Masters Mag Interview with Ishii Sensei

Masters Magazine recently posted their 2009 interview with our dojo advisor, Art Ishii of Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, CA. Ishii sensei discusses growing up Sansei (third generation Japanese American); his background in, and passion for, budo; the role tournaments can play in traditional karate; and the Nikkei Games. This 18-minute discussion was originally included on the DVD supplement of the Summer, 2009 issue.

Rest In Peace


Jon Inomata Kingi
4/1/1980 – 2/20/2018

(Note: Jon was a yudansha at our parent dojo in Los Angeles, Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu of Little Tokyo. This tribute is from LT Dojo, but rings true for Ravenswood Dojo by extension. We will miss our brother.)

Being a part of our dojo means being part of a family. Forget about trading dollars for techniques, payment for services rendered, or treating class like a gym workout and Sensei like a coach where you come in and then leave and never think twice about checking in otherwise. Our karate goes beyond the mere physical manifestation of personal combatives.

In sixty-five years of training with thirty of those teaching, Ishii sensei has not been generous in awarding black belts. To be a yudansha under Ishii sensei is a responsibility to represent him, your fellow classmates, the dojo name, the Little Tokyo community, Matsubayashi-ryu, and above all else yourself 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, but if you have no manners, you’ll never make it. If you treat others discourteously, not a chance. If you don’t maintain a set of core principles and personal convictions (“Not felony convictions,” Sensei has been quick to clarify), you will never earn a dan ranking at Sho Tokyo Dojo.

Jon Kingi was among the few. A yudansha of the highest caliber under Art Ishii, he was bestowed this honor through the exemplification of the most positive aspects of all the previously noted attributes. He exuded the dojo’s ethos of Toukon ( 闘魂 ), or fighting spirit, where it’s not about win or lose, but how well you face adversity. I could pretty much end on that note and you’d know without further explanation what type of person Jon was. But the longer I talk about him, the longer it feels like he’s still with us.

Jon was a fine karateka and a fine man. A beloved son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend. He was well regarded among those he labored with and counseled as a social worker for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Los Angeles. Some of us called him Big Jon, because in addition to his height, everything about him was big. Big heart, big laugh, big appetite, big spirit. Even in passing, as an organ donor Jon demonstrated big compassion by continuing to assist others as he had as a devoted citizen of life.

As it often is with family, this is not “goodbye,” but “see ya later.” Whatever may come for you in this new chapter, we’re with you on this side and will catch up with you on the other soon enough. In the next one, I’m sure we’ll all be joining your dojo and you’ll gladly pay us back some hazing with that easy going smile and gentle gait. Till then, the last gyoza on the plate is yours.

Hang loose, brother.

What Happened to Chicago’s Japanese American Neighborhood, on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio

“Japanese-Americans never formally designated the area ‘Japantown,’ but at its peak — in the ’60s and ’70s — there were nearly 150 Japanese-owned businesses and institutions in the area, including traditional Japanese restaurants, beauty salons, dry cleaners, and markets.” – Katherine Nagasawa, WBEZ

Bento Happi 1988

Bento Japanese Restaurant with Happi Sushi across the street, near the corner of Roscoe and Clark Streets in the Lakeview neighborhood, 1988. Photo by Robert W. Krueger, courtesy of Chicago Public Library, Sulzer Regional Library.

Listen to the podcast and read the accompanying story with photos here:

62nd Annual Ginza Holiday

Since 1955, the Midwest Buddhist Temple has been hosting its annual Ginza Holiday as a fundraiser and means to share Japanese and Japanese American culture with its Old Town neighbors. Locally renowned for its grilled Chicken Teriyaki lunch, homemade inari & makizushi, udon, corn-on-the-cob, sno cones, etc., each year it also hosts four artisans from Japan who have mastered traditional crafts dating back to the Edo period.


There’s a beer tent, local community group information tables, introductions to Buddhism, and a stage with demonstrations of traditional Japanese art forms. This year’s schedule of budo demonstrations is as follows:

Friday, August 11
7:00pm: Judo (Kokushikan Judo Academy)
7:30pm: Aikido (Oak Park Aikikai)

Saturday, August 12
1:30pm: Kendo (Choyokan Kendo Dojo)
3:00pm: Judo (Kokushikan Judo Academy)
3:30pm: Aikido (Midwest Aikido Federation)

Sunday, August 13
1:30pm: Kendo (Choyokan Kendo Dojo)

For more information, visit:

Taira-kaicho & Uza-sensei

Our good friend Yujiro Uza-sensei, head instructor of Beikoku Shidokan Shorin-ryu of Chicago in Prospect Heights, recently traveled to Okinawa. While there, he ran into WMKA president Yoshitaka Taira, and was kind enough to offer a kind word on our behalf and send us a photo.
Uza-sensei’s dojo is located in Prospect Heights, IL, a northwest suburb of Chicago. If you’re in the area and interested in high quality Okinawan Kobayashi Shorin-ryu (小林流), you can find them on Facebook at @chicagobeikokushidokan.

WMKA President Yoshitaka Taira (L) & Yujiro Uza-sensei (R) from Chicago Beikoku Shidokan Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo

The Door Swings Both Ways

I often tell our dojo members that particularly in this day and age, what we practice should improve our lives. It should neither be our lives nor drag us down. Family, school, career, a balanced lifestyle with good relationships should always come first. Otherwise, honestly, what are we learning to defend?

We have had people that left when life stepped in, but came back later. We have had people who left and never returned. Some of the ones who never came back, we still keep in touch with on a human level. I never try to convince someone to hang around, nor do I think what we do is any better than any other budo or pastime one may pursue. Whenever we have visitors interested in trying a martial art, in addition to our group I give them a laundry list of other area dojo they may want to look into. We’re not the only ones with something to offer.

The reality is that more people will quit a martial art, for whatever reason, than those who will stay. Those committed to pass on a ryu are less than few and far between. I never try to convince people to stay, but offer that should they care to return we will be here. And most of the time it won’t even be the same crew they left; it’s recently occurred that a returning student didn’t know anyone he’d started with, and he only stopped two years ago.

Because I know statistically they’re more likely to quit than stay forever, I don’t want any of our people to feel bad about it. Life happens. People change. And should they decide to move on, I repeat the mantra: What we practice should improve our lives. I don’t want anyone feeling bad or drug down with feelings of inadequacy or non-loyalty should they decide to enhance their lives in other ways. We should all feel good about our life’s choices.

As the first line of our website states, we value good character and community relations as much as, if not more than, technical ability. Just because someone re-prioritizes dojo time off of their to-do list does not mean we can no longer be friends who check in on each other. And sometimes it happens that karate simply isn’t for them, but say aikido is. Or boxing. Judo. Or another style of karate, etc. Thus is why I keep up a reference list of other quality dojo with quality people.

Because we only meet once a week, we also have students who are active members of other clubs. One currently practices aikido, another arnis, we have an MMA fighter who trains at a gym during the week. Other members have past experiences in various arts they’d moved on from, for whatever reason. One member’s teacher had retired, another practiced in Japan, someone else had relocated and left their teacher in another state. I am very encouraging of such diversity in the dojo; my only caveat is for beginners who have no base in anything. Best to develop a base before mixing it up, so I recommend they either stick with us exclusively for a while, or come back after they’ve developed a foundation elsewhere so as to avoid confusion.

My teacher is a commercial printer by trade. He does not make a living off of karate. I think my approach was imbued with the way he continues to run his program, which I’d still be a part of had I not relocated out-of-state. When I first met him I observed from the side because I was too stubborn to get on the floor. I wanted a bird’s-eye view. One thing that impressed me above all was how well everyone at the dojo got along. They had good technique, but I was really taken by the character of the group and how welcoming they were to me as a visitor. When class was over, my soon-to-be sensei came up and said, “So, this is what we do. I’m going to get changed and some of us are going to grab a bowl of noodles, you’re welcome to join us.” No questions, no what did I think, no convincing, no contracts pushed in front of me. “This is what we do.”

At his dojo, from time to time we’d have visiting judo sensei, Shotokan sensei, Goju-ryu sensei, Wing Chun sifu, as well as high level teachers of our own system, including Takayoshi Nagamine – the lineal head of our ryu – who would stay at my sensei’s home for weeks at a time during his visits. These visits were all meant to inform our training and experience with Matsubayashi-ryu, not change, convert, or to develop a new style. We were to take them all as learning experiences and my sensei had no insecurities of anyone “stealing” his students or recruiting us to another art form. Another thing he used to say is, “We are all here of our own accord and just as I have opened that door for you to walk in, the door swings both ways – I also leave it open for you to walk out.”

I don’t make a living from karate either. I have a day job, a family, and varied interests and hobbies outside of budo. Because I know what a strain karate can be on someone’s lifestyle, I don’t fault anyone for moving on. Unless they’re intent on advancing, I don’t even fault people for not practicing on off-days. One of our members is straight-up about his non-practice schedule: “I don’t practice karate outside of Mondays,” he once said. “I don’t know, I have a lot of other things going on and just don’t think about it.” For some reason it made me laugh, then he laughed, and we continue to laugh about it to this day. He remains a wonderful addition to our group and I thank him for showing up every session.

I hope what we do enhances the lives of whoever chooses to walk through our door. But if it becomes a drag, hey, that door swings both ways and it’s okay. I guess I’m so used to hearing so much about how much martial arts practice benefits lives, I wanted to put something out there that speaks to the other side. If it comes to a point that what we do no longer benefits your life, don’t hesitate to walk away. It’s not a job, we can still be friends. And if you change your mind later, we’ll be here.