GRAND MASTER PETER URBAN
By Steve Malanoski,Hanshi
Maestro Peter G. Urban, PHD. Grand Patriarch of all American GoJu Systems.
A look, at the life and the life’s work of an American Sensei
It all started at the Margaret Hague maternity hospital in Jersey City NJ. On Thursday August 14, 1934 at 6:30 pm. A child that would be named Peter was born. After spending a short amount of time in Altoona, Penn., Peter was to be raised and educated in Union City NJ. In 1952 he joined the United States Navy to be stationed in Japan, where he was to meet Master Richard Kim, who would take him on as a student and also introduce him to his other two teachers Gogen Yamaguchi and Masutatsu Oyama. Training with all three teachers concomitantly Urban spent 8 years in Japan during which he was the first occidental to compete in the All Japan College KaraTe Championships. Urban was disqualified for unnecessary roughness, when his very first opponent decided that he was going to fight Urban with full force techniques. “The reader is asked to keep in mind that WW 2 was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and that not only his tournament opponents, but many of his dojo mates held him personally responsible for their relatives being killed during the war.” “Talk about a rough row to hoe.” Urban had to prove himself in more than one-way while training in Japan.
Karate was not his only love there. He also met the lovely Meiko Ito, who would become his wife and return to the US with him.
Julia Urban (Daughter), Peter Urban and Wife Meiko
Upon his return to the US and civilian life, Urban opened his first dojo in Union City NJ. Later to move his operation across the Hudson River to New York City, at a popular dojo called Judo Twins, which was owned and operated by the Lepkofker brothers of Judo fame. His dojo locations from 17th street to Chinatown began leaving a trail that would be followed by some of the most accomplished karateka in American KaraTe history.
In 1963 Peter and Meiko Urban became the proud parents of a baby girl that would be named Julia.
Originally promoting the names and styles of his three teachers in the US, and even bringing them to the states so that the populous could see them for themselves. Urban would eventually wind up focusing on his duties as representative for Gogen Yamaguchi’s Zen Nippon GoJu Kai.
It was later, while returning to Japan with his wife to attend a GoJu Kai TaiKai, that after asking his teacher’s permission to form an American GoJu organization, that Urban was to hear the words that would change his life and the face of American KaraTe history forever.
In answer to Urban’s request, Yamaguchi supposedly quoting BuShiDo, said that, “No white man can ever achieve nirvana.” (Authors note: Although the word nirvana is not mentioned in BuShiDo, one must keep in mind that Yamaguchi was also a master of Yoga, and a priest of the Shinto religion, so his methodology, spirituality and belief system, was a mixture of the afore mentioned and a Meiji period education.)
Being that his teacher sited BuShiDo as the source of his answer, Urban rebutted by saying “But Sensei, according to BuShiDo, Japan can never lose a war…”
Needless to say, this resulted in an uncomfortable situation, with an angry Yamaguchi, and a dejected Urban, who later came back to Yamaguchi’s table with a knife, and began to perform the archaic customary ritual of apology in which one cuts off the little finger of the left hand. Yamaguchi’s sons wrestled the knife from Urban to prevent him from doing so, and Urban left the taikai one teacher short instead of one finger short.
Many do not know that the next day, Urban and his wife were visited at their hotel by Yamaguchi and his wife. Yamaguchi explained to Urban that he had no choice but to think the way he did, because of the way he was raised and educated. The two parted ways, not as enemies, but knowing that they could never see each other again.
(Note: The author wishes to express that there is absolutely no disrespect meant to the memory of Gogen Yamaguchi)
Upon his return to the US, Urban called an emergency meeting of his people, and announced that he was severing his relationship with the Zen Nippon GoJu Kai, and was founding and proclaiming himself the head of what would be called USA GoJu. Although there were some who would walk out, Urban received a thunderous standing ovation by the overwhelming majority. (Authors note: To accent the point of his severing the relationship, Urban was holding an axe when he addressed the meeting.)
Urban went under the umbrella of and advanced in rank in, Richard Kim’s BuTokuKai for a while, later founding his own U.S.A.GoJu Association.
Over the years, many additions were made by Urban to the system. Most had to do with modern application of classical technology, to include the use of all sorts of clandestine weaponry, which included the use of objects easily, found in modern day America.
Of course the kumite technology, which was gleaned from Urban’s experience with Oyama, Yamaguchi and Kim, took on a unique form of its own. With definite and obvious influence from the afore mentioned, but also with modern innovations made by Urban such as the Iron Wall, the Shanghai Sweep, and the Screened Back Fist just to name a few.
Urban was a firm believer that “Kata is the Literacy, and Fighting is the Industry of the martial arts.” There were at one time, as many as 56 katas in the curriculum. Over time, this was narrowed down to necessity. Three katas that were developed by Urban that to this day are the signatures of the system are The Urban TaiKyoku, The Empi Ha, and the Urban KuruRunFa. There is also the Urban Bo, which was actually made for use of the shepherd’s cane.
Although USA / Urban GoJu is taught using many kata depending on the instructor, the Ten Minimum Standard is: 1. Urban TaiKyoku, 2. TenSho, 3. GekiSai “also done with sai, 4. Empi Ha, 5. SeiUnChin, 6. SeiSan, 7. Urban Bo, 8. Urban KuruRunfa, 9. Urban Suparenpei, 10. Han What Urban considered the KEY STONE Kata where TaiKyoku, Tensho and Empi Ha.
As a young man of only 25 years old, Urban wrote his now famous book The KaraTe DoJo. It was published internationally, when he was 31 years old. His 2nd book KaraTe Psychology later to be mass produced as The KaraTe Sensei, was written years later in the late 70s when Urban was at the same time, running his dojo, visiting his wife Meiko who was dying of Cancer, at Bellevue Hospital in NYC, and raising his daughter Julia by himself, all without the benefit of insurance or a real steady income.
After his wife Meiko passed away, Urban continued to raise his daughter Julia alone, and began to teach on a more private basis.
Urban did pioneer his system abroad in Italy, Canada and Puerto Rico as well as giving classes at dojos owned by his students and of course the famous Super Seminars, but the previously ever available Urban, was now becoming a bit of an enigma and less of a public figure.
He did however produce 7 more books, which were 1. The Book of GoJu, 2. The KaraTe White Belt, 3. The Autobiography of Peter Urban, 4. Famous DoJo Stories, 5. KaraTe Values, 6.Chinatown DoJo, and most notably 7. which is the talking book titled DoJo Two where Urban reads the KaraTe DoJo on CD, updating things that have changed since his first book came out, and correcting errors. (Author’s note: In these days of cyber technology, and much greater resources available to the general public, there have been those who have made statements as to some of the stories in the KaraTe DoJo being incorrect. It seems that these people have overlooked page 81 where there is a disclaimer with Urban writing to the effect of these stories being only what he was told and with his 15 yrs. of limited study at the time, what he felt may very well have been. He also claims to not argue critique of scholars more knowledgeable than he, but says he bows to their wisdom.)
Also as to the story, Urban writes about Yamaguchi fighting the tiger. I was told by Urban himself, that Yamaguchi told him this story. However, in an interview when Yamaguchi was asked about the story, Yamaguchi said, “Peter Was exaggerating.”
For the reader’s information, my teacher (Urban) told me, that the TV show Kung Fu stole the idea of Cain holding the hot urn with the symbols being burnt into his forearms from The KaraTe DoJo!
To end this abridged at best story of my teacher; I will now move away from Urban the author to Urban the man.
His final dwelling was at his new home in Massachusetts that was built, replete with dojo, by our own Iron Brigade of Mass.
The Sensei was only there for a few days before he became ill for the final time.
Up until his final day, if you asked him how he was doing, he would say “Better than ever!”
Q: How did he live?
Q: How did he die?
Authors note to Grand Master Urban:
I will forever be thankful to you
For all of the wonderful lessons
And in death
That you shared with
And instilled in me
You will be missed
But when people miss you
They have but to look into my eyes
And they will see you
You live on
In every one of us that you touched
Back To back issue page
BACK TO COVER
BACK TO TABLE OF CONTENTS