo there was no one able to take the reigns and the dojo closed. All is not lost, however, as Sensei DeVoe’s own teacher, Bob Kaiser (8th dan; Mount Vernon, NY), is actively teaching 2 of the Downtown Dojo’s students and welcomes all comers to his small home dojo just north of the city.