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.

The Martial Map by Iain Abernethy

MartialMapIAWe highly recommend this free audio book by Iain Abernethy entitled, “The Martial Map.” It’s an hour long and may take a couple few commutes to get through, but well worth the listen. May it assist in helping you define your training goals and to understand that others may be training for other reasons – and that that is OK. Furthermore, for anyone teaching this should be defined for your students so as to avert any misunderstood expectations.

At Ravenswood Dojo we are pretty up front and clear that we practice karatedo as a budo. While self-defense is an aspect of what we do, if you are looking strictly for self-defense we suggest you sign up for a personal self-protection class. Also, do not come to us expecting to emerge a better fighter. Elements of what we do may be utilized for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat, but ultimately the direction our dojo takes is that of a discipline for community and character development as well as the pursuit of a sociocultural art form for its own sake.

Much like painting, it’s so much more direct and effective to take a photo or video than painstakingly mix and brush paint onto a canvas to enact a portrait. But there is an art, a discipline, a meditation, and a personal expression to painted portraits that greatly contributes to humanity and society. Portrait painting as a trade essentially died with the advent of photography (courtroom artists being an exception), at which point it transitioned to an applied and fine art. Learning how to brush a canvas today has nothing to do with the trades of commercial and industrial painting, though elements of tools and color theory may overlap; in art school you will not learn how to effectively paint machinery, automobile panels, a house, or office walls for employment security. This does not, however, make the fine art of painting useless or obsolete.

Again, while our practice as a martial art touches on self-protection and principles of fighting, there are anachronistic sociocultural elements of what we do that have no real bearing on everyday life here in modern society – and particularly modern Western society. So while we take our practice seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.

Abernethy is a world-renowned British karate & combatives instructor, known for his reverse engineering of karate kata for practical application and flow drills. His separation and definitions of Self-Protection vs. Martial Arts vs. Fighting in this audio book is well researched and thought out. Check out his extensive array of additional publications, videos, and blogs online for a wealth of karate-related observations.




In November of 2014, we decided to put up a Yelp profile. At the time (as is much the case today), Yelp was often the first stop of due diligence for the average American Gen X/Millennial consumer. Having developed a tight core group from humble beginnings in 2012, we felt the timing was right to open up for some visibility and growth. We also thought it might help “legitimize” our presence on social media.

Our program remains pretty small nonetheless and honestly, we kind of like it that way. Of course it helps to have enough members to cover our monthly expenses, and therein lies the rub of commercial vs. community-based, because less people = more personable training while more people = can pay dojo bills this month without going out-of-pocket. This is not to say we shun commercialism, not at all. But we consider ourselves to be more community-based. We have a distinct culture about us, nobody draws a salary for teaching, and we’re here to pass on longstanding traditions as opposed to providing a service for a fee. As we often tell people who visit us for the first time, we are evaluating whether they are a good fit for us as much as they’re evaluating if we are a good fit for them.

As Wayne Muromoto expressed on his Classic Budoka blog (…/6-mcdojos-mcdonalds-…/ ):

“It’s not that making money is wrong. Even in the most traditional of dojo, money and capital are needed for a variety of things, such as paying rent, electricity bills, organizational fees and so on. I learned that the very hard way, by not having enough money from student fees to pay all the rent. One has to learn to budget and plan, unless you’re independently wealthy. It’s very rare to find any budo group that shuns money of any kind. The economics simply would be impossible for it to survive in this day and age, where there are no daimyo lords to sponsor your training.” – W. Muromoto / The Classic Budoka Blog

So, our Yelp page. We have one review, from an out-of-town gentleman who trained with us once, while on vacation, in 2014. It almost looks like a fake review, because we only have one review and it’s a 5-star and it’s five years old. But he definitely trained with us.

It doesn’t look like Yelp is going away any time soon and we still have overhead to maintain, so if any of you reading this have visited us and are so inclined, feel free to drop a review to keep us current, “legitimate,” and on our toes.

Federations, Associations, Renmei, Kyokai


Snippet from the program for Shoshin Nagamine’s 85th birthday celebration in 1991. Our dojo advisor from Los Angeles, Art Ishii (in the shuto uke photo on the right), was then a student of Eihachi Ota, who was the US West Coast representative of the World Matsubayashi-ryu Karatedo Association (translated in the booklet as the World Shorin-ryu Karatedo Federation). Ishii and others from Ota’s group traveled to Okinawa for the event.

Ota sensei would later move on to form the Shorin-ryu Karate and Kobudo Association (SKKA), today headquartered in Gardena, CA, and in 2015 was awarded 10th dan by the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karatedo Association (沖縄松林流空手道協会), under the aegis of Isao Shima, after nearly 60 years of study.

Ishii sensei decided to keep his dojo connected to WMKA headquarters in Okinawa and affiliated directly with Takayoshi Nagamine, whom he would regularly host at his home and dojo from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s. Nagamine sensei passed in 2012, and the WMKA board elected Yoshitaka Taira sensei as association president.



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 soke (宗家) 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.”