Richard Kim’s Shorinji-Ryu Karate Origin and History Part III
Evolution Part III: Karate fully adapts globally to the 20th Century
Richard Kim (1917-2001)
is still considered by many to be one of the greatest martial artists in the 20th Century. The story of my Grandmaster is a very long and interesting one. I could go onto many lengthy volumes of how he shaped Karate globally, particularly in North America. That has already been done by other first hand students of Sensei Kim. Here, I will keep it shorter and summarize his many contributions to our favorite Art.
With a strong base in Judo training, the young Richard Kim was taking to his tutelage of Karate in strides during the 1920s. Training under the great Yabu Kentsu for 9 months, Yabu was stickler for the basics, with an intense focus on Naihanchi series of Kata to build a strong foundation. Later as things progressed, Arakaki Anckichi took over the classes, as Yabu regularly travelling between Los Angeles and Okinawa to visit family. Arakaki Sensei was a highly influential instructor. He was extremely important in the education of Shōshin Nagamine, who later went on to found Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate. Having full support from his family to do so, he focused on training daily for most of his life. He was known for his intense strength, and had a devastating tsumasaki-geri (toe strike). Sadly, he succumbed to stomach ulcers and died at a very young age.
After Arakaki Anckichi’s untimely death, Richard Kim continued his studies in Honolulu with Yabu Kentsu’s disciple Sadao Arakaki, and Higaonna Kamesuke, a disciple of Choki Motobu. Training into the early 1930’s, he also began training in Western Boxing, regularly sparring with Midget Wolgast a world flyweight boxing champion. Kim participated in 42 fights during his time boxing, attaining a 42-0 record. By the mid 1930s, he joined the US Merchant Marines. Being in the Merchant Marines, it afforded him the ability to travel throughout Asia and gather knowledge of the martial arts. During this time, he made his way to Japan, managing to take up his training under Yabu Kenstu once again.
Eventually by December 1941, Kim was trapped behind enemy lines when his Merchant Marine ship was docked in Shanghai. While he was allowed to roam Shanghai freely by the occupying Japanese Military, he wasn’t allowed to leave the city. Finding a sudden abundance of free time on his hands, he sought out other martial artists and trained with them. His 3 main teachers that time were Wang Xiang Jai, the founder of I-Chuan (a Hsing-I Chuan variant), Chen Chien Yuan who taught him a modified form of Yang Taichi Chuan, and finally a mysterious monk named Chao Hsi Lai who taught him a rather rare form of Bagua Zhang in the format of a condensed single palm change. Chao Hsu Lai also knew a form of Shaolin Gung Fu that was the early forerunner to the system that was used as the mainframe Shorinji-Ryu Karate was built upon.
He fought 6 full contact bouts with hard style Gung Fu practitioners in his Shanghai years, knocking all of them out. He publicly stated years later that he felt his combination of Judo, Karate, Tai Chi and Bagua was more than a match for any hard style of Gung Fu. This experience led him to further explore and refine his Karate post war years. In the tradition in which Karate had been created, he felt the idea of suppleness and yielding he had gained from the Chinese Internal Arts and Judo fit Karate well in order to further it’s development.
Post War Years
After WWII ended, Richard Kim was repatriated to the United States, taking back up his career in the Merchant Marines as a union organizer. He continued his Karate training with Hiroshi Kinjo and others. His connections gained over the years drew him to the oldest martial arts organization in Japan, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (All Japanese Martial Virtues Organization), in Kyoto. There, he was trained by Toyama Kanken and Hiroshi Kinjo in Kobudo (traditional Karate weapons) the Sai, Tonfa, Nanchuku, Bo, Kama, and Tenchu. He eventually became the Butoku Kai’s International Representative, and organized it until 1992.
During this period, he settled in Hokkaido Japan where he lived and trained with Yoshida Kotaro, a highly skilled Daito-Ryu Jujitsu Master. Yoshida Sensei taught Kim a wealth of knowledge, and helped complete his understanding of his previous martial arts training in totality. Yoshida’s daily routines were intense, as well as his mountain training they would go for weeks at a time. He fully solidified Kim’s background in Samurai Martial Philosophy and Enlightenment.
In 1959, Richard Kim Moved to San Francisco and began teaching many of his early American students at various locations until 1964 when he opened his Butoku Kai Headquarters at the Chinatown YMCA. There, he would go on to train hundreds of people who would form an entire of dynasty of Karate practitioners that would eventually train me and my generation. He taught internationally, especially in Canada. Many of the world’s great practitioners of Karate sought him out for his seemingly unlimited knowledge and passion for Karate, including Patrick McCarthy, Peter Urban, Chuck Merriman and others. His personal best friend was the great Hidetaka Nishiyama of Shotokan fame. Kim continued his travels and education, returning to Okinawa to visit Higaonna Morio, and Japan to receive awards from royalty. He personally wrote Richard Nixon to get the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai removed from the United States defunct enemies list from WWII. He also regularly wrote columns for Black Belt Magazine.
He also published the Weaponless Warriors. He personally gave me an autographed copy of it when I first got my Green Belt in 1987 at Watsonville, CA. It was one of those life changing moments for me, even though it was only for moment, it seemed like forever. His subtle smile almost seemed like he was saying “welcome” to me, even though he didn’t say a word. My Sensei had such a positive impression on me, that I was longing to meet the man who produced such and intensely powerful and spiritual Japanese Warrior.
My Sensei revered Sensei Kim, and since I watched every move my Sensei made, I was keen on learning as much as I could from my incredibly capable teacher’s master. While it was clear that I wanted be a lifelong Karate practitioner, it was as if the circle had completed, and I knew after that moment that I wanted to be a teacher one day.
As the years passed, my Sensei got permission for me to go to Sensei Kim’s monthly seminars held at Tony Molinar’s Dojo in Concord CA. I absolutely lived for those all day training sessions, and got to meet his senior students, as my Sensei wanted me to mingle. On the first day, Robert Leong, his most senior student, paired (albeit gruffly at first!) with me and my two other classmates. Every seminar after that, when we arrived, Leong would look over and pair up with us. During each seminar, Sensei Kim imparted an incredible amount of information, and it became clear that he had subtlety refined our Shorinji-Ryu Karate system into a very rich and eclectic art. While the base of our system is Yabu Kentsu’s Shorinji-Ryu Karate, upon further inspection, there is much more to it. It is rich with swift footwork, boxing hand techniques, throws from both Karate and Judo, flanking, grappling and energetic methods from Bagua and Tai Chi, and course powerful body dynamics, kicks and punches from Karate. When we would break for lunch, Sensei Kim would lecture us on philosophy and fighting methodologies. I remember being very surprised when he said Karate had some flaws, and we should take advantage of what other martial arts had to offer. Looking back now with MMA all the rage, I can see how forward thinking he was during his time.
A lot of people from my generation have similar stories to my own, I am not unique in this regard. There are many students around the USA and Canada that have their expression and teaching approaches learned from Sensei Kim and his senior students. It is up to us to not only preserve what we have learned, but to keep an open mind and advance this amazing art we have inherited from one of the world’s greatest masters.
“A lot of people don’t understand the real achievements of Sensei” my Sensei, once said to me. “They always look to his fighting ability. While all what has been said about that subject is correct, in truth, there was much more to him than that. He is a Shingon Shugendo Priest. He was utterly moral and devoted to Enlightenment. He benefitted millions with his Philosophy and Spiritual Nature. He understood the limitations of technical efficacy, and could take you far beyond that. That’s who he truly was. Strange that the world doesn’t to notice the most important part, however that is nothing new. Sometimes people just don’t see the Buddha”.
Published: October 16, 2021