Kenshi-Kai” is our Mission Statement

Published June 10th, 2019 by Okinawa Karate Center

A special thanks and recognition to my student, Chunpeng “George” Zhao, for providing some translation and historical background contained within this narrative, and good friend Sensei Jim Pounds for his enlightening comments

What started out as a query into what I thought would provide a simple explanation of the meaning of “ambition fist”, the first two kanji in our organization’s name, turned out to be a bit more than simple. One night in class, I was speaking with my student, George Zhao, who gave me a highlevel explanation and historical significance for the kanji “ambition”.

Fascinated with the expanse of his explanation, I asked if he could do the same for the last kanji, kai, meaning organization, as it was a different kanji than the usual kanji used. George came through once again. Even more intrigued, I began to dig a bit deeper. Little did I know how deep the rabbit hole would take me.

All martial arts systems and organizations around the world put great thought into naming their institutions. This is even more notable with organizations birthed in Japan, Okinawa and China. And why is that? Words and phrases in many “old world” cultures have a strong, living connection to their respective histories, which had a strong influence in development of languages. Understanding the etymology and conceptual implications of even simplest word or phrase can produce profound emotional and personal connections.

Many organizations develop a mission statement designed to further convey their professional intent and purpose, all in the hopes of creating a personable attachment. However, it is far and in between when the organizational name and mission statement are one in the same. Kenshi-Kai, “Ambition Fist Group”, is one of those few. Let’s look into my premise.

Kenshi-Kai - “Ambition Fist Group”

Ken (Fist)



Shi (Ambition)

“samurai; gentleman; scholar”

“heart; spirit; mind”

Kai (Association)

“combine; together


To fully understand the meaning and philosophy behind “Kenshi-Kai”, we need to understand the historical significance and evolution of each of the three kanji. While there are endless definitions and connotations for any kanji, for the sake of this discussion we will focus on those most relative to the intent of Kenshi-Kai. I have referenced both the shinjitai, “modern” kanji with reduced strokes, and the kyujitai, “old character form”, for each kanji.

拳 Fist

拳 shinjitai / 擧 kyujitai)

  1. Fist
  2. Strikes made with a fist
  3. Chinese boxing

Of all three kanji, this one is the easiest to comprehend. Combined, the two kanji, 兴 (curled); 手 (hand), illustrate the physical formation of a fist. Alternatively, this kanji infers the implicit use of the fist in combat. This would further expand “fist” to refer to the physical and mental development and discipline one would achieve through rigorous martial training. In some instances, 手 is pronounced as “shu” 手裏剣 (shuriken) – throwing star, or 入手 (nyuushu) – get, obtain, purchase.

志 Ambition

No shinjitai alternate spelling

  1. will; resolution; intention; ambition; aim; goal
  2. kindness; goodwill; kind offer
  3. gift (as a token of gratitude)

This particular kanji is the heart (no pun intended) in deciphering the intended meaning of KenshiKai. As you can see, these definitions imply that as one seeks to define goals and objectives throughout their lifetime, those aspirations should be designed to benefit more than just that one person or a single interest. To better appreciate the significance of this kanji, let’s explore the inferences of each of the two characters that make up this kanji. It is also worth mentioning that this is only one of the three kanji that does not have a shinjitai or abbreviated version.

This kanji means gentleman, scholar, samurai, warrior. When combined with other kanji, the context expands to note people of stature; socially/academically (士人 person of extensive learning; person of great culture; person of superior social standing / 修士 Master’s Degree / 博士 Ph.D., Instructor at the Imperial Court), or military (士兵 soldier). These scholar warriors served a dual purpose as advisors to the Imperial Court and in the field to military leaders and as personal body guards. This required them to be well versed in the use of weapons and hand-tohand combat in order to protect their principal as well as themselves.

心 The context of “heart” can refer to the physiological heart (心臓), a person’s mental state (心配, worry, concern, fear /中心, focused, centered / 熱心, eager, zealous, enthusiastic, keen), or a person’s work ethic (決心 determination, resolution, 苦心 hard work, effort, labor). Within a Western context, mind can be defined as the physical complex of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement sometimes considered a particular characteristic of humans; a long tradition of inquiries in philosophy, religion, psychology.

This is further exemplified in BunBu Ryodo 文武両道 (文 writing / 武 martial / 両 both / 道 the way; path); “The Way of the Pen and the Sword”. During the age of the Samurai, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries, BunBu Ryodo represented a base requirement for any samurai to be a leader or even to be recognized. Whether by design or circumstance, most of the samurai paid more attention to developing high skills in the various combat methods such as kenjutsu (sword), sojutsu (spear) and kyujutsu (archery), with little regard for academic or philosophic advancement. Many of the uneducated samurai were, essentially nothing more than a dangerous hoodlum with a sword.

In addition to their martial arts training, these warriors spent much of their time learning poems, tea ceremony, history, strategies, medicine and other subjects. All the politicians were required to have the knowledge of bu 武. Of course, during these periods, almost all the politicians came from the samurai clans. They needed to be this as they were in the age of civil wars; but at the same time, they needed it to segregate other powerful groups such as the educated monks, merchants and the aristocrats who would seek a governing position.

Some of the scholars in that era stated that 文 and 武 are the two sides of the same coin and they must not be divided. In other words, 武 without 文 means an imperfect martial art and it cannot create a respectable samurai.

會 Association

shinjitai / kyujitai

  1. union; group; association
  2. occasion; opportunity
  3. to understand; to grasp
  4. to gather; to assemble
  5. to match; to conform
  6. To know how to perform a task

会 is the most commonly used kanji for the English term association (club; gathering; association; group). The simplification from the original kanji alternately simplified it’s meaning. The original kanji consists of two characters; 合 Combined; come together and 曾 gain; improve. Combined, the true meaning of “meeting” is quite profound: “The strong union of like-minded, educated people learning alongside and from one another with the purpose of achieving something greater than themselves”.

Kenshi-Kai was born in part to share a very unique style of Old World Goju-Ryu Karate-Justu and Kobu-Jutsu with the rest of the world. Training in Kenshi-Kai Okinawa Goju-Ryu is not limited to just punching and kicking or winning a medal. More importantly, it is the aim of Dr. Tetsuhiro Hokama, Kenshi-Kai founder and World headmaster, to preserve the culture and histories that are the Okinawan people through the collective practice of Okinawa Goju-Ryu Karate-Jutsu KobuJutsu. As an authorized Kenshi-Kai school and instructor, I, like my counterparts throughout the world, am charged with the privilege and honor to support Dr. Hokama, in this endeavor.

As detailed in the above narrative, everyone within the Kenshi-Kai family, regardless of age or rank, brings value to the organization and ultimately our society. Moreover, through proper training and unselfish interaction, we are obliged to provide an exemplary model for others. Growth, personally and professionally, cannot be based solely on past practices as tomorrow brings a new life experience. Constant review and scrutiny are essential so as not to develop a sense of complacency but to ensure positive progress. This is the definition of kaizen 改善, which refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and engage all involved regards of rank or position. Kaizen is a guiding principle of Kenshi-Kai.

None of us within the Kenshi-Kai family are expected to simply follow and do as told. We, as instructors, have a responsibility beyond just showing up to teach a kata wearing a fancy belt and uniform and bark out commands. We must train and sweat alongside our students and others, this alliance builds trust and confidence, which are the foundation for character development, which is the hallmark of the Kenshi-Kai organization.

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