“In The Shadow of Shogo Kuniba”
William H. Price and Chikubu-Kai
Carrying on the Traditions of Kuniba-Ryu
By: Kevin B. Watson
“To study Karate-Do is to become like bamboo:
Empty—purity of heart, mind, spirit;
Flexible—able to bend when opposed, without breaking;
Strong—character forged with experience;
Rooted—solid foundation of technique and tradition;
Straight—clear purpose in growing, high ideals”
Kuniba, Soke demonstrates Iai-Do
These words, written by Shogo Kuniba many years ago, reveal one of the guiding principles of one of the world’s most prolific martial artists. Surprisingly, however, very few people have accurate information about the legacy left behind by Shogo Kuniba and the arts he developed from a lifetime of training.
Even fewer people know about William H. Price, who is Kuniba, Sensei’s chosen successor for the two arts he developed: Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do. (A synthesis of Kuniba’s 50-plus years of study in the arts of Karate-Do, Judo, Aikido, and Jiu-Jitsu). Because of recent articles which have appeared in mainstream media and on the Internet which may mislead people wanting to know the complete truth about Kuniba and his martial arts teachings, Price, Sensei has agreed to an interview to try and set the record straight concerning his relationship with Shogo Kuniba as well as those individuals who have made erroneous claims in regard to their abilities and experience.
As Kuniba’s senior student in the United States, Price, Sensei has preferred to remain “out of the limelight”, so to speak. In simply choosing to teach and train in the arts which he has diligently learned under Kuniba, Sensei’s instruction, he has never conducted any public interviews concerning his training under, or close relationship with, Shogo Kuniba.
In 1995, a new organization, (Chikubu-Kai Karate-Do) by both William H. Price and Goichi Kobayashi of Osaka, Japan, was created in order to keep Kuniba’s teachings alive and well for the next generation of students, as well as transmit accurate instruction to students from an unbroken and documented lineage which dates back to the “Founding Fathers” of Karate-Do. It is both an honor and a privilege to present this information in this forum.
Shogo Kuniba: A Brief Overview
Kuniba, Shogo (Kokuba, Kosho in the Okinawan dialect) was born on February 5, 1935, near Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi-Shi, Japan. His family – headed by his father Kokuba, Kosei – were descendants of the Okinawan Sho Shi Royal family line. Kokuba, Kosei moved from Okinawa to Osaka in 1925 where he later owned and operated a small furniture company. When his son became five years old, in 1940, he began to teach him in the arts which he himself had studied since his youth.
Kenwa Mabuni, founder of Shito-Ryu, at the Seishin-Kan Dojo
Because of Japan’s buildup of military forces in preparation for imminent war, many Okinawans fled their homeland simply to be able to make a living and provide income for their families. As a result, many Karate masters, such as the notable Kenwa Mabuni and Choki Motobu, left Okinawa to what they hoped would be an opportunity to earn a living as well as keep their styles and teachings alive. The Seishin-Kan (Pure Heart dojo) of Kokuba Kosei was one of the first dojo that both Mabuni and Motobu taught at, as they both were longtime friends and instructors to the elder Kokuba. (Kokuba Kosei had begun his study of Karate under Choki Motobu while he was a young boy in Okinawa.) In return for room and board, they also taught and trained at Kokuba’s dojo.(1) This was the beginning of a lifetime of training and teaching for the young martial artist that would span over 50 years.
In recalling his early training experiences, Kuniba Shogo would note that it was the combined efforts of his teachers coupled with his Father’s strict upbringing that helped to mold his mind and forge his body in order to receive the most benefit from his training. In the tradition of his Samurai ancestry, Kosei Kokuba exposed his son to a variety of martial disciplines from the beginning of his training. As Kuniba himself would later explain:
“My Father came from a strong martial tradition and mastered many arts, such as Kendo, Aikido, and Judo…He directed me to study all martial arts. I feel this has given me an advantage over those who have studied one art, and has given me varied skills and a broader viewpoint besides.” (2)
When recounting the difficulties of his early training, Kuniba, Sensei also noted:
Kuniba, Soke (left) training with his father, 1947
“…I trained in karate before school and went to the Judo dojo after school. It was a forty-five minute run from the Judo dojo to my house and my Father required me to run all the way home. My life was Budo and I had no time to play and have friends, as did other children. If I tried to slip away or shirk my training, my Father always knew just by looking at my face. He never scolded me but my training would be harder. With my father, my Karate training was to punch one thousand times; then makiwara practice with two hundred punches on the right hand and four hundred punches on the left. I had to do three hundred right front kicks and four hundred left front kicks every day. This style of training was all special for me and was not required of my Father’s other students.” (3)
Due to his unique circumstances, Kuniba was able to train with many Sensei of various martial arts. Early on, he trained with his father as well as Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu, eventually earning his 4th dan under Mabuni before his death.(4) During his youth he also trained with Ryusho Tomoyori, the founder of Kenyu-Ryu Karate-Do as well as beginning his studies in Mugai-Ryu Iaido under Ishii Gogetsu, Sensei.
Rounding off his immersion in the arts of his homeland were his Judo studies with Asakichi Itoh, Sensei which continued for many years until his travels to Okinawa for further study. In the mid-1950’s, Kuniba Shogo returned to his homeland of Okinawa and began additional training with Shoshin Nagamine of Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu as well as Kobudo training with Shinken Taira, Kenko Nakaima, Kosha Shojin, and Yamaguchi Junko.
Kobudo Demonstration with Teruo Hayashi, Soke of Hayashi-Ha Shito-Ryu
When Kokuba Kosei died in 1959, he passed the leadership of Motobu-Ha Karate-Do (a name given to honor the influence of Motobu’s teachings to the elder Kokuba) on to his son, Shogo Kuniba.(5) This appointment was made official by the Shihan Board of Seishin-Kai, (The Seishin-Kan Dojo of Kosei Kokuba eventually grew into Seishin-Kai as more and more people joined his dojo for training.) as well as the early predecessor to today’s Japan Karate Federation, the Nippon Karate-Do Rengo-Kai. (This was later renamed F.A.J.K.O.—The Federation of All-Japan Karate-Do Organizations) Shogo Kuniba was only 24 at the time. To this day, Kuniba Shogo was the youngest martial artist in Japan to ever hold the title of “Soke” for a Karate Ryu-Ha.
Kuniba, Soke demonstrates jumping side kick, early 1970’s
However, after much deliberation, it was agreed that Teruo Hayashi, also a senior student of Kuniba’s father, would remain in charge of Seishin-Kai. This would allow Kuniba, Sensei to train in and study other arts in order to integrate them into Seishin-Kai; allowing completion of his Father’s wishes that his son train in as many styles as possible in order to become a well-rounded martial artist. He then returned to Okinawa to further his training and also trained in later years with Gozo Shioda, uchi-deshi to Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. In 1967 he began his leadership of Seishin-Kai and was recognized as Sandai (Third Head-Founder) Soke of Motobu-Ha Karate-Do as well as Soke-Dai (First Head-Founder) of Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu, which was Kuniba’s integration of his studies with both Mabuni and his father.(6)
In later years, Kuniba created a martial art which he initially called Goshin Budo (literally: ‘martial arts self defense’) This was a synthesis of his knowledge of many disparate systems and styles (Karate-Do, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido, etc.) To this end, he designed Kata for this art which would compliment anyone’s study of martial arts, regardless of background, stylistic affiliation, etc. Upon approval from the Federation of All-Japan Karate-Do Organizations (F.A.J.K.O.), he chose the name Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do to differentiate this art from the others he presided over and would ultimately pass on to designated successors. One of the main factors in his creation of this art was his observation of the differing sizes and strengths between people in his native Japan and those of other countries. These observations would soon be integrated in his teachings and practice upon his permanent relocation to the United States in 1982.
Kuniba Shogo travels to the U.S.A.Kuniba, Soke with Price, Soke — 1971
In 1971, Kuniba Shogo visited the United States for the first time to conduct clinics and training seminars.(7) During his initial visits, he met William H. Price, a veteran law enforcement officer from Lebanon, VA. At this time, Kuniba, Sensei would stay with Price, Sensei in his home for as long as six months at a time. These first trips by Kuniba laid the groundwork for his establishment of Seishin-Kai in the U.S. Although there were other students who had previously studied with Kuniba in Japan during their time in the military and had since returned to the United States to begin teaching, it was Kuniba’s desire to standardize and organize the teachings and practice of his arts in the U.S. to reflect the depth of technique he sought to impart to his students. Although geographical distances prevented many people from being able to study with Kuniba on a regular basis, he continued to return again and again to the United States to teach and train until he finally decided to become a United States citizen, moving to Portsmouth, Virginia in 1982.
Kuniba, Soke with Price, Soke — 1971
Until Kuniba, Sensei established his Hombu dojo in Portsmouth, the U.S. Hombu was located in Lebanon, Virginia under the guidance of William H. Price, Sensei. This indicates the high level of trust and faith placed in Price, Sensei by Kuniba as well as the respect and diligent study of the art of Kuniba-Ryu conducted by Price, Sensei during this period. This relationship would become even stronger over time, culminating in the designation of Price, Sensei as Kuniba’s successor for both Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu (Kuniba, Sensei’s method of Shito-Ryu, based on over 50 years of study) and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do.
William H. Price: A Brief Overview
Price, Soke demonstrating Goshin-Do technique
William H. Price’s involvement in traditional martial arts began with his training in Goju-Ryu Karate-Do in Okinawa on October 7, 1962 under Yamashita Goichi, Sensei while a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He then continued his training for many years under other Sensei throughout Okinawa and elsewhere during his military career. (It was during this military service that Price, Sensei also received valuable instruction from B.F. Thompson, a Shorin-Ryu practitioner.)
In 1971, a major milestone occurred in Price’s martial arts experiences when he was able to meet and begin training under Shogo Kuniba. As Kuniba returned over and over to the U.S., he would, as previously mentioned, stay at Price’s home for extended periods, traveling throughout the U.S. with Price, Sensei to teach and train. When Kuniba finally relocated to the U.S. in the early 1980’s, this allowed Price to train even more frequently and intensely with Kuniba until Kuniba, Sensei’s unfortunate passing in July of 1992.
Eventually, Price, Sensei earned the rank of 8th Dan in both Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do and, even more importantly, one of the most unique positions in traditional Japanese/Okinawan Martial Arts ever held by a Westerner.
Price, Soke demonstrates Mawashi-Geri (roundhouse kick)
In the early 1990’s, Kuniba, Sensei was diagnosed with stomach cancer and unfortunately, passed away on July 14, 1992. Several months before his death, however, he enacted a legal declaration, (dated March 16, 1992) in which he appointed William H. Price as Soke-Dai of both Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do. This was recognized at that time by both the Japan Karate Federation and the Seishin-Kai Karate Union of Japan, originally founded by Kuniba, Soke’s father Kokuba Kosei, in 1943.(8)
Price, Sensei has combined his experience in martial arts with a distinguished career in law enforcement. A former Virginia State Trooper, he has also served as head administrator for the Southwest Virginia Law Enforcement Academy, served a four-year term as Sheriff to Russell County, VA, and is currently the Chief of Police for the city of Bristol, VA.
Additionally, Price, Sensei is currently the Head Instructor for Defensive Tactics with the Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. He is a pioneer in developing a curriculum for teaching defensive tactics to police officers and instructors. He has taught police officers and martial artists from Japan to Sweden and throughout the world, staying committed to the traditional martial arts of Japan and Okinawa, and to the teachings of his Sensei, Kuniba Shogo.
Chikubu-Kai: A New BeginningGoichi Kobayashi, 7th Dan Kuniba-Ryu, demonstrates Iai-Do
Several years after Shogo Kuniba’s death, Price, Sensei and Goichi Kobayashi, Sensei (a senior student of Kuniba, Soke since the 1950’s) founded Chikubu-Kai (Bamboo Warrior Association) in order to pass on the teachings of Kuniba-Ryu to a new generation of students. This new organization was founded on September 8, 1995. Because Kuniba had often noted the characteristics of bamboo and its relationship to his system of martial arts, they felt it would be fitting to name this organization Chikubu-Kai.
Unfortunately, the semantics of names, styles, etc. can sometimes create confusion in the minds of the public. In the case of Kuniba’s arts, this can be seen by the use of such names as Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu, Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu, etc. In actuality, although the terms “Motobu-Ha” and “Kuniba-Ha” are in fact correct, there are differences in emphasis on the various principles Kuniba taught throughout his life.
Kuniba, Soke in Kumite Kamae – 1971
It should be remembered, however, that Kuniba, Sensei’s initial interaction with American Martial Artists were during a period when Martial Arts in America were, for the most part, in their infancy. Kuniba was able to anticipate the need for adaptation and modification of the brutally effective arts he had trained in since childhood so that the American “body type”, so to speak, could execute techniques with maximum efficiency.
Price, Soke demonstrating Goshin-Do on the author — Sweden, 2000
Another influence on Kuniba’s teaching methodologies can be seen in the relationship he had with his senior student, William H. Price. Because of Price, Sensei’s career in law enforcement, this afforded both men an ample opportunity to explore and adapt Kuniba, Sensei’s methods to the harsh reality of violence which can be an everyday part of police work. The unique relationship these two men shared allowed for a free exchange of ideas between both men, with the end result being an emphasis on reality in training and application of technique.
In 2001, an interview was conducted with William H. Price, Sensei in which he answered some of the questions, which have been on the minds of practitioners both in Kuniba-Ryu and Shito-Ryu in general. It is a pleasure to present this interview here.(9)
1.) When did you begin your training with Kuniba, Sensei?
Sensei’s first trip to the United States was in 1971. I had met him during this time. I had heard a great deal about him before, especially when I was in the Marine Corps. He had come to conduct a clinic and tournament sponsored by Shihan Hugh Kelley in Mobile, Alabama. Soon afterwards, Shihan Darryl Mizer of Staunton, Virginia sponsored the Seishin-Kai Summer Camp, so I was able to meet and train with him first in Mobile and then again at the summer camp.
I’ll never forget the first time I watched him do the kata Seipai and the bunkai as well. You have to remember that bunkai back then was almost unheard of. In the early seventies, the concentration was on competition and tournaments and you very seldom saw any bunkai. When I saw him perform the kata and bunkai I guess that just locked it up in my mind that he would be my Sensei and I wanted to train with him from that time on.
I’d just never seen anything like that before – in Okinawa or anywhere – his ability in karate. But you know the thing that really stuck with me from the first meeting was his personality. Here was this person who was world renown for his karate, but his first impression on me was his personality – how he presented himself as a human being. That overwhelmed me much more than his unbelievable ability in karate. Of course, that’s why I knew he would always be my Sensei.
2.) Could you share anything with us about what it was like having
Kuniba, Sensei live with you in your home for such long periods?
When Sensei came to the United States that first year, he stayed with me in my home. He continued to come back year after year for quite a while and each time he would stay with me and my family in my house. At that time, his biggest objective was to unify Seishin-Kai and he was having some difficulties in doing this. At that time, of course, I was then on the outside of things, but I would help him get interpreters and get letters translated for him – simply acting in the capacity of a secretary. But, he did unify his style and make Seishin-Kai a pure Shito-Ryu organization, which it was not (in the United States), at that time. He was very adamant about that, and he managed to do it very quickly.
When he started living with me and my family, it was a bit difficult on me and my family simply because of my involvement in martial arts for so many years prior to that, and here is “the person” – your idol – coming in and living with you. There was a period of time there that it was awkward but from the day we met until the day Kuniba, Sensei passed away the fact that I was student and he was Sensei never changed. It was always there and it was not something that he demanded. He never had to demand that from anyone … it was just something that was natural when you were around him. It’s really hard to explain over so many years how close we grew. I think we grew about as close as two people can grow together. In fact, I would say that Shogo Kuniba was the best friend that I have ever had. Even though we always maintained that student/Sensei relationship, he was the closest friend that I’ve ever had.
3.) How would you characterize your personal training with Kuniba
during the initial years after your meeting?
Initially, my personal training with Kuniba, Sensei could simply be characterized as very, very hard. I was making a big transition (from another style) and when Sensei first came to the United States he trained to the extreme, which he did up until the day he died. He later changed somewhat as far as emphasis on different aspects of training but at that time he was, of course very young, and a great deal of emphasis was placed on Kumite. Many people do not realize that Kuniba, Shogo made his name in Japan as a result of his Kumite. Although he performed the most beautiful kata that I’d ever seen and most people would agree, he was still renowned primarily for his Kumite ability. He had his ways of practicing Waza that were difficult. I can remember many days in the dojo he would always mention that this was the hard training that his father and other Sensei had taught him. Training was different then … at the end of training, you kind of crawled out of the dojo. But in the dojo he was always Sensei and he had a special way of doing conditioning drills and Waza over and over and as I’d mentioned several times before, it was very hard. Of course, he also enjoyed Kumite very much at that time and I still have scars and pains to prove it.
Although, I must say that even though Kuniba, Sensei would always push his students, he always knew everyone’s limit. And one thing you could always say about training with him, is that even though everyone that trained with him would say that he was one of the hardest and most demanding teachers you’ve ever met, he would never allow anyone to be hurt. And that was kind of unique. Sensei never taught for himself. He taught for his students and he was never bogged down with ego like so many Americans are today. He knew his ability and if you were around him a couple of minutes, you knew it too. So, he’d spend his time trying to impart that into his students. Although he was a very hard teacher, and a very demanding teacher, he was also the most compassionate and understanding person that I’ve ever trained with also.
4.) How did your training differ, if at all, in later years?
When Sensei was in Japan he was bound by certain traditions, which a lot of times we as Americans underestimate. Especially, the Japanese way of thinking when it comes to traditional karate instruction. In teaching Motobu-Ha it would have been just unheard of for him to change anything in the way it had been passed down through the years. The emphasis in those days was on maintaining this tradition, with the exception of teachers like Mabuni, Sensei and Motobu, Sensei who trained with other people. He always said that Mabuni had the most beautiful Kata of any Sensei that he had ever trained with. And on the other hand you know he always referred to Motobu, Sensei and his abilities in Kumite. He always credited Nagamine, Sensei in Okinawa with helping him really put all of this together.
Sensei started out his life as most do I guess with a strong emphasis placed on Kumite. Of course, this is how he gained his reputation and he had this uncanny ability to use angles, timing, and Kime. His Kime was just impeccable and something that I feel just couldn’t be taught. He would certainly show you and tell you but he just had this unbelievable ability to deliver it. When he first came to the U.S. he trained in the hard Waza and Kumite drills I had mentioned earlier but over the years a lot of things changed with the emphasis on competition and the possibility of lawsuits arising from injuries in the dojo, so this is why he emphasized Goshin-Do later in his life.
One of the biggest changes that I noticed was in the discussions that Kuniba, Sensei and I would have all the time. Sometimes we would be in a restaurant and he would get a napkin and write something down in Kanji. He would never say anything about it until a few days later in the dojo when he would pull out the napkin and say “Shihan, this new technique I am testing” and it was something that just came to him naturally, something he always thought about. This was because he would always emphasize that the American body type was different than the Japanese body type and so he would change certain aspects of techniques for application. The longer he lived in the United States the more changes he made in this way. He began to put more of himself into his application of Karate and Goshin-Do and all of our techniques. Although he was bound by tradition before and restricted from being able to modify techniques we gradually got away from so much of the Kumite every day and the harder Waza and instead blended this with Goshin-Do over time. This was always important to him as well as a strong emphasis on Kata and Bunkai. As I stated earlier, Bunkai was almost unheard of when I came back to the United States. You very seldom saw anyone doing Bunkai and if they did it was something they’d made up. But one of the contributions that Kuniba, Sensei made was the old original Bunkai with the great thing about it being his adaptation of it to the American body type. So, we went from hard Kumite and Waza and the “slam-bang” style to more applications and Bunkai. And when Sensei began to put his emphasis into it you could see the change and the evolution. This is what we call Kuniba-Ha and this is what separates it from Motobu-Ha – not just an emphasis on Kumite ability but understanding of Kata and Bunkai and applying it to Goshin-Do.
5.) People are often confused when discussing Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu and
Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu, as well as Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do. Could you
“compare and contrast” these arts, as well as explain how the practice
of Goshin-Do compliments the study of Karate-Do?
Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu was bound by traditions as I stated before. When Kuniba, Sensei moved to the U.S. he was able to break this tradition and add his interpretation of Shito-Ryu, which of course became Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu. Ha, of course, just means interpretation or way and he still did the basic techniques of Shito-Ryu, which were passed down to him by his father, Mabuni, Motobu, and all of his teachers. He just put his interpretation on it. As far as Goshin-Do is concerned, it should be remembered that Kuniba, Sensei’s upbringing allowed him opportunities that would be almost impossible to duplicate today. When he was five years old he began training in Judo. At that time many of the founders of the styles were alive and he had the opportunity to train with them – all of the great people from Judo, Aikido, Jiu-Jitsu, Iai-Do, everything. He was able to train with the greats. It would be very unusual in his later years if he didn’t take advantage of this training and just pull out the best of all the styles that he trained in and blend these techniques together. This is of course how Goshin-Do was formed, and it certainly complements Karate because all arts, as you know, have these voids. Goshin-Do helps to fill these voids when you can’t punch, kick or block then you can go straight into Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido, Judo or whatever as a system. Of course a lot of people use the individual techniques of these arts here and there but when you put it into a system and blend it into your Karate then it’s a completely different ballgame. The big difference in this case was that it was done by someone with the expertise that only Shogo Kuniba had. This was all done after he came to the United States and very few, if any of his students in Japan with the exception of Kobayashi, Shihan knew these techniques. To be honest with you, most of the Japanese people didn’t like them at the time. So this is his interpretation of all the arts that he trained in.
6.) Kuniba, Sensei was well known for his use of techniques which most people no longer practice today…techniques such as ippon-ken,
tsumasaki-geri (toe-tip kick), as well as his “hebi-ashi” “Snakefoot”
kick. Could you talk about his use of these techniques?
Even today in Japan there are older practitioners that knew Kuniba, Sensei when he was a young man. I used to love to sit down and talk with them when I was there. Remember, he was only 57 years old when he passed away so naturally there are still a lot of practitioners that knew stories about him in his youth. Each one had different stories of his abilities in Kumite and of his exploits outside the dojo in which he would test his technique. All of the old Shihan under Kuniba, Sensei told me that he certainly never hesitated to use his Karate at any time whether he was in a restaurant or in the dojo. After his father passed away this was a period of time that he had to draw back in to himself, but of course he was a product of his environment. He had trained all of his life in Karate with some of the greatest practitioners and never hesitated to use it either.
Probably, the technique that all the Shihan talked about the most was his “snake kick”. Kuniba, Sensei’s nickname in Japan was Snakefoot because of his ability with this technique. The kick was a unique kick in that it was part front kick and part roundhouse kick. The unique thing was the delivery of the kick and of course his emphasis on always kicking with the tip of his big toe. That of course is very unusual and I have been able to carry on that part but the way he did the kick truly was impossible to block. You can look at it and look at it and even to this day I still train and try to do the kick but I don’t think anyone will be able to execute that kick the way that he did. I think that was just one of the unique natural abilities that he had.
Shogo Kuniba was like most of your highly skilled persons in most arts. Some things which they possess cannot be passed on. And that is their ability – their touch – and of course those things die with them when they die. His punches were unique in the fact that he always punched with Ippon-Ken and he would always kick with the tip of his toe like the masters of old. What added to this was that he would never strike, never kick, punch or anything without striking a vital point. In Okinawa, of course, this is called Tuite. We see this practiced or attempted to be practiced by a lot of people in the United States today, yet it was always a part of his training from the very beginning. He never struck unless he struck a very vital point and when he combined these elements his Kumite was very strong and very effective.
7.) How many kata are practiced in the Kuniba-Ryu curriculum?
Actually, there are 52 Kata that Kuniba, Sensei originally practiced and taught when he began to formulate his system. Of course, before anyone starts jumping up and down and saying that nobody can learn 52 Kata I must say that I probably feel that way myself. But again, you’ve got to remember that when it came to martial arts Shogo Kuniba was an absolute genius because all he’d done in his waking hours from the time he was five years old until the time he died was train. He had a memory like no other person I’d ever met. He could remember a Kata that he had seen somewhere 20 years before and with little practice could just about go back and work that Kata as if he had practiced it continuously for years.
He cleared the confusion by setting up requirements in each Kyu rank and Dan rank with both mandatory and optional Kata. He required his students to thoroughly know all the Bunkai they possibly could for each Kata they learned. Again, I think one of his greatest contributions to Karate was his Bunkai; and he knew that everyone would not really learn 52 Kata so he would teach Kata in every clinic – working both Kata and Bunkai and giving students the historical background, the lineage back to the makers of that Kata — so that everybody could see the techniques as they were originally practiced and give them the opportunity to see our lineage. Sensei didn’t intend for us to really know and learn that many Kata. He placed great emphasis on Kata for many reasons, but he always maintained that quality should surpass quantity in all areas.
8.) Although Kuniba, Sensei was widely recognized for his understanding of kata, he gained his reputation initially for his ability in kumite. Many people who trained with him during this time said that he was regularly challenged by other Karate-ka during his early years. Can you give us any background on these events?
As I mentioned before, when Sensei was brought up in Japan things were much different. Karate people did challenge each other and they had disputes between dojos and they always settled them the only way they knew. The old way. They would challenge each other. There were a lot of these instances and the thing about it was that Sensei’s favorite activity was Kumite and he certainly wasn’t above applying it on the street. Story upon story exists of him applying his technique in many different places from a confrontation in a restaurant with members of the Japanese Yakuza on down to many other stories. Again, it should be remembered that this was all Kuniba, Sensei had done throughout his life. That is was his life and it was what he was trained to do. Things were different in those days and they make for some very interesting stories.
9.) What, in your opinion, are some of the outstanding contributions made
by Shogo Kuniba to the practice of Martial Arts for people not just in the United States, but around the World?
Kuniba, Sensei made many contributions to Karate and martial arts. I think without a doubt most of the people that ever trained with him would agree that he was one of the greatest martial arts masters that ever lived. But you know, there is something that even rises above that. That is if there ever was an ambassador around the world for martial arts Shogo Kuniba was. He could walk into a room or two or three hundred people in a clinic and his presence alone in a short amount of time drew people to him and always created an atmosphere of mutual respect and caring. One of his sayings always in regards to relationships between people of different races was that his Seishin-Kai was like his family and that everyone’s blood was red. Mainly, he treated all people the same. There was nothing prejudiced about Shogo Kuniba. His personal charisma was something only a few people in this world had and it is only a few times in life you meet someone with the charisma that he did possess.
I’m sure that the readers of this article would think I’m exaggerating but the truth of the matter was, he was the most giving person I’ve ever been around. He would give way more than he ever took. If he had managed his organization money-wise he would be a very wealthy person because of his abilities but money was never an issue with Kuniba, Sensei. If you could afford to train that was fine, if you couldn’t that was fine too. He would give to you and I think his biggest contribution was that a man of his ability in Karate possessed all the good qualities of a good human being. To me there was no better person to represent martial arts than he. Everywhere he went, even to this day people remember him. It is almost haunting to me in that, I can go anywhere outside of the U.S. that he had trained and students will come up and start telling me stories about something he had said or done and how they absolutely fell in love with him. It’s almost haunting to me because everywhere I go that he has been you get the same story.
So his contributions were many. From the Bunkai to the Kata to the unparalleled skills that the had to his ambassadorship of Karate. It’s one thing to be able to do any art but, you know, the greatest thing is to be able to put that art out there in the proper perspective in an honorable, correct and right way. This is the way that Shogo Kuniba did it. That was his greatest contribution.
10.) The Seishin-Kai Karate Union, founded by Kosei Kokuba in
1943, was one of the oldest and most respected karate organizations
in the world. What prompted you to resign from Seishin-Kai?
This is probably the hardest question for me so I will only touch lightly on this. I am a police officer. I have been in law enforcement basically since I got out of the Marine Corps in the sixties. Before Kuniba, Sensei passed away, he drafted a declaration of what he wanted done in his organization, who would lead it, all the particulars. He named his sons to carry on Seishin-Kai Motobu-Ha in Japan as he directed me to do certain things with Kuniba-Ha here in the United States. Needless to say this was a very difficult undertaking to begin with. I made an effort to unite Seishin-Kai people in both the United States and Japan but, to just let it go with a simple explanation … my beliefs, my morals, and my obligation to my Sensei could not be changed. There is nothing or no one on this earth that could cause me by intimidation or by any means to renege on the promise and the pledge that I made to my Sensei before he passed away. And for that reason, knowing that I couldn’t carry out what he asked me to do, and what I agreed to do I had no other choice than to withdraw from Seishin-Kai. Simply because as a member of Seishin-Kai I could not carry out his wishes.
11.) Did you attempt to unify the various organizations which practice
Kuniba-Ha Karate-Do as per his wishes to you before his passing?
I did attempt to unify the organizations after Kuniba, Sensei’s death. What must be remembered here, is that I was not the only person that attempted to do this and I was not the only person that withdrew from Seishin-Kai. You have to remember also that nearly all of the Sensei and Shihan in Seishin-Kai, particularly in the United States, chose to withdraw from Seishin-Kai for the same reason that I did. I had to make a choice whether I wanted to continue with Seishin-Kai as other people had to make this choice or, did I want to fulfill the mandates in the declaration that Kuniba, Sensei put out to everyone. He informed everyone in the U.S. not only in writing and official correspondence but in announcements at clinics and seminars as to how he wanted his organization to exist following his death. So, in the end it was simply a choice either to fulfill the promise that I made to him and to the other Shihan and Sensei or to depart from that declaration and go with someone else. Of course there was no decision there to be made for me once I realized what it had come down to then, it was a very easy thing for me to do. The last time I was in Japan the Seishin-Kai bestowed many honors upon me, saying I was the highest ranked American this and that or whatever but these things didn’t mean a hill of beans to me when it came to making a decision on doing what I promised my Sensei, Kuniba Shogo, what I would do. That’s the long and the short of it.
12.) In the Feudal Ryu of Japan, and even today, Sensei passed on the
leadership of their ryu-ha with documents such as “Menkyo Kaiden”
(literally: teaching license) and “Makimono” (scrolls which depicted
and catalogued techniques within a given ryu-ha). Since Kuniba
was of Samurai descent, did he follow this tradition in naming you
as his successor of both Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu
Kuniba, Sensei broke a lot of the traditions in Japan as I mentioned before when he broke away from the original Motobu style, so to speak and put his own twist in there. He was always a little bit different when it came to that. I think he maintained that tradition when he named his sons to take over Seishin-Kai. Of course everyone knows that this didn’t happen but of course that was his wish that his sons, Kosuke and Kozo take over and continue Seishin-Kai. Seishin-Kai started in his family and of course I was very happy when, after the death of Tatsuno (interim head of Seishin-Kai following Kuniba, Sensei’s passing) that at least Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu came back to the family but I would have been much happier if Seishin-Kai came back to the Kuniba family. That is where it rightly belongs since it was begun by Kuniba, Sensei’s father.
As far as my appointment by Kuniba, Sensei I would have to say that that is probably way out of tradition for a Japanese master of his level to leave Japan, live in the U.S., and befriend someone like myself. Asking me to take over certain parts of his style was something that I did not expect. I don’t why he did this. I suppose it was because he had confidence in me being able to carry out his wishes. We worked together for a lot of years, but I was simply his student and when he asked me to do it I certainly knew that it would be a hard row to hoe and that there would be a lot of people to oppose it. I knew all these things beforehand, especially in Japan, that’s why I attempted to unite everything. So I didn’t go into this with my eyes closed. I knew it would be a fight to begin with and I did it for one reason and one reason only and that is because Kuniba Shogo asked me to do it. I agreed to do it and that’s the long and the short of it.
His other reasons … I don’t know, I don’t know that anybody ever will know. You would just have to imagine why he asked me. Whether it was the confidence he had in me or some other reason I don’t know the only issue there for me was that he genuinely and absolutely made this public with a legal document – a declaration — as well as letters for clarification for everyone in Seishin-Kai. I simply agreed, and I tried to do that to the best of my ability since.
I’ve not agreed to interviews before this for one simple reason. That is, that I don’t have time to get involved in all these debates that I hear people talking about on the Internet and in other forums. I am not interested in all that. I just don’t have time to do that. I‘ve spent my time in the dojo or on the road traveling from dojo to dojo, or in the air flying from dojo to dojo trying to do what my Sensei asked me to do. All of the other stuff – the squabbling, the fighting – I’m just not interested in it and I don’t want to engage in it. I’ve agree to this interview simply because I guess it’s just time for me to put it out there for whatever it’s worth. So I’m certainly not doing this interview with the expectations of having people contact me and trying to debate. There is no debate and I really don’t want to hear it. Whether anyone likes it or not I really don’t care. The point is is that Kuniba, Sensei asked me to do it and wanted me to do it and that anyone involved with Seishin-Kai in the United States at that time knew this. Anyone that doesn’t want to believe this, I really don’t care either. I won’t get upset at all.
People who question the legitimacy of Kuniba, Soke’s decisions concerning the future of his art following his death aren’t questioning me, they’re questioning Kuniba, Soke. My response to all of this is to do what I’ve done for many years before he died and certainly every minute that I can dedicate to it since his passing. And that is simply to do everything I can do in the dojo for whatever years that I have left. I am the same age now, actually slightly older than Kuniba, Sensei was when he passed away … so whatever years I have left I will not spend debating, arguing, and all this other stuff that so many people really get involved in. I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done, trying my best to carry on the teachings and the principles of Kuniba-Ryu.
If you are interested in more information about Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do, please go online to http://chikubukai.gengo.net.
( On October 7th , 2012, William H. Price will mark his 50th year in martial arts training. The annual Chikubu-Kai Fall Camp held every year in Myrtle Beach, S.C. during the month of October will be celebrating this occasion.
As the senior student of Kuniba, Shogo in the United States, Price, Sensei has remained dedicated to the principles of Kuniba-Ryu over a period spanning four decades. The students of Chikubu-Kai are proud to be studying under Price, Sensei’s guidance. )
about the author:
Kevin Watson has been studying martial arts since 1977. He has been a student of
William H. Price, Soke for the past 20 years. He is currently the owner and operator of the
Myrtle Beach Kuniba-Ryu Karate Dojo in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
( this article revised February 2012)
SHOGO KUNIBA: A TIME LINE
February 5, 1935 – Born in Yamanashi-Shi, Japan.
1940 – Began karate training at age 5 under his father, Kosei Kokuba.
1943 (approx.) – Kenwa Mabuni lives with Kuniba family for extended period, begins teaching Shogo Kuniba.
1947 – Kenwa Mabuni promotes Shogo Kuniba to Sho Dan.
1950 – Kenwa Mabuni promotes Shogo Kuniba to Ni Dan. Mabuni Sensei would eventually promote Shogo Kuniba to Yon Dan before his death in the mid-1950s.
1955 – Began training in Okinawa with Shoshin Nagamine, Shinken Taira, and Kosha Shojin.
1957 – Kuniba, Sensei published his first book on karate: Karate-Do Bin Ran.
1958 – Became first office manager of Nippon Karate-Do Rengo-Kai (predecessor to F.A.J.K.O.). He was instrumental in the formation of this organization and in developing criteria used for ranking all Karateka and for helping to develop tournament rules for competition. Kuniba, Sensei remained as a special advisor to the Rengo-Kai until his death in 1992.
1959 – Shogo Kuniba becomes San-Dai Soke for Motobu-Ha Karate-Do as well as Soke-Dai for Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu which was his initial blending of various styles of Karate he had studied up to that point. At the age of 24, he becomes the youngest person to ever hold the title of Soke for a Karate style, a distinction which remains true even today. Upon becoming Soke, Kosho Kokuba had his Okinawan name changed to Shogo, the kanji for which reads as “strong warrior”. (In mainland Japan the kanji for Kokuba is pronounced as Kuniba.)
1962 – Kuniba, Sensei is promoted by the Nippon Karate-Do Rengo-Kai to the rank of 6th Dan in Karate-Do, Iai-Do, and 7th Dan in Kobudo.
1964 – Kuniba, Sensei was featured in the Encyclopedia Japonica in an article concerning Karate-Do and Kobudo.
1968 – Kuniba, Sensei becomes Seishin-Kai Kaicho (president), relieving Teruo Hayashi, Shihan.
1970 – Kuniba, Shogo was selected by the Nippon Karate-Do Rengo-Kai as the only representative of Japanese Karate-Do at the Second World Karate-Do Championships held in Paris, France. Kuniba, Sensei gave a demonstration at this tournament.
1973 – The Federation of All-Japan Karate-Do Organizations and The World Union of Karate-Do Organizations (FAJKO and WUKO, respectively) recognized Goshin-Budo as an accredited martial art taught by Kuniba. Kuniba, Sensei is also promoted at this time to 8th Dan.
1976 – Kuniba, Sensei appears in the documentary film “Budo”. This film won the Miami Film Festival award for the best documentary film of 1978.
1983 – Shogo Kuniba opened the USA Hombu Dojo in Portsmouth, Virginia and made the United States his primary home and base of operations.
1984 – Kuniba, Sensei was presented with an honorary 10th Dan by F.A.J.K.O., however, he refused it, saying that he still trained and taught every day. Subsequently, he was promoted to 9th Dan in Karate-Do and Goshin-Do by the Nippon Karate-Do Rengo-Kai. At that time he held the highest rank (within the Japan Karate Federation) of any martial artist living outside of Japan.
July 14, 1992 – Kuniba, Soke passed away. He was posthumously awarded 10th Dan by the Japan Karate Federation. At that time he was one of only five martial artists from Japan and Okinawa to receive this rank from this organization.
1.) Kelley, Hugh, ed. Seishin-Kai Martial Arts Student Handbook. California: private publication, 1989.
This handbook, authorized by Shogo Kuniba, contains some details concerning his father’s history as well as the founding of the Seishin-Kan dojo:
“Kosei Kokuba was born in 1900 in Kokuba Village ( near Naha, Okinawa ). in his youth, he began training with Choki Motobu. (no dates are given) On June 6th, 1943, Kokuba Kosei founded the Seishin-Kai (Kan) dojo. He took the name partly from the kanji for the temple located at the end of the street where he lived, Shotenoji. The char- acter “sho” can be read as “sho” or “sei” and it’s meaning is “pure”. Sensei Kokuba believed that true Karate-Do comes from the heart, so he called his dojo Sei Shin or “Pure Heart” dojo.” (p.5a)
In a related article written for the same handbook, Shogo Kuniba noted:
“When I was eleven, my father’s good friends Mabuni Kenwa and his student Tomoyori Ryusei began coming to my father’s dojo to teach two times a week. It was just after the end of the war and times were very difficult in Japan. My father was not rich but we had a house and food and my father shared all he had. There were always many Karate Sensei and Shihan at our house and we were a Budo family .” ( p.ll )
2.) Holzer, William James. “The Limitless Techniques of Goshin-Budo.” Black Belt July 1985: p.60-64.
This article contains an overview of the development of Kuniba, Soke’s own martial art: Goshin-Budo ( later known simply as Goshin-Do ).
Kuniba also expounds further on the benefits of this type of training:
“The goal of any martial artist is to practice a technique until a state of mu [mushin-no-shin] is reached, the mind and body acting as one without conscious thought. To practice a technique 10,000 times is just the beginning in Goshin-Budo. This is a difficult concept to teach, since students want to learn many techniques at once, but do not want to spend the time needed to explore one technique to its ultimate end.” (p.62)
3.) Kuniba, Shogo. “My Early Years In Budo.” Interview. Seishin-Kai Martial Arts Handbook. 1989. ( p. 11 )
4.) Kuniba, Sensei was promoted to this rank in 1955 by Mabuni, Sensei. At the time of this writing, it is believed that his menjo are in the possession of his wife, Mrs. Judy Kuniba. Many of Kuniba, Sensei’s students both past and present, including Price, Sensei, have seen these menjo themselves.
Very little evidence is available to show that Kuniba, Sensei was able to train with Motobu Choki at all. Some students of Kosei Kokuba, who are still alive, have told conflicting stories about this and perhaps inadvertently added confusion to attempts in retracing the connection between Motobu and the Kuniba family.
5.) Noted Karate practicioner and author, John Sells, mentioned the following in his book– Unante-the Secrets of Karate (Los Angeles: W.M. Hawley Publications, 1996):
“Kokuba. ..opened up a dojo in Osaka. Eventually known as the Seishin-Kai, this school was often visited by Motobu who later gave Kokuba his scrolls detailing his Karate knowledge.” (p. 83) Examples such as this are probably the reason why the elder Kokuba, in honor of his teacher and friend, named his art “Motobu~Ha Karate-Do”.
6.) The title of “Soke” is one that has encountered misunderstanding and abuse of it’s meaning for many years now; particularly since the practice of traditional martial arts has become more commonplace in the United States. Although it is understood that the use of this word is generally considered pretentious and not worthy of respect by many in martial arts today, this title was always used in reference to Kuniba, Shogo and his position in the organizations to which he dedicated his life. A simple glance at the definition of the word “Soke” reveals that it means nothing more than “the head of the family”. Experienced martial artists of course realize that this position is also used in business and other social constructs throughout Japan to denote one’s status in an organization. Kuniba, Soke always instructed his students that, when in the dojo, it was proper to simply refer to him as “Sensei”. He never made an issue out of his titles or status, preferring simply to teach and train in the ways that were passed down to him.
It has always been said by students of Kuniba, Soke that he considered all of the students in his organization like a family. Perhaps then, in this context, it would not be deemed incorrect to refer to him in this way. Perhaps also, well meaning students who lived in the United States (where titles are of great importance to many) placed too much emphasis on the use of this title when referring to Kuniba, Soke in an attempt to show him the highest possible respect-something which, titles notwithstanding, he was most certainly deserving of.
When asked about the use of this word, Price, Soke himself has said that he does not want this word used in reference to him. Again, however, well~intentioned students (including this author) feel that he too is deserving of the highest level of respect as the “head of our family”, and use this word simply as an attempt to convey our sincere admiration of his abilities and leadership. No other inference is meant.
- ) Kuniba, Soke’s arts were first introduced to the United States by Richard P. Ballargeon, who was a member of Seishin-Kai in the early 1960’s while stationed in Japan with the U.S. Air Force. He returned to the U.S. in 1964 and eventually became the first U.S. representative of Seishin-Kai in the U.S. Other students who studied with Kuniba, Soke in the U.S. included Hugh Kelley (who was Kuniba, Soke’s first sponsor to the U.S. in 1971) and Albert C. Church. William H. Price began studying with Kuniba, Soke in 1971 and continued his direct training under Kuniba, Soke for 21 years.
8.) The declaration enacted by Kuniba, Soke reads in part:
” I hereby declare and announce that the following structure in Seishin-Kai Martial Arts, Inc., shall be established, and adhered to by all members of Seishin-Kai and recognized by all.
“1. William H. Price is named by me as Second Soke of both Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do.
- Upon my death, William H. Price is named Soke ofKuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do. He shall assume all duties and responsibilities currently undertaken by me.”
This document ( a legal declaration executed in the state of Virginia) was signed by Shogo Kuniba, Soke on March 16, 1992. A copy of this declaration as well as an announcement issued by Kuniba, Soke on June 23, 1992 ( less than one month before his death) was submitted with this article for information purposes.
9.) This interview was conducted from June-August of 2001 through both one-on-one conversation and audio tape recordings. The transcript has been reprinted word-for-word except for omission of the word “Soke”.
A Final Note from the author (Kevin B. Watson):
Any errors in this article–grammatical, historical, or otherwise, are mine and mine alone. As most people who train in Karate know, the study of the history of our art is often difficult. I welcome any and all commentary and/or corrections. Please write to me at: email@example.com with any and all inquiries. Thank You!