“My karate journey started like most people’s, but then it took a different turn.
For my 10th birthday I was given karate lessons. I’ve never stopped. Back then we didn’t really know about karate ‘styles’, you just joined a local club. My local club was Shotokan.
By eighteen I took myself to Japan and it was there that I came to meet an old sensei who recalled training in his youth with Funakoshi Gichin, Founder of the Shotokan style. He showed me many core techniques had been changed since that time and he spoke of Okinawa, the birthplace of karate. I was hooked.
Thirty-five years on, I’m considered the senior student of Higa Kiyohiko, 10th dan and Head of the Bugeikan in Shuri. In addition to karate I work as a shiatsu therapist specialising in the natural treating of back pain, historic injuries, postural complaints and stress related illness. For me karate and shiatsu go hand in hand.
The Legacy of Hanashiro Chomo Karate
In 2001, on the passing of his teacher Nakandakari Kanzo, Higa sensei inherited the karate of Hanashiro Chomo.
An entire book could be written about Higa sensei’s own martial journey but suffice to say he is something of the ‘teacher’s teacher’ and a highly respected expert of Okinawan martial arts.
It was once explained to me that “Higa sensei isn’t really a ‘closed’ teacher, but he is hidden.” Despite having publicly retired from teaching several years ago a number of senior masters on the island continue to consult him for historical and technical knowledge.
Essentially though Higa sensei assumes a more active roll as a spiritual guide within the Shuri community. As the modern world tends to shy away from these aspects of culture he is lesser known to a younger generation of karateka emerging today.
The ethos of the Bugeikan, which was founded by Higa’s father in 1952, is to preserve a number of distinct martial practises of pre-war Okinawa. Consequently, against the rising tide of many dojos aligning with a more competitive style of karate, the Bugeikan is a destination for those seeking an older Way.
Despite influencing a great number of karate-ka, several of whom went on to formulate their own styles, Hanashiro Chomo’s direct student was Nakandakari Kanzo.
The son of a senior police officer and fencing instructor, a young Nakandakari had a preference to learn karate. Approaching Hanashiro for instruction he began training privately at the master’s home in 1923 at the age of twelve, until his teacher’s passing in 1945.
Nakandakari sensei never trained under anyone else, a condition stringently imposed by his father when the boy first wanted to pursue the art. Neither did he open a dojo or teach publicly, despite encouragement to do so from his ageing master. Instead, in a post war Okinawa, Nakandakari sensei preferred to keep his karate as a personal practise.
Consequently the karate handed down from Nakandakari sensei is an unaltered version of that passed to him by Hanashiro and thus a preserved karate style of the Taisho Era. This alone makes it a valuable study subject for many karate-ka seeking a deeper understanding of the art. Particularly so for those of styles stemming from the Shuri tradition; such as Shorin ryu, Shito ryu, Shotokan and many more.
Nakandakari only taught Higa Kiyohiko, and later, for a brief period, his son younger son Kiyohiro. The reason he taught the Higa’s is because Hanashiro Chomo had been a close family friend of Higa sensei’s grandfather and so a long established connection had existed between the two families.
My own training with Higa sensei has been on a private, one-to-one, basis. In 2011 I received recognition as 5th dan (shihan) and in 2017 my teacher bestowed a great honour upon me when he presented me with the title Kancho in recognition of having studied all the forms of Hanashiro Chomo’s karate via Nakandakari sensei.
A frequent visitor to the islands I continue to make extended trips on a yearly or biyearly basis. There I have featured in several press articles, both in newspaper and magazine, as well as appearing on Okinawan radio as a guest speaker.
For the past few years I have worked on producing a manuscript detailing Hanashiro’s life and karate. This is now in its final stages of completion. In large part this online project goes along with it.
With the support and encouragement of my teacher this project seeks to expand awareness of Hanashiro Chomo’s karate in the interest of open exchange between martial artists.
A native of the UK, in 2018 I moved to rural Portugal in order to raise my young children in a more natural setting. I am located in the Serra da Lousa mountains and am able to host small group workshops for visiting karateka interested in deepening their practice.
Thank you for visiting,
5th dan, Kancho
*Link will open on Amazon in a new tab. The Karate-ka can also be ordered via high street bookstores.