Our dojo advisor, Art Ishii, receiving 5-dan grade from Takayoshi Nagamine at Ishii sensei’s Los Angeles home in 1999. The late Nagamine sensei, second headmaster of the Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu system of Okinawan karate, would regularly stay at Ishii sensei’s home and instruct at Little Tokyo Dojo while visiting Southern California.
The son of Matsubayashi-ryu founder Shoshin Nagamine, Takayoshi sensei was born and raised in Naha, Okinawa. Having trained under his father’s tutelage from the age of seven, he assumed leadership of the system upon his father’s passing at the age of 90. He traveled prolifically, promoting Okinawan karate worldwide until his unexpected and untimely passing in 2012 at the age of 66.
Ishii sensei is a third generation (Sansei/三世) Japanese American born in Chicago of Nisei resettled from unjust incarceration at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center during WWII. He was subsequently raised in postwar Los Angeles, where he attended elementary school in Little Tokyo and practiced judo from ages 10-25 under Frank Emi, Art Emi, Frank Watanuki, Takashi Kikuchi, and Gene LeBell.
In his mid-twenties Ishii sensei decided to investigate stand-up arts, studying Wing Chun Gung Fu for four years under Randy Williams sifu at the New Chinatown Gung-Fu Club in Chinatown, until Williams sifu moved to Asia for work and furthering his studies; Goju-ryu Karate for four years under Guy Kurose sensei at Tenri Karate Dojo in Boyle Heights, until Kurose sensei returned to his hometown of Seattle; and finally Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu under Eihachi Ota sensei at his Okinawa Budokan dojo in Central Los Angeles.
In 1990, Ishii sensei was invited to start a dojo at Centenary United Methodist Church, in Downtown LA’s historic Little Tokyo district, as an after-hours activity and a means to continue the church’s community outreach program. While not religiously affiliated with the church, Centenary has been a fixture of outreach, service, and goodwill among the Los Angeles Japanese American community since its establishment by Japanese immigrants in 1896.
Nearly thirty years on, Ishii sensei continues to impart traditional Okinawan karate in J-town under the aegis of the World Matsubayashi-ryu Karatedo Association, today based in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, under the direction of Yoshitaka Taira sensei. In 2015 he was elevated to the 6-dan grade by Taira sensei, as well as given the title of Renshi, or “Polished Teacher.”