Richard Kim

There are many karatekas who believe in taking this form and that form to use as their total armament. To me, this is unnecessary. Call it the ‘purist view’ if you will, but if you learn just a few moves, and they are effective, that is all you need.

Richard Kim

To see Richard Kim, dressed in his bowtie, and blazer, one could be forgiven as seeing him simply as an academic professor, rather than a martial arts master. Although he held a PhD in Oriental Philosophy, he was also an expert in Karate, Aikijujutsu, and Judo, not to mention the many other arts he has studied.

Richard Kim was born on 17 November 1919 in Hilo, Hawaii to a Japanese mother and a Korean father. This gave him dual American and Japanese citizenship. His mother owned a hotel and his father was a landscaper. Because of this mixed heritage, Kim was frequently bullied as a child.

In 1925 at the age of 6, Kim’s mother enrolled him at a Judo dojo located in her building. She believed studying Judo would give him a grounding in Japanese martial arts and etiquette. The dojo was run by Tatsu Bata.

Kim’s introduction to Karate came in 1927 when he saw Okinawan Master Kentsu Yabu give a Shorinji-ryu demonstration at the Nuanu YMCA in Honolulu on 8 July 1927. Kentsu was assisted in the demonstration by Ankichi Arakaki.

After his Karate demonstration, Yabu remained in Hawaii for a year teaching his style of Karate. Kim was one of the students who trained with him.

Kim started training with Arakaki after Yabu left Hawaii. However, following Arakaki’s untimely death in 1929, Kim started training with Zuiho Mutsu.

In 1935 Kim graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Hawaii.

Around this time Kim took an active interest in boxing. Training primarily at the Sato Boxing Gym, he would visit many of the local boxing clubs to train. He later boxed professionally. He had 42 fights and became the Champion of the Orient.

After his junior year at Hawaii University, he left to study at the University of Shanghai in 1937. While in Shanghai he studied Shorinjiryu Kenpo from a Taoist priest named Chao Hsu Lai.

In 1939 Kim toured China and Japan, training wherever he could. In China, he had the opportunity to train under Chien Chen Wa, from whom he learnt the internal Chinese martial arts of Tai Chi and Pakua. His dual nationality allowed him to travel to Japan, where he trained with various Masters including Kentsu Yabu and Kenichi Sawai.

In Japan, he was allowed to train at the Dai Nippon Butoku–Kai, Japan’s oldest martial arts organisation. Established in the 1800s, the organisation was the only institution in Japan to award Dan grades to various martial arts, before World War II. It was during this time that Kim met Komo Ono, a 10th Dan master in Kendo.

On 7 December 1941, Japan declared war on the United States, by bombing the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, located in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the time, Kim was working as a merchant seaman on the USS President Harrison.

On 8 December 1941, the USS Harrison was attacked by a Japanese destroyer. The ship was captured and the crew and passengers were taken as prisoners of war to the occupied city of Shanghai for the duration of the war.

During this time Kim had the opportunity to train under prominent Chinese Masters like Chen Chen Yuan, Chao Hsu Lai, and Wang Xing Zai.

After the end of World War II in 1945, Kim worked for a short time in the Merchant Marines as a steward, travelling between Japan and Hawaii. During this time he continued to train in Japan whenever he got the chance.

By 1948 Kim owned and operated a bar and boarding house, called the Light House, in Yokohama. It was also around this time he married and had a daughter.

In 1949 Kim became a student of Daito-ryu master Kotaro Yoshida, who would have a profound influence on him. Yoshida is considered one of the best all-round martial artists that Japan ever produced. Kim trained with him for seven years. During this time he became proficient in the use of the sword, spear, bo, shuriken, kusarigama, sai, nunchaku, and tonfa. Mas Oyama was another student of Yoshida during this time. Oyama and Kim became good friends.

Following a style of teaching that was very popular at the time, Yoshida would send his students to other prominent masters of the time, to round out their skills. Both Kim and Oyama were sent to train with Aikido master, Morihei Ueshiba. Kim recalled training at the Aikido Hombu for around a year. Training would start at 6 am and finish at 9 pm every day.

Yoshida also sent him and Oyama to study with Goju-ryu master, Gogen Yamaguchi. Both men were eventually graded to black belt in Goju-ryu.

Kim also had the opportunity to train with Kobudo masters, Kanken Toyama and Hiroshi Kinjo.

Kim started teaching in Yokohama, in the early 1950s. He taught a mixture of Shorinji Ryu Karate, Judo, and Kobudo. It was around this time that a young Peter Urban started training with him. Urban would eventually go on to train with Gogen Yamaguchi and become a pioneer of Goju-ryu Karate in America.

In 1957 Kim had the opportunity to meet Gichin Funakoshi during his last public performance. That same year, Kim established the Kenshu Kan Karate school in Hawaii, with James Miyagi.

After his stay in Japan, Kim returned to the United States in 1959, settling in San Francisco. He established the Zen Bei Butoku Kai on behalf of Ono Komo.

In 1959 Kim began teaching at the Chinese YMCA in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He taught a mixture of Judo and Karate. Sometimes after training sessions, he would teach a mixture of philosophy, history, and strategy to his students.

Kim never wanted his class sizes to be more than 50 students. Once class sizes increased beyond that size he would conduct tough training sessions until some students left, returning the class to a more manageable size of 50. His first generation of students included Leroy Rodriguez, Rod Sandford, Louise Jemison, and Robert Leong.

In 1961 Hidetaka Nishiyama arrived in the United States as a replacement to Tsutomu Ohshima, at his Los Angeles dojo. He eventually met Kim and both men became good friends. Kim would become Vice President in Nishiyama’s organisation, a position he held until his death.

In 1967 Kim was named Black Belt Magazine’s “Karate Sensei of the Year“.

On 1 December 1969 Kim was awarded his 9th Dan from the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.

Kim started writing for a number of magazines in 1970. This included Karate Illustrated Magazine, for which he wrote a regular monthly column.

In 1973 Kim was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as “Instructor of the Year“. He would receive another “Man of the Year” award in 1986.

Kim started attending Hidetaka Nishiyama’s annual summer camp held in San Diego in 1975. He was invited to be a guest instructor. He continued attending the annual event until 2001. 1975 also saw him named in the ‘Who’s Who of martial arts ‘.

1976 saw Kim help establish the Butokukai International with branches in France and Germany. Butokukai Canada was founded in 1993.

Kim developed a love for Canada. In 1979 he was invited to teach at the first Guelph summer camp. In 1983 he was invited to Victoria, British Columbia to teach the first of many summer camps held at the University of Victoria. He held his final Victoria summer camp in 1999 aged 79 years old.

In 1984 Kim was awarded a 9th Dan by Nishiyama’s International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF). The Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai awarded him a 10th Dan in 1999.

In 1996 the 1st National Butokukai Karate Championships took place in Vancouver, Canada. Competitors were mainly from the United States and Canada. The 2nd National Butokukai Karate Championships were held two years later, in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Apart from writing for several magazines, Kim has had a number of books published. This includes:

  • The weaponless warrior (1974)
  • The Classical Man (1982)
  • Kobudo 1, 2, 3 (1983-1986)

Richard Kim died on 8 November 2001 aged 83 years old in San Diego, California. He was survived by his wife Mary. The ITKF posthumously awarded him a 10th Dan.

One of the most well-respected martial artist of his era, especially among his peers, Richard Kim was a “Classical Man“. A master in several martial arts, he was also a master orator. He would hold lectures after training sessions, teaching his students philosophy, history, strategy, and the spiritual aspects of martial arts. Many of his insights are still applicable to today’s martial artists.

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