MMA Pioneer Series: Seishiro Henry Okazaki


(Seishiro Henry Okazaki)

According to Bruce Lee, "the best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate, or Judo man.  The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style, to be formless, to adopt an individual's own style and not following the system of styles."  This philosophy led Lee to found his mixed system of Jeet Kune Do, a forerunner of modern MMA.  In fact, Lee’s popularization of the mixed philosophy led many to anoint him the "Father of Modern Mixed Martial Arts." 

But where did the seed of inspiration for Lee’s revolutionary philosophy come from?  I propose that it can be traced back to Hilo, Hawaii, circa 1906, and a legendary Martial Artist named Seishiro Henry Okazaki…

Okazaki was born in Kakeda Japan in 1890, as a member of the noble warrior Samurai class.   In 1906, Professor Okazaki emigrated from Japan to the big island of Hawaii, settling in Hilo.  Between 1906 and 1909 (reports vary) Seishiro was afflicted with a pulmonary condition, now believed to have been tuberculosis. 

Shortly thereafter (around 1910), Seishiro began studying Yoshin-Ryū jujitsu under the great Sensei Yoshimatsu Tanaka at the Shinyu Kai Dojo in Hilo.  After some time of intense study, Okazaki's respiratory condition went into remission.  In his own words, he became the "owner of a body, as if made of iron." Seishiro credited his remarkable recovery to his study of Yoshin-Ryū, and as a result, he decided to dedicate his life to the study and teaching of jujitsu and similar disciplines .

Over the next decade, Okazaki studied various arts including Namba-Shoshin Ryu, Tenshin-Shinyo Ryu, Yoshin Ryu, Kodokan Judo, Iwaga Ryu, Kosogabe Ryu, Ryukyu Karate, Jujitsu, as well as knife fighting techniques from the Philippines (Kali). 

In 1917, Seishiro also studied the Hawaiian art of Lua (The Secret Art of Killing) under Master David Kainhee, in the district of Puna, on the island of Hawaii.  He later studied other martial forms such as western boxing and wrestling.  Additionally, it is said he was instructed in Dirk Throwing (Knife Throwing) by a Spaniard. 

Okazaki would get the opportunity to test his newly acquired skills in 1922, when he faced Professional Boxer Carl "Kayo" Morris in a mixed contest.  Okazaki reportedly suffered a broken nose in the first round, but retaliated with a reverse arm lock which severely injured Morris's arm, giving Seishiro the victory. 

In late 1924, he traveled back to Japan, journeying from northern Morioka City to as far south as Kagoshima City.  Along his voyage, he visited more than 50 schools, acquiring 650-675 techniques in jujitsu.  During this time he also worked out at the famous Kodokan and received a Black Belt in Judo directly from Dr. Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo.

Professor Okazaki eventually returned to Hawaii and formed an eclectic system which he called "Danzan Ryū." His new system incorporated not only traditional Jujitsu and Judo, but also Hawaiian Lua, Okinawan Karate, Eskrima, Kung Fu, American wrestling, and western boxing.  It is said that Seishiro used this name "Danzan" to honor his most influential instructor, Kung Fu Master Wo Chong, who often referred to Hawaii as "T'an Shan" (or in Japanese, "Dan Zan") which translates as "sandalwood mountain."  Hence the term Danzan Ryū means "Hawaiian Style."


In 1929, Seishiro established his Kodenkan School in Honolulu.  Over the following years, Okazaki continued to test and adapt Danzan Ryū.  He instructed hundreds of students, including notable artists such as Hachiro, Kiyoshi Kawashima, Benjamin Marks, George Harbottle, William Simao, Y. S. Kim, Richard Rickerts, Curly Friedman, Charles Wagner, Harold McLean, Bob Glover and Tantro Muggey. 


(Kodenkan Kanji)

Okazaki also instructed Small Circle Jujitsu founder Wally Jay, awarding him a Certificate of Mastery in Danzan Ryū in 1948.  Wally Jay would later, in turn, instruct none other than Bruce Lee in both Judo and Danzan Ryū Jujitsu (in 1962).    


(Seishiro and Wally Jay)

Professor Okazaki was one of the first teachers to break from tradition and teach Japanese martial arts to the non-Japanese, and was widely ostracized for doing so.  Nonetheless, Seishiro believed that everyone should have the opportunity to learn the art of Jujitsu, regardless of their ethnic heritage.

In 1939, Okazaki also formed the "American Jujitsu Guild," which was later renamed the "American Jujitsu Institute."


Before his death in 1951, Seishiro expressed his satisfaction with his accomplishments.  At his funeral, thousands of his students and friends mourned this most successful and humble man.

On April 6, 1967, the American Jujitsu Institute’s Standards Committee posthumously awarded Professor Okazaki the rank of Judan, 10th Dan.





Blake, Rawlin "The History of Henry Seishiro Okazaki, Founder of Danzan Ryu of the Kodenkan"

Morris, William S. "Henry S. Okazaki Founder of American Jiu Jitsu"

The Kiai Echo (Spring 1996): Notes On Master Okazaki And The Origins Of Danzan Ryu





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