On December 19th, 2020, James and I visited the dojo of Zenshu Toyama, in Awase, Okinawa. Toyama Sensei is 10th-dan, Goju-ryu Karate, and one of the style’s most senior practitioners. We photographed Toyama Sensei in October 2013, but on this day we returned to interview him for Episode 12 of the Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate documentary series. As it had been 7 years since our previous visit, we also shot some new portraits. Our goal is that Episode 11 with Oshiro Sensei will be released in February 2020 and then Episode 12 with Toyama Sensei will be released in March or April 2020. Thank you to Toyama Sensei, his daughter Hideko Toyama, Scot Mertz and Andy Sloane for their assistance on the day of the shoot.
Yesterday, October 12th 2020, Tetsunosuke Yasuda passed away. A karate master and a true gentleman. I photographed him in 2014 when he was a sprightly 88 years old and he showed off his incline sit-ups while holding a weight above his head. Our paths crossed several times, as for a decade I rented a house through his Yasuda Jutaku housing company. Each time we met he was such as kind, generous man full of praise and encouragement for our project to document Okinawan karate. When I decided to create a book of the first 58 karate masters I’d photographed, I placed Yasuda Sensei at the center on the front cover . A lovely lovely man, and the international karate community will miss him dearly.
Chieko Toma is a master of Ryukyu dance. On Sunday I had the chance to photograph her performing in traditional dance costumes. The next black and white costume comes from Haebaru Town and I believe is worn for performance of the folk dances, rather than the court dances. The next outfit is the karate gi with a hakama-style piece over the lower half. This was worn to perform the go shin no mai dances of self defense. As well as a master of Ryukyu dance, Toma Sensei is a master of Goju-ryu karate, and a student under Tetsuhiro Hokama Sensei. If you look at the behind the scenes shot, and you’ve been following the Karate Masters Portrait Project since 2012, you’ll notice the change in the number of lights used to create the portrait. In all the above shots of Toma Sensei I used two lights. James is holding one Profoto B1 strobe with a white softlight reflector (AKA a beauty dish) while Toma Sensei’s granddaughter is holding a second Profoto B1 strobe with a …
Born in 1927 Kiichi Nakamoto 10th-dan Goju-ryu Karate / 10th-dan Ryukyu Dento Kobujutsu is one of the elder statesmen even among the karate masters. At a young age Nakamoto Sensei studied karate under Chojun Miyagi Sensei then later under Eiichi Miyazato Sensei. Nakamoto Sensei studied kobudo under Shosei Kina Sensei, then Shinei Kyan Sensei. He now hold the rank of 10th-dan. Hopefully in the future I will be able to interview Nakamoto Sensei and receive more information about his life in martial arts.
I’d been hoping to photograph Meitatsu Yagi for the project for several years. In March 2014 I took portraits of his younger brother Meitetsu Yagi, and his nephew Ippei Yagi, but hadn’t been able to coordinate a time with Meitatsu Yagi. Luckily at the Tookachi seminars for Iha sensei’s students I had the opportunity to photograph Yagi sensei and some of the other masters of Okinawa karate. Amazingly Meitatsu Yagi was one of the first karate masters I ever photographed. I shot him with my Pentax 67 film camera in around 2004. I was visiting Murasaki Mura and asked the man in the white uniform with a black belt if I could take his photo. At that time I didn’t know his name, or that 15 years later, I’d still be on Okinawa, and spending most of my time photographing and interviewing karate masters.
Along with the photographs I shot for the Okinawan Martial Arts Budosai Seminar on April 29th, I also took some video of the event. I edited the footage in Final Cut Pro X and uploaded to YouTube. For those interested, I shot this with a Sony A7sII with the 16-35mm lens (at around 20mm). I manually set the exposure and the white balance. I shot with continuous auto focus. The camera was mounted on a CAME-Single 3-Axis Handheld Camera Gimbal by CAME-TV (see top image). It was a great learning experience. You have to find a balance between documenting the event fully, and not getting in the way of those attending. I didn’t want to block the view of the students or be hit with a flying foot or fist. For some techniques, it would be nice to have another camera angle to show close ups, but for this occasion a single viewpoint will have to suffice. Looking forward to shooting a lot more video this year.
Last Saturday I photographed a special 1-day seminar at the Karate Kaikan taught by 4 masters of different styles. In the morning there was a demonstration and class by Isao Yagi, 9th -dan of Ryuku Royal Family Martial Arts Bu Mai Moidi Motobu ryu Gassen Tuidi school. In the afternoon the first class was given by Yoshio Kuba 10th Goju ryu karate and followed by Tetsuhiro Hokama 10th-dan Goju ryu karate. At the end of the day, the event organizer Terry Wingrove 9th-dan karate jutsu gave a final class focused on the efficacy of techniques. The seminar was a clear reminder that Okinawan karate goes a lot further than simple punches, kicks and blocks. Although not covered in sanitized sport karate, there are plethora of different ways to incapacitate an attacker’s body and mind. Along with documenting the seminar, I brought a long a black background and strobe to take a few portraits for Terry Wingrove. At 75-years old he’s still a fearsome man.
Morio Higaonna, 10th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu karate. Photographed at the Naha Budokan on September 1st 2014. Higaonna is the founder and Chief Instructor of the International Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate-do Federation. He is also a Living National Treasure. Described by some as the most dangerous person in Japan in a real fight. Morio Higaonna produced a blood curdling kiai (shout) when demonstrating techniques. He was also a lovely humble man, who was praised the project, and encouraging in what we are undertaking. His smile grew over the brief photo session as I kept asking him to punch again, or do a different technique.
Koei Teruya, 10th dan Goju-ryu karate. Photographed at the Naha Budokan Sept 1st 2014
Masaaki Ikemiyagi, Hanshi 9th dan, Goju-ryu Okinawa Meibukan photographed at Naha’s Budokan on July 16th 2014.