Profile: James Field

Through teaching I learned that Karate is for everybody, not just athletes and competitors. Everybody can get something out of it…

James Field

A pioneer of American Shotokan Karate, James Field is one of the first four Americans certified to teach Shotokan Karate in the United States. A technical martial artist, he was also a successful competitor. However, it is as a teacher that he has had the biggest influence.

James Field was born in Sandy Bay, Jamaica on 12 October 1939. He and his family emigrated to the United States.

In 1964, Field was recuperating from an American football injury. A friend suggested that Karate would be a great way to strengthen his knees. While in Hawaii he became a student of Hirokazu Kanazawa. Kanazawa had been sent by the JKA to develop Karate in Hawaii. Fields trained with Kanazawa for around seven months.

On Field’s return to the United States, he was driving around Los Angeles when he came across the dojo of Hidetaka Nishiyama. He became a member of the dojo. Others who trained at the dojo included James Yabe, Ray Dalke and Frank Smith.

On 5 June 1965, Field recalled seeing Yutaka Yaguchi training at the dojo for the first time. Yaguchi was a product of the JKA Instructors Course and had just arrived from Japan.

Field had been unhappy with his training and had been looking to quit. However, watching Yaguchi train had a profound effect on him. He was so impressed with the way he moved and his speed. He knew he wanted to train with him. Field stuck with his training and eventually became a member of the dojo competition team.

James Fields

Between 1967 to 1968 Field travelled to Japan to train. He had received a recommendation from Teruyuki Okazaki that allowed him to train at the JKA Hombu. He trained three times a day, in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The training was extremely hard. He trained in the same class with the likes of Masahiko Tanaka, Yoshiharu Osaka, Kenji Yano, and Mikio Yahara.

On his return to the United States, Field completed the JKA (USA) Instructors Training Course in 1969. He became one of the first four Americans certified to teach Shotokan Karate. The others to qualify from the course were Greer Golden, Ray Dalke, and Lester Ingber.

As a qualified instructor, Field began teaching in 1971. He coached at several universities, that included:

  • University of Southern California
  • UCLA
  • Cal State LA
  • Cal State San Diego
  • Cal State Santa Barbara
  • Santa Monica College

In 1972 Field gave up competing to concentrate fully on teaching. He opened his own dojo on 22 September, the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) Santa Monica Dojo. For the next couple of years, he concentrated on teaching his students. Known as a technician he brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to his teaching. He was a strict but compassionate teacher, only wanting the best from his students.

Field was selected to be an assistant coach of the US team that competed at the All Japan Tournament in Tokyo in 1983. He continued in this role for a number of years.

In 1990 the 3rd Shoto Cup was held in Sunderland, England. Now in his 50s Field was asked to captain the US National Team. To many, this was a strange selection given his age and the fact that he had been retired from competitive Karate for a number of years. Field’s performances surprised many people and even surpassed many of his much younger teammates.

In 2001 Field was promoted to 7th Dan. On 9 June 2008, he alongside Robin Rielly and Maynard Miner were promoted to 8th Dan.

As a senior member of the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF), Field has travelled around the United States and affiliated countries, teaching Karate. 30 August to 1 September 2012 saw him give a Karate clinic on the Caribbean island of Barbados. The clinic was covered by the Barbados press.

On 12 October 2019 Field celebrated his 80th birthday. His students threw him a birthday bash at his Santa Monica Dojo.

There are no signs of James Field retiring any time soon. He still actively teaches at his Santa Monica dojo. He also holds a number of senior roles in the ISKF. He is the Director of the Southwest Region of the ISKF. James Field has been quietly going about his work over the years. A well-respected and very technical instructor, he has helped develop a new generation of students in the traditional way of Shotokan Karate.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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