Blairsville karate instructor welcomes martial arts master from Japan
Tetsuhiro Hokama, known to his students as “Hokama Sensei,” using the Japanese honorific for “teacher,” has taught old-style Okinawan karate in his home country of Japan as well as Europe, Africa and South America.
Last week, Hokama Sensei was in Blairsville, Indiana County, supervising trainees at Matt Kohler’s Torii Dojo alongside his top North American student, Luis Morales of New Jersey.
Kohler said Hokama Sensei comes to the U.S. — where Kohler created his dojo in 2009 by converting his garage — about once every two years for a few days of training.
“Then we’ll go over (to Okinawa) to train with Hokama Sensei during the off years,” Kohler said.
In addition to being a 10th-level master of Gojuryu (“hard-soft”) karate and the author of “History of Okinawa Karate,” Hokama Sensei is also the founder of the world’s first karate museum.
Karate was introduced to Japan in the early 20th century. After Japan annexed the island kingdom of Ryukyu, native Ryukyuans — particularly those from Okinawa — brought the martial art to the Japanese mainland, and karate clubs began forming in Japan by the 1920s.
Hokama Sensei’s museum pays homage to the history of the martial art and its roots in Okinawa, and he will celebrate its 40th anniversary in November.
Kohler said Hokama Sensei’s interest in the “old style” of Okinawan karate — as opposed to the more modern, sport style showcased in the summer Olympics — is what drew him in.
“One of the things that sets Hokama Sensei apart is he’s interested in the physical wellness and healing side of karate,” Kohler said. “The ‘bible of karate,’ the Bubishi, includes information about a lot of sacred herbs, many of which Hokama Sensei grows, and he teaches people the medicinal side of things.”
Hokama Sensei can also effortlessly create beautiful, flowing calligraphy. At the conclusion of Thursday’s training, he set up in a corner of the dojo and made personalized calligraphy for students.
In the same way students progress through various belts and skill levels in karate, so, too, do Japanese calligraphers.
Hokama Sensei is a master of calligraphy, Kohler said.
After his stop in Blairsville, Hokama Sensei will head to Poland, Zimbabwe and Sweden for more instruction.
“Very busy summer,” he said with a laugh.
For more about Hokama Sensei, see TetsuhiroHokama.net.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .