Articles & Interviews

Paul Godshaw

Paul Godshaw Shihan 8th Dan, Japan Karate-Do Federation

It was 1965 when Beatlemania had reached its pinnacle with a US tour that included sellout concerts at New York’s Shea Stadium, and the Hollywood Bowl. Before Christmas, The Beatles would release their 6th album, “Rubber Soul.” But in Orange County, California, Paul Godshaw would begin training under one of the most significant icons in American martial arts, Dan Ivan.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, Dan Ivan, a wiry soldier assigned to the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division (C.I.D), under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur, investigated crimes alleged to have been committed by military personnel occupying Japan. Ivan became fascinated with the warrior spirit of the Japanese and ventured into dojos seeking a martial art that would enhance his ability to defend himself.

The challenge of training among individuals who had, only days before been enemies, would require tremendous courage. Ivan found that several of the Japanese arts were useful, so he trained in Karate-do, Judo, Aikido, and Kendo, becoming the first American to receive Dan ranks in each. Ultimately, he graduated from the Japan Karate Association’s (JKA) instructors’ course and opened his first dojo in America in 1956. In addition, Ivan Sensei was responsible for sponsoring Fumio Demura and Kyoshi Yamazaki, among others, to come to the United States to teach Karate-do.

Ivan Sensei was selected into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame and named Man of the Year in 1972. The previous year he was chosen director of the first U.S. Team to represent the United States at the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.

Paul Godshaw continued training under Ivan Sensei, as well as Demura Sensei, who began teaching at the Santa Ana, California dojo established by Ivan. Godshaw became Ivan Sensei’s senior student, rising to the rank of Yon-Dan, and in 1973 opened a satellite dojo in Mission Viejo, California.

As Ivan Sensei became more involved in the production of martial arts videos for Black Belt Magazine, the bulk of teaching responsibilities for the Honbo Dojo were placed upon Demura Sensei, a Shito-Ryu stylist. An eventual split occurred between Ivan Sensei and Demura Sensei, resulting in Godshaw Sensei’s dojo taking the prominent role in maintaining Ivan Sensei’s legacy. The Japan Karate-do Federation was organized under the leadership of Paul Godshaw, and the kata became standardized in accordance with the Shotokan guidelines. Ivan Sensei attended Dan examinations, as his schedule would permit.

Godshaw Sensei’s dojo continued to prosper, and his annual Gasshuku would often feature guest instructors from Japan, and Hawaii. He maintained a connection with Japan through the International Martial Arts Federation (Kokusai Budoin), with the Judo Division headed by Shizuya Sato, Dan Ivan’s former Judo instructor, and Hirokazu Kanazawa, Shihan for the Karate-do Division. It was this organization whose president, Yasuhisa Tokugawa, a Shinto priest, and the great-great-great grandson of the 15th and final Shogun of Japan, that ultimately conducted 8th Dan, Hachidan examinations and promotions for both Ivan Sensei and Godshaw Sensei.

Following the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, Ivan Sensei applied through a US State Department program to teach karate to military contractors in Afghanistan. Prior to his deployment, it was discovered that Ivan Sensei had contracted a form of bone cancer and was hospitalized at VA Hospital in Loma Linda, California where he passed away in 2007.

Godshaw Shihan has served as the Branch Director for the International Martial Arts Federation (Kokusai Budoin), and National Chief Referee for the Amateur Athletic Union. He has trained numerous AAU national champions, and several members of the US Team representing America for the World Karate Championships. He has officiated the California Police Olympics and provided training for members of Special Weapons and Tactics Teams (SWAT).

Q: Shihan, you began your martial arts training in 1965, a time when judo was predominantly the only martial art, besides boxing, that was taught in the United States. What drew you to Ivan Sensei’s dojo?

PG: My room mate noticed an article in the Orange County Register newspaper announcing that the All Japan Karate Champion, Fumio Demura, had just arrived in Santa Ana, California, from Japan, and was starting to teach classes. At that time, I was doing judo, so we had to go and see him, but we found that Mr. Ivan was teaching the class because Mr. Demura could not speak English. The class was intense. From the first moment I saw it, small class, maybe 900 square feet, the training area packed body to body, I was sold on it. Mr. Demura learned to speak English and started teaching full-time around 1967-68.

Q: Can you provide a little background as to why Ivan Sensei, a Shotokan black belt, brought Fumio Demura, a Shito-Ryu black belt to America to establish his dojo?

Mr. Ivan felt that he needed someone of higher rank from Japan to lead the teaching in his new dojo and to help legitimize karate in the United States. Mr. Nishiyama was already teaching in Los Angeles, and Mr. Ivan and Mr. Nishiyama had different views as to how the martial arts are supposed to be taught. Mr. Ivan was very eclectic, having black belts in judo, karate, and aikido. Mr. Nishiyama was purely karate, and was very pro-sport, which was good for karate at that time. But they had a conflict of philosophy. Mr. Ivan wanted someone from Japan, and through his contacts in the Army, he was introduced to a gentleman by the name of Don Draeger. Mr. Draeger was well known for his research in the martial arts, and he told Dan Ivan that the All Japan Karate Champion, Fumio Demura would come to the United States. The problem was that Mr. Demura did not know the Shotokan kata, so it took quite some time for Mr. Ivan to teach them to Mr. Demura.

Q: Did Ivan Sensei ever share with you what it was like to train in a dojo filled with Japanese men who had been enemies of Americans?

Yes, that was one of the first questions I asked him when we had developed a friendship with each other. His answer to me was, “We were all treated the same. It didn’t matter where you were from. Once we got into the dojo, we all got the crap beat out of us.” Quote, unquote.

Q: What role did Ivan Sensei play in the establishment of Japanese karate in Las Vegas?

Mr. Ivan had established a martial arts show in the Las Vegas Hilton, at the Benihana Restaurant; and it was very popular. And while the show was going on, he saw a Japanese gentleman who was watching, and he recognized him from Japan. It was karate master (Osamu) Ozawa. He struck up a conversation with him, and Ozawa told him that he was a professional poker dealer. So, Mr. Ivan convinced him to give up a gambling career, and resume teaching karate in the United States. He helped set him up with his Las Vegas dojo, and took the time to get him established.

(It should be noted that in 1944, Osamu Ozawa was a Japanese military pilot whose plane crashed shortly after take-off. Ozawa Sensei suffered serious injuries, but eventually returned to Hosei University to finish his studies in economics and resume his training in karate.)

Q: Several of the kids from the Santa Ana dojo played opponents in the karate tournament in the movie, “The Karate Kid,” and Demura Sensei performed the stunt work for Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi). Did Ivan Sensei have a role in the movie?

Yes, he helped choreograph the fight scenes. He used several students from the Mission Viejo (CA) dojo, and several from the main dojo in Santa Ana (CA).

Q: Did Ivan Sensei briefly train with Yamaguchi, The Cat?

Ivan Sensei had heard that Yamaguchi Sensei was a good instructor, so he and some of his Army C.I.D. troops started training in his Tokyo dojo. Yamaguchi Sensei’s dojo was located in a “seedy” part of town, and they were anti-American. And when Mr. Ivan told his friend, Sato Sensei, that he was karate training under Yamaguchi Sensei, Sato Sensei scolded him. He stated, “This is not the place you want to go, these are not the kind of people you want to be around, these are not people who are pro-American, and they are not supportive of the occupation.” So that was the end of his training at that dojo. He only went a couple of times.

Q: Shihan, you and Ivan Sensei tested for your 8th Dan before a board of examiners who were officials with the International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF) Kokusai Budoin. How did you become affiliated with that organization?

I tested in Japan for 8th Dan (Kyoshi) 2 – 3 years after Ivan Sensei tested for 8th Dan (Hanshi). Although a physical test was not required, I did perform a demonstration of kata and bunkai (application of kata). The thing that was really cool, was that when I tested, Kanazawa was there, representing Shotokan, Otsuka was there representing Wado-Ryu, and Sakagami was there representing Shito-Ryu. Ivan Sensei’s close friend and judo instructor, Sato Sensei, was chief director of IMAF, and in 1982 asked Ivan Sensei to become regional director of the United States chapter. When Ivan Sensei became too busy with movies and Black Belt magazine, he asked me (Paul Godshaw) to take over regional director responsibilities for IMAF.

Q: Shizuya Sato, the Shihan or Chief Instructor for the judo branch of IMAF, recommended that your title change from Sensei to Shihan. What was the meaning behind this change?

The translation of the term Shihan is Chief Instructor. Sato Shihan approached me several years ago and said that since I have so many Sensei’s under me (5th Dan and higher), Shihan would be a more appropriate title. In addition, at that time our dojo was hosting frequent visits of Japanese instructors to teach IMAF seminars and conduct test examinations, that the title would be a more proper designation based upon responsibilities.

Q: You trained under Ivan Sensei and Demura Sensei. What differences did you observe in their teaching styles?

Mr. Ivan was much more eclectic. Each time we had a class he would teach some alternative self defense rather than a punch or a kick. Demura Sensei adapted more to that style as time went by, but it wasn’t his forte. Mr. Ivan’s teaching style was more stoic. Demura’s was more charismatic, outspoken, loud, and action packed. It was fun training with him because he was very enthusiastic, and I enjoyed both teachers because the contrast of teaching styles was so significant.

Q: There was a split in the Japan Karate Federation in which you and Ivan Sensei separated from Demura Sensei. What factors led to this, and how did it change the training?

At that time, Demura Sensei became more interested in being an actor, an author, a showman. It became more of a priority than the teaching. So it was very common for me every other week to take my black belts up there (Santa Ana) for training; because we wanted to train with Demura Sensei. But I would go up there with my group, and he would say, “Paul, you teach tonight.” To complicate matters, we were learning Shito-Ryu kata, and the Shotokan kata were becoming mixed with Shito-Ryu influences. These were factors that contributed to the break up.

So, Ivan Sensei said to me stop training there. We had a meeting at Yamazaki’s dojo in Anaheim one night, because Yamazaki was a Shotokan sensei, aligned with the federation of Ivan and Demura.

Dan said the federation is going to be split in two. One group is going to be Ivan and Demura’s group, and the other is going to be Yamazaki’s group.

So, at that point Mr. Ivan and I became closer, and I told him that we need to treat this as a corporation, so we sat down and there was about a dozen of us black belts. And Mr. Ivan said, “Paul, since you are the one with the most experience, I’m going to make you head instructor. However, there is one thing you cannot do, and that is you cannot change the kata.

Ivan and Demura later parted ways, and those who stayed with Demura learned Shito-Ryu kata, and those who stayed with Ivan and myself practiced Shotokan kata. Ivan Sensei’s time had been filled with entrepreneurial endeavors that included bringing the 1975 World Karate Championships to Los Angeles with the assistance of Tsutomu Ohshima Sensei, the establishment of the Japanese Deerpark in Buena Park, CA, and coordinating video production for Black Belt Magazine.

Q: Shihan, you have a framed photo in your office that you took of Ivan Sensei and his contemporaries in karate. Can you name some of them?

Yeah, this was a party related to the Ozawa Cup. They were instructors or celebrities associated with the Las Vegas competition. Present (in the group 'Martial Arts Masters' photo below Right/Left) there’s Dan Ivan, Takayuki Mikami, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Fumio Demura, Teruo Hayashi, Osamu Ozawa, Hapkido master Bong Soo Han, Doug Ivan (Dan’s son), and Ken Rossen.

Q: You have developed several national champions, and numerous members of the U.S. team for international competitions. What would you say was your instructional method for turning out champions?

I think that the best thing that you can do is not try to over teach. Train to utilize your strengths; and develop a good defense to keep you in the game.

Q: Your classes have occasionally included Nihon jujutsu techniques, and Go Shin Ho self-defense. What is the origin of these tactics?

The Nihon jujutsu and the Go Shin Ho are self defense techniques taught by Sato Sensei. The principles of karate are essentially to destroy with a block, punch or kick. In jujutsu the principles are focused on control. In keeping with Ivan Sensei’s philosophy, we are more eclectic.

Q: During Yon-Dan and Go-Dan tests in our dojo you require a demonstration of an advanced kata, followed by a bunkai application at slow speed, then combat speed with an uke. How important do you believe bunkai is to the practice of karate?

In kata there are movements that are not seen, but are known, and are open to interpretation. Through kata we use our Kihon skills in a fighting situation. The bunkai in the kata demonstrate the fighting application. It is important in the higher-level tests to show a working knowledge of the application of the kata in the context of a fight. I tell those testing to stay within accepted applications, and don’t make stuff up.

Q: Your wife, Luisa, is a 7th Dan and teaches the youth program. She really personalizes the instruction and strikes a balance between discipline and motivating. What does she find most rewarding?

I think she finds great rewards in the challenge of working with people who struggle to be good. She finds it rewarding to teach those who are challenged physically or mentally in excelling. Through karate she can develop the person in defending themselves while building confidence to do things they thought that they couldn’t do.

Q: Shihan, besides Dan Ivan, which karate instructor or athlete do you think had a strong influence on how you teach or practice karate?

That would be Fumio Demura. He had a charismatic personality, and his karate was strong. Great form, tremendous power, and dynamic enthusiasm.

DF: Finally, which accomplishment brings you the greatest amount of pride?

I think the fact that despite the individual personality differences between my wife and my three sons, my family has been able to share our study of karate.

Shihan, thanks for sharing your time for this interview.

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The magazine has been published since November 1984. Because it is a very specialised and Traditional magazine we only publish each quarter (March - June - September - December) . We do pride ourselves on featuring the most senior and famous Shotokan Senseis in the world in the magazine and it is totally non-political, we feature everyone from all the various organisations.