Separating Fact from Fiction
By: Deus H. Marchacos, Yondan
First and foremost I want to establish a few facts about Sensei J. Coffman. He began his Martial Arts training on Okinawa under Grand Master Hohan Soken in December of 1961 as a new black belt under Sensei fusei Kise, a Yon-dan rank at the time. Sensei Kise had been an active student of the Grand Master since the early to mid 50’s, Jimmy (as known in Okinawa) Coffman was one of Sensei Kise’s first American students and was his first American student to be promoted to the rank of Sho-dan (1st degree Black). He continued to train with both instructors, Sensei Kise on a daily basis and bi weekly to bi monthly with Master Soken at the Grand Masters’ home dojo.
Because Sensei Coffman spoke Japanese to some extent and Kise spoke English to some extent, Coffman could converse with both of his instructors in their own language. (Interview with Master Soken during first meeting). Sensei Coffman, with the help of others, established the first American run Karate Dojo on Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa in 1960-1961. This was done without deceiving his instructors and was never in a fighting Art to establish, or to start his own style or system of Karate at a later date. This is evident by his own actions for continuing to Honor the rank of 7th dan awarding him by his teachers, back in 1977. He felt then as he continues to feel now, that a sytem takes a life time to learn and master.
Sensei Coffman, continued to train daily until his departure from Okinawa after completing a 3 1/2 year tour of duty. After leaving Okinawa as a Yon-dan (4th degree black belt) with a teachers certificate in hand, he organized his first Karate class at Fort Bragg (Pope AFB) N.C. Durning this time he continued to stay in contact with both of his teachers.
In 1972, Grand Master Soken and Master Kise made their first trip to the States. This was to be the first and only trip for Master Soken; they came to Philadelphia, for the purpose of forming an American Karate Association (OKF), and to renew friendships made with many of their American students. Master Soken became ill and almost immediately both he and Sensei Kise returned to Okinawa; their stay in the States was to be a month or two, instead it was only a week or less.
Sensei Coffman was approached, along with Glenn Premru, to form the now debunked OKF (Okinawan Karate Federation). In 1975 Sensei Coffman was again called upon by both Sensei Soken and Sensei Kise to form an association, this time to be known as SMOKA (Shorin-Ryu Matsumura Orthodox Karate Association). The association was formed and Sensei Coffman took his rightful place as the highest ranking student, (6th degree black belt). This confirmed him as the senior student in the United States.
In 1977, Sensei Coffman was promoted to the rank of 7th degree black belt, by the same two, and only instuctors he has had since he began training in 1960. Today he is the highest ranked non-Okinawan black belt in their system of Matsumura Seito karate, never leaving his original roots, training, kata or fighting techniques within the system of “Matsumura Seito”.
Sensei Coffman, has devoted his entire effort over the past fifty four plus years staying focused and continuing to improve his own skills, and those of his many students. He has continued to train in the ONLY system / style he has ever known. Those taught him by both Master Soken and Kise. Sensei Coffman seeks no easy solutions or rank to a fighting art that demands continuous practice and dedication. He has never asked a student to do something without himself doing the same or more. Always eager to show and share a Kata, or fighting sequence with any interested students / teachers. He is equally driven for realism, being that if you don’t try to hit (punch or kick) your opponent when working out / training then this fighting art has lost it’s ability to continue.
Sensei Coffman is tough, but fair, he has no room for students who do not work to improve themselves or the art. A student once changed a kata at tournament just to win a trophy, when sensei saw him, he told him not to come back to class. If he was not satisfied with the kata in his system, or he could not perform them good enough to win, then go some where else to train. When you begin to change things just to suit your needs, you begin to tear down the system. When you allow yourself to obtain a rank you don’t deserve, then you water down the entire system, not just yourself. This statement is not to say one person is better than another but think twice about this… there are several other students of Master Soken who claim to be something they are not or (claiming to be his equak rank –Du-Ju-Dan, SOKEN).
Master Soken was a Martial Artist in the true sense of the word; he trained for most of his life and was well into his later life, before achieving a 10th dank rank. Today there are a least 10 students who spent only a short time of their lives anywhere near his dojo and don’t see anything wrong with being called his equal in rank, (i.e. Ron Lindsey, Tom Hunnicutt, etc.) or claiming to be as skillfull… enough said about that. Never once in m 43 plus years in karate that I have known Sensei Coffman, has he even considered himself on the same level of his teachers, Kise or Soken, that he knew and trained with in the 60’s. He respects them for what they were. That’s the difference between some students and others.
Some background on myself
A Yon-dan, (4th degree black belt) in Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate. I began my training in February of 1973 under Sensei Al Gagne, presently a Ruku-dan (6th degree black belt) in Woonsocket, R.I. With the help of my instructor I founded the Shorin-Ryu Disciple School of Rochester, N.H. in October of 1974. This was the first Shorin-Ryu Dojo, anywhere in the seacoast area of N.H. Having taught over 2,500 students in it’s 41 plus years of operation where each student paid by the month with no contracts of any kind. During this time only 16 students have been tested and promoted to the rank of Sho-dan. Thus showing a strong comment to maintain a quality above today’s selling of rank. I’m proud of the fact that it’s not the rank you hold, but the skill that you possess that counts. Sensei Coffman has given me and my students the ability to achieve a greater knowledge of the Martial Arts and I truly thank him for that.
I can be e-mailed at: [email protected]