Kiyohide Shinjo is an 8th dan master of Uechi-ryu karate.
Kiyohide Shinjo was born on Ie Island in 1951. His family moved to Naha when he was five, and Kiyohide began studying karate at the age of ten from his father, Seiyu Shinjo, one of Okinawa’s karate masters. He earned his shodan (first degree black belt) at age 16, and in 1960, Kiyohide and his father opened a new dojo at Kadena Rotary.
Kiyohide Shinjo is the nine-time Okinawa Karate Champion in both kumite and kata － gaining him the nickname “the Okinawan Superman.” When his father died in 1979, Kiyohide retired from competition, undefeated, and took over the Kadena dojo.
In 2004, the dojo moved to Toguchi in Yomitan. There Kiyohide continues to inspire others with his passion for karate.
What’s your favorite technique?
“I use the toe kick. It’s one of Uechi-ryu’s iconic techniques; it’s devastatingly effective. It doesn’t matter where the blow lands, it will incapacitate the opponent leaving you in control of the encounter.” (At this point Kiyohide took a wooden beam and repeatedly slammed it against the bare toes of his foot. The wood bounced off them as if he had been wearing steel-toed boots.)
Karate is famous for being about unarmed combat, but you see some forms of karate using weapons like a bo or sai?
“That’s kobudo, another form of Okinawan combat, but the techniques you need to do kobudo are those from karate. The sai, for example, can be used to defend an attack with the centre prong running back down the forearm. The technique behind it, however, is traditional karate block.
What are the different styles of karate on Okinawa?
“There are many styles of karate, but there are only four traditional styles that have not been blended with other styles or martial arts. These four are Uechi-ryu, Goju-ryu, Shorin-ryu, and Matsubayashi-ryu .”
Have you taught Karate in other countries?
“Twice a year I go abroad to give seminars, judge competitions and check that overseas Uechi-ryu dojo’s 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. ”
Hollywood has many action stars, are you impressed by any?
“Most of them are just actors, not really fighters. Jackie Chan has his own unique style, but Bruce Lee was a real karate champion. He would be training constantly to stay in peak physical condition. Even now, his techniques and training methods are often discussed in karate magazines.”
Have you ever seen the karate kid movies?
“Of course. They were fun to watch, but Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita (the actor who played Mr. Miyagi) did have a good point that karate goes beyond the two hours you spend in the dojo. You can strive to improve your stances, breathing or strength doing everyday activities, like painting a fence or waxing a car.”
You are 8th Dan and have been studying karate for 46 years is there any more for you to learn?
“You can never achieve perfection; you just keep on training, staying fit, staying strong.”
(Interview first published in Okinawa Living Magazine November 2006)