AN INTERVIEW WITH
BY WILLIAM RIVERA
It is the mid 1970síand the place is Flatbush, Brooklyn New York. A little skinny young boy sits watching karate class at the local YMCA. It is the 3rd or 4th time he has come to watch, and it will be his last. On this day the instructor, who has noticed the young boy watching his class looks at him and asks, "Why donít you join my class?" The young boy looks into the eyes of the instructor and says, "Because I have no money." The instructor responds back, "From now on, you come and you will train."
TThe story above is not fiction, it is one of many I heard on what was an enjoyable journey into the world of William Louie Hanshi and founder of Chinese American Goju. We met for our interview in September at the Gold Gym in Howard Beach, Queens where he teaches many of his students.
Fast forwarding, that young skinny boy grew up and rose from the rough streets of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn to become an accomplished businessman, entrepreneur and a martial artist. He also, a Yudansha, has made an impact on our youth as an inspirational role model (that will be another story).
Hello and welcome to Martialforce.com. My name is William Rivera, a Yudansha and student of Eddie Morales Shihan.
As a writer, the artists I choose to interview all have a common denominator: the willingness to share their journey, answer all questions and teach. After speaking and getting to know this truly exceptional martial artist and individual, I concluded that William Louie Hanshi far exceeds what many and I already consider is high caliber. Gifted is one thing; intense is something else. He is a person with power and, "total class".
He teaches involvement that in life you can not be a passenger without first becoming the driver. His divergent paths speak for this.
William Louie is rated one of the top financial consultants in the country and is active on the lecture circuit. When he teaches, he empowers. Whether they are new agents or his students, the result is to know how to take control of their careers, their lives, to become the drivers.
His accomplishments are many: His name is engraved at the New York Life Building; he is listed in the history books of "Karate in America". He has acted in films, held demonstrations throughout the world including in Madison Square Garden in New York and the Roberto Clemente Stadium in Puerto Rico.
Let me start with my favorite question:
Martialforce.com:How old were you when you began studying the Martial Arts?
WILLIAM LOUIE: I was 9 years old. I studied Tiger Claw with my cousin Richard Louie."
Martialforce.com:What motivated you to learn Martial Arts?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Like any young kid, I was curious to learn about my heritage. My parents are Asian-Chinese. I was born in New York City 1st generation. American yes, but Chinese. For me, what I wanted most was to learn all I could about what made me who I am what my descendants were all about. The martial arts were the doorway to my culture. The more I learned, the more I really got into it. I realized at an early age about the benefits, the beauty and the importance of a strong martial arts background."
Martialforce.com:You are Chinese, no?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Yes, American born, but Chinese."
Martialforce.com:Ok. How did you get into an art like USA Goju, studying under a white man, no less?
WILLIAM LOUIE: You mean why did I deviate from my ancestors? I have always been my own person and open-minded. I believe what is good is good, and what is not I do not try to learn. Understand, I am not saying that the arts that I studied before Goju were not good. Rather, that in Goju and in Master Peter Urban I found a style that I could express myself.
Martialforce.com:Please elaborate. What led up to you studying Goju?
WILLIAM LOUIE: William lets go to the beginning. I definitely believe, you master one style, not be a jack of all trades and be master of nothing. With that said, yes I have studied, practiced other processes or styles, as you would say. I only switched because I had to. Again, I first studied Tiger Claw with my cousin Richard Louie, but he stopped teaching and then I went to Hong Kong. Still wanting to pursue the martial arts, I studied Goju of the Japanese persuasion at a local karate school. The instructor was Sakamoto Sensei and my first encounter with the Goju-Ryu system. I returned to New York and I liked that Goju in me. I studied Praying Mantis with one instructor who moved back to Hong Kong and with another, Master Gin Foon Mark who later moved to Minnesota.
(Wow! I asked for more.) At this time, Master Louie started his class. We continued the interview afterwards.
Martialforce.com:Can you please continue telling us what led up to your studying Goju?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Yes, as I stated, I searched for an instructor since my previous onesí had either stopped teaching, left the New York area or passed away. Before meeting Master Urban, I was studying Judo and Jujitsu. My instructor was Stanley Israel, also a top student of Cheng Man-Ching of Tai Chi fame. Stanley Israel had a big studio in New York. One day he asked me to attend a karate class that was being taught. The instructor was Herman Kauz. I laughed as Master Israel saw me move for I felt good doing Karate. I had recently won the N.Y. State Judo Championship and had given him my trophy. I asked him "Do you think I should stick with Judo, Jujitsu or Karate?" Master Israel replied, "The truth is you should go into Karate". I said "Oss" and left. I studied with Herman Kauz for a short time as he left. In search of Karate instructor I found Master Urban.
Martialforce.com: How old were you?
WILLIAM LOUIE: It was around my 13th birthday. I began training with Master Urban and stayed. I earned my Black Belt in a year, training 5 days a week from when the dojo opened until it closed'
Martialforce.com:What was your motivation for creating the Chinese American Goju system?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Besides the styles I have mentioned I had studied other styles like White Crane, Shotokan a little Tae Kwon Do and Kyokushinkai. I took the best of what I had studied and when I was competing in tournaments, I would use the techniques. In Kata competition, I changed some of the moves to be able to compete with the top Kata people. Master Urban saw this and knew what I was doing and liked it. Of course, by pitching in the movements from various styles, it was not pure Urban Goju. One day Master Urban decided to start what was to be called the "United Nations of Goju". He urged me to start my own Goju. I did not agree. I wanted to stay loyal to Urban Goju and eventually help him promote the style. There was going to be an Urban Goju, Puerto Rican Goju all forms of different Goju just like their was Japanese and Okinawan Goju. The idea and naming of the system came from Master Urban.
I never said to Master Urban that I wanted to start my own system. As far as I was concerned, I had found what worked for me and wished to stay with it. I would have kept the Urban Goju name: USA Goju. Ron Van Clief, my senior at that time, had used the name "Chinese Goju". Master Urban thought since his style was American Goju and I had mixed in Chinese styles, that I should call the system, "Chinese-American Goju.
Martialforce.com: Some Masters in creating their own Goju system say, they are going back to the Okinawan or Japanese way. Others say their system has evolved. What do you say?
WILLIAM LOUIE: I am a perfectionist. I took the best of what I saw in the systems I had studied and used them. I did not as one would say create my own style. I do not know if I would say I evolved it. I only created a mixture of the styles I learned. The foundation is USA Goju, the techniques; the style is still the same as many years ago. I am sure you have heard the expression, "re-inventing the wheel". I do not agree with that. The techniques that the Masters have always taught were the best as far as I am concerned. Taking the best of what I learned; I teach a mixture of it that is it. Why change it?
Martialforce.com: What are your thoughts on Kata?
WILLIAM LOUIE: For me, Kata is the soul of Karate. If you are a good Kata man you can be a good fighter, but, f you are a good fighter youíre not necessarily going to be a good Kata man. Anybody can throw a punch and score a hit, but not anybody has the discipline, the balance, the power and the focus that a kata brings out. I like to think I am a perfectionist and I train my students to be as well. I teach my students in the way it was taught by Masters for many years. There is a reason for that, it works and there in lies the beauty.
Martialforce.com:What is your favorite Kata and why?
WILLIAM LOUIE: My favorite Kata is Sepai. It is good for my body type and I feel I can really express myself in it.
Martialforce.com: How about Bunkai (application of techniques in Kata), did you learn it from Master Urban?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Master Urban taught application. He would show me the how, and why, and he would do it to me. We never did Bunkai in a pre-arranged fashion like other systems such as Shoreikan.
Martialforce.com: Let us talk about Chi how do you develop it? Was this something Urban taught?
WILLIAM LOUIE: You always read and hear about it. Urban talked about it and some of my instructors in Kung Fu also talked about it. I never understood it by talking. How do you explain to a person what love is, if you have never been in love? If you do not know the difference between hot and cold, how do you explain what hot is and whatís cold? Any way you feel it, when your techniques are on, when you know your body, when you breathe in. You feel it as you breathe, you feel it when you feel alive, and when you are doing your Kata. Kata to me teaches you a lot about your body, and coordination, everything including the flow of energy. You do not have to move your body hard to have an impact.
Martialforce.com: Kata develops that?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Absolutely! Through Kata, from the techniques and training, you learn to concentrate focused energy. Through the practice of Kata, the drilling of techniques, your moves whether in self-defense or in the practice of ippons (series of karate techniques), come out naturally.
Martialforce.com: Some people think that Kata is not realistic, that it does not help you in a self-defense situation.
WILLIAM LOUIE: Am I going to do a pre-arranged Kata? No. It is the techniques that you learn from practicing, the focus and sharpness that you develop that work in a self-defense situation. If I fight you and throw a straight punch, it is the discipline, the power and the speed that I have developed through the practice of Kata that will make the punch work.
Martialforce.com:Is weapons training incorporated into Chinese-American Goju?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Yes, I specialize in the Nunchucks and Bo and teach other weapons such as the Sai.
Martialforce.com:In the 1970's, you had a group called "The Untouchables". Why and who were they?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Untouchables was a classification I gave to our top fighters. I grew up watching the Untouchables on television and I liked the name. Like I said, these fighters were Untouchable; if you were an Untouchable you were one of the best.
As a note I worked out with some of these, Martial Artist designated as the Untouchables. With nicknames such as Tornado, Wonder-boy, Robot and others I remember them as ferocious fighters, exceptional teachers and superb Kata performers. ----William Rivera shihan.
Martialforce.com: What is your personal training like now?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Well I teach twice a week here and also at my other location. I getup in the morning and train for about an hour. I do some weight training later on in the day.
Martialforce.com: Do you do repetitions, Kata?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Absolutely thatís it, thatís what it is all about.
Martialforce.com: If you could change anything in the way Karate is out there right now, what would it be?
WILLIAM LOUIE: I do not want to knock what others do or want to do, but you asked. I would love to get back more of the camaraderie, the discipline the whole philosophical aspect of the Martial Arts. Of learning to be at peace with yourself and not have to prove to anybody, anything and show how good you are. The Karate craze the big Martial Arts craze has passed, today, you get people that want to exercise and learn a few self-defense moves. That is great but it is just that, exercise and self-defense not a Martial Art. In the old days, you would have students who wanted to learn the whole style not just a part.
Martialforce.com: Where do you plan on going, do you have any plans as far as the style is concerned?
WILLIAM LOUIE: Well, I want to have a successor. I want all the time, all the effort, all blood, sweat and tears that I put into this art, to learn the art, to be given back to people in years to come, in the same manner.
I want to hear more stories. I had a pilot that walked in here one day, Frank DeMarco. I had not seen him since he was 18 years old, and he is in his 40ís now. Out of nowhere he walks in and says, "Pleased to meet you, do you remember me?" I say, "Absolutely I remember you!
As he sat in his pilotís uniform, he turns to my students and says, "I want to tell everybody in this Dojo, I am what I am because of Sensei". It is not about ego it is about making a difference.
Some last thoughts from the interview:
Watching the class, you can see the unique style that is Chinese-American Goju. The foundation and sound principles are USA Goju the flow inherent in the
ippons ( Techniques ) is William Louie. Pre-arranged techniques and counters are not part of the curriculum, William Louie Hanshi as well as his students responded to spontaneous attacks with naturalness, a flow. Kata was performed with an emphasis on stance and mechanics.
William Louie does not claim to know it all, what he knows, he knows well. A simple twist of the knee, a shift in his stance and his attacker flew back or fell. A straight punch popped the air, you heard it (no, his Gi was not starched or of the heavyweight brand).
Yes empowerment and hard-core exemplify William Louie and the style Chinese-American Goju.
Master William Louie and his beautiful daughter Jennie .
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