All posts filed under: Karate Masters Portrait Project

Now on YouTube!

In 2016, I was contacted by the team at Macphun Software who had come across my photography on the web. Macphun produces photo editing programs for Mac computers, and received Best of the Year awards from the Apple app store six years running. They were producing new inspirational content for their website and asked if I’d like to be involved. James Pankiewicz, Patrick Batac and I produced a behind the scenes video about The Karate Masters Portrait Project. In 2018, Macphun became SKYLUM software as it is no longer just Mac only. As its popularity grows around the world, Yuki and I are going to help introduce the software to the Japanese market. We’ve created a Japanese language YouTube series called the Shoshinsha Photographer Yuki (New Photographer Yuki) in which Yuki learns how to take photos, and edit the pictures with SKYLUM’s Luminar editing software. Episode 1 has a brief introduction then Yuki explores Bise Village in Motobu. Episode 2 is all about the 100 Kata for Karate Day event at new Karate Kaikan. Episode …

Chris Willson Photography 2017 Highlights

2017 has been another busy year. So many things to mention…. Photography workshops have been a success, and it’s been great sharing my passion (and terrible jokes) with so many other people, whether its learning the fundamentals, or dressing up as rockstars in the studio. We had an amazing 1-week workshop in Kyoto with six lovely ladies, and a combination of planning and a little luck meant we got to photograph maiko, cherry blossom, shrines, temples, castles, bullet trains, and blue skies over the week. Yuki started taking kimono classes before the workshop so she could be our subject for staged shots, and there were plenty of opportunities for fortuitous street photographs.  (We’re planning the next Kyoto Workshop for April 2019.) A huge thank you to clients who have booked me for sessions. It has been a pleasure shooting commercial portraits, families, fairy tales, and senior portraits. We’ve shot several events including the USO Service Salute, the Warrior’s Ball, and karate seminars. We’ve also worked on assignment with international clients including NBC, Cinq Mondes, and Forbes. …

Karate Masters Archive Project

The Karate Masters Portrait Project began on March 11, 2012 with a photo session of Yoshitaka Taira sensei and Toshimitsu Arakaki sensei. Five and a half years later, James and I are starting a parallel project to interview these masters and try to create an archive of their teachings. Once again we began with Toshimitsu Arakaki sensei, and look forward to learning a great deal over the coming years. Video offers a whole new set of challenges both technical and financial. As with the Karate Masters Portrait Project we’re striving for quality, as hopefully the content we produce will be of interest both now and in the future. The basic look of the interview is similar to the portraits with a simple black background. For portraits we used a single strobe with a beauty dish, for video we’re using a CAME-TV C700D Daylight LED Edge Light as the keylight on the face and a CAME-TV Boltzen as a rim light on the subject’s right. Here’s a test shot with me looking sleepy. The lights are …

Koichi Nakasone 9th Dan Ryukyu Kingdom Sui-di Bujutsu

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 …

100 Kobudo Kata Challenge at the Karate Kaikan, Okinawa

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 6th dan Uechi-ryu Karate

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.

Stamp of Approval

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!

Isao Yagi 9th dan Motobu-ryu Ryukyu Bujutsu Moudi

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 …

Shintoku Takara 10th dan Okinawa Uechi-ryu

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.  

New Threads

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.