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Ty Yocham, Shihan
Austin Okinawan Karate
AUSTIN, Texas and TOKYO – (April 12, 2010) – An international organization that teaches and preserves the goju-ryu karate system, established by Master Chojun Miyagi early in the 20th Century, has accepted Austin martial artist Ty Yocham as a member and confirmed his rank of 5th degree black belt, as well as his teaching title of shihan.
Leaders of the Okinawa Karate-do Goju-ryu Shoreikai tested Yocham on March 21 at the organization’s world headquarters in Tokyo. Yocham is the chief instructor at Austin Okinawan Karate, which has classes that meet in Austin and in Round Rock.
“Ty came through the examination with flying colors and very high marks,” says Vic Hargitt, a Shoreikai shihan and vice president of the global organization. A resident of Guildford, British Columbia, Hargitt heads Shoreikai’s North American schools.
Yocham is believed to be the first karate practitioner to join Shoreikai at senior skill levels rather than by rising through the ranks in the conventional manner, Hargitt says. “To the best of my knowledge this has never been accomplished before.”
The rank confirmations in Japan help to bridge a 25-year gap that has separated the global organization and its Texas cousin, the Texas Okinawa Goju Karate Federation, which branched off from Shoreikai in the early 1980s.
“We fit in perfectly,” Yocham says, referring to the interaction he enjoyed during his week-long visit with the Japanese members of Shoreikai. “It is heartening to see that the standards in our organization fit internationally instead of just locally. After 25 years of separation, we could step in and feel very comfortable, almost as if we’d never had the separation.”
Yocham’s instructor is Dean Chapman of Falls County, Texas, who carries the teaching title of kyoshi or master instructor of the 11 schools in the Texas federation. Chapman has been twice inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, once for teaching and promoting Okinawan kobudo (weaponry) and again for "Master Instructor of the Year."
Chapman began studying goju-ryu karate in 1973 in Oklahoma City under the guidance of Ichiro Takahata, a sensei-level instructor and member of Shoreikai, which was then based in Okinawa, Japan. Takahata had travelled to the United States with the express purpose of teaching the Shoreikai curriculum. Takahata retired from teaching in the early 1980s, and Chapman continued to teach and study Okinawan martial arts.
Without Takahata to maintain communications with the home school, however, the language barrier and distance led to a gradual loss of contact between Chapman’s schools, now in Texas, and Shoreikai in Japan. It was during this period of relative isolation that Yocham began training with Chapman in 1989.
In more recent years, Chapman and his students built relationships with Shoreikai member schools in Canada while participating in international martial arts competitions. Then last fall, Hargitt helped to arrange a meeting between members of the Tokyo and Texas groups in Canada.
While the Texas Okinawa Goju Karate Federation remains independent, Chapman allowed two of his students to join Shoreikai as a way to strengthen ties and encourage an exchange of ideas with the home school. Shoreikai leaders insisted that the newcomers be tested in Japan before the international organization would recognize their ranks earned in Texas, however.
Hargitt, who has served as a guest judge at belt tests conducted by the Texas Okinawa Goju Karate Federation, says he was confident that Chapman’s teaching had given Yocham the skills commensurate with their ranks. “A big kudos to Dean Chapman Kyoshi for keep the tradition alive in Texas,” Hargitt says.
While in Tokyo for the examination, Yocham participated in a Shoreikai karate tournament in which Yocham won first place in the young men’s sparring division for men ages 18 to 45.
Shoreikai is strictly a goju-ryu karate school, but the Texas Okinawa Goju Karate Federation supplements its core curriculum of goju-ryu with classes in weaponry and hakutsuru kenpo, which is the Okinawan version of Chinese white crane kung fu. Yocham, who holds 3rd degree black belt ranks in both white crane and weapons, says the independence of the Texas federation has enabled its students to gain a richer understanding of the physical, mental and spiritual qualities attainable through a variety of martial systems.
“We’ve had the opportunity to explore other, specific Okinawan arts, and that has expanded our knowledge base,” Yocham says. “It has brought more clarity to the application of goju-ryu.”