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 …
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.
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.
On October 23rd 2016 the Okinawan karate community attempted to break the record for the most people performing a kata. The record had been set in India in 2013 with 809 people. The Okinawan attempt on the record was a resounding success with 3793 confirmed participants. There was also a one of the biggest congregations of karate masters. I have photographed most of them for the Karate Masters Portrait Project so it was great to be able to say hello to so many of them. 2017 will have the opening of the Okinawa Karate Kaikan (training center), and with karate a demonstration sport at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, I expect that a mass kata performance may even become an annual event. If so, hopefully next year will be even bigger!
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!
100 Kata for Karate Day is an endurance event created by James Pankiewicz of the Dojo Bar in Naha. Participants complete 100 kata (set forms) over a period of around 2 hours. This year the event took place at Churasun Beach, and was opened by the Mayor of Tomigusku. Arakaki Toshimitsu , 10th dan master of Matsubayashiryu karate (and James’ sensei) gave a welcome speech and watched over the event. Participants performed 80 kata on the grass before moving down to the sand. Although it’s October, Okinawa is still hot and humid. A cool breeze provided a little relief, but it was still a real test of grit and determination. Congratulations to all who took part.
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 …