Story by Mickey Knox
Photo courtesy Hawaii Karate Museum Collection
Hundreds had gathered at UH Manoa’s Art Auditorium last June for the occasion: The Hawaii Karate Museum was donating a portion of its collection to the university’s Center for Okinawan Studies, then only a year old. Hawai‘i’s martial arts community came to celebrate the moment but mainly to watch rare demonstrations by the Islands’ most respected practitioners. “You should never just be kuchibushi,” emcee Charles C. Goodin told the crowd, “a mouth-warrior.”
Which is a good thing, since Goodin, the founder of the Hawaii Karate Museum, doesn’t speak Japanese. He began studying karate in Hawai‘i in the ninth grade, when he took a class at Hickam AFB. Little did he know then that the karate he would practice for the rest of his life was centuries-old, passed down undiluted from its origins in Okinawa.
Karate came to Hawai‘i with the first Okinawan immigrants around 1900. Sensei would teach in backyards and garages throughout the Islands, since organized dojo didn’t exist. (Ironically in Japan, where large dojo did exist, many of the old forms were lost.) When WWII devastated Okinawa, Hawai‘i became “a repository for Okinawan culture,” says Goodin, who began collecting ten years ago after founding his own school, Hikari Dojo. Over time he invested $30,000, but as Okinawan families heard of his efforts, they donated a wealth of images and books: a rich and hidden history. “I thought I’d have to go to Okinawa,” Goodin says, “but the treasures were all here in Hawai‘i.” Today the collection is the largest of its kind in the world.
Goodin had stored the collection in his ‘Aiea law offices, occasionally pulling out the gems for special exhibits, but it was otherwise inaccessible to the public and too much responsibility for one man. So last June Hamilton Library accepted about 2,500 items into its recently established Okinawa Collection; now digital versions of over forty rare books and journals, with more to come, are available at www.hawaii.edu/asiaref/okinawa/. “People who see karate, whose kids do karate, don’t realize that there are centuries of history in Okinawa and over a 100 years in Hawai‘i,” says Goodin. “It’s a really important collection. Now it’s an accessible collection.”