Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the death of Shuseki Shihan William Oliver, who founded the discipline of karate that I study. Tonight, we had our annual Shuseki Shihan Oliver Memorial Workout, which we hold on the Tuesday closest to the anniversary of his death on 20 November 2004. Here’s what I wrote in 2014 about Shuseki Shihan Oliver:
Today I find myself remembering and memorializing a person I never met.
Ten years and two months ago, I started training in karate. I was an overweight 35-year-old white belt struggling to actually do the 30-40 push-ups per class that were required. I barely knew anything about karate, was still trying to remember all the terms and get all the moves right. I hadn’t really met any of the black belts aside from Shihan Paul, the owner of the dojo and at the time the only instructor of adult classes. The only color belt I’d met was Cliff, then a brown belt, who assisted Shihan in teaching us white belts.
Ten years ago today, at what was, up until that day, the primary dojo of our discipline, several students arrived at the Upper West Side Kenshikai Karate dojo on 99th and Broadway to find that the founder of Kenshikai, Shuseki Shihan William Oliver, had died.
I never met Shuseki; indeed, on that day ten years ago, I didn’t really know who he was when I was told that he died, except that he was Shihan‘s teacher and the founder of Kenshikai.
In the years since, I have learned quite a bit. Shuseki studied Kyokushin (as did Shihan), and when Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura broke off from Kyokushin to form Seido in 1976, Shuseki joined him (again, as did Shihan, a teenager at the time). In 2001, a disagreement with Kaicho led to Shuseki forming Kenshikai, along with several people who ran their own dojos in New York, Ecuador, and South Africa (Shihan among them).
I got a copy of Fighting Black Kings, the late 1970s documentary which focused on Shuseki as well as two of his fellow Kyokushinkai, Charles Martin and Willie Williams. I found YouTube videos, I watched The True Way, the posthumous documentary put together by the students he left behind to run Kenshikai after his death.
On the one hand, it’s one of the great regrets of my life that I never got to meet Shuseki Shihan William Oliver. On the other hand, I feel like I do know him, because in a sense I see him all the time. He taught Shihan, and he taught other black belts with whom I’ve trained over the years.
And I see him in myself. My own teaching style evolved from watching and learning from and emulating the students of Shuseki.
The one thing I know is true from the footage I’ve seen and from the commonality among those he taught in how they teach is that Shuseki encouraged and pushed without discouraging or forcing. He’d never make you do anything you couldn’t do, but he’d also make you realize that you could do more than you think you can.
I love that I can watch footage of him teaching in 1986 and see that he’s running his students through the same punching drills that I ran the kids through at the afterschool program I teach yesterday.
I wasn’t going to go to the dojo tonight. I’m on deadline, I’ve got a busy weekend at the dojo coming up (there’s a promotion Sunday), and I’m teaching the kids fighting class tomorrow night, and I just didn’t want to. But then I read this magnificent blog entry by Kyoshi Jennifer. Along with her husband, Kyoshi Matthew, they now run the Upper West Side dojo, carrying on for Shuseki (though in a different location). And after reading that, I realized that I had to train today of all days.
So tonight, I plan to go to the dojo, and I plan to punch and kick and block and sweat. And I plan to remember a person I never met, yet who has continued to have a huge influence on me.
Osu, Shuseki Shihan. Rest in peace.