not knowing why we were going. The first time Kise had me do only kata for the Grand Master, the second time I did kata and fighting. Sensei Nakamura had chosen one of his better fighters, a rank higher than mine. After suiting up in bogozuki (body armore) Kise acting as referee would stand between us, than look for Nakamura’s approval to start.

Next he would shout “Hajimarimas”, begin, both my opponent and I would start banging on each other, throwing kicks, punches and anything we could throw. After about four to five minutes Kise shouted “sumashimas” finish. Both my opponent and I thought we were the winners. Nakamura said “yoi, yoi”, good, good! It was not too much later that I found out why I had been taken to all of the these different school s fighting and performing kata, as well as to the Grand Master’s home. I had been one of two Americans chosen to represent Okinawa in the Tokyo Championships.

Letter picking Jimmy Coffman to represent ` Okinawa in the Tokyo Championships
Sensei Kise and Jimmy Coffman in Tokyo

Now I know that all of those trips to Nakamura’s and Shimabuku’s was part of the representation selection process.

All good things finally came to an end in late 1964 when I was twenty-one years old. I’d been in Okinawa for forty-two months, (three and one half years) training under Kise the whole time, without a break, seven days a week, average of five hours per day. I was a Fourth Dan by then, and was working on Fifth with Kise and Soken, when I got orders for my return to the States. I was being sent to Pope Air Force Base at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

By then, modern developments were already affecting Okinawan karate. When I first arrived on the island in 1960, there hadn’t been a single American training at Kise’s dojo. By the time I left, Kise had sixty-seven GIs in his class on base at the Schilling Center dojo, plus another handful at his home dojo.

After I returned to the states I found out that a friend of mine who’d studied Okinawan Kempo under Sheguru Nakamura, Gary Saluter, was living in Maryland (my home State) too, so we started working out together three or four times a week.

Upon returning to Maryland, right away, of course, I started going to every karate school in the area. In those days, there weren’t many: a few Korean schools, a Goju-Ryu school, and an Isshin-Ryu school. I sparred with anyone who would answer my challenge, but I found no impressive karate technique, or dojo’s that I wanted to join. The karate and training were completely different from Okinawa, much softer, lacking the full contact I was used too. Classes were short and less aggressive, students were weak and trained with unrealistic techniques involving little direct contact, plus weapons’ training was rare back in 1965.

I thought that if I opened my own school, I could have hundreds of students by teaching the way Kise had taught me on Okinawa.

In 1965, I opened my first karate school with Gary Saluter. It was located in Washington DC, above a bar, The Rabbits Foot. The training was seven days a week, three to four hours per class. The school lasted less than one year due to the loss of students. We could not keep students because of the hard contact.

Again Gary and I started training on our own after the dojo closed. In 1968, I started teaching for the Department of Parks and Recreation in Washington, DC. I quit my full time job in 1970 to open a dojo, “Shorin Karate Studios, Inc.” located in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I started teaching classes six nights a week, with private lessons during the day. Ever since leaving Okinawa, I’d been writing to Kise, but I could never get enough money to move him and his family to the United States, as I had hoped to do.

Kise had promoted me to Fifth Dan in 1967 after I’d been studying my Fifth Dan kata and techniques for three years. I was always looking for another teacher, but I couldn’t find anyone good, and I didn’t want to bastardize my training. I didn’t want to learn anything other than the style of karate Kise and Soken had taught me. Learning another style would make me a jack-of-all-trades, but master of nothing. Knowing about other systems is good—that’s why Kise took me to other schools on Okinawa—and being familiar with other styles is most helpful when you have to fight someone who has trained differently. But learning about various techniques is not the same as training in different styles or systems. To know and concentrate in depth on one style is always better than diluting your style by cross training in multiple ones.

Training by myself for many years left me with nothing new to learn. In a way, that turned out to be a good thing: I concentrated on reinforcing everything I already knew. I gained a clearer understanding of the techniques; and learned how to deliver them with maximum speed, weight transfer, and strength. My knowledge of karate from day one had always been focused on building the foundation—that’s what Kise had taught me, and that’s what we’d always done. A stronger foundation can support a taller building. Training by myself taught me the true secret of karate: basics and practice, practice, practice. I began to understand completely how the essence of karate is created by the foundation of basics. Every move in a kata is also included in a basic drill somewhere. A fighter either knows it, or isn’t high enough in rank to have figured it out.

As head of my own dojo, I led my classes through the basic drills over and over again, just like we had trained in Okinawa. One training session could mean thousands of punches, blocks, and kicks, in every progressive permutation I could imagine. I worked my students until people were cramping up, and their arms and legs were bruised and swollen. I’ve never believed an instructor should stand around barking orders, so I did everything I asked of my students. If they did 1,000 front kicks, I did 1,000 front kicks. When my students sparred, I sparred.

In 1972 Grand Master Hohan Soken (his first and only trip) and Master Fusei Kise made their first trip to the States. I was finally re-united with my only instructors after ten years of training on my own. In 1974, Kise came to the US and stayed with me for several weeks. We worked out every day together for the first time in ten years. It was a great awakening for me. Kise had been a Fourth Dan under Maeshiro’s Shorinji-ryu with I first started karate back in 1960. Kise said he started training under Soken in 1954-5.

In 1967 I found out that Kise had simply thrown out all that hard karate that he had and solely focus on Soken’s Matsumura Seito Shorin-ryu. He no longer trained in the old hard system of Shorinji-ryu. Kise couldn’t even remember any of the Shorinji kata. He didn’t know the Shorinji version of Seisan, Wansu, or Anunku—the very first kata he had taught me. “This is Shorinji, and this is Matsumura. It is much better,” he explained to me. During all the time I’d worked out with Soken and Kise in Okinawa, I’d never heard those terms used. “Matsumura Seito,” Kise just said, “its upper-level Shorin-Ryu.”

In 1974 Soken and Kise appointed me as US head of Smoka (Shorin-ryu Matsumura Karate Association). Since I was heading the association, I interacted with a lot of Kise’s students after they returned to the US. These were senior ranks, like Fred Sypher, who had studied under Kise on Okinawa for six to eight years total time—much longer than I had. They practiced pure Matsumura, without any Shorinji. They used open hand techniques and a lot of body change, but they lacked the power that came from Shorinji-ryu.

Sensei Kise 1975

I was aware of those people and their karate when Kise and I started working together again. We trained together privately during the day, and he taught my classes in the evening. He was still strong, but not like he had been when I was on the island. He had more flash, and it was all body change.

During our time together on Okinawa, Kise would attack whatever came at him with a lot of aggressive contact and power. This was no longer his way.

Free sparring with Kise on Okinawa

Weapon fighting with Sensei kise

Kise and Jimmy fighting with weapons

It had been power, power, power—block hard, punch hard, and destroy. He could hit a guy hard enough to knock him to the floor, or simply break what he struck, but he wasn’t doing that anymore. His fingers and fists were still conditioned and hard enough to hurt you, but now it was about getting the body out of the way and letting the attacker impale himself on your strike.

Working with him again was great. After ten years of training the same thing over and over, I was finally learning something new. I could look at Kise’s teachings like they were a set of blueprints, and use them to envision the house. I could see that Matsumura had such potential, but only as an upper level of what I already knew. Kise taught me all the new Matsumura kata, as well as going over the one’s I already had learned while on Okinawa. I refused to stop practicing the Shorinji and Soken versions of kata I’d learned on the island. Both Kise and Soken agreed that I should continue teaching both Shorinji and Matsumura.

I was trying to figure out how and why it worked so well for Kise, who was smaller than me and could handle big people with ease. I started comparing the Matsumura body change to a swinging bar room door. I also recognized aikido-style moves within the Matsumura, except—instead of throwing—we hit and impaled. I came to see Matsumura simply as the advanced stage of the Shorinji I had learned while on Okinawa.

Kise had changed; he didn’t care whether or not anyone else could make it work. He was using students as guinea pigs. In the late 1960s, (66’ to 69’) he started sending students back to the US who were trained to spar from a position of hands open—one up and one down low around the hips, with their bodies facing fully forward and the feet running parallel facing forward. I realized he was also trying to figure it all out, and was in a transitional stage until he could learn how to do it properly. His students were getting their asses kicked, but Kise needed them as a sounding board in order to teach himself. He had them stand in certain ways and watched them to learn from their mistakes. None of the guinea pigs could see how they were being used.

When Kise left to return to Okinawa, he told me: “You forget nothing.” He also warned me, however, that I was “driving my students.” away by training so hard.

The association continued to grow, so Kise returned to the US every summer for the next three to four years. We trained privately together, working on kata, drills, techniques, and weapons. In 1976, I hired a Japanese translator, Mrs. Ichikawa, because I didn’t want to misunderstand anything. One day, the translator turned to me and said: “I don’t know why you’re messing with this man, He hates you. He hates all Americans.”

Sensei Coffman fighting pose

That’s when things really started to fall apart, as I began to realize Kise was all about money. At first I tried to justify it, telling myself how he had two kids in college; how things are more expensive on Okinawa; how he’s trying to make a living.

I understood how he might have felt putting so much time into an individual, just to have them move away. Kise probably looked at it as: “I put all this time into Jimmy, and he just went away”. They all promise they’ll bring me back and send me tribute, but none of them do it. Now they’re all gone and leaching off of me. Each and every year I sent Kise money on his birthdays and the Holidays. Each of us in the US had told him the same thing for years, so I thought maybe he’d simply grown cynical.

The worst was that he even started trying to teach bullshit to me. I was totally immersed in figuring out the Matsumura when, around 1977 , Kise started teaching grappling, arm-twisting, and submission techniques to us. It ran counter to my experience in fights and everything he’d ever taught me, so I disagreed with it completely. I had one student who was extremely strong—he could curl hundreds of pounds and catch me by the gi with one hand and lift me straight off the ground with that one hand. There was no way I could twist his arm or wrist to break away from him, no matter how skilled my technique.

If I get into an altercation, I’m going to hurt you, punch your lights out, or hit you in the eyes, attack the groin, etc. do any and everything needed to win. It seemed a joke to stand still and let a person walk up and grab you, planning to respond by twisting their wrist into some submission hold.

Kise had told me so many times: in the time it takes to catch someone, you can hit them, what would you rather do? I got so frustrated that I finally decided to push Kise to the limit and see what he’d do.

In late 1977, a few of us were in my dojo with Kise as he was teaching me a block and strike technique that I knew would get me hurt on the street. Kise was standing so close to me that I knew I could hit him long before he could block me. I just knew it. Back on the island in the 1960s, he never would have stood so close to me. I told him, “This is bullshit! This will get me hurt!”

I had a student named Tom Cochran, one of my black belts, standing to my right, and Kise was to my left. I turned to Cochran and said, “I don’t care what he does with his hands, look at his feet. Don’t take your eyes off his feet.”

Then I just turned and hit Kise as hard as I could in the chest—so hard it knocked him to the floor. As he jumped up, I came at him again, getting closer and closer. “Make it work,” I yelled at him. “Make it work!”

“Pretty soon I’m going to hurt you,” he seethed.

“Make it work,” I yelled. “Make it work from here,” I said, closing the gap. But Kise kept moving back to a control distance, instead of being in contact range. If I could reach out and touch him, I knew I was fast enough to hit him. Karate is a fighting art, not a sport, and I wanted to learn and teach it that way. Training has to be as practical as possible without doing any serious damage to the students. I do believe in students getting bruised and having the breath knocked out of them. Without contact, karate becomes less real and more a fantasy, erasing the connection between the dojo and the street. It’s an instructor’s job to guide students to a level of proficiency that enables them to defend themselves against a real attack on the street. That can’t be done without contact; it can’t be done slowly; it has to be fast because that’s how it happens on the street. I looked at Kise and told him, “This is bullshit. I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.” I truly felt like I had lost my teacher. The Kise of old was gone!

When we were training on the island, it was all for real. Kise never said to hit him anything but hard, and was always complaining that students were too soft. It was always harder, harder, faster, more. When we were sparring, a student couldn’t even earn a point without knocking someone back or down. The new Kise was all easy, easy, not too hard.

I became convinced that Kise was teaching me bad karate. I didn’t know how he could expect me to buy into it when he had me stand in front of him so close that I could touch him without bending forward. Kise was just watering the system down. The thought gave me a really bad taste in my mouth that just grew sourer with time. Then one day I found out Kise had given a pack of fifty signed certificates to a regional rep without even telling me. After this guy called to announce he was in charge of the whole East Coast, I called Kise and asked, “Who’s this guy?” “I don’t know,” Kise said, “but he’s got a lot of students.” Once again it was all about the money.

Kise promoted me to Seventh Dan in 1977, and gave me “Supreme Authroity” over the entire United States for the association, but I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. I’d had enough, so we went separate ways. I only wanted to teach real karate, and I didn’t care if I ever learned another thing or received another promotion.

Supreme Authority for the complete USA certificate
In 1978 I parted ways from Kise, the same year, Soken stopped being his teacher, and it has been more than thirty plus years now that I’ve been on my own again. I’m still teaching and working on perfecting the system—still examining all of my own kata, which have become clearer to me over the years. I closely examine each hand position and block, questioning whether, for example, a certain move covers and protects exactly what it should. I work on clarifying moves, looking at how one movement or hand position covers several things.

The street application of everything has become more important to me than sparring.

In the end, even though I broke with Kise, karate has been “THE” stabilizing factor in my life. It gave me the confidence and balance to achieve success. At times I have felt like I wasted too much of my life on karate—time I could have spent in college getting a degree that could have earned me more money. Yet I feel like I earned my doctorate in karate, and that is something very few can say. Through the course of my 50 plus years of teaching I have had students of very high education that were very wealthy and successful. I have trained the span of Doctors and Lawyers to Police Officers and other highly skilled professionals. I am their teacher, and have earned their respect—something I never could have gotten without karate. I have been professionally successful, with plenty of fancy cars, a big home, and even four airplanes—none of which I would have had without karate. Without it, I most likely would have ended up in jail, just like the guys I ran with during my youth. Instead, I have had and still have direction and focus, which all came from karate.

Kise and Master Soken are the only two karate instructors I have ever had, or ever will have. I will remain a 7th Dan for life, I will not sell out my Art.

I am forever indebted to Sensei Kise for the training he gave me. I love him like a brother and will always respect him for his incredible knowledge and skill.

The Kise of “OLD” will forever have my respect.

Fusei Kise 1960