Sensei Kim

Black Belt Magazine referred to O’Sensei Kim as “Karate’s Guiding Light.” To myself and many of his students he certainly was our “Guiding Light.” O’Sensei Kim was a great martial arts instructor, but he was also an untiring student. He was constantly studying, practicing and learning throughout his entire life, right up until the time of his death. He taught the technical aspects of many traditional martial arts such as Karate, Kobudo (Okinawan and Japanese weaponry), Aiki-Jujutsu, T’ai Chi Chuan, P’a Kua and others. The depth and extent of this instruction was phenomenal. For example, it would not be unusual to find a veteran black belt who had been taught as many as sixty empty hand kata and forty or more weapons kata. It would be safe to say that a yondan in his headquarters region would have one-hundred-eight empty hand and weapons kata in his or her memory bank. Then along with the kata was the instruction in the application of the moves of the kata, the use of the weapons in combat, the body dynamics and self defense principles and techniques. The physical training was endless.

But there was much more to O’Sensei Kim’s teachings than physical techniques alone. In fact, it would be safe to say that the physical aspects of the training was just the proverbial “Tip of the iceberg.” He lectured and spoke about martial arts philosophy, psychology, history and strategy endlessly. For you see, O’Sensei was not just training martial artists, he was developing artists of life. O’Sensei was certainly a master’s master. I trained with him for almost four decades and what seemed incredible to me is that throughout all those years he was always teaching us something new. Students that stayed with O’Sensei for five to ten years might say that from their perspective O’Sensei taught Shorinji-Ryu Karate and lots of bojutsu (Stick fighting). If you talked to other students who trained during a different period they would say he taught Shorinji-Ryu and T’ai Chi, with some P’a Kua. And students from even a different period would say “Yes, he taught Karate, but he also taught lots of Aiki-Jujutsu.” Those that stayed with him for a relatively short time learned much, those that saw him a few times a year also learned much, but for those that stayed with him for year upon year found themselves plunging deeper and deeper into an incredible world of the martial arts that few seldom have the opportunity to experience.

O’Sensei touched the life of literally thousands of students spread across the United States, Canada and Europe. For many of us I would have to say that he had a profound impact on our lives. He was not just the “Guiding Light” in our martial arts studies, he was the “Guiding Light” in our lives. He started us down the path to becoming “Artists of Life.” Now that he has passed away, it is up to each of us how far down that path we will travel.

O’Sensei’s dedication to learning and then passing on that knowledge serves as a wonderful inspiration to those of us who struggle to past on his lessons. As I said above, he was always a student himself. His thirst for knowledge was amazing. He has left us with the lesson to always keep the “Beginners Mind,” to never stop learning. He unselfishly passed on the lessons that he learned to those who were willing to listen. One thing that will always remain with me is how he always opened up his seminars to beginners as well as experienced black belts. Instructors attending his seminars would find themselves alongside their own white belt students learning kata and other lessons together. There was no room for ego, you simply trained. And the training never stopped. We would often get up before five in the morning and get out to the training area. The lesson began as soon as O’Sensei arrived. That lesson continued through your practice, through breakfast, on into the morning workout, through lunch and into the afternoon workout, through dinner and into the formal evening lecture. Following his lecture many of us would then be invited to his room for continuing lessons. Sometime after midnight we would be excused for a few hours sleep and then start the learning process all over a five in the morning. When you were with O’Sensei you immersed yourself into the martial arts.

Whether it was to meet O’Sensei for training, traveling, a meal or whatever, you always wanted to arrive before he did. And he was always early. Striving to arrive before O’Sensei was quite an adventure in itself. Many a student heard these words, “Don’t worry, you’re not late, I haven’t started yet.” But of course the lessons had started. Because they never stopped. I can not remember a time when I was with O’Sensei when he was not teaching us. It didn’t matter whether you were in a hotel lobby, on a plane, sitting at a meal or just walking down the street, he was always teaching! And that is the way it was all his life, up to the very end. O’Sensei brought us in and taught his last seminar, just two weeks before his death. He never stopped giving, he never stopped learning.

So it really seems to me that O’Sensei Kim dedicated his life to his students. He gave of himself unselfishly. And as one of his instructors I always ask myself, “Can we do any less?”