Sensei Masataka Mori

Well, it’s been several weeks of hunkering down and I’m sure that many of you are beginning to feel rather stifled, being stuck in your homes. Me too! Although I’m teleworking from home which means that I do have required work activities from home, it’s not the same as driving in heavy traffic to and from work each weekday. And without karate on Saturdays and church on Sundays, I lose many of the markers that define my usual week. The days are beginning to blend from one into another. I pray that each of you is doing well and staying healthy.

In the past, I’ve written and talked about the foundations of our karate club. While Sensei’s Peter, Wayne, Trish and I were direct students of Sensei Kenneth Funakoshi, he, in turn, was the direct student of two Shotokan legends, Sensei’s Kanazawa and Asai. As you know, they were both All-JKA champions and later led large global karate organizations of their own. I have written about them before. There was, however, a third JKA pillar of Shotokan in Hawaii that I have rarely ever mentioned. Sensei Masataka Mori took charge of the KAH after Sensei Kanazawa left and taught our own sensei’s for several years before Sensei Asai arrived.

While all three of these sensei’s had left the islands by the time we started, in subsequent years, your sensei’s had multiple opportunities to train with sensei’s Kanazawa and Asai. I am rather ashamed to say that I passed up the chance to train with Sensei Mori on any of his return trips. I had heard that his training always focused on basics (as a younger black belt, I thought that I knew enough about basics). Also, unlike the rather affable, friendly personas that the other sensei’s had developed after years of teaching abroad, I was told that Sensei Mori never changed his serious demeanor or his focus on basics (complete with shinai). For these reasons, I foolishly passed up on the privilege of experiencing his instruction first-hand.

Unlike sensei’s K&A, he never became a widely known karate legend nor ever established a huge global organization. In 1968, he left the islands for a two-year assignment in New York City. He taught in a small downtown dojo and continued to teach there until his passing in 2018 at the age of 85. A highly respected and highly ranked (9th dan) black belt, he remained true to the art and his traditional teaching methods. While I could only hear stories about the man from my teachers, I stumbled across this short video about Sensei Mori, entitled “Tokyo on the Hudson”. I found it to be a very interesting look at the man who contributed much to your karate knowledge. Because his teaching methods and personality remained stubbornly traditional throughout the decades of teaching in a foreign country, it provides a good idea of what it was like training under him, here in Hawaii. I think it also gives great insight into the heart of the man and how he tried to improve and grow the spirit of his students. Beneath his gruff exterior, one can see his love for the art and his concern for the members of his dojo. That, to me, is what a sensei should be all about.

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