Birth of Okuno-ryu:
In 1962 while stationed on the island of Okinawa as a U.S. Paratrooper, there was a little man who weighed only one hundred and thirty pounds. Due to his size and stature he sought many forms of physical fitness. Jogging, swimming and weight lifting were great, but the little man was not satisfied so he found a Judo school and began to take lessons. After two weeks of training he was still not satisfied. He then began to visit the many Karate dojos on the island. Being very impressed with the movements and fighting skill he witnessed at many of the schools, he found it difficult to choose a school at which to train. After some deliberation he decided to join the dojo where a friend of his also trained located closest to the Army Post. To the man’s surprise, the dojo turned out to be one of the best in Okinawa. The dojo was noted for producing skilled fighters and for its kata. The name of the dojo was the Seibukan (House of the Holy Arts) and the style of Karate was called Shorinji-ryu (Shaolin Fist Way or First Way), which later became known as Shorin-Ryu (Pine Forest Style). The Sensei’s name was Zenryo Shimabukuro and his chief instructor’s name was Edward Takae. After joining the dojo the man was referred to as “Calieshan” by the Sensei. Calieshan trained at the dojo seven days a week, two hours a day, four hours a day on weekends. After two years, he had earned his Shodan (First degree Black Belt).
The training at the dojo was primarily based on the P.T.’s (physical techniques like punching and kicking drills). The Sensei’s theory was that mastering the physical training of punches, blocks, and kicks would automatically develop speed and power, and ultimately, fighting ability.
During the early years, equipment called “Bogu” was worn for protection because all contact in kumite (sparring) was at full force. All techniques were executed to the body for safety reasons. Head contact was not allowed. Tournament competitions were not encouraged by the Sensei, but once a year the Black Belts were allowed to test their skills against the other Karateka on the island.
Mr. Takae defeated twelve other Black Belts, without any rest breaks, in one such competition. Calieshan, witnessing the event, became even more impressed with the Shorinji-ryu system and the Sensei’s teaching philosophies.
Upon his return to the United States, Calieshan was given permission from Shimabukuro to begin teaching his own classes and to spread the Shorinji-ryu system throughout the states. Calieshan opened the first Seibukan dojo in the United States, in Jacksonville Florida, in 1964. Sensei Shimabukuro ordered that Calieshan continue the vigorous training as it had been done in Okinawa, but due to the intensity of the training many students quit after only a short time. The students that stayed however became very skilled martial artists. Calieshan continued to teach the Shorinji-ryu system for many years.
In 1969 Zenryo Shimabukuro passed away, leaving Calieshan to continue his training and teaching without guidance. Calieshan then met a champion Karateka, standing six feet six inches tall and weighing two hundred and forty pounds. The champion told Calieshan that he was a great teacher and Karateka, but after witnessing Calieshan’s skills, the champion wondered what Calieshan would do when he lost his youthful speed and was no longer quick. The champion also wondered what Calieshan would do if someone stayed out of his range of techniques. The champion asked Calieshan to join his organization and to learn his style of Karate. The champion informed Calieshan that he and his Black Belts would have to stop training in the Shorinji system and that they must start in the new system as beginners. Calieshan refused to join the system. The champion challenged Calieshan. “If I prove to you that I could eliminate your great speed, would you then join me?” The champion asked. Calieshan replied, “Yes.”
Calieshan attacked with a lunge punch to the body; the champion wasn’t fast enough to avoid the blow so he retracted his stomach and Calieshan’s punch fell short of its mark. The champion counter-attacked with a powerful punch to Calieshan’s upper arm, temporarily paralyzing it. No longer able to utilize the speed in his arms Calieshan attempted a sidekick. The champion didn’t even try to avoid the kick; instead he once again launched a counter-attack and struck Calieshan behind the heel of the foot. The strike temporarily paralyzed Calieshan’s leg, thus his great speed was eliminated and he was defeated.
The champion stated to Calieshan, “I defeated you based on my knowledge of distance and timing. Join with me and I will teach you.” Calieshan joined the big champion and for many years the champion shared his knowledge with Calieshan and the other Black Belts.
The champion’s style was Chito-ryu. His name was Mike Foster and he was recognized as one the south’s greatest competitors. Mike Foster’s theory of fighting was to react to the movements of the attacker through the development of distance and timing. Mike Foster’s theories of fighting are still prominent in the martial arts today. Mike Foster had lived in Japan for ten years, studying the Chito-ryu system with Master Mamaru Yamamoto.
Calieshan, Dr. Bernard Collins, trained under Master Yamamoto for many years. He eventually broke from the organization and started the Okuno-ryu system (a blending of many styles). During his many travels, Dr. Collins was exposed to numerous other systems of martial arts. He learned from his experiences that many arts have techniques and philosophies of value and he often incorporated them into the Okuno-ryu style.
In the nineteen eighties, after suffering from a serious medical condition and becoming disillusioned with the general state of martial arts, Dr. Collins went into seclusion. After over fifteen years the Inochi Maru dojo contacted Dr. Collins. Although he had never known that an Okuno-ryu school existed in the northeastern United States, he was pleased to hear that his art was still alive and growing. Although the art had changed dramatically from its origins, it remained true to the philosophy of incorporating techniques from other systems to improve the style. Dr. Collins was disappointed to hear that the complete Okuno-ryu had not been passed down over the years and agreed to teach the system once again.
In March of 2000, Dr. Collins was inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame for his contributions and commitment to the martial arts.
Birth of Okuno-ryu has been adapted from the Karenzukai Handbook written by Dr. Bernard “Calieshan” Collins.