On May 19th 2020 six Okinawan Karate Masters were recognized by the prefecture as an Intangible Cultural Asset Holder in the Field of Okinawan Karate and Martial Arts with Weaponry. I am honored to have photographed them all for the Karate Masters Portrait Project over the past 8 years. Congratulations to Iha Sensei, Kikugawa Sensei, Maeshiro Sensei, Nakahodo Sensei, Iha Sensei and Takara Sensei!
I’m also happy to announce that episode 8 in the YouTube series Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate is now online.
I’m really proud of all the work that went into this episode, the team that helped create it, and the sponsors and supporters of the series. Iha Sensei speaks a mix of Japanese, Okinawan (a separate language not a dialect of Japanese), and English. It made transcriptions and translations a challenge, and there were even a few corrections after it went live, after getting some extra feedback from Nakasone Sensei.
Please like, comment, and share the videos so that the YouTube algorithm introduces it to others.
Tsuguo Sakumoto, 7 times consecutive world champion, and coach to 9 world champions including Arata Kinjo, Takuya Uemura and Ryo Kiyuna. He is 9th-dan in Ryuei-ryu karate. Ryo Kiyuna is one of Japan’s best chances to win a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 (2021) Olympics so Sakumoto Sensei is more than ever a very busy man. Luckily he liked the portraits of him I shot in 2014 so we managed to get to interview him last September for the Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate Series.
Before shooting studio portraits of Ishiki Sensei and his son for the Karate Masters Portrait Project we visited Itokazu Castle ruins to get some location shots.
Ishiki Sensei studied kobudo with Shinpo Matayoshi alongside students including Gakiya Sensei and Yamashiro Sensei. Studying exclusively with Matayoshi Sensei meant they delved deeper into the different weapons, so along with the more common bo (staff) and sai, they learned weapons such as nunchaku, sansetsukon (3 piece nunchaku) and the mini sansetsukon (which Masakazu Kinjo Sensei once described as the Saturday night special).
Always fascinating to have the opportunity to shoot with the karate masters outside the dojo, and I think I came away with some interesting new shots.
Images taken with the Pentax 645Z, 35mm, 55mm, 90mm lenses. Profoto B1 strobe with Softlight reflector.
In the latest video in the series I’m making about karate, 83-year-old, 10th-dan Shorin-Ryu, Doug Perry talks about his life in the Marine Corps and martial arts, and his love of Okinawa. Also includes a conversation with his son Colonel Jason Perry.
Thank you to all the sponsors and supporters you’ll see listed at the end of the video I couldn’t do it without you! Please get in touch if you’re able to help with this project!
A month ago I spent a weekend up in the Yanbaru forests to write an article for the Visit Okinawa website. Okinawan photographer Nirai was there to take the photos and video of my adventures for the website, so it was a really interesting to be on the other side of the lens. I was also able to get a few snaps over the weekend, when I wasn’t mugging for his camera.
I interviewed Kikuta-san many years ago for Okinawa Living magazine, you can read the article here. You can find out more about his birdwatching tours and his artwork here.
I didn’t mention it in the article, but we came across this dead Japanese bush warbler, that looked to have been just hit by a vehicle. The beautiful winding roads of northern Okinawa may seem like the perfect place to stretch the legs of your car or motorbike, but the local people and wildlife would prefer it if you slow down and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life.
Uechi-ryu is one of the main styles of Okinawan karate. Literally translated it means Uechi style, its name coming from its founder Kanbun Uechi (1877-1948).
At 19, Kanbun Uechi went to Fuzhou City in China to study martial arts. He studied a style known as Pangai-noon and after 13 years returned to Okinawa. Many years later he began teaching Pangai-noon karate in Japan, and in 1940 the style was renamed as Uechi-ryu karate jutsu.
Kanbun Uechi’s son Kanei Uechi (1911-1991) was the second generation of the style. His grandson Kanmei Uechi (1941-2015) was the third generation. And today his great-grandsons Kanji Uechi and Sadanao Uechi continue the Uechi-ryu legacy.
Motobu is the hometown of Uechi-ryu’s founder Kanbun Uechi. A couple of years ago a statue of the Kanbun Uechi was built in the Yaedake Sakura no Mori, Cherry Blossom Park, in Motobu Town.
Motobu is also where we now live, so Kanbun Uechi often overlooks us as we picnic in the park 🙂
The Visit Okinawa website has an article I wrote about Okinawa’s Sefa-utaki, and a promotional video they made of me exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great experience working with the VisitOkinawa.jp team.
Today I received the sad news that Takamiyagi sensei has passed away. We spent a lovely day with him in December 2015 taking portraits in his dojo and next to the ocean in Sunabe, Okinawa.
A few months later, Takamiyagi met James and I at the Dojo Bar to give us copies of a book he’d made with the images as a thank you gift. He was a lovely gentleman and so encouraging about the project we were undertaking.
Our thoughts go out to Takamiyagi’s family and friends and to his students such as Garry Parker who will continue the legacy of Goshukan Ryu Karatedo.
In 2019, photography and video has been completely dominated by Okinawan martial arts.
The crowd-funded YouTube video series is proving to be popular, and we’ve released the first six of twelve interviews with Okinawan masters, and three bonus episodes with international masters.
On occassions I’ve been able to photograph some of Okinawa’s less combative side, with smiles and flowers.
The real highlight of the year has been watching this little one grow. Now nearly 2, she’s has adopted all the traits of our chocolate labrador (a bundle of crazed energy who loves to play in the dirt, scavenge for snacks, and then curl up in front of the TV).
A huge thank you to all those who’ve helped this year. Thank you to the students who’ve taken my workshops, clients who’ve hired me for projects, the international karate community for supporting and sponsoring the video series, and to my family both in Okinawa and around the world during this challenging year.
Looking forward to 2020, should be an exciting year.