It was Friday night, January 15, 1999. I came home late, made a cup of coffee and sipped
while I listened to my phone messages. One message from my sempai Shiroma Katsuo informed
me that on the 16th, about 2 P. M. I should go to the funeral parlor near the dojo in
Tomishiro area near where Akamine sensei’s dojo.
Akamine Eisuke sensei, chairman of Ryu Kyu Kobudo Preservation and Promotion Association,
was dead at the age seventy-four. Although he was ill for a long time his immediate
family took care of him according to Okinawa’s tradition. Regardless of sensei’s
condition students always showed sensei their techniques, spoke with sensei even though
he was frail and was very thin. He never turned students away.
I lived, worked and studied on Okinawa for the past fourteen years, and I like to think
I was a part of the training culture as much as any of the Okinawans themselves. The
story is about Akamine sensei; the late Akamine sensei and I will get to that. But, I
cannot talk about Akamine sensei without talking about the people around the master who
made it possible for me to train with him and with his students.
Akamine sensei and Katherine (1997)
I came to Okinawa for the first time in December 1982. As a Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu
student I studied at the headquarters of the late Nagamine Shoshin sensei in Kumoji,
Naha, Okinawa. There I met my sempai Shiroma Katsuo, who was a young and vibrant Okinawa
man. He spoke to me and I remember I did not understand a word of what he said other
than the customary karate vocabulary. He taught me a tunfa kata, and that required no
language. I liked that kata, and I liked Shiroma sensei’s vibrant communication although
to this day I have no idea what he had said.
Since that first trip to Okinawa, I returned to Nagamine Shoshin sensei’s dojo many times
for continuous training. There I met a true gentleman and awesome technician, a
Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu teacher at Nagamine sensei’s dojo, and his name was Nakamura
Seigi sensei. He was strong, sharp and very kind. Nakamura sensei spoke some English,
and he was the only Okinawa elderly I saw who utilized an English-Japanese dictionary in
order to communicate. Nakamura sensei gave me special training for hours at a time, and
afterwards he took me and introduced me to teachers who he considered very good and they
in turn taught me also. Nakamura sensei knew that besides Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu karate
I was very much interested in Goju Ryu Karate and Okinawa weaponry. At that time twenty
years ago I practiced very much with the Bo.
Nakamura sensei introduced me to Miyazato Eiichi sensei of JUNDOKAN and he also
introduced me to Uehara Ko sensei, a long time student of Miyazato Eiichi sensei and a
very strong Okinawa weapons practitioner. One month was not enough to learn all the
things that I wanted to study. But since then, I returned to Okinawa again and again,
and Nakamura sensei was always there to guide me and to instruct me further. During
those years going to Okinawa was not a popular trip among practitioners from the United
States. They used to travel to mainland Japan for karate instruction. In fact, I
remember members of the United States National Karate Committee made fun by telling me
that I studied ‘village karate’.
In a sense, they were correct. Okinawa was a village
jumping out of the pages of martial arts history. I was born in a small village myself,
located on a mountainside in southern Greece. Going to a village held special feelings
Nakamura sensei always took charge of my training, my recreation and me. Uehara Ko
sensei’s dojo was walking distance from Nagamine Shoshin sensei’s dojo. My daily
training schedule began six to eight o’clock every morning with a class taught personally
by Nagamine Shoshin Sensei and followed with one hour of Zazen training. During the day
Nakamura sensei would arrange a time and place to meet and to teach me also. In the
afternoon I would first study Kobudo with Uehara Ko sensei, and then walk over to
Nagamine sensei dojo and take the late class, which would start eight o’clock in the
evening. This was the routine, which slowly but surely set my development, and Nakamura
Seigi sensei oversaw everything.
On the average I trained six hours each day. It was a difficult schedule living in
simple conditions, but I told myself that I was ‘living my dream’, and so, I endured.
Since 1982 to 1986 I returned to Okinawa several times. When I concluded my amateur
competitive career in August of 1986, I made arrangements to come to Okinawa to study for
one year. The one-year extended to fourteen years.
While the world is moving forward at a high pace, karate and kobudo stands still on
Okinawa. In fact, culture stands still on Okinawa. People practice and preserve
accuracy of techniques with great detail. While the world is dazzled with fancy and
colorful uniforms, Las Vegas style acrobatic performances performed to music, where
practitioners hire designers to create unique outfits, music engineers mix and create
unique melodies, dance choreographers put together difficult to execute moves, all in the
name of martial arts performances; here on Okinawa, the simple, the austere, and the old
ways prevail. And even though some Okinawa teachers were brave enough to write books
they kept quiet about their accomplishments. In fact, it is not until a few years ago I
learned that both Miyazato Eiichi sensei and Akamine Eisuke sensei wrote books, and
according to Shurei Do martial arts manufacturer and owner Mr. Nakasone, those books were
out of print.
I learned to train and to observe in silence. I paid attention to detail and listened.
I was able to fill in the gaps, and since I did not know the language I had no idea how
huge were those gaps. I loved going to Uehara Ko sensei dojo. I loved his method of
explanations and the manner by which he trained us. As a rule, Okinawans are pretty easy
going and so was Uehara Ko sensei. But when it came to training he was demanding. He
wanted the details just the exact way he was showing us even though we could not always
see them. The training on Okinawa for most of the time is individualized to students
needs. Students must be motivated on their own because they have to go to the dojo and
train by themselves. The teacher always observed and often asked students to demonstrate
a particular technique, and afterwards gave corrections. Subsequently students
continued to train on their own. That was difficult because in order to be accurate with
the techniques we had to practice them endlessly on our own, besides doing all the
necessary training to physically and cardiovascularly stay in shape. In the United
States everyone strives to be different and unique, on Okinawa everyone studies on how to
be exactly alike.
It is from Uehara Ko sensei that I first heard of Akamine Eisuke sensei. Uehara Ko
sensei spoke frequently with Akamine sensei, and around 1987 Uehara Ko sensei talked to
Akamine sensei about me. Uehara Ko sensei promised to take me and meet Akamine sensei
when I was getting close to Shodan Testing for Ryu Kyu Kobudo. I remember we went on a
Saturday afternoon. I was fascinated to see the dojo and to meet Akamine sensei. I had
heard so much about him. I learned that he was a direct student of Taira Shinken sensei
also maintained Gichin Funakoshi’s style of Shorin Ryu. I did not know what to expect.
I remember when I went to Akamine sensei dojo with Uehara Ko sensei for the first time
we entered a dojo made of wood. The dojo itself was very old. Wooden students’ nametags
hung in lines in accordance with their ranks. The dojo’s windowpanes were wooden, the
shudders were wooden, the floor bounced and creaked and that was old wood with huge
cracks in between the beams. The ceiling was not particularly high and the training
area was very small. I wondered how many people could actually train together all at
one once. What fascinated me even more was that there were no changing rooms and there
were no bathrooms. A little yard surrounded the dojo. Akamine sensei himself was a
soft-spoken man. I performed kata and Uehara Ko sensei together with Akamine sensei
observed and discussed the plusses and minuses of my performance. Afterwards we drank
Japanese tea and left. Uehara Ko sensei and I went back to Akamine sensei many times
since then, but the first time meeting has stayed with me.
My Shodan Testing was
conducted in this dojo. We went to see Akamine sensei often, and as the years
progressed, slowly Akamine sensei started to lose weight, and a few years ago everyone
was convinced that sensei was seriously ill. He was loosing weight rapidly. Akamine
sensei's son Hiroshi also practiced karate and Ryu Kyu Kobudo. Hiroshi sensei and the
rest of the family decided that it would be great and would make Akamine sensei happy to
see a new dojo. And so, on the same lot of land, the old dojo and house were taken down
and in a short span of time, a new dojo, a modern three story building was erected.
Although small, the new dojo was equipped the all the modern facilities. A modern sink
and toilet, and bright wooden polished floors, concrete walls and large windows with
cross ventilation. The dojo occupied the second floor. Visiting students lived on the
third floor. Akamine sensei and his immediate family occupied the ground floor.
Although everyone praised the new building and especially the dojo, for me, it was not
the same anymore. The old building just like the old castles held a special feeling.
It smelled different and somehow I felt different, but maybe that was just I.
Over the years, I became a direct student of Miyazato Eiichi sensei and continued to
practice Ryu Kyu Kobudo with my old time sempai Shiroma Katsuo. In August 1997, there was
a world Karate Kobudo Championships sponsored by the Okinawa Prefecture government and
held in the newly built Budokan. There were two days of seminars prior to the actual
tournament. Ryu Kyu Kobudo seminar attracted many students, and Akamine sensei observed
our training while he sat in a wheel chair. One young man from South America took a
third place in men’s Sai competition, and I won the women’s black belt Bo Kata category.
A few weeks after the tournament there was a little party celebration at Akamine sensei’s
dojo and students were glad to make Akamine sensei feel happy.
That was the year of 1997. We did not see very much of Akamine sensei in 1998.
On January 14, 1999 the curtain fell for this seventy–four year old practitioner.
During the years I had known sensei I never heard him raise his voice, he was always soft
spoken and he was always kind to those around him.
The funeral service held on January 16th, was attended by hundreds of people. Besides
relatives, there were hundreds of people who over the years trained with him and those
who had worked with him. The students who were really close to Akamine sensei and the
students who studied at the Hombu dojo ushered the people and directed traffic. In this
manner respects were paid to this great and yet simple man.
Exiting the funeral, we gave a slight bow to those who clearly were close to sensei and
were ushers for the day. One student asked me: “Katherine, what shall we do?” I could
not think of a right answer. Certainly he knew more kata than I did, and he had studied
longer than I had. What should I say? I said: “Gambarimasho.”
Bubishi Karate Do Organization