Cathy Cline

There may be some missing pieces of the puzzle, but those ‘missing pieces‘ are what makes Karate eternally interesting. Even after training for decades, a true martial artist continues to learn, continues to experience epiphanies that make training more meaningful.

Cathy Cline

The highest-ranked woman in the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF), Cathy Cline was the first woman to receive the rank of 8th Dan from Teruyuki Okazaki and Yutaka Yaguchi. She is widely recognised as a brilliant instructor and is one of the best Shotokan instructors in the United States.

Cathy Cline was born on 20 September 1950, in Buffalo, New York. Growing up, she attended Franklin Academy.

In 1968 Cline graduated from high school. She enrolled at Long Island University (LIU), in Brooklyn, New York.

While in her first year at LIU an incident occurred which led to her interest in self-defence and Karate. One evening, when Cline was walking back to her dormitory, she was grabbed from behind by a man, who had emerged from a dark alley. Luckily she managed to escape.

In 1972 Cline graduated from LIU with a degree in Sociology. The following year she moved to Denver, Colorado for work.

Cline started working for Grand Prix Management, which owned and managed properties in the Denver area. They owned and managed the property where Yutaka Yaguchi’s dojo was located.

Yaguchi had first arrived in the United States in 1965. He had assisted Hidetaka Nishiyama at his Los Angeles dojo. Yaguchi relocated to Denver in 1974. He established the ISKF of Colorado, the regional headquarters for the Mountain State Region of the ISKF. He would visit Cline’s office to pay the rent for his dojo.

Cline decided to visit Yaguchi’s dojo to watch an afternoon Karate class. She liked what she saw in the session.

Even though Yaguchi’s students were mainly men, he encouraged women to train in his classes, as he believed Karate was for everybody. Cline eventually plucked up the courage to take a class at the dojo.

Cline liked training with Yaguchi. She found his demeanour to be welcoming. His classes, while very tough, were always fun. She found that his classes challenged her, but also excited her. She eventually started training six days a week. She was totally hooked by Karate and was enjoying all she was learning.

In 1974 the JKA Chief Instructor, Masatoshi Nakayama visited the Denver dojo, alongside Motokuni Sugiura.

Yutaka returned to Japan on a visit in 1975, with a small group of students, that included Cline. They had the opportunity to attend the 18th JKA All Japan Karate Championships held at the Budokan in Tokyo. They were introduced to Hirokazu Kanazawa, Masahiko Tanaka, Masataka Mori, Masaaki Ueki, Hiroshi Shoji, and many of the competitors. The group had the opportunity to train at the JKA Hombu. They were also given special permission to watch a training session in the Instructors Class.

Cline had her first opportunity to train with Teruyuki Okazaki in 1976 when he was invited to visit the Denver dojo.

Having an open mind, Yutaka encouraged his students to train with instructors from both Japan and the United States. Cline had the opportunity to meet and train with instructors like Greer Golden, Ray Dalke, Frank Smith, and James Field. She even had the opportunity to spar against the legendary Masahiko Tanaka, while she was still a green belt.

Cline liked to compete. This was during a time when tournaments did not take women’s competition seriously. She would travel to Arizona and California, with Yaguchi, to compete in tournaments run by Shojiro Koyama and Ray Dalke. As a competitor she was a:

  • World Cup finalist
  • Pan-American Champion
  • 4-time Women’s National Champion
  • 2-time Women’s Team Champion
  • 4-time Best contestant

Hidetaka Nishiyama was the head of the All-American Karate Federation (AAKF) and represented the JKA interests in the United States. There had been growing tension between him and the other Japanese instructors in the organisation. They felt that their voices and opinions were not being heard.

In 1977, after a heated meeting, five of the Japanese instructors – Teruyuki Okazaki, Takayuki Mikami, Yutaka Yaguchi, Shojiro Koyama, and Shigeru Takashina – split from Nishiyama’s AAKF, to form the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF). Masataka Mori was the only Japanese instructor to remain with Nishiyama. The ISKF was still affiliated with the JKA.

Cline could see the benefits Karate had as a form of self-defence for women. As a brown belt, she approached Yaguchi, to ask if she could teach an eight-week self-defence course for women. With his approval, she started teaching around 15 women. After the course ended, several of the women joined the main Denver dojo.

In August 1980 Cline moved from Denver to New York, to attend graduate school. She enrolled at Long Island University (LIU), to study for a Masters in Exercise Physiology.

Cline missed training with Yaguchi and the many friends she had made in Denver. She continued her training by travelling 90 miles from New York to Philadelphia, each weekend. She trained at that ISKF Hombu under Okazaki.

Training at the ISKF Hombu was very different. Yaguchi had focused his teaching around complex combinations. Okazaki focused his teaching on developing strong basics, through numerous repetitions. Classes were intense, with students being pushed to their limits, both physically and mentally.

In September 1981, the ISKF allowed women to enrol on the ISKF Instructors Course. Cline was one of four women to enrol on the course, training under Okazaki.

Cline graduated from LIU in 1982, with a Masters in Exercise Physiology. She moved to Philadelphia, primarily to continue her training on the Instructors Course, as well as find work. She served as the Secretary for the ISKF at the Hombu.

By 1990 Cline had graduated from the ISKF Instructors Course and had begun to establish herself as a good instructor. That year she established the Western Washington Shotokan Karate Club.

In 1994 the ISKF hosted the 5th Shoto Cup, the JKA’s version of the World Championships.

Cline had become a very well-respected instructor. In June 1998 she was appointed to the ISKF Technical Committee by Okazaki and Yaguchi, as a 6th Dan. Okazaki had decided that that the ISKF needed a Technical Committee. Maynard Miner, James Field, Frank Woon-A-Tai, Greer Golden, and Robin Rielly were also appointed to the committee.

June 2004 marked the 40th anniversary of the ISKF Summer Camp. The ISKF Summer Camp was an important date in the training diary. Many of the top instructors in the United States and from around the world were invited to teach at the camp.

Cline was awarded her 7th Dan in June 2005.

In June 2007 the ISKF split from the JKA. Takayuki Mikami, Shojiro Koyama, and Shigeru Takashina decided to remain with the JKA.

Okazaki and Yaguchi headed the new ISKF. The ISKF held the 1st ISKF World Shoto Cup in Toronto, Canada, in 2008.

Between 8-15 June 2012, The 46th Annual Master Camp and International Goodwill Tournament was held in Philadelphia. The Instructors were Okazaki, Yaguchi, Masaru Miura, and Shunsuke Takahashi. Cline was asked to give a lecture entitled, ‘ISKF Technical Committee – purpose, history, and function‘.

The second ISKF World Shoto Cup was held in Barbados in 2012.

Cline’s Washington Shotokan Karate Club celebrated its 25 year anniversary in 2015.

On 21 April 2020, Teruyuki Okazaki, one of Cline’s mentors, died from complications due to Covid-19.

Cathy Cline is the highest-ranked woman in the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF). She was the first woman to receive the rank of 8th Dan in the ISKF. She currently sits on the ISKF Technical Committee. Living in the city of Bellevue, Washington, she is the Chief Instructor of the ISKF Northwest Region (which contains clubs in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Northern California).

Apart from Karate, Cline is also a student of Tai Chi, which she has found to complement her Shotokan Karate.

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  1. Excuse my asking, but wouldn`t it be a good idea to write a piece on Dirk Heene Sensei?
    He is one of Kase Sensei`s top pupils and has the best Karate MIND I`ve ever had the fortune to train under.

    1. Hello Philip. I post on Dirk Heene has been written and will be published in the next couple of weeks.

    • Roseann Ferrara on August 12, 2021 at 7:08 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for writing about such an inspirational and deserving individual. Sensei Cline has achieved so much in the art and is highly respected for her accomplishments, knowledge and dedication to karate.

    • Joyce on August 13, 2021 at 4:52 pm
    • Reply

    Truly an inspiration for her former high school classmates. Well done!

    • Len Henzke on May 19, 2023 at 4:03 pm
    • Reply

    It was a pleasure to have dinner last night with Kathy Kline. Len and Annette Henzke.

    • Paul Bedard on January 24, 2024 at 2:01 pm
    • Reply

    Very nice article, however an important point has been missed.
    In 1991 Sensei Cline started hosting Camp Brotherhood in Washington State. Guest instructors such as; Teruyuki Okazaki, Yutaka Yaguchi, Kojiro Koyama, Greer Golden, Robin Riley and more. Along with supporting us here in British Columbia Canada, camps, seminars, tournaments etc..
    Sensei Cline has been instrumental in supporting ISKF Shotokan Karate in the Northwest for decades. She is truly a wonderful person.

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