Stories about O’Sensei Richard Kim as told by one of his many students, Louis Jemison


I started training in the Martial Arts at 15 years old at an old run down Seasonal Labor Camp outside of Watsonville, Ca.   Sensei Rod Sanford who in turn trained under a Sensei. Cal Alvila. Taught at this “Dojo”. Sensei Sanford had a Shodan or first degree Black belt in Karate and in Jujitsu.   Both of these gentlemen had by the time I turned 16 began to “train” under the tutelage of O” Sensei Richard Kim. Every Saturday Sensei Sanford and Sensei Avila would drive up to the Chinese YMCA in San Francisco to train for 3 hours with O’Sensei and attend a one or two hour lecture after the physical training. Sensei Sanford would bring any students who wanted to train with O’Sensei up with him on this weekly pilgrimage. This weekly trip from Santa Cruz to the Chinese YMCA would continue every Saturday for me until I turned 19 and began to attend UC Berkeley as an undergraduate student and too become a full time student of O’ Sensei Richard Kim.

I remember taking the bus across the Bay Bridge from may apartment in Berkeley for the first time to attend a regular weekday class that O’Sensei held on Tuesdays and I remember thinking to myself that this was the beginning of a life long learning experience. I remember looking at professional looking commuters in their suites, ties and polished shoes and thinking to myself how lucky I was to have found a different path to a successful life. To have a philosophy to hang my hat on and to be able to learn about life from a Martial Artist of Richard Kim’s caliber.   The fact that I was attending UC Berkeley was only secondary in my mind. My useful education was about to start with O’Sensei Richard Kim and I felt very lucky, and as the old Chinese saying goes, “it is better to be lucky then smart.”

By the 1980’s O’Sensei was no longer teaching regularly at the Honbo Dojo in San Francisco, and devoted his time on Saturdays’ and teaching seminars and extended martial arts camps in the USA, Canada, and Europe. I was invited by O’ Sensei to travel with him as he taught seminars around the world and was lucky to have an understanding wife and a way to make a living that allowed me to do this.     I have accumulated quite a few stories and experiences that gave and give meaning to my life.

I am now past my 65th year of life. A full circle of Chinese Yearly signs have come and gone.   O’Sensei passed away in 2001 and has been gone now for well over a decade. I had over 34 years of learning under Sensei’s guidance. With his passing I was asked by his Widow, Mrs. May Kim, to honor Sensei’s last direction that he conveyed to her (which she passed on to his students at Sensei’s memorial gathering). This wish or hope was, that his students should listen too and follow his student, Louis Jemison’s advise.  Over the past decade I have done my best to do this for those students of his who ask and are willing to listen.   I continued to teach within the two organizations he had created, the Zen Bei Butoku Kai and the Busen Butoku Kai (which has changed its name to Kokusai Butoku Kai) I and the other students of O’Sensei (including students who have formed their own organizations) attempt to give martial arts students a flavor or taste of what it was like to learn from this remarkable martial artist. The physical exercises, the philosophy, and spiritual training along with the re–telling of the many stories that O’Sensei shared with us. About our recollection of experiences we had while training with O’Sensei.

This blog is an attempt to share these personal recollections and bits and pieces of wisdom I have picked up over the years from O’Sensei Richard Kim, one of the greatest men I have ever known.

Shorinji Ryu as developed by O’Sensei Richard Kim (1917-2001)

O’Sensei had the opinion that to learn the martial arts it is very helpful to be multi-dimensional. O’Sensei used the example that learning different styles of karate and different styles of martial arts is like learning different languages.     For the martial artist the different styles of martial arts are different languages that give us a student a slightly different perspective on the world around us.

For my Fourth Dan I was expected to have a profency in Yang Tai Chi,  Pearl Dragon Chi Kung, Shorin, Tamari Te, Naha- Te and Gojo Ryu (Japanese version) , Shotokan (Nishiyama’s version) Okinawan Kabudo,   Diato Ryu Aki-jitsu. to have a working understanding of Bagua (ten animal northern version) and Zhing Ying and Yi Kuan (standing meditation).

O’Sensei Sanford’s Fourth Dan was : all the karate listed above, Kabudo, Daito Ryu Aki-jitsu, and a  working knowledge of Yang Form Tai Chi, Bagua, zhing Ying and Yi Kuan.

I was immersing myself in Karate and Tai chi,  O’Sensei Sanford was immersing himself in Karate and Aki-jitsu.  Both of us were approaching these arts from a Karate-ka point of view.  In the end we both have the same understanding and knowledge of the martial arts.

At international exams during the last decade of his life, O’Sensei Kim would often say to me that “they were Dan Crazy”  I am still not sure who “they” were.  However, at about the same time O’Sensei started to give out Dan’s for Tai chi and Kobudo separately. He never did this for those of us training with him in California.

For those of us who’s Sensei was O’Sensei Kim in that we trained at his dojo in SF at the Chinese YMCA and then Colma, he directed our martial arts education in a “hands on fashion”.We were expected to know the Yang form by the time we reached Black Belt, to be able to preform any kata that he had taught us, including weapons.  Our Nidan Exam (perhaps the most difficult exam to pass under O’Sensei) was heavily weighted towards weapons and for most of us this would consist of somewhere between 120 -160 kata’s both open hand and weapons, not counting that he expected us to remember two or three versions of some of the open hand kata. Goju version vs Shorin version etc.

My training with O’Sensei during his last ten or twelve years of his life was a lot of Tai Chi, ChiKung and YiQuan, and very little Karate, but by then those of us training with him on any kind of regular basis was a very small group and this part of his teaching was never incorporated into any exam that I was aware of.

So you ask what should we put on a Shorinji Ryu Dan to explain the person’s knowledge. I don’t think it is necessary , and I think it would be confusing. I would expect a Shorinji Ryu Dan to represent someone who has proficiency in Karate and Okinawan weapons (I don’t care what style) and as the students progresses, the student would learn at least one of the “soft” martial arts. A Fourth Dan in Shorinji Ryu should represent someone who could teach karate and at least one of the Chinese martial arts at an instructor level, along with Okinawan Weapon’s (all of them) The Shorinji Ryu Dan implies for me that the recipient is learning different ways to understand the basics,  different languages if you will.  I don’t personally know any other way to approach the martial arts then the way I was taught,  Karate was the foundation that we would learn Tai Chi, ChiKung, YiQuan, Aki-jitsu and the weapons from.

What O’Sensei Kim tried to teach us was to be artists of life and that there are many ways up the mountain that may look different while your on the path, but when you get to the top of the mountain you realize all paths lead to the same place.


One early morning training at the Chinese YMCA in San Francisco O’Sensei explained to the handful of students invited to train with him at his early morning workout, that Women martial artist’s have a physical and mental advantage over men. Especially if the woman martial artist had given childbirth.   He went on to explain.   Any woman who has experience childbirth has a physical memory of her body that men cannot attain. Plus on a physical basis Women have more flexibility in the hip area, which allows them to transfer the energy flowing from the lower body, with more dexterity then a less flexible man.

Physical power in the martial arts is generated from the large leg and core muscles and is stored in the tendons, fascia and muscles in the hip and waist area, which when released can add power to the upper body movements such as blocking or punching. Proper alignment of the joints and spine and relaxing all the muscle groups are critical to maximizing this lower body energy.

Women can develop these muscle groups to rival most men and even the average women has the muscle mass in the lower extremities to delivery a knock out punch.

Regardless of the sex, the martial artist in order to maximize this ‘lower extremity’ power must learn to move the body effectively with minimum effort producing maximum effect. Or to put another way, “root with your feet, power with your legs and give direction from the core muscles of the waist (Tanden).


O’Sensei would constantly reminded his students that proper body structure is critical to feeling the movement. Wither practicing Kata or Kihon-waza we would be admonished to feel as if our hair was pulled into a topknot and it was attached to the ceiling. We should image that gravity pull us down onto the floor. We should then be aliened so that our bones were sitting one atop the other, balanced so we did not fall over, but as relaxed as possible.

“Put your mind in your Tanden”  was a phrase we often heard from O’Sensei over the years.  Many of the physcal movements in Karate, such as pressing your fist into and down from your hip area, breathing from the stomic, moving with the breath,  expantion and contractions on puching and blocking techniques, imagining a bomb going of in your tandem,  were part of O’Sensei’s and Karate’s attempt to have us students feel the movements of karate/martial arts from the tanden.


It was in the early 1970s , perhaps early 1973 that O’Sensei began to teach his students at the Chinese YMCA, San Francisco, a Yang style tai chi form and a version of pushing hands, both single and double pushing hands.  For many of his regular students tai chi was not considered of much value.  Most did not continue training in Tai Chi after either leaving O’Sensei or after O’Sensei’s death in 2001.   O’Sensei was attempting to have us “move with the breath” both in Kihon Waza and Kata practice. To move slowly,  “As if the room was filled with peanut butter up to your neck”.  He would extoll us to “feel the movement, with your whole body and mind.”  Apparently many of us were not getting the lesson, as shortly after berating the class  a number of times for reminding him of the “Baboon’s of Gandi” he stopped teaching Karate and Kabudo in his regular class’s and started teaching us tai chi, pau-qua and ching-ying.  This continued for a number of months till O’Sensei would once again go back to teaching karate to us, but the tai chi practice never stopped and from that time forward till his death tai chi was an integral part of our martial arts training. And O’Sensei would go back to Pau-Qua and Ching-Ying drills on a regular basis.

The tai chi form was a Yang long form.  One hundred and eight movements.   O’Sensei told us he had learned this form in China from a teacher named Chin.  So we called it  Chin’sYang Tai Chi.  O’Sensei told us that Chin was a practitioner of Pau-Qua and Ching-ying prior to learning Yang Tai Chi.   The form we learned has this influence in such movements as “fair lady plays the shuttle” (Pau-Qua)  and “parting the wild horse’s maine” (Ching-ying). Transition movements had a lot of Pau-Kua footwork.  Movements were diagonal in feeling as in Ching-ying.  In addition O’Sensei would include standing meditation in the Yi-quan tradition as taught by Wang-Zing-Xai.

From then on O’sensei would teach tai chi  regularly but separately from his normal class vitiate of karate, kabudo, aki-jitsu and judo and some boxing as well.  The standing meditation was incorporated as part of all the disciplines he would drill us in.  After many decades of practicing this routine, I have found that I no longer feel any difference when I practice tai chi or karate or kabudo

In an interview by Mike Clarke in “World of Martial Arts” magazine, March/April, 1996, page five,  Kanazawa Sensei talks about his tai chi practice in the Yang form and how it has helped him in his study of Karate.

“Mike Clarke:  Can you say how tai chi has affected your karate?

Kanazawa Sensei: Yes, It has affected my karate by being completely different.  For example,, and I am using extreme examples here, they are like having positive and negative.  But your see, even in karate there is a positive and negative…and this is also true of tai chi.  But they balance each other.  They give me a different view of the same thing. I can see things clearer about karate when I am doing tai chi.  Before, I only had the karate view of things, and so I could not see things by myself.  I was training hard, and so did not have the time or space to see karate.  But now, with tai chi, I can see my karate better!”

You see, if I do just karate then maybe I will reach a level and just stop.  This could be because I had grown too old.   But with tai chi I can still do my karate wen I’m old, because of the way it teaches me to use my body.  It is good at giving you an understanding of how to use energy. You see, tai chi is not about focus… always it is flowing like water.  This means that at any time, you can be strong at any place.”….






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