Honoring a Legend by Hanshi Albert O. Geraldi
Taika Seiyu Oyata, master of classical Okinawan karate and founder of Oyata Shin Shu Ho Ryu (“Oyata’s Truthful Hands Method”), passed away on June 18, 2012. His memory, art and skill will continue to live on in many martial artists throughout the world for decades to come.
In his book “Ryu-Te No Michi” (“The Way of the Ryu Kyu Hands”), Taika referred to his art as a “life protection art.” He also writes that “the ultimate goal for Ryukyu Hands practitioners of any time is to understand the true contents of life protection arts and use their knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of human lives.”
His life quest was to perfect his art for this very purpose.
During his last days, he told one of his students while practicing a particular move, “Never give up, this true?” The man, as well as the teacher, was a testimony for strength of the human spirit.
The youngest of four sons, Seiyu Oyata was born around 1928 into the Jana family lineage whose ancestors had once served in the King's court as Okinawa Prime Minister and Adviser; a traditional Bushi heritage lasting throughout the Meiji period.
Taika Seiyu Oyata
Kana Oyata, Seiyu’s father, was from the Island of Henja. Despite his small stature, he was an Okinawan Sumo Champion at a time when the sport relied more on technique than size. Kana Oyata had four sons. Taro, the oldest son, had been promoted to Colonel in the Japanese army in the late 1930's. I remember Taika saying, “It was very difficult on Okinawa to become a Japanese officer in the Japanese army; you had to be an exceptional individual.” Taro was over six-foot tall and very strong; and hardened from his experience fighting in Manchuria. Taika had two other older brothers, Ekiseii and Akia. Akia was large in stature and a skilled Sumo wrestler who was noted, as Taika says, for his “sneaky tactics.”
During World War II, Taika's father, having already lost three sons in the War, attempted to keep Taika's age (born 1928) a secret. However, despite his attempts,Taika was drafted into the Japanese Navy. In addition to his military training, Taika had learned several martial arts including Jujitsu, Kendo, Nagenata and Yari. He attained the rank of lieutenant and just before the war had abruptly ended he had been assigned to a one-man submarine detail.
In 1957, Taika began studying under Master Shigeru Nakamura; a relationship that continued until Nakamura's death in 1969. Years later, in the early 1960’s, Taika began teaching a karate program at a U.S. Special Forces Okinawan military base to promote fitness. Proud of this accomplishment, I remember him saying, “I teach Special Forces, I number one, this okay.” Yes, Sensei, you are number one.
My relationship with Taika began in 1963 at his Makiminato Dojo while I was stationed on Okinawa during my tour in Vietnam as a Special Forces Green Beret. I studied under him for a few years attaining the rank of Nidan before returning to the States.
Around this same time, a Karate Invitational sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corp was held at Camp Hansen on Okinawa. Seated at the main judging table were the who’s who of karate masters from Shorinryu, Gojuryu, Kempo, Isshinryu, and Uieichiryu. Taika was the center-ring referee. During the match, the announcer had called a point out of order. Taika abruptly stopped the match, waved his flags above his head and said in his native dialect, “I know what a point is, if anyone wants to see, come out here, I will show you.” Immediately, the corner referees eyes glanced down at the floor and Master Nakamura looked off to the side, his head held high. Mr. Uieichi arose from his seat, placed both his hands flat on the table and humbly reminded Taika, saying, “Mr. Oyata, you know that this is a Marine invitational and we are guests." This was my instructor, the man I knew.
Sometime later, I had accompanied Taika to an Okinawan wedding. While there, I had a conversation with an old Okinawan schoolteacher who took advantage of my presence to practice his English. I remember him saying something that I have never forgotten, he said, “You know Master Nakamura’s katas are most accurate and relatively unaffected by modern change.” I knew this to be not only his opinion, but the general understanding of the Okinawan people.
As a loyal student and 5th Dan teacher, Taika had much influence in Nakamura’s decision to break from the All-Japan Karate Association and form the All-Okinawa Kenpo Karate Association in 1964. One day, I drove Taika to a meeting where other Okinawan instructors were gathered in a house situated in back of a military prison compound. The owner of the house, an elderly Okinawan man, greeted us at the foot of the hill and guided us up the steep slope to his home. During that meeting, I heard Nakamura announce the official split; then jokingly, to break the tension, he said something to the effect of having just seven cents in the treasury!
In a 1967 full contact All Okinawa All Japan Karate Tournament, participating as captain of a five-man team, Taika 's team won first, second and third place trophies. Only seventeen schools had attended out of the 276 invitations Nakamura sent out. I will never forget Taika describing those fighters as the “largest Japanese” he had ever seen.
Soon after, Taika came to the United States, but upon the death of Master Nakamura in 1969, he returned to Okinawa. Taika returned briefly to the United States in 1974 to make his final decision to stay; making trips to my school in New York, Jim Logue's school in South Carolina, and Bill Wiswell's school in Kansas where he trained and promoted us before returning for the last time to Okinawa.
In my possession, I have four character reference letters written in Japanese translated into English on separate documents dated October 1977 by Masters Seitoku Higa, Kentoku Kaneshiro, and Shihan Toma that Taika used to obtain his U.S. Visa, the content of which states “familiarity with Mr. Oyata’s abilities not only as one of the best martial artists on Okinawa, but also as a teacher of this knowledge.”
Master Ueihara's letter states: “I have taught and known Mr. Oyata since he was a teenager, however, he has had other teachers in other of the martial arts, but they are all dead at this time. He is undoubtedly, one of the last four or five Okinawan kempo masters living. He has proved his powers by winning the most prestigious tournament in the Orient and his exceptional teaching abilities by teaching some of the best kempo people on Okinawa.”
On October 16, 1993, Taika was awarded masters grade by the United States Okinawan Cultural Society. In 1994, he formed his Shin-Shu-Ho-Ryu organization.
Taika has given much over years, not only to his students, but to others within his community through his charitable works. We all knew Taika Seiyu Oyata in different ways. He was a complex, multi-faceted person. Those who knew Taika would describe the part of the man and teacher they knew best. As a teacher, he is held in high-esteem by his students and recognized world-wide for his contribution to the martial arts. As a businessman, he is well-respected by other leaders within the martial arts industry. As a loving husband and father, he dedicated his time and attention to important things in life, like teaching his daughter how to throw a softball.
I have always kept faithful the teachings of the way of Ryukyu Hands, and I will continue to do so in memory of a great man – my teacher.
In closing, I’d like to share with you a quote from his book "Ryu-Te No Michi: The Way of Ryu Kyu Hands":
“I’m intending to leave Oyata Shin Shu Ho (Oyata’s Truthful Hand Method),
which will be my handprint and footsteps,
so that the way of Ryukyu Hands will be remembered,
and continue to be studied, by future practitioners,
without deviation from the true way of Ryukyu Hands, for the benefit of mankind.”