Koryu Uchinadi: Interview with McCarthy Hanshi

Last year I interviewed Patrick McCarthy (9th dan Karate Karate, 8th Dan Jujutsu, Hanshi) on his system Koryu Uchinadi. Here is the interview in slightly edited form. By Simon Keegan

McCarthy Hanshi it’s a tremendous honour to interview you. I’ve treasured my copy of the Bubishi since 1996 and I’m a big fan of your work. Can you tell us how you first What was the first martial art you studied?

PM: I first started judo at the Saint John [New Brunswick, Canada] YMCA in September of 1964. Three years later I took up Kyokushin Karate, also in Saint John, under Sensei Adrian Gomes and stayed with him until I relocated to Toronto. Of course, I boxed as an amateur and competed as a collegiate wrestler in school.

Simon Keegan and Patrick McCarthy in 2007
Simon Keegan and Patrick McCarthy in 2007

What was it you liked about Karate? Why do you think you have stuck to Karate after all these years?

PM: There were many reasons … and Bruce Lee had a lot to do with helping me define how/why to embrace such an inner passion. Moreover, Karate has always been a unique way through which to keep fit [although I had let myself slip for many years], pursue my identity and learn exactly who I am, while allowing me to creatively express myself.

Who were your earliest influences in Karate and Jujutsu?

PM: There have been many as I had been a serious competitive athlete early in my career, studied a wide range of books as a passionate reader and travelled far and wide cross training in various styles and different instructors. Some of the most memorable from my formative years [1970’s] had been Sensei Wally Slocki, Hanshi Richard Kim, Shihan Bob Dalgleish, Master Tsuruoka Masami, Prof Wally Jay and Prof Ron Forester.

Another of your early instructors, Daniel K Pai looks like an interesting character but is not so well known in the UK. What was he like?

PM: Master Pai commanded a huge following during the 1970’s as the founder of Pai Lum Kempo [a Hawaiian-Chinese based fighting art]. He was a charismatic instructor, a brutally powerful human being [understatement] a remarkably knowledgable and deeply spiritual person.

How did you end up studying with Richard Kim?

PM: I was looking for an instructor who could teach me more about tradition, its value and functional application and my [then] kumite coach, Wally Slocki, recommended that I attend his Oct 1977 seminar in Hamilton, Ontario, hosted by Don Warrener. I attended the week-long gathering and was so taken with him that I made a petition to study under his guidance and was accepted.

When did you start being interested in the history and origins of Kata as opposed to just fighting?

PM: I’ve always been fascinated by oriental culture but it was Richard Kim who inspired me to look beyond the physical aspects of the art and understand its historical, anthropological, spiritual and pedagogical aspects. Such studies also made it easier to grasp the application-based methods culminated in kata.

In your 1997 book Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate, the forms seem to have more of a modern Shotokan style influence (athletic high kicks and jumps) has your style evolved a lot since then?

PM: Oh yes, it certainly has! Actually, it’s a fascinating story and probably one which might come across better in a dissertation style format. However, to keep it short, my principal instructor, Richard Kim, wanted to bring as much recognition to his art as possible, and so he teamed up with the number #2 man [originally] of the JKA, Nishiyama Hidetaka [“the man” at that time], back in the late 1950s after returning to the USA from Japan. In doing so, he fused his application-style practices with JKA-style kata dynamics to create an innovative interpretation of Okinawan Karate. By doing so he not only became the IAKF’s VP [Nishiyama’s organisation] he also strengthened his own position in world Karate while at the same time popularising his own modified Okinawan-style of karate [Shorinji Ryu]. My first book exemplified Kim Sensei’s methodology.

How did you end up going to Japan and what Karate/Kobudo styles did you study?

PM: I first went to Japan in 1985 and spent the entire summer months in Okinawa. As I was not officially associated with any one specific local Okinawan group at that time I was free to visit any dojo that interested me. In spite of the so-called political ‘restriction,’ which tend to prevent enthusiasts from freely visiting any dojo they want to these days … such was not the case in a far more political free ear of the mid-1980’s. Although I literally visited dozens of dojo on the island the most notable were Nagamine Shoshin, Miyazato Eiichi, Nakazato Joen, Yagi Meitoku, Uechi Kanei, Kishaba Chokei & Shinzato Katsuhiko, Hokama Tetsuhiro, Uehara Seikichi, Toma Shian, Matayoshi Shimpo, Nakamoto Masahiro and Akamine Eisuke. As someone interested in more than just physical training, a passion with learning the history, philosophy and culture of this art open many doors of opportunity allowing me into the dojo and homes of the senior most authorities of the Okinawan fighting traditions. Not long after this I met and married a wonderful Japanese girl and we decided to settle in Kanagawa Prefecture. In the decade I resided in Japan it became a mission of sorts to seek out the best technicians, most knowledgable instructors and well respected personalities of the fighting arts.

Your dedication to Karate is enormous so how did you manage to dedicate yourself to Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, one of the oldest Koryu in Japan as well? Presumably this was quite involved study so how did this come about?

PM: I didn’t find TSKSR … it found me! I had just completed a demonstration of kata and bunkai at the Kyoto Butokuden on 29 April 1988 during the annual Butokusai when a nicely dressed elderly gentleman approached me and said how impressed he was with my performance. While we were chatting he made a comment about how well I might do if I turned my attention to swordsmanship. I told the gentleman that I was already studying Muso Shinden Eishin Ryu with Izawa Toshihiko Sensei in Fujisawa. He smiled and excused himself as he said he had to go and change for a demonstration he was going to perform. As I watched the old gentleman walk away I couldn’t imagine what he was going to be able to perform as he must have been eighty years old. An hour or so later I heard the announcement that the next demonstration would be of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu … much to my surprise it was the elderly gentleman leading his team of students out onto the floor. He was Sugino Yoshio … and I was so taken with what I saw I remember telling my wife, “We need to relocate to wherever that man teaches as I MUST become his student and study this remarkable art!” You can imagine how happy I was when I discovered that his Kawasaki dojo was only 30 minutes from my Fujisawa residence … and even happier when he warmly welcomed me into his dojo and accepted me as a personal student.

How would you sum up your training with Kinjo Hiroshi and is he your greatest influence in what you teach?

PM: Hmmm … that’s a big question… honestly. Kinjo sensei was, without question, the single most knowledgable person I’d ever met with regards to Okinawa’s fighting arts… and described by many as, “A Walking Encyclopaedia.” Much more impressive, however, at least for me, was his remarkable modesty … even until the day he died at nearly 95 years old he remained a genuinely humble gentleman and maintained that such a demeanour exemplified the character and spirit of the art. He liked to quote his old friend, Chibana Choshin, who said, “Karate aims to build character, it does not by virtue of practice, however, guarantee it!”

In addition to Karate, Jujutsu, Katori what other styles influenced you?

PM: As a career professional with fifty years of experience behind me now I have enjoyed a lifetime of competition, travel, research and writing, cross-training, meeting and working with so many of the very best martial artists in the world. Such critical analyses and the wonderful opportunity to develop the world’s very first undergraduate instructor’s accreditation program compelled me to think outside the box and explore many traditional and functional-based Chinese, Japanese [Okinawan], Korean and SE Asian fighting arts.

I find it very interesting that you were at the forefront of Japan’s MMA movement. For readers who may not know, before UFC/Pride people like Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Kazushi Sakuraba and Nobuhiko Takada competed in Shootfighting. How did you come to be involved with the UWFI? I know you worked with Takada, but who else did you train with?

PM: Oh … you really did your homework Simon san 🙂 In the mid-1980’s while residing in Japan I met Gene Pelc, an American businessman in Tokyo. He was passionate about Kakutogi [a Japanese which roughly means combat sports] and had watched me perform at a local demonstration. Through Gene I met Sayama Satoru … the man who established the MMA movement in Japan, then called, “Shooto.” Shooto, in its original form, was a remarkably brutal form of stand-up fighting with clinch-work and ground and pound. Void of many rules and equipment Shooto used a boxing ring, no gloves and seemed to appeal mostly to submission wrestlers of that era. Wanting to preserve an ageing body I decided to try Shoot-Boxing under Cesar Takeshi which favoured using a little more equipment; i.e. gloves, mouth piece, cup etc. In those days [late 1980’s] the rounds were 10-mins in duration and terribly challenging on this then 34-year old body. When Gene organised an opportunity for me to become an in-house trainer for the UWFi I seized it. Those years were wonderfully educational and I literally met and trained with the who’s who of Japan’s Kakutogi community. Our submission wrestling mentors were Karl Gotch, Billy Robinson, Lou Thesz and Danny Hodge, etc. This set the stage for what would ultimately become, Pride Fighting …

Are you a fan of MMA? Who do you really rate in MMA?

PM: Of course … although much has come and gone, these days I still enjoy watching MMA and do a fair amount of related training myself. As far as rating anyone in MMA … that’s a hard call for me as I am from an earlier era that featured outstanding fighters like Muhammed Ali, Tommy Hearns, Jose Palomino, Marvin Hagler and Ray Leonard, etc. I find myself constantly comparing fighters of today’s arena with the greats of the boxing world … who were such marvellous technicians. While I have certainly seen some strong competitors in the Octagon I still have yet to find ones with the same technical ability. As such, I am drawn more to BJJ and no-gi grappling as this is an arena where it’s all about technique and tactics.

Your Karate seems to use a lot of grappling drills, two man drills and flow drills. I understand a lot of Chinese arts use sticking hands, but do you think Okinawan masters from the past (ie Matsumura, Sakugawa) would have used drills like these?

PM: Oh … absolutely they did! There is no question in the minds of any serious researcher that such is the case. Moreover, anyone who has done their homework will tell you that China [i.e. Fujian Province] was “THE PLACE” any young Okinawan man went to study the fighting arts during its old Ryukyu Kingdom Period. We also know that 2-person drills are the fundamental base practice for all functional southern quanfa styles. Understanding this and knowing something about the men who plied the waters between the Ryukyu Archipelago and the Middle Kingdom during those time frames the rest is easy to deduce. Making it even easier to understand are the time capsules handed down in the form of kata, which mirror several well known local southern Chinese quanfa styles; i.e. Yongchun, Monk Fist, etc.

If you could go back in a time machine to train with any three masters, who would it be and what would you ask them?

PM: I would have liked to been a young man training in Okinawa under Aragaki Seisho [1840-1920] and enjoyed the opportunity to travel to 19th century Fujian China to study with instructors like Pan Yuba [潘屿八] and Wong Fei-hung [黃飛鴻/1847-1924] … no need to ask them for anything special but rather simply enjoy the training, culture and much simpler lifestyle.

Your Koryu Uchinadi seems to offer a lot of skills not normally taught in Karate-Do. How does your system differ from many other schools?

PM: May I begin by stating that modern Karate [i.e. the rule-bound Japanese combative sport] does NOT represent the original fighting art culture once extant during Okinawa’s old Ryukyu Kingdom. Understanding that the art of self-defence cannot and is not limited by rules and regulations may I subsequently ask how can one even make such a comparison? The totality of my research revealed a wonderfully accommodating fighting art that literally dealt with a phenomenon I have coined with the phrase, “Habitual Acts of Physical Violence,” aka HAPV. So, I suppose in many ways one could say that I am NOT practicing and or teaching Karate, but rather older and far more original practices NOT limited by rules, etc.

What is the Matsuyama Park Theory? Did Karate develop through open practice in Okinawa’s parks?

PM: The MPT draws attention to much of “Okinawan” Karate evolving locally from the later part of Okinawa’s old Ryukyu Kingdom Period up to and just beyond the turn of the 20th century. Understanding more about the original sources from which come the practices of Tegumi [grappling], Ti’gwa [striking], Kata [formalised routines] and Tori-te [application practices] allows one to make more informed opinions on such history and subsequent evolution. Having done the research [in Japan, China, Taiwan & SE Asia, etc.] many questions arose about the actual historical sources of Okinawan Karate and all my efforts pointed directly to the Chinese community and Matsuyama Park in Kume Village in central Naha.

If somebody, let’s say a 3rd Dan in Wado Ryu wanted to move over to Koryu Uchinadi, how would they do this?

PM: There are several ways through which to do such a thing: The first and probably most popular way is to just make a gradual transition by learning and adopting our 2-person drill practices into their original style. If and when the candidate has enough criteria and feels ready to make such a transition we [the IRKRS] are there to assist them in every way. Many instructors already have years invested in their karate styles and are NOT interested in making such a transition for various reasons surrounding business, politics and the fear of alienating existing longterm students. As such, they quietly adopt our 2-person practices and use the HAPV as the timeless contextual premise upon which to base our system of application of kata. Such a thing can and is done without ever adversely effecting the cosmetic appearance of one’s existing style. In truth, a VERY large part of our organisation is made up from this kind of supporter which I/we happily accommodate.

Many of the Kata you teach are quite unknown to more mainstream styles. Do you think in mainstream style some kata are more important than others? For example in Goju Ryu a lot of emphasis is given to Sanchin and Suparimpei is seen as the ultimate kata. What do you see as the equivalent of this in say Shotokan/Wado Ryu? Do you think one form in this art contains more gems than others?

PM: Simply put there is a remarkable amount of misinformation out there about the origins, evolution and purpose of this art and in specific, Kata. It’s often described to as, “folk lore,” and or, “Oral Tradition.” Much of it is self-serving propaganda which deifies its founder and or the person[s] most responsible for pioneering the tradition. Usually, this kind of propaganda, and irrespective of however subtle or subjective it can be, tends pits one organisation, style, school and or instructor [i.e. person] against the other for purposes of control and, “market share,” etc. Terms like, “most original,” “secret,” “authentic,” and or oldest, etc., are aimed at strengthening the so-called myth surrounding its omnipotence and such.

Such a thing is commonly seen in Goju for example [you used this style and so I am simply drawing upon it here]: Each of the various factions cite Miyagi Chojun as its “founder,” or the person most responsible for its development. The fact that Miyagi’s practice was totally eclectic, and far from representing, “A Complete Art,” can be made in a different argument elsewhere. Each of the most recognised branches of his progeny [i.e. To On Ryu, Jundokan, Meibukan, Shoreikan, Goju Kai, et al.] maintain that their versions of the “founder’s” kata are the most authentic and yet each version, while certainly similar, are different! The same can be said of what the kata purport to promote, cultivate and or nurture… if/when a person practices kata, on a consistent basis, and with adequate body dynamics they are bound to strengthen their overall mental, physical and holistic conditioning. This is NOT limited to Sanchin, Kanku Dai, Wado Ryu, Tae Kwon Do, etc.

The truth is that just about any and all kata can be performed in various ways; isokinetically [e.g. dynamic tension with controlled breathing], slowly [like Taiji], in a flowing way like Wado, or dynamic manner [like Shotokan] and in a cosmetically pleasing manner for rule-bound competition [depending of course upon one’s form and physical prowess]. The same can be said for the associated benefits, such as physical, mental, metaphysical and holistic, etc.. Kata itself can and does benefit all those who understand how they should be practiced. That they have been exceedingly stylised and cosmetically reshaped for rule-bound athletic competition brings a whole new meaning to the practice. Originally, Kata were developed to culminate the lessons already imparted in 2-person drills practices; the conceptual fighting application [i.e. escape/counterattack, etc.] were linked together into geometrical patterns to create a solo-routine.

The idea of creating Kata [i.e., solo re-enactments of the prescribed fighting practices and self-defence applications] evolved from rehearsing these skills without a partner. By separating the 2-person drills into identifiable attack scenarios [i.e. HAPV] and prescribed response sequences, pioneers successfully established individual solo re-enactment modules. By linking together individual re-enactment models into a collective whole, pioneers succeeded in creating something greater than the sum total of its individual parts. Kata became unique and creative expressions through which to not only impart or culminate a lesson but also to express one’s individual prowess while strengthening their overall mental, physical and holistic conditioning.

What advice would you give to a young Karateka?

PM: Find out what your passion truly is and don’t be afraid to follow your bliss and live your dream. It helps considerably to find a knowledgable and experienced instructor who is genuinely concerned in mentoring learners in the way the art was meant to be understood. Remain positive and inquisitive and keep training balanced and seek to better understand the nature of the art and how/why it improves the quality of daily life and benefits humanity.

Where would you like to see Koryu Uchinadi in 50 years?

PM: I would like to see it become a valuable contribution towards clearing up the ambiguity surrounding what this art truly is. In its purest form I really don’t see KU as a “style,” as such. In such a diverse and multifaceted tradition I have succeeded in discovering, what I believe is, something quite timeless … a human practice which transcends “style,” culture, age, nationality and gender, etc. and is based exclusively upon common mechanics and governed by immutable principles. Koryu Uchinadi’s unique system of application practices is a pathway between kata and kumite. Learned correctly, it can enhance the depth and value of any dojo curriculum without adversely affecting its cosmetic appearance or taking anything away from its cultural heritage. KU can also be learned/imparted as a provocative alternative to conventional methods of physical fitness and stress management. Learning how to respond dispassionately to unwarranted aggression requires self-empowerment. Such training promotes an inner-calm and, where conflict exists, helps restore a natural balance to personal and professional relationships.

Thank you Sensei for a fascinating interview and we’re honoured to have you on board. Where can readers find out more?

PM: Readers interested in more of my work can visit my blog here http://irkrs.blogspot.com.au/?view=magazine <http://irkrs.blogspot.com.au/?view=magazine> and or website here www.koryu-uchinadi.com<http://www.koryu-uchinadi.com/>


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