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.

What is unique about Jiteki-Jyuku?

by Geoff Crouse

I had the good fortune of doing a Zoom workout with Aaron Willette (3rd dan; Vancouver, BC) this morning and he asked me which aspects of Jiteki-Jyuku are unique to Sensei Nakamatsu’s (9th dan; Kitanakagusuku-son, Okinawa) system of Uechi-Ryu training besides the hip training and the block. I found his question to be an interesting one, in that it sent us both down the path of discussing other technical aspects that are somewhat “unique” to the way Sensei Nakamatsu teaches Uechi-Ryu karate beyond the hip and the block. I explained other technical aspects of the training that are unique such as the use of the legs and especially the back leg for the generation of power. I talked about wrenching the shoulders back and focusing on the structural position of the shoulder as a source of power that connects the entire technique to the back heal being grounded 2 inches into the floor. I talked about the timing of the punch being released only after the hip has been totally torqued into the target. I began discussing the unique nature of the kick.

Frankly, I could have gone on for hours discussing various “unique” aspects of Jiteki-Jyuku training accept I ran into a problem.

I explained the speed of lifting the heel and torquing it as close to the hip while bending the supporting leg and how to torque the hip prior to releasing the kick. For those of you who have trained with me, you can imagine that I discussed the power driving from the supporting leg, the speed of the release, the all-important “hajike” return of the kick, and posting a strong finish.

So what is the problem?

Well, as I broke down the elements that make a powerful shomen-geri (front kick), I realized that Sensei Nakamatsu never taught me that. His training method on the shomen-geri, at least as I learned it from him in the 90s, was more traditional. I had actually taken the mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick) technique that the late and truly great, Nobuhiro Higa, had taught me in Okinawa in the late 90s. Through my individual practice I had incorporated the techniques that Nobuhiro had shown me into my shomen-geri throughout the 2000s. I remember training with him in 2012 and he complimented me on the speed and power of my shomen-geri and said he had trouble blocking it because he kept expecting a mawashi-geri. When I told him I learned it from him, he looked perplexed. I must say it was a highlight of my karate practice to show Nobuhiro how I had taken his mawashi-geri technique and adapted it to the shomen-geri. The best part was when he started practicing it and adopted it too.

That fun Nobuhiro story aside, I realized in my conversation with Aaron that the technical differences in the techniques, many of them slight and nuanced, and all of them interpretations and teaching methods, were not the essence of what makes Jiteki-Jyuku unique.

The only true difference between Jiteki-Jyuku and other training methods of Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do is in the name: self-reliance. Jiteki-Jyuku can be translated as self-reliance, but the meaning of the Kanji is deeper in that it means having the confidence to find one’s own path.

When I lived and trained in Okinawa, it was a very common occurrence to enter Mr. Nakamatsu’s dojo on Monday or Friday night prior to formal class and find Sensei training on his own with the lights out as he broke down his movements and explored his technique for new findings and deeper understanding of his technique.

I am aware of the fact that many, perhaps most, Uechi-Ryu practitioners disagree with my interpretation of the shomen-geri. Many practitioners disagree with Sensei Nakamatsu’s hip technique or his block technique. These are perhaps the most common visible differences in the way Sensei teaches Uechi-Ryu. However, the discussion of technique actually misses the point. The brilliance of Sensei Nakamatu and the beauty of Jiteki-Jyuku is not the technique, but rather the path to learning it. Sensei Nakamatsu’s gift to all of us is that by breaking down the technique and the process to learn good technique, he is teaching us to explore for ourselves. He hasn’t developed a new form of Uechi-Ryu at all. What he has given us is a much more powerful methodology to learn and enjoy our practice. He has shown us that karate-do is not a technique; it is an art. As with all art, it starts with many years of practice and evolves into a powerful form of self-expression.

The essence of Jiteki-Jyuku is self-exploration. Karate-do is an art form that we explore together, yes, but perhaps more importantly one must explore alone also to find self-expression. Relying on one’s self and indulging in self-exploration: that is the essence of self-reliance, that is Jiteki-Jyuku.

Jiteki-Jyuku is art in its purest form. It is the path to self-expression.

Shinjo Kyohide promoted to 10th dan

Shinjo Kiyohide receiving his 10th dan certificate from Master Takara Shintoku

by Robert A. Kaiser

The “Okinawan Superman”, Shinjo Kiyohide (Nov 3, 1951) was awarded the rank of Judan, 10th degree, presented by 10th dan Master Takara Shintoku. Master Shinjo received this promotion on his 70th birthday.

There are few Uechi-Ryu teachers ever awarded this highest of ranks in our system and certainly few, if any, who have done more to promote Uechi Ryu around the world. One only needs to open YouTube and search his name or search through Facebook to see the plethora of videos and articles highlighting his seminars, demonstrations, and travels promoting traditional Uechi training.

Apart from the Uechi family itself, no Okinawan family could be called Uechi Ryu royalty other than the well-known Shinjo family. The current generation is led by Shinjo Kiyohide, the 9-time champion of the Uechi karate tournament in both kata and kumite, for which he was dubbed the “Okinawan Superman.”. Internet sources say he stopped competing when his father became gravely ill and died in 1982. I remember hearing, many years ago, the reason he stopped competing was so others could have an opportunity to win the tournament; such is the respect for his skills and abilities. Well, that and the ubiquitous demonstrations he and his younger brother, Narahiro, often put on, including the spectacular breaking of baseball bats, and the hardest of Sanchin shime of Narahiro who, in his own right, is a tournament kata champion many times over.

Author Christopher M. Clarke writes as far back as Kiyohide’s great grandfather, Shinjo Seizan, the Shinjo name is associated with Okinawan martial arts. Seizan was widely known as a master of the Okinawan bo. Kiyohide’s grandfather and father both studied with Uechi Kanbun, and Uechi Kanei. Born in 1951, Kiyohide began his study of Uechi Ryu under his father, Shinjo Seiyu, at the age of ten.

In an article by travel67, first published in Okinawa Living Magazine November 2006, Master Shinjo made it very clear how he sees his role in the global expansion of Uechi-Ryu:

“Twice a year I go abroad to give seminars, judge competitions and check that overseas Uechi-ryu dojo’s [sic] are not diverging from the traditional Okinawan techniques. Karate is like a gayjumaru (banyan) tree with its roots based in Okinawa. Sometimes branches grow from the main trunk and it is my job to prune these outgrowths back so that Uechi-ryu remains in its pure form and is not mixed with other styles of martial arts or even gymnastics. It is my calling to make sure the traditional skills of Uechi-ryu are handed down to future generations.”

Having the honor, more than once, of training in front of Master Shinjo, I can easily say he is one of the clearest and most focused teachers with whom I have been on the dojo floor. There is so much more that can be written, and has been, about the Shinjo family and specifically about Kiyohide Sensei. Soon we will be reading about the 4th generation of the Shinjo family, Kiyohide’s two sons, Shuichi and Kiyohito, both tournament champions during their high school years and now senior Uechi instructors.

Today, however, we really just want to congratulate the Okinawan Superman on his promotion to 10th dan, a promotion of which he is most deserving. Congratulations Master Shinjo!

Sensei Frank Gorman featured in Okinawa Times newspaper

Sensei Frank Gorman was featured in the September 26, 2021 edition of the Okinawa Times. The photo used in the article shows Sensei Gorman (second from right) at Sensei Bruce Tulgan’s Hampden, CT dojo with Senseis Bruce Tulgan, Peggy  Hess, Lawrence De Voe, and Robert Kaiser (left to right).

translation courtesy of Sam Malissa

Training Toward Self-Actualization

By Miguel Da Luz

After training Uechi-ryu Karate in Okinawa during the latter half of the 1950s, George Mattson returned to America and wrote The Way of Karate. Published in 1963 and going on to become a best seller, the book is associated with the dramatic rise of karate’s popularity in North America, as well as the starting point for the spread of Uechi-ryu.

Frank Gorman read the book and contacted Mattson, who introduced him to Charles Earl, at the time running a dojo in Rhode Island. This was Gorman’s first encounter with Uechi-ryu Karate. He was twenty years old. When asked why he was attracted to the style, he answers, “Mattson’s book was different from other karate books at the time. It didn’t just teach you how to kick and strike, it also got into the philosophy of karate, the ways it connects to our humanity. It was really appealing.”

Gorman was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1942. He had been training with Earl for three years when when he visited Okinawa for the first time, in 1965. There he was taken on as a student by Kanei Uechi, the son of the founder of Uechi-ryu Karate. Gorman trained with Mr. Uechi for twenty-one years. When Mr. Uechi retired in 1986, Gorman began to train under the tutelage of Ken Nakamatsu. “In 1978, when I was training in Okinawa, Mr. Uechi arranged for me to go around and train in five different dojos,” Gorman recalls. “When he asked me what I thought of it all, I told him I was confused, because all the different masters had their own way of training. I asked him what I should do, and he said: ‘Watch Nakamatsu.’”After teaching classes at several different YMCAs, Gorman opened his own dojo in Massachusetts in 1973, and another one in Florida when he moved there in 1987. Today he lives in Hamden, Connecticut, where he teaches at his student Bruce Tulgan’s dojo. A handful of students train there regularly, and groups from around the US and as far away as Argentina periodically come to train as well.

Before he became a professional karate teacher in the 1980s, Gorman worked as a machine engineer in the wire and cable industry. He applies his analytical skills from this line of work to karate and is known for his detailed and precise instruction.

“Ego can get in the way when training. I think everyone should proceed slowly and patiently with their training. It’s better not to try to learn everything at once. It’s impossible to learn the countless lessons of karate and really understand them without long years of dedicated training,” Gorman asserts.

Frank Gorman believes that the greatest goals of karate are self-improvement and self- actualization. As he trains day by day with those who want to learn from the knowledge he gained in Okinawa, building mutual understanding, he approaches his research and instruction with the knowledge that his and everyone’s individual paths and individual ways of practicing karate are all still what he calls “a work in progress.”

Louisiana Dojo Represents at Local Tournaments

by Rubert Ward

Earlier in the summer, students from the Mushindo Martial Arts dojo of Cottonport, Louisiana, under the direction of Sensei Rubert Ward, represented Jiteki-Jyuku/Uechi Ryu at two local tournaments: the Annual Mushindo Martial Arts In-House Tournament and the Louisiana Governor’s Games Martial Art Championship.

On Saturday, May 1, 2021, Mushindo Martial Arts held its 3rd Annual Mushindo Martial Arts In-House Tournament, an event exclusively for Uechi Ryu students. A total of 27 students competed in the following divisions: Dragons division (3-6 years), Tigers Division (7-12 years), and Cranes Division (12 – 14 years). Tournament events consisted of Empty hand kata, Sparring, Weapons kata, Chambra, Synchronized forms, Padded sword, and Parent & Student (Empty Hands Kata or Weapons Kata). The students were excited to demonstrate their skills in front of family and friends. The tournament admission fee was 2 cans of food or non-perishable items which were donated to a local food bank.

The Louisiana Governor’s Games Martial Arts Championships was held on Saturday, June 12, 2021, and fifteen students from Mushindo Martial Arts made the trip to Shreveport, Louisiana to participate. Tournament events included: Kata Forms, Weapons Forms, Musical Forms, Synchronized Forms, Sparring, Padded Swords, Grappling, Special Olympics Division, and Senior Division. Age groups ranged from Mighty Mites (5 & under) to Adults, and various styles of martial arts were represented by competitors from Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The students from Mushindo Martial Arts were awarded numerous trophies/awards and were proud to represent their dojo and association at such a prestigious event.

An Interview with Sensei Frank Gorman, Part 1

conducted by Robert Kaiser 

During a recent trip to New Haven, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sensei Frank Gorman for an informal interview. The conversation lasted well over an hour, with Sensei Gorman answering with replies that were candid and inspiring. The transcript could easily fill multiple newsletters and will be included as installments in coming issues.

While the majority of the questions for Sensei Gorman had been provided to me by students from across North America, I started by asking him one of my own about something that is on everyone’s minds: COVID-19.


Robert Kaiser – 8th dan; Mount Vernon, NY:

Sensei, we all practice karate as a way to better our lives, become better human beings, and improve our health. We keep religion and politics out of the dojo – this is one of the most important tenents of our dojo lives. COVID-19 is a health issue and not a religious or political one, which is the only reason I bring it up. As teachers and dojo owners, do we have a responsibility to care for our students’ and members’ health and safety?

Absolutely, yes.

Are you vaccinated?

Yes.

How do you feel about vaccinations for COVID-19?

I think everybody should get vaccinated.


Peter Basch – 4th dan; Washington, DC:

Master Gorman, at what point in your training did you know that Uechi Ryu would be a central focus of your life’s journey – was there one thing in particular that grabbed your attention and “hooked you” on this Okinawan style?

At first, it was George Mattson’s book “The Way of Karate”. It was different from other karate books. It wasn’t so much a book about punching and kicking.

After starting training I eventually went to Japan and Okinawa. It was on that first trip that Mr. Ryukyu Tomoyose met us at the airport and took my teacher, Charlie Earle, and me to his house. He wanted to see what we had learned. He then showed us his Sanchin and it blew me away. He was so fast and strong, and his kata was beautiful. He Then took us to see master Uechi Kanei to “fix” us. Mr. Uechi watched our Sanchin and invited us to return the next day for practice.


Bob Miessau – 6th dan; Bozeman, Montana:

Sensei, I’m turning 60 this year. Please share any insights you have on how our training should evolve as we age.

Probably it is the same answer of how you should train when you are 30 or even 20. Don’t abuse your body. Train sensibly. Train smart. And take care of your health.


Mike Harrigan – 8th dan; Egremont, Massachusetts:

Frank, do you see a correlation between the evolution of an individual’s Uechi training and his or her life’s journey? For example, as we develop patience, focus, spiritual concentration in our training, are we simultaneously developing them in our daily lives? Are we becoming one with our training?

The answer is absolutely “yes”.


Ryan Dean – 8th dan, NAJJA President; Largo, Florida:

If you could go back in time, what might you have changed about your training?

That’s a tough question. I think that I would have, I felt that I was too egotistical to see the forest for the trees, to really understand what I was really doing, what I was really learning through my martial arts experience. The thing I would change is I would put my ego in my back pocket and just study the art for art’s sake.

I moved up in the ranks very fast, and I don’t think that was good for my ego. I wish I had been more humble during my early years of practicing.

NAJJA Honors Lost Members

by Robert Kaiser

In less than two years the Association lost 2 of its longtime members, John “JJ” Jackson, and Sensei Mark Malek. Both of these beloved and dedicated Uechi Ryu practitioners seemed to become ill one day and were gone the next. While we know little about their actual diagnoses, we do know they were excellent students of Uechi Ryu and were loved by all who knew them.

On behalf of the Board of Directors and our entire association, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of JJ and Sensei Mark. They will be sorely missed.

John “JJ” Jackson (left) and Mark Malek (right)

Ryan Dean reopens Oldsmar Dojo

by Robert Kaiser

After the recent loss of Sensei Mark Malek, NAJJA Board president, Sensei Ryan Dean, recognized the importance of keeping Mark’s dojo open and went to work. Dean gave the Oldsmar dojo a full refurbishing and is now conducting training there as a second location along with his Largo, FL dojo.

The Oldsmar dojo has a long and memorable history as it was our Master Frank Gorman’s dojo for many years before he moved to New Haven, Connecticut.

Sensei Ryan Dean leads practice opening night in the refurbished Oldsmar Dojo