Hawaii’s Written History of Karate Preserved

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Cover for Kobudo kenpo, karate katsuyo zukai setsumei goshin-jutsu (1952). Reproduced with permission from the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Hawaii is home to one of the largest and most robust karate centers in the United States, mostly due to Okinawans who immigrated to the islands in the early 1900s. Karate was practiced in Asia as early as the 1400s, and over the centuries evolved into the art of punching, kicking, and grappling as it is recognized today. As a result, Hawaii has been a hot-spot training ground for practitioners (called karatekas) for over a century. Senseis (teachers) past and present have authored hundreds of pamphlets and books to ensure proper technique and form. Now, much of that written history is preserved in the University of Hawaii’s Karate Museum Collection.

                                                                                                                                                        

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Interior image from Kobudo kenpo, karate katsuyo zukai setsumei goshin-jutsu (1952). Reproduced with permission from the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.                                                                                               

Hawaii-based karate historian Charles Goodin accumulated the roughly 700 items that make up the bulk of the collection, including ephemeral material like tournament programs, fliers, and posters. “Those items tend to be easily lost and forgotten,” says University of Hawaii curator Tokiko Bazzell. “They provide a chronological story of karate’s development, as well as the names of participants and officials associated with Hawaii’s karate community.” Goodin donated his collection to the University of Hawaii in 2008, where the majority of items are accessible to the general public. The 260 rarest items are stored in the Asia Locked Press Special Collection Room. Though these fragile pieces are available by appointment only, many have been digitized and can be viewed through UH’s digital depository site, eVols


Historians and curiosity-seekers routinely make exciting discoveries digging through the archives. Bazzell recalls one instance when a Canadian researcher contacted her about a book entitled She mao he hun xing quan (Snake, Cat, Crane: Mixed Form Styles of Karate) believed to have been written in the 1950s by a great-uncle, Liang Yongheng. “This fellow came to the Asia Collection to verify whether his hunch was correct. Indeed, it was--the family had lost its copy of the book in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I was so moved to see how happy he was to have “met” his great-uncle’s book. We never know what kind of discoveries can be made through collections like this.”

                                                                                                                                                           

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She mao he hun xing quan (Snake, Cat, Crane: Mixed Form Styles of Karate) by Liang Yongheng. Reproduced with permission from the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library. 


Karate continues to flourish in Hawaii and is an integral part of the community. “It is a unique cultural legacy of Okinawa, brought here by the earliest immigrants,” says Goodin. “In fact, pre-war Hawaii was one of the first places where karate was propagated outside of Okinawa, and today Hawaii remains an important center for karate. It’s a more than a martial art; karate is sport, recreation, and a timeless cultural treasure.”

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