Suspension of Practice


Given the rapid spread of COVID-19, local school closings, and mass cancellations of other Chicago-area classes and events, Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo has decided to clear the remainder of our March training schedule pending further reports.

While we do not find it healthy to give into hysteria, it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of caution at this time – particularly since karate is a close quarters, contact activity. We recommend our regular membership maintain their personal practice during this period as a part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

RFUMC Spaghetti Dinner

A few of us were able to make it out to support Ravenswood Fellowship UMC’s annual Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser. They always put together a good plate of (all-you-can-eat) spaghetti, bread, salad, and beverages!

It’s a relaxing time for friends and family to get together, share a meal, and catch up with community folks. The dinner is held in the same gym where we practice, and service was provided by youth coaches of the Sansei Yonsei Athletic Association (SYAA) Basketball Clinic.

RFUMC has been very supportive of our program since its inception in 2012, so we like to show up and support in return whenever we can! Next up: Aloha Breakfast late May/early June!

Ravenswood Dojo’s First Black Belts


L-R: Ye, O’Neill, Matsunaga, Ishii, Noonan

On February 28, 2020, we were honored to promote our dojo’s first black belts, Mr. Ye, Mr. O’Neill, and Mr. Noonan. All three gentlemen are of fine character, professionals and contributors to the community in their own right. To assist in evaluations, Art Ishii sensei, from Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, made the trip from California; Ishii sensei has been our advisor since the dojo’s formation in 2012.

Shodan (first degree black belt) does not denote mastery. It is a beginning. It means that one has amassed enough clay to begin sculpting. To be a yudansha at Ravenswood is a responsibility to represent the dojo, Okinawan Shorin-ryu as a system, and oneself with dignity, respect, honor, and spirit. It is a commitment to bringing out the best in others, which in turn brings out the best in you.

You can have the greatest technique, display world class kihon, kata, and kumite on the floor, understand physical principles, bunkai, and oyo, but if you have no manners, if you treat others discourteously, if you don’t maintain a core measure of etiquette, self-control, and personal convictions (“Not felony convictions,” Ishii sensei has been quick to clarify), you will never earn a dan ranking at Ravenswood Dojo.

We wish these three well in their continued journeys, and thank them for their hard work and support. We are proud to have them as our first yudansha. Their grades will be internationally certified through our parent organization, WMKA, based in Okinawa, Japan. Much gratitude goes to Ishii sensei for his encouragement and guidance.

Clark & Division: Japanese Americans on Chicago’s Near North Side, 1940s-1960s

Clark Division Subway Sign

Photo courtesy of Erik Matsunaga

Discover Nikkei, an online resource of the Japanese American National Museum, has published Erik Matsunaga’s research into a WWII-era Japanese American enclave in the Clark & Division neighborhood of Chicago’s Near North Side.

Ravenswood Dojo advisor Art Ishii from Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu of Little Tokyo was born in this neighborhood upon his parents’ resettlement from Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, and it was the first Chicago stop for Matsunaga’s family out Gila River War Relocation Center.

Many who would later go on to establish our dojo’s host church, Ravenswood Fellowship UMC, also initially resettled in this neighborhood out of various camps as they got their bearings for a new life in a new city.

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Map courtesy of Erik Matsunaga

2019 Comes to a Close

Last Practice 2019

Final practice of the year. Thank you to all who have been supportive of our dojo, particularly our host Ravenswood Fellowship UMC. We have enjoyed training with, and getting to know, everyone who joined us on the floor over the course of 2019, whether it be for one evening, a few weeks, a few months, or all year long. Wishing you a Happy New Year and the best for 2020!

Hirokazu Kanazawa Passes

We are saddened by the passing of legendary Shotokan master Hirokazu Kanazawa, at the age of 88. A tremendous loss for the karate community, we should all be grateful for his studious nature and contributions to the art on the world stage. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family. May he rest in peace.



Historic Lakeview Chicago Japanese American Community Walking Tour

On November 2, Ravenswood Dojo instructor Erik Matsunaga facilitated a walking tour of Chicago’s historic “unofficial” Japantown in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago’s North Side, based on a map he’d developed in 2014 for 30 Years of Lakeview: Chicago’s Japanese American Community, 1960s-1990s, an article published on Discover Nikkei, an online project of the Japanese American National Museum.

The tour also acted as a companion piece to Katherine Nagasawa’s extensive 2017 investigative report for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s Curious City program, What Happened to Chicago’s Japanese Neighborhood?

The neighborhood was once heavily populated by Japanese Americans mostly resettled from WWII camps as a result of Executive Order 9066, and lasted from roughly the 1960s to the 1990s. A handful of legacy businesses remain scattered about, a couple dating back to the original 1940s WWII-era resettlement enclave of Clark & Division.

Thanks to JACL Chicago’s Kansha Project for sponsoring and Katherine Nagasawa, multimedia producer for WBEZ’s Curious City, for coordinating everything behind the scenes. Also much appreciation to all the special guest speakers along the way: Joe Takehara (former resident, business owner, and founding member of the Illinois Aikido Club); Fred Sasaki (former resident); Ross Harano (former Japanese American Service Committee board member); Paul Yamauchi (former resident and son of Hamburger King founder Tom Yamauchi); and Mike Tanimura (lifelong resident).

Twenty-five Eventbrite tickets sold out, and a couple who could not get tix after selling out said the heck with it and showed up to buy tickets in person anyway!


Walter Nishinaka Visit

On 10/28/2019, we were honored to host a visit by Walter Nishinaka, WMKA 3rd dan, from Art Ishii’s Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, CA.

Walter was on business in Milwaukee, WI, and took it upon himself to rent a car and drive the 90 miles south on Monday evening to train with us.

Walter began training with Ishii sensei in 2001, at the age of nine. He is a friendly dude and dynamic up-and-coming instructor!


Operating Manual

In referring to karate as a personal combative system with “combative” having a definition of come-what-may, someone recently inquired as to what a “system” is in the midst of chaos. Why limit ourselves to any particular style, so long as it’s useful in self-protection? What’s the use of correcting form in kata, even having form, so long as the technique is effective? Why so hung up on aesthetics? Useful karate is not always pretty karate!

Our offer, in response, is that a system is a manual. That the “aesthetic” is part of the operating instructions. The form of a middle block, for instance, illustrates the angle of the arm from the elbow; the relationship of the elbow to the torso; the relationship of the elbow to the wrist and fist; the elbow as a fixed point from which the forearm swings; the relationship of the wrist to the shoulder; that the block should not extend beyond one’s silhouette. Within the “look” is the load up of transition and keeping the passing hand alive, the twisting at the very end a receiving sensory check to absorb and stick to the opponent. There is an explosion, a whip, a tension, a relaxation, and a quick engagement of the hips, all of which happen simultaneously in application but are broken down to individual parts in the manual. This is the “form,” the “aesthetic,” of waza. Chudan uke.

A system is a manual. As a martial tradition Matsubayashi-ryu has perhaps only been recently catalogued, but it has a lengthy lineage and sociocultural historic provenance that contains principles expressed through particular physical movements. The system tells you how to operate the radio, not what station to listen to.

But who reads manuals? Let’s just get to playing! Turn it up! Let’s dance! Let’s have fun! Get to livin’ or get to dyin’! True, manuals can be incredibly boring. We’ve been pretty forthcoming in our dojo that at times, karate training can seem boring as guano. But life is not 100% dynamic 100% of the time, relationships are not 100% dynamic 100% of the time, adventures are not even 100% adventurous 100% of the time, and traffic sucks when you’re trying to get somewhere. However, there is dynamism to be found within quietude. Enlightenment within repetition. There is something to be said about getting up and doing it again and again and again and again and again.

Our position is that we hope everyone enjoys their karate training. But it is not our responsibility to make it enjoyable. Our responsibility is to promote proper pedagogy and practice. There is joy to be found in this, but it is not for everybody. We are not a self-defense class, nor are we a personal protection combatives institute where what you learn today may necessarily apply immediately on your way home after class. It’s possible, but not likely. Ours is a process, an art form, a manual of instruction. This is NOT to say there is anything wrong with other methods, they’re just not what we do.

At a certain point everyone puts the manual aside and operates the equipment in ways befitting their own personal expression, quirks, needs, and experience. Upon a solid foundation such a break from form is acceptable, even encouraged. It’s called shu-ha-ri / obey-detach-transcend. But we maintain that teaching funky architecture design without a solid mathematical base is a recipe for unsound structure. Louis Sullivan and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe designed very different looking skyscrapers, but both studied and implemented the same boring math and would teach the same boring math to their apprentices who would go on to design very different yet inspiring buildings of their own using the same boring math and teaching it to their apprentices who were excited enough by breathtaking structures to drudge through learning the same boring math and design their own, ad nauseum. No offense to those who find math exciting.

So why limit ourselves? Limitation is the crux of good design. Chaos yields inconsistent results. Aesthetics is not quite the right word, because we’re not looking at beauty of form for its own sake; rather, we look for the structure residing within the form to target a particular efficiency. And yes, useful karate is not always pretty karate, but there is a beauty to properly timed and executed waza.

Much of our membership has had prior training elsewhere, in a variety of arts. Some study other systems concurrently with ours. It’s a free country, but we do ask that beginners choose a base from which to start their path. We do not recommend being a beginner in multiple arts at the same time. And if you do have experience in other arts, try to open your mind to what we do rather than constantly comparing against what you’ve previously done. We’re not a buffet to pick and choose from. We’re a ten course meal and the plates will be served in order and in time. If you’re just looking for survival calories, there’s plenty other places for that and they’re good too!

If you want to join us in what we do, please stick to what we do for the time you’re in our dojo. If you don’t like it, we’re not offended. Nobody’s got a gun to your head making you stay. You want to take what we do and train it a different way on your own time, though? Knock yourself out (with properly timed and executed waza)!

2018 Nisei Week Pioneer Award

So we’re a little late posting this here, but did originally link to the online article on our FB page last year. In 2018, our dojo advisor, Arthur Takashi Ishii, was bestowed a Nisei Week Pioneer Spirit Award for his participation, support, activism, and leadership within the Los Angeles Japanese American community. Awardees are nominated by community peers and honored at an annual luncheon.

Nisei Week Ishii

Nisei Week is the longest running Japanese festival in California, hosted in the historic Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles since 1934. A seven year hiatus began in 1942 due to the mass removal and incarceration of all persons of Japanese ancestry from West Coast military exclusion zones following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Japanese Americans began returning to the West Coast in 1945, as the camps began closing and the exclusion orders were lifted. After four years of reestablishing their lives and the Little Tokyo neighborhood – originally formed in the late 1800s by Japanese immigrants – in 1949 the community resurrected the Nisei Week festival, which has run every year since.

Ishii sensei’s deep roots in this community date back to his elementary school days at Maryknoll Japanese Elementary School on Hewitt Street, four blocks from where he currently operates his dojo in the social hall of Centenary UMC – a church founded in Little Tokyo in 1896.