Monday, September 21, 2009

Our first tournaments

Sensei Yaguchi was an instructor with the JKA during the early days of tournaments. He attended the first All-Japan Tournament, held in 1957, the year Sensei Funakoshi died. An exerpt from the book:

"Because this was the first tournament that many of us had ever attended, it provided a number of memorable moments. Nobody un derstood the rules completely. Some rules were made up on the spot. I made history by being the first person ever to foul out of an event -- we call it hansoku. I ws sparring against a Mr. Shimi, who kicked me in the face. I was hot-headed and I lost my temper and grabbed and hit him. Immediately, the referee, Mr. Kakagi, yelled "Yame!" (Stop!) and I was warned against illegal behavior. No grabbing. However, I was still angry at being kicked in the face, and when the referee restarted the match, I grabbed Mr. Shimi again and drove my knee into his body. This time he went down. "Yame!" again stopped the match.

Mr. Kakagi announced to the crowd that this was hansoku (foul), and I was now expelled from the tournament. About 10,000 people watched this "memorable moment."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wow - Photos

Sensei Yaguchi gave me an old album with photos in it from the 50s and 60s. The album was the "sticky" page type, with the clear plastic cover over each page. After all those years, all of the photos were completely melded to the pages and could not be removed. I wanted to scan in as many as I could, so I just scanned the whole pages of photos and used Paint Shop Pro to cut each photo out, one by one.
Here are some of the photos from that album. Bear in mind that these have never been seen previous to Sensei Yaguchi's book being published. There are more at

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The process

Despite the fact that I understand Sensei's English about as well as anyone, it's still a very limited conversation and there have been times when we both really struggled; him to communicate, and me to understand. In order to interview Sensei Yaguchi for the book, we decided that we would hold the interview in Japanese, using translators. A number of people gave their time and expertise so that he could express himself fully in his native language.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

(on instructing at the JKA headquarters in Tokyo) "I was excited and inspired. I trained and taught every day. We instructors were all paid about the same amount, and our 3,000 yen per month didn't go very far. As a matter of fact, my rent was also about 3,000 yen per month. I was constantly borrowing money from the JKA against the next month's paycheck. Somtimes on payday I would just get a little piece of red paper with a note explaining that I had borrowed so much my entire paycheck was gone."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Understanding Sensei Yaguchi

Interestingly, I'm one of the best translators of Sensei Yaguchi's English I know. Cathy Cline is the only person I know personally who can understand him better. I do know that he's never really gotten the hang of English. What he speaks is Japanese, but using English words with Japanese "glue" words. The sentence structure is pure Japanese, which happens to be the reverse of English sentence structure. For example, the literal translation of "Where is the train?" would be, "Train, where is it?" So Japanese sentences often begin with the subject noun. He will use English for the nouns and verbs, and Japanese for "the," "of," "and," and other glue words.

I used to understand about 60 % of what he said and couldn't get beyond that. Then I took a job where I had to commute from Denver to Boulder every day, about 44 miles each way. I did everything I could to ease the boredom, including listening to books on tape. I bought a tape set called "Learn Japanese in Your Car," and played that for probably 2 or 3 months. I can't say I learned a ton of Japanese, but I did get much better at understanding Sensei Yaguchi's "English." Now I'm probably up to 85-90% understanding. And this is after over 20 years of training with him.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm starting this blog to talk about my experiences in writing Sensei Yutaka' Yaguchi's memoirs. He has been my Sensei for over 20 years. He is one of those instructors that one remembers forever. When I started training in Denver in the early 80s his classes were so hard that sometimes I thought I might actually get killed or permanently injured. There were guys in those classes that were karate-ka by day, and robbed liquor stores at night. I was swept, punched and kicked almost daily, and I thrived on it.

Now that I'm in my middle age (50 is the new 40, right?), I look back on those times with a little bit of disbelief. I feel my fragility and humanity now; back then, I thought I was invincible. I walked around proudly with bruises all over my arms and legs, not to mention the occasional black eye or split forehead. I structured my whole life, including my work, around the training, camps, and tournament schedule. I was completely and totally obsessed with Shotokan Karate.

And throughout every training, every tournament, and every camp or event, Sensei Yaguchi was present. He didn't let me get away with anything...If I took it easy during class, I would hear "lazy" quietly behind me. If I didn't try hard enough, he ignored me to the point that I almost killed myself getting back into his good graces. If I worked hard, he demanded that I work harder.

When I decided that it would be a good idea to write up some of the stories he told us over beers in the basement of the dojo after training, he demurred. "Just write a history of the JKA," he would say. But I wasn't interested in the JKA; besides, that's been done.

So one day he said to me, "I would like to write about my experiences." And I said, "I'll write it for you, Sensei." And then I got started.

Oh, the book is available online at My web guy said I needed to let everyone who reads this blog know that.

Until next time....