A True Karate Person
A true Karate person is one with a god-like capacity to
think and feel for others; irrespective of their rank or position.
One who possesses ideas so lofty, a mind so delicate, that it
lifts him above all things immoral and base, yet strentghens his
hands to raise those who have fallen, no matter how low.
The ultimate aim of Karate, therefore, lies not in victory
or defeat, but in the true perfection of one's character.
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The following pages contain the true history of Yoshu-Kai Karate,
told by Sensei Rayburn Nichols, 8th. Dan Black Belt.
This account of the history of Yoshu-Kai karate in the United States is meant to be totally factual yet informal and easy to read. I felt it would be better to tell this story as if we are sitting around drinking a cup of coffee and talking about the "old days" instead of like a presentation at a business meeting. So, here goes nothing – and everything.
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Rayburn Nichols. I began my training in Shorin-Ryu karate in the late 1950’s. Under my instructor, Bernard Collins, I achieved the rank of 2nd degree black belt.
In the very early 1960’s, I met Mike Foster. At that time, I believe Mr. Foster was a 3rd or 4th degree black belt in Chito-Ryu Yoshu-Kan karate. Yoshu-Kan did not evolve into Yoshu-Kai until much later. I was impressed with Mike Foster’s karate. We quickly developed a friendship and I started training with him in the Chito-Ryu Yoshu-Kan style.
From the early to mid 1960’s there were very few Yoshu-Kan schools in America. Mike Foster had a dojo in Tampa, Florida. Mr. Lee Norris had a dojo on the Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, Florida. Bob Bunning taught in Lakeland, Florida at the Jewish Community Center. Also, had a school at Saint Leo College.
After Mike Foster closed his Tampa dojo in the early 1960’s, the only places that we had schools were Mr. Norris’ dojo in Orlando, the J.C.C. (Bob Bunning) in Lakeland, and Saint Leo College. After a very short time, Lee Norris closed his dojo in Orlando, moved to Miami, and trained for awhile with Okisawa and Camachio. Not long after moving to Miami, Mr. Norris got out of karate for a several years.
Because the Tampa and Orlando dojos closed, we sometimes would drive to Saint Leo College, Lakeland, or meet at someone’s house to train. Also, during that time, a Judo instructor named Sekita taught Judo on Robertson Street in Orlando, Florida. For many years we used Sekita’s dojo two nights a week to train in karate.
The Arrival Of Yuki Koda
In the early to mid 1960's, Mr. Yamamoto sent Yuki Koda to the United States to confirm that we were teaching the traditional Yoshu-Kan Katas.
During this time, Yuki Koda met and married Gewin. Not long after his marriage, Mr. Koda went back to Japan. When Mr. Koda went overseas, Mrs. Koda moved to Lincoln, Illinois.
At the time of Mr. Koda's arrival in the U.S., I, Rayburn Nichols, understood the ranking system to be: Mike Foster, Lee Norris, Bob Bunning, and Rayburn Nichols. Bob Bunning and I were told at that time that Mr. Koda out-ranked us. We easily accepted the new ranking system.
Around the same time, I went to talk with Bernard Collins, my Shorin-Ryu instructor, in Cocoa Beach, Florida where he was teaching at the National Guard Armory. He also had a school in Titisville, Florida. Mr. Collins and I talked about the differences between Yoshu-Kan and Shorin-Ryu. During our conversation, Mr. Collins asked me if I thought it would be okay if he and his students came over to Yoshu-Kan. I spoke with Mike Foster and it was agreed that Mr. Collins and all of his students would join us. Among the influx of new people were some notables such as Larry Pate and Jackie Mole.
It was close to that time, before Mike Foster and I opened the dojo on Orange Blossom Trail, which Mr. Foster wanted to bring Mr. Yamamoto to the United States. Mr. Yamamoto was the head student under Dr. Chitose and the head of Chito-Ryu Yoshu-Kan karate.
For many years Mike Foster and I trained and worked together. I got Mr. Foster into the Ironworkers Union in Orlando, Florida so he could work with me. We traveled all over the United States working.
During the time that Mr. Koda was in Japan and Mrs. Koda was in Lincoln, Mike Foster and I had a job in Bloomington, Illinois. I got Mr. Koda a job working with us when he returned from Japan. Mr. Koda started a dojo in Lincoln, Illinois while he was working with us.
When the job in Bloomington was finished, Mike Foster and I returned to Orlando, Florida. Yuki Koda and his family stayed in Lincoln. Eventually, Mr. Koda called Mike Foster and moved back to Orlando because there was no work in Lincoln.
After moving back to Orlando in 1968, I started work on the Disney World job as the foreman. Mike Foster and Yuki Koda came to work for me. During the time we were working on the Disney project, approximately 1968 to 1971, Mr. Yamamoto came to the United States numerous times. Also, another Japanese man named Tiguche came to the U.S. Mr. Tiguche started teaching karate in Titisville, Florida.
The Beginnings In Alabama
When the Disney job was finished in 1970 or 1971, Mike Foster moved to Daytona Beach, Florida and opened a dojo while I moved to Birmingham, Alabama. Mr. Koda and his family stayed in Florida.
Upon arriving in Birmingham, Alabama, I opened a karate school in Trussville, Alabama teaching at the recreation center. Gene Henderson and his brother David were teaching karate in Sylacauga, Alabama at the recreation center. At that time, I was a fifth degree black belt and oversaw Yoshu-Kan karate schools in Alabama.
Approximately a year after I moved to Alabama, I received a call from Yuki Koda saying he could not make a living in Florida. He wanted to know if I could help him with a job if he came to Alabama. I called Mike Foster who was responsible for Mr. Koda while he was in the United States and told him that Mr. Koda had called and wanted to come to Alabama. He said okay.
When Mr. Koda arrived in Alabama with his family, I made arrangements for him to work in the iron-working business and to help me teach at my two karate schools. Later, in 1973 or 1974, Mr. Koda and I opened a dojo on 5th Avenue in Birmingham. It was during that time that Mr. Koda was able to purchase a house in Birmingham, Alabama.
There was another Japanese man named Hatchi Mutakami living in Florida at that time that was having the same financial difficulties as Yuki Koda. When Mr. Koda came to Alabama around 1972, Mr. Mutakami followed suit. Mr. Mutakami did iron work with Mr. Koda and myself.
During the next year or so, Yuki Koda opened a dojo in 5 Points West in Birmingham, Alabama. Mike Foster continued his dojo in Daytona Beach, Florida while I continued teaching at my dojos in Trussville, and Birmingham, Alabama.
It was during the early 1970’s that such karate notables as Mike Sadler, Mr. Toyama, and Mike Culbert came onto the Yoshu-Kai scene. It would be remiss of me to overlook their contributions to Yoshu-Kai karate in the United States.
It was around 1975 or 1976 that the American Yoshu-Kai family tree started to branch out. Mr. Yuki Koda started his United States Yoshu-Kai Association. Mr. Mike Foster had his branch with Yoshu-Kai International Karate. And, I had my branch with International Karate. Even though we went our separate ways, we never lost our commitment to teaching and expanding Yoshu-Kai karate in the United States.
There will be people that read this account of our history and say that I left out things. I do not doubt that I have not included every word that was spoken or every event that took place. But, I sifted through the memories and memorabilia and found the true and positive facts about how Yoshu-Kai karate came to the United States.
Some people may ask if things were always "happy and positive". I might ask if anything comes without at least a little strife? But, the struggle did not totally define our karate or our relationship. It is true that throughout the years there have been times that we, the founders of Yoshu-Kai karate in America, have disagreed - such is human nature. But, before Yuki Koda's death, we concluded that we should always be the deepest of friends.