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.
Last Saturday, I photographed Toshihiro Oshiro, 9th dan Shima-Ha Shorin-Ryu karate, 8th dan Yamanni Chinen Ryu kobujutsu, for the Karate Masters Portrait Project. We shot the studio style portraits at his dojo in Itoman, and then yesterday photographed him again on his local beach. We also interviewed Oshiro Sensei for the Sensei: Masters of Okinawa Karate series, and the episode will be available on YouTube and Bujin.tv early next year. It was a real pleasure to hang out with Oshiro Sensei and his students. I got to learn some more fascinating aspects of Okinawan culture (use a light grip on the weapon), and the stormy weather conditions worked in our favor for photographs.
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. You can learn more about the series, and even how to support is here: https://travel67.com/the-karate-masters-portrait-project/sensei-documentary/
This video is the first in a possible series of interviews with Okinawan karate masters. The sensei discuss their lives and share advice on training. The first master is Toshimitsu Arakaki, Hanshi 10th-dan, Matsubayashi-ryu Karate (Shorin-ryu). 新垣 敏光 範士十段 松林流空手 （小林流）He is the teacher of my good friend James Pankiewicz who arranged for the interview to take place. (James runs the famous Dojo Bar in Naha City, and the Asato Dojo across the street. Check them out when in Okinawa!) This pilot video is an opportunity to see if there is much interest in making this a series of videos rather than just a one off. Potentially interviews could take place with several karate masters and include more footage of them training or their everyday lives. Will all the videos be on YouTube? Yes! The idea is for the videos to be available for free on YouTube to anyone who wants to watch. Hopefully individuals, dojos, or karate organizations would be willing to help sponsor the project to make it viable, but this would only …
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 …
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 …
Finally finished a couple of big assignments for clients, this means I can get back to shooting the Karate Masters Portrait Project. Yesterday James and I were invited to the dojo of Keishun Kakinohana in Okinawa City.
Masahiro Nakamoto – Hanshi 10th dan, Okinawa Dentou Kobudo. Photographed inside and outside Naha’s Budokan on July 18th, 2014.
After the earlier demonstrations in the shicha-nu-una, the final events of karate day took place in the forecourt of Shuri Castle. Eight of the most senior karate masters in the world each performed a kata. Of the eight, I’ve only photographed Zenpo Shimabukuro sensei which just shows how much further we have to go with the Karate Masters Portrait Project.
Okinawan karate has several training techniques that are designed to strengthen and condition the body using simple everyday objects. Sanchin are heavy jars that are gripped with the fingertips. Makiwara is a striking post the top of which is often wrapped in leather or straw. It is similar to a boxers punching bag, but with a smaller target. In the photo below Gaja-sensei demonstrated how a simple bucket of stones was used for fingertip conditioning. He thrust his hand in so hard and fast, the force sent some stones flying out of the bucket. Here’s a short clip showing a few different techniques by various masters including Kiyohide Shinjo.