Caylor Adkins

I have learned a lot from other systems, but I did so to enhance my Karate skills. No single system has the whole truth, so there is always room for growth. By the same token, you can’t learn it all, so your experiments must be selective.

Caylor Adkins

Described as “the true embodiment of a karateka“, Caylor Adkins was an early practitioner and pioneer of Shotokan Karate in the United States. He was one of the first men graded to black belt by Tsutomu Ohshima. He was one of the first Americans to be awarded a 5th Dan.

Caylor Adkins was born on 15 May 1934 in the city of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Like most people of the time, he was introduced to martial arts through Judo.

In 1957 Adkins was introduced to Karate. He saw Tsutomu Ohshima give a Karate demonstration at the Nisei Week held in little Tokyo, Los Angeles. The week was an annual festival celebrating Japanese American culture and history. In October of 1957, Adkins started training with Ohshima at his Los Angeles dojo.

By 1959 Ohshima head formed the Southern California Karate of America (SCKA) Association. Adkins had been training diligently for over two years. In December of that year, he became one of the first six men graded to 1st Dan by Ohshima. The other men with George Murakami, Mas Norihiro, Jordan Roth, Roe Suzuki, and George Takahashi. They were the first American-trained black belts in Shotokan Karate.

In 1961 Adkins formed the California State University, Long Beach Karate Club. The CSULB Shotokan Karate Club was the university’s first Karate club and the second university Karate club established in the United States. There is a common misconception that the club dissolved only after one semester. The club actually continued until 1963.

Adkins was given the chance to travel to Japan in 1961, to study at Ohshima’s old university. He studied Karate at Waseda University. He had the opportunity to study under Shigeru Egami. He also met and trained with Sadaharu Honda. Honda was the captain of the Waseda University Karate Club.

On his return to the United States, Adkins established his Long Beach dojo. It was located in John Ogden’s Judo dojo. Ogden was a widely respected judoka.

In 1962 Sadaharu Honda moved to the United States to continue his studies. During this time he assisted Adkins at his Long Beach dojo.

By 1967 American Shotokan Karate was developing well. Ohshima organised a group of students to tour and demonstrate their Karate in Japan. The touring group of 36 consisted of a mixture of black, brown, and white belts. The group also consisted of wives and children. Adkins, now a 3rd Dan, was named captain of the group. By this time he had been training with Ohshima for 10 years.

The touring Americans put on a demonstration at the National Gymnasium in Tokyo. They also toured various universities, competing against the students of the university Karate clubs pitted against them. The universities they visited included Waseda, Keio, Hosei, Nihon, Tokudai, Toho, and Meiji.

The touring party also had the opportunity to learn from guest instructors. This included Masami Tsuroka who was based in Canada; Tetsuji Murakami who was based in France; and Sadaharu Honda who was now based in Los Angeles. They also received some instruction from the ‘old boys‘ of the various Karate clubs, i.e. senior grades like Isao Obata.

On their visit to Waseda University, the touring party took part in a challenge match. The American team consisted of Adkins, Ken Osborne, Jim Sagawa, Daniel Chemla, and Jordan Roth. In the final bout of the match, Adkins faced the former captain of the Waseda team, Naito, who was also a 3rd Dan. There was mutual respect from all involved in the challenge match.

The tour proved to be a success. The Japanese were impressed by the strong development of American Karate, under the leadership of Ohshima. They were impressed by the physical strength that many of the Americans had, compared to the Japanese counterparts.

In 1968 Ohshima invited Isao Obato to the United States. Obata taught a number of classes, imparting some of his considerable knowledge. That same year Adkins re-established the CSULB Shotokan Karate Club.

Adkins had always been interested in exploring other martial arts. He was keen to incorporate new techniques that would improve his Karate. In 1965 he started practising a long staff form/kata that he eventually added into his teaching. In the 1970s he started practising with the steel ball. He also experimented with Tai Chi and Western Boxing.

In 1973 Adkins helped produce an English translation for Gichin Funakoshi’s Karate-Do Kyohan, published by Kodansha. He also had the opportunity to train with Shigeru Egami, on his visit to the United States.

In 1974 Adkins led Canada Shotokan’s first special training session at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The following year he led Canada Shotokan East’s first winter special training in Montreal.

Adkins became the National Chairman of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Karate Committee in 1975, a position he held until 1977. He had to deal with a lot of the political infighting found in American Karate at the time. He also became a member of the World Union of Karate-do Organisations (WUKO).

In 1975 Adkins was given the Distinguished Service Award – Man of the Year, by the USA Karate Hall of Fame.

In 1976, at the 20th Anniversary celebration of Shotokan Karate of America (SKA), Ohshima promoted Adkins, Sadaharu Honda, and Daniel Chemla the rank of 5th Dan. This was the highest rank that could be awarded. They became the first man outside of Japan to be awarded the rank. For many, this was a coming of age for American Shotokan.

On 31 December 1986 Adkins was married to his second wife, Carol. Around this time, apart from teaching at his dojo, he was also working as a health consultant.

By 2000, Adkins wanted to retire and move away from California. It took him and his wife several years before they found the ideal location. In 2009 they moved to Pittsburgh.

In 2011 Adkins’ book, ‘Iron Ball, Wooden Staff, Empty Hand‘ was published. The book was a collection of the many things he had learnt over the years.

On 3 November 2018, Caylor Adkins died, aged 84 years. To honour and commemorate him, the CSULB Shotokan Karate Club had a memorial practice session on 20 January 2019. The training session was led by Ken Osborne.

A student of Tsutomu Ohshima, Caylor Adkins helped establish Shotokan Karate on the West Coast of the United States. Because he didn’t compete in many tournaments he may not have been widely known. However, he played a pivotal part in the early development of Shotokan Karate in the United States.

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