Historical Perspectives

On January 28, 1890 the fourth son in a samurai clan was born in Fukashima-ken (prefecture), on the Island of Honshu, Japan. His name was Seishiro Okazaki, later to become one of the most famous Oriental martial art and healing masters in the world. Near the time of his birth significant changes were taking place in Japan. The Emperor Meiji brought about the great modernization of Japan, and as part of this, the old caste system was abolished. The Samurai were no longer allowed to wear or use swords. The last Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, was forced to hand the administration of the government back to the Emperor in 1867 (this later became the Imperial Government). Furthermore, Seishiro’s father, Hanuemon Okazaki, was unable to adapt as a businessman, and due to poor luck or bad business practices, essentially lost the family fortune.

Another factor which may have led the young Okazaki to immigrate to Hawaii in 1906, was the successful resolution of the U.S. Civil War in favor of the North in 1865. It sent the world the message that people of all colors, races, and nationalities were to be free in the United States. At this time there was much immigration from Japan to Hawaii, a “land of opportunity”. Thus sometime in late August 1906, Seishiro Okazaki, signed indenture papers (to work for his passage), traveled overland to Yokohama, and departed on September 1, 1906, on the S.S. China bound for Hawaii.

He became a laborer in the sugar cane for the Ewa Plantation in Oahu, after arrival. Following this he worked at Hoffschlager Co. from 1910 through 1920 in varying capacities: laborer, porter, & salesman. He was employed by Hoffschlager’s in Hilo as a salesman in 1917. He was also working at Love’s Bakery in Hilo so he could earn extra cash to attend school in the evenings and learn English. And at this time, at the age of 19, weak, emaciated, and in poor health, a doctor told him that he had a lung disease: “consumption” (what is today called tuberculosis). However it may have been asthma or some smiler condition. In any case he ignored the doctor’s advice to rest, and sought a cure from a Japanese martial artist and healer, Kichimatsu Tanaka. Following oriental healing treatments, Tanaka ordered Okazaki to take up his JuJitsu classes at his Shinyu-Kai Dojo. Okazaki worked out seriously six days a week. Almost miraculously, Okazaki overcame his lung condition, and gained in strength. By his own words, he had developed a “body of iron”. Reports indicated he stood 5’4″ tall, weighed 190 pounds, and was “very muscular”. Historical data indicate he earned a Black Belt in Yoshin-ryu JuJitsu in 1922.

From 1917 through 1925 Sieshiro lived at Hilo, practicing Okazaki Restorative Therapy and jujitsu. His knowledge and experience increased greatly during these years. He studied and mastered the Yoshin, Iwaga, and Kosogabe schools of JuJitsu, learned Ryukyuan Boxing (Karate) from a Japanese from Okinawa Prefecture, Filippino knife fighting from a Filippino, how to throw and fight with a dagger from a Spaniard, the deadly art of Lua from the Hawaiians, and Kung Fu from the 78 year old Chinese Master, Wo Chong, from Kohala. Okazaki had an intense desire to learn all martial styles, studying foot fighting from a Frenchman, and American style boxing and wrestling from professional boxers and wrestlers.

In 1924 he returned to Japan, studying at over 50 dojos, and mastering 675 different techniques. Among the JuJitsu styles he studied in Japan were Shibukawa-ryu, Yoshin-ryu, and Namba Yoshin-ryu. He studied at Jigoro Kano’s Kodokan, and was awarded a Sandan (3rd Degree Black Belt) there.He continued his study of healing arts, mastering Kappo and Seifukujitsu (Oriental restoration / Okazaki Restorative Therapy). He developed a unique healing form or kata known as the Okazaki Restorative Therapy, or Okazaki Long LifeTherapy. This treatment followed the established Chinese theory (of meridians, chi, shen, etc.), and could be considered a variant of ancient Chinese Tuina and Anmo. It incorporated Sekkotsu (bone setting) and Kansetsu Dakkyu (joint relocation). He also developed a special Okazaki Restorative Therapy oil (Satsuzai) which had healing qualities.

In 1922 a British heavy weight boxer known as Carl `K.O.’ Morris came to Hawaii and challenged all fighters to a match. He was known to have especially belittled Oriental style fighters. The Japanese community in Hawaii was especially offended by Morris’ remarks, and asked Okazaki to defend their honor. Okazaki refused, but another Japanese Black Belt named Takahashi took up the challenge. Morris readily knocked him out in the 1st round. This time when approached by the Japanese community leaders, Okazaki relented, and agreed to the bout. He studied “American” style boxing, looking for weaknesses. He discovered that boxers had little experience punching in a downward direction, and conceived of a low fighting crouch. The fight was scheduled for May 19, 1922, and was to consist of six, three minute rounds. Despite his caution, Okazaki got his nose broken in the first round. In the second round, Okazaki watched Morris’ jab, which Morris left out a little too long. Okazaki drove under Morris’ arm and threw him, injuring Morris’ arm so that he was unable to continue the fight.

Okazaki became instantly famous, as news of the fight went all the way to Japan. The headlines in the Hilo Daily Tribune screamed “Morris Has No Chance Against JuJitsu Expert”. The article went on to say:

“Five minutes after the start of the mixed bout and during which time Okazaki threw Morris and himself over the ropes into the audience upon two occasions (sic), Okazaki threw his opponent to the mat and with an arm lock which wrenched the muscles of Morris’ right arm and forced him to (figuratively speaking) throw up the sponge. At first sight, it looked as if Morris’ arm was broken, but after an examination by Dr. S.R. Brown, who was present in the audience, it was found that the muscles were merely badly wrenched.”

As an indication of the character of Okazaki, it was said that he visited Morris on several occasions in the hospital, massaging his arm and becoming his friend. A later group picture of Morris at Okazaki’s dojo lends credence to this. Okazaki’s step-daughter Ester recalled a few additional fights after the Morris bout in which Okazaki was billed as the “Oriental Tiger”. She remembered one fight when he fought the “Russian Lion”. She said he won most of his bouts. Yet we were told that this public fighting was not looked keenly upon by Okazaki, as it demeaned the martial art, and whatever the reason, he did not continue in this activity.

We know that Okazaki was cognizant of the dishonorable brawling by former Samurai warriors in the streets of Japan following the Meiji Restoration. We don’t believe he wanted to contribute to that image.

For four years prior to moving to Honolulu in 1930, he and his brother Genkichi had a martial art and Oriental therapy complex on the beach at Paukukalo. It was here that he used Okazaki Restorative Therapy on the Japanese workers who had spent the day in the fields, and taught JuJitsu to folks of all races, even Haoles (Caucasians). It was here he first established his Dan Zan Ryu (Cedar Mountain Style) of JuJitsu, named in honor of his Chinese Kung Fu teacher. The Chinese at that time referred to Hawaii as the islands with the cedar mountains, thus the name “Cedar Mountain Style”.

According to an old scroll entitled Goshin No Kata Mokuroku (Self Defense Forms Catalogue) from 1927, Okazaki was listed as a “Danzan Ryu JuJitsu Shihan”, where “shihan” refers to a master in the physical and esoteric sense. In English an equivalent would be “professor”. On this scroll are techniques that would ultimately appear on Okazaki’s “boards” of Yawara, Nage, Shime, Oku, Shinen, and Shinyo. Arts that would appear on all of these “boards” were taken from the many styles and systems that Okazaki studied.

The first of many ads placed in the Polk Directory of Hawaii in 1926 listed Henry S. Okazaki as a “Professor” of restorative therapy and JuJitsu. This one listed his residence as Paukukalo, Maui. In the latter part of 1929, Okazaki established his business in Honolulu. His first ad in the Polk Directory listing his Oahu location appeared in 1931. He rented a house at the Chester Doyle Estate on Hotel Street. Doyle was an aficionado of the Japanese. The estate at Hotel Street had a Japanese motif, and Doyle himself spoke fluent Japanese. He called the estate the Nikko (sunshine or the rays of the sun). This then was an ideal location for Okazaki’s business on Oahu. Later Okazaki was able to purchase the estate.

Okazaki was famous world wide for his Okazaki Restorative Therapy. In 1934 he treated his most famous patient: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Pres. Roosevelt suffered from polio, and was unable to stand for any appreciable time. He spent most of his time in a wheel chair. The press was very kind, and covered up his condition so well, that most of the public never knew. Yet when the President came to Hawaii in 1934, he asked that Okazaki treat him. The first visit was aboard the U.S.S. Houston, while later treatments were done at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The President also stayed at the Chris Homes estate in Waikiki. There were about six treatments in total. The results were astounding. The President was so impressed with his progress that he invited Okazaki to Washington, D.C. to be his personal physician. It was claimed that the President told Okazaki that he was the only one who had helped him. Okazaki politely turned down the request. President Roosevelt in appreciation gave him a large signed photo of himself, which still resides in the Nikko front office today! Only one other copy of this photo was given out in Hawaii, and it was located at the headquarters of the Democratic Party. Other famous patients of Okazaki included other government officials, and hollywood greats: Johnny Weismeuller, Charlie Chaplin, etc.

Furthermore Okazaki liked to entertain. So he would often have large garden parties at the `Makiki’ house, inviting many famous guests: General George Mac Arthur, Postmaster General James A. Farley, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Shirley Temple, Duke Kahanamoku, and many others. The house was a large “gingerbread” two story wood place with a tea house, lanai, fishpond, and hot/cold tubs. They would have 10 to 20 guests at a time, and would often serve sukiyaki and sake.

A case of miraculous healing occurred with Mrs. John A. Burns. Before her husband became Governor of Hawaii, while he was still a police commissioner, Mrs. Burns developed polio. She was just a few months pregnant with her third child. The Western M.D.’s (allopaths) could do nothing for her and suggested euthanasia to her husband. John went to Okazaki, who insisted that she be brought home from the hospital (mostly to get her away from those M.D.s who would kill her). According to Mrs. Burns, Okazaki knelt for an hour in prayer (on a concrete patio), before he came in to treat her. She experienced much more than just healing, but also a spiritual uplifting. She said he saved her life, healed her, and saved the life of her son, James Seishiro Burns (later to become a Hawaiian State Appellate Court Judge). She said Okazaki was a very devout and religious man. He told her that he would never use his skill just for money, but that it must be used to help others, regardless of their means. In addition to her own healing she recounted a woman healed of undulant fever by Okazaki, and several who had their eyesight restored. She said Okazaki was a miracle worker. He refused to the end to take any money for treating Mrs. Burns.

The “concrete mats” were famous within Okazaki lore. Every so often in the early 1930′s Okazaki would start a new group of white belts out learning their rolls and falls on a concrete slab he had behind the dojo. Each group thought that they were unique. Prof. Estes recalled his group, and how Okazaki used them to show the other Japanese JuJitsu instructors in Honolulu that Haoles (Caucasians) were tough. Hachiro, Seishiro’s oldest son, recalled his time on the slab:

“I was watering the Japanese garden one day in my shorts. I was a skinny, puny kid. He was watching me and he says, “Take a fall.” And I looked at the grass I was standing on and said, “Gee, there’s not enough room.” And he said, “No, on the concrete.” I looked at him and said “There’s no tatami!” He blew his top and said, “Out on the street are you gonna tell a guy, `Wait till I get a tatami?’” So I took a sutemi because I was an obedient son and I wanted to impress him. I could feel all my bones go crunch, crunch, on the concrete.”

The same phenomenon occurred with the “special” Black Belt classes at the `Makiki’ home. Small groups of Black Belts as few as 5 or 6, but never more than 10 would be invited to a “special” Black Belt class on the weekend. Prof. Estes said they would come in the morning at 6am. After the workout, they would eat. Then everyone would lie down for a nap. They were always awakened by the “Professor” nudging them with his foot. “Get up, get up. You go home now!” Each group would think that they were the only ones getting this special instruction, when in fact Okazaki rotated many groups through on different weekends.

Okazaki and his family were severely ostracized by the Japanese community. The only time the Japanese community supported him was when he defeated Carl Morris, and then they presented Okazaki with an engraved gold watch. He was ostracized because he refused to follow the “old ways”, especially in relation to teaching other races the secret martial arts. They ostracized him by failing to invite him to events, walking to the other side of the street when they saw him coming, failing to return greetings, etc.In one confrontation regarding teaching Haoles (whites), Okazaki asked his tormentors in what country they were living. When they replied the Territory of Hawaii, he reminded them that this was a part of the United States of America. He told them that he lived in America, and that he taught Americans. They walked away without speaking, humiliated by the Master.

Thousands of people of all races, creeds, and colors studied under Okazaki. He accepted all as students who had “good hearts”. There were occasions when a new student would deliberately slam his partner to the mat, using excessive force. Okazaki would warn him never to do it again. The next time it happened, Okazaki threw him out. Sometimes a big bruiser would come to the dojo to learn, and Okazaki would tell him something to the effect, “You already too strong. You no need JuJitsu. Go Away.” Yet a weak, small person would often get the red carpet treatment.

His early students, like Dick Rickerts, Curly Friedman, and Bud Estes started classes at places like the Army Navy YMCA in Honolulu. Literally thousands of U.S. servicemen were trained in hand to hand combatives at these classes. For example, examine the class attendance figures for the years indicated: 1936, 1,866; 1937, 2,217; 1938, 4,255; 1939, 5,600; 1940, 6,832. Okazaki would often visit these classes to guide and help his students teach these large groups. Just a casual perusal of the Basic Field Manual: Unarmed Defense for the American Soldier (1942) would demonstrate the influence of Okazaki JuJitsu. The entire manual was filled with Okazaki techniques and variations. Of course pictures and references to Okazaki in the manual were not tolerated due to the War with Japan.

As a side note, Bud Estes picture and name were left out of almost every picture and article during the 1930′s. Yet he was the most prominent of Okazaki’s students. He was the only one of Okazaki’s students to receive a title: Kyoshi. This ancient title signifies that the bearer is a teacher of teachers, ranked “Hanshi” (or Shihan) or higher, and most often the one to become “Soke-Dai” (Heir apparent to the system). He was the only one of Okazaki’s students to perform the miracles done by the master himself, and in fact he even far surpassed Okazaki’s spiritual talents. Interviews with other Shihan indicated that none of them could do or even saw others perform the miraculous feats hinted at in the true list of Shinyo No Maki. So why was Bud Estes not included in pictures and accompanying texts. The answer was actually very simple. Prof. Estes was working as an undercover agent for what was then called the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in Hawaii. He played an important role in some very big drug busts in the thirties. His identity had to be hidden to protect his life.

One of the darkest days of Okazaki’s life was December 7, 1941, the Japanese surprise attack and bombing of Pearl Harbor. His step-daughter Esther told us that when the attack began, her dad grabbed his sword, and ran down the street screaming death threats and curses toward the invading Japanese, who he thought were commencing a land invasion. After 35 years in Hawaii, Okazaki dearly loved the United States, and thought of himself as a loyal citizen. Shortly after the attack, U.S. Army Intelligence officers were ordered to go to the homes of everyone of Japanese descent. The families were given only two choices. The first was that the family write a confession to the government that the male head of household was a spy. In exchange for this confession, the rest of the family would not be interred. If they refused, then all family members, including the little children and babies would be put in the concentration camps, and all their properties, money, cars, and other valuables would be seized, never to be returned. The ominous duty fell to the eldest son, Hachiro, who wrote the letter to preserve the family and their assets.
His dad was arrested and interred in the camp at Ewa. However due to his many friends, including John Burns (Police Commissioner), Col. Gilbert (Commander at the Ewa “concentration camp”), Capt. Eddie Hitchcock (Honolulu Police Dept), “Red” McQueen (sports reporter), Tom Wadadoups, and others, Okazaki was released after about three months.

But this entire event was heavy upon his heart. He became more solemn and withdrawn. He seldom taught on the mat after this, but often just sat and observed. 
He suffered a series of three strokes in the later years (the first of which was in 1948), the last of which was to take his life.

On Friday, July 13, 1951, at the age of 61 Henry Seishiro Okazaki, an American Samurai, passed on. It is a great debt America owes to Okazaki. Many thousands have been trained his martial art and healing methods. Today his martial art is the most comprehensive martial art in the world. Other styles have more recently tagged bits and pieces of other arts on their systems, yet the Okazaki system was fully integrated with these other arts over 60 years ago. And while there are many organizations that teach the physical techniques of Danzan Ryu, there is only one that teaches the fully integrated system: involving mind, body, and spirit, as chosen by Master Okazaki. You see, Okazaki was one of the very few Oriental Martial Art masters who converted from his Buddhist and Shinto roots to Christianity. He was always a deeply spiritual man, as revealed in his esoteric principles, and in the early dojo pictures with Shinto priests. Prof. Estes carried this tradition forward in his teachings, with Bible quotations, Christian ethics, morals, and standards, as an important part of the standard instruction. As taught by Master Okazaki, Bud Estes, Ray Law, and others, Danzan Ryu JuJitsu is a deeply spiritual art, especially at the Black Belt levels. ONLY in the Christian JuJitsu Association are these essential teachings passed on! Other groups essentially teach an empty art that is an empty shell and not true Danzan Ryu.

*NOTE: The information for this article was acquired by the Okazaki Biographical Research Team, constituted in 1978. The original four members were Tom & Kristine King, Gene Edwards, and Lora Prevette. The Kings dropped the team and the research in the 1980′s, while Gene and Lora have remained active. All the material and information for this article are the sole and exclusive property of the remaining committee members: Gene & Lora (Prevette) Edwards.

Copyright 1997 Gene & Lora Edwards. All rights reserved.

Historical Perspectives