Yesterday I made the short drive over to Nakijin Village to the home of Koichi Nakasone, 9th Dan Ryukyu Kingdom Sui-di Bujutsu. He is the 76th sensei to be photographed for the Karate Masters Portrait Project. James Pankiewicz, Becka Tedder, and I sat down for a chat in the traditional wooden house that Nakasone sensei had recently built by himself. He told us a few stories about his karate training, and the three months he spent in the USA traveling from dojo to dojo, challenging the members to fight. (Known in Japanese as dojo yaburi.) After our chat, we set up the black background on the side of the house and took the portraits. (Pentax 645Z with 90mm lens. Profoto B1 with white softlight reflector.) We then drove a couple of minutes to beautiful Nagahama Beach for some more location shots. I switched lenses to the 25mm wide-angle and removed the softlight reflector as we needed as much power as possible to try and fill in shadows. Becka held the light, while James put on his …
A few pics from today’s 100 Kobudo Kata Challenge at the new Karate Kaikan in Tomigusku, Okinawa. The event was organized by James Pankiewicz of the Dojo Bar in Naha. The welcoming message was given by Toshimitsu Arakaki, 10th dan Matsubayashi-ryu karate. Participants spent 2 to 3 hours performing a hundred kata with various weapons including bo staff and sai. Congratulations to all that took part, it was great to see people actively helping keep Okinawan traditions alive. I also got to take a few new “Beyond the Dojo” pics of Arakaki sensei outside of the new Karate Kaikan building. Arakaki-sensei demonstrates a technique with two sai, while also reminding me that “Iron Fist” isn’t just something from comic books. Gear: Pentax 645Z with 25mm lens. Profoto B1 with softlight reflector white.
Hatsuko Machida 町田 初子 is ranked 6th dan in Uechi-ryu karate 上地流 空手. She teaches at the Ageda Women’s Dojo which is unique in Okinawa for offering women only karate classes. She explained that many of her students had not been allowed to study karate when they were young so now embrace the opportunity to do so. Many of the ladies are over 50 with the oldest still training at 78. Machida-san was a student of Takamiyagi Shigeru (1935-2014) who encouraged her to set up her own dojo and help spread karate to more women. Machida sensei’s class also uses the nigiri gamae (握りえ構え) ceramic jars that strengthen their grip and forearms. After shooting in the dojo we took a short walk to the local park to get a shot of Machida sensei training outside. All images shot with the Pentax 645Z with the 90mm lens (indoors) and the 25mm lens (outdoors). Lighting with the Profoto D2 (indoors) and Profoto B1 (outdoors) with a Softlight Reflector.
This week, Japan Post released a set of postage stamps to commemorate Karate Day in Okinawa. The series of eight stamps is made up of Okinawan karate masters of different styles. The bottom right image is of Yoshitaka Taira, 10th dan World Matsubayashi-ryu (Shorin-ryu) and is one of the photographs I shot for the Karate Masters Portrait Project. Pleasingly, this is the second time one of my images has been used on a Japanese stamp. The first was around 12 years ago when they chose my photograph of Kabira Bay to represent one of Okinawa’s beautiful landmarks. In all that time the price of a postage stamp has only gone up two yen!
Motobu udundi is the ancient martial art of the Ryukyu palace guards. Its techniques were kept secret, and reserved for those who would risk their lives for the royal family. On September 15th 2016 we visited the beautiful dojo of Seihan Shiroma in Sashiki Town. Sadly, Shiroma-sensei passed away in 2012 at the age of 71. We were never able to photograph Seihan Shiroma, so it was touching to meet his widow and be introduced to his top student Isao Yagi. Yagi-sensei now imparts the knowledge taught to him by his master to students at the Shiroma dojo. It was an honor to be able to photograph him as part of the Karate Masters Portrait Project. Motobu udundi blends te (the precursor of karate) kobudo (weapons) and Ryukyu dance. In other dojos I had seen nunchaku, bo, sai and other weapons, but this was the first time to see a master demonstrating the use of various swords. I’d read that the movements in Okinawan dance could be used to hide fighting techniques, and Yagi-sensei deftly demonstrated. He …
On Monday evening I photographed Shintoku Takara, 10th dan Okinawa Uechi-ryu Karatedo Kyokai. At 86 years old Takara sensei is one of the elder statesmen of Okinawa karate. We met at the family dojo in Kitanakagusku, but on finding out we live in Motobu he was excited to tell us how their family was from Bise Village just a couple of kilometers from our home. One interesting bit of trivia about Takara sensei is that he was one of the Uechi-ryu masters who taught F1 champion Nigel Mansell in Okinawa . Mansell received his shodan certificate in 1994 (1st dan black belt). We photographed Takara sensei along with his son Kazuya Shintoku, and his grandson Uechi Takenori. This is the first time for us to photograph three generations of karateka together.
DOJO Okinawa is a new clothing line by my friend James Pankiewicz. Great t-shirts and kariyushi wear with designs inspired by the Ryukyu Islands. You may even recognize a few of the pics that make up the “Karate Action” and “Okinawa Places” kariyushi shirts. You can buy the shirts online, at the Ryukyu Piras stores in Naha or Chatan, and at the one and only DOJO Bar in Naha City. Also check out and like their new Facebook page.
NEWS!!!! Karate Masters Portrait Project Volume 1 now on sale via Blurb The Karate Masters Portrait Project began in March 2012. Its goal is to document karate and kobudo masters teaching in Okinawa at the start of the 21st Century. Their unparalleled knowledge of martial arts makes them of great cultural importance both in Japan and worldwide. 空手マスターズポートレートプロジェクトは2012年3月に始まりました。 目標としているのは、21世紀に沖縄で活躍している空手と古武道の先生方の肖像を撮ることです。空手の先生方の類まれない武道に関しての知識は、日本だけでなく、世界でも文化的に高く重要視されています。 In 2012, James Pankiewicz, owner of the DOJO Bar in Naha, discussed with photographer Chris Willson how there were few, if any, good photos of certain karate masters. There was also little consistency in the images available. Many were blurry, low resolution, noisy, or simply snapped from a distance at a competition or demonstration. 2012年、那覇市内にある DOJO Bar のオーナー、ジェームズ・パンキュビッチは、フォトグラファーのクリス・ウィルソンと空手指導者の良い肖像はないかと話し合いました。 それまでの使用可能なイメージはほとんど一貫性がなく、解像度が低くぼやけており、ノイズが多く、 遠い距離からのスナップ写真ばかりでした。 James and Chris began to take studio lighting, a black backdrop, and a high definition digital camera into the dojos of the karate masters. They hoped the portraits produced would become a historical record of the masters of Okinawan karate at the start of the 21st century. ジェームズとクリスは 道場にスタジオの照明や、黒背景、高精細デジタルカメラを持ち込み、撮影を行い始めました。 このプロジェクトを通して、沖縄空手の先生方の肖像が、21世紀の歴史的な記録になることを望んでいるのです。 Gear used: Pentax 645D & …
Hiroshi Takamiyagi is the founder of Goshukan Ryu Karatedo which combines Okinawa Shuri-Te Karate with Wu Zhu Quan (Five Ancestor Kenpo). The origins of karate came from Chinese emissaries so this combination is in many way taking the art form back to its most traditional techniques.
Nobuko Oshiro, Kyoshi, 8th dan Okinawa Karate-do Shorinryu, Taishinkan Association in the sugar cane fields of Sashiki Town, Okinawa, These shots were possible because of a high speed flash system that I was able to purchase with the money that came from supporters of the project purchasing a book, print or digital file. It allows me to sync a powerful flash at shutter speeds faster than 1/125 sec. I can now freeze movement without the ambient light blur normally associated with these images. 1/2000 sec at f / 4.0 ISO400 The crew: Yuki, James, Oshiro-sensei, Chris, Bekka.