For a karate sensei, or teacher, Charles Goodin talks a lot about not fighting.
“Surviving the engagement is a win, even if it’s running away,”
Doesn’t sound very tough, but as Goodin says, the purpose of karate is self-defense.
“If I can’t prevent it … then I’ll use force, but that should
hopefully be never,” he says.
Don’t misunderstand, though. Goodin, who practices a traditional Okinawan
Shorin style of the martial art, says the moves he teaches his students are ruthlessly
efficient. Properly executed, they can cause serious bodily harm.
That’s why, Goodin says, “We want to develop karate students who are
really good at self-defense but who are also really good at self-restraint.”
He cites the ideal advocated by the late Okinawan karate master Shoshin Nagamine:
“A demon’s hand, a saint’s heart.”
An attorney by day, Goodin, 50, teaches the seeming contradiction of ferocity and
forbearance two nights a week at the Halawa District Park Gym.
Goodin describes karate as “a lifetime discipline,” good for both the
body and mind. “I think it helps fend off aging,” he says. “It
keeps your mind really active. As you do it, you’re also learning how to articulate
[the kata, or forms].”
Goodin wants his students to understand each move’s meaning, so he offers
up metaphors to make his point. He snaps out a striking thrust, then makes a quick
analogy to help them grasp the body mechanics involved, invoking the image of both
a coiled spring and Tiger Woods. He shares a thumbnail treatise on the body’s
core, energy conservation and torque.
Goodin’s students don’t train for competition. And he doesn’t
focus on colored belts or ranks. “Karate is a skill,” Goodin says. “And
rank is separate from skill. I would rather emphasize how to move, how to become
faster and stronger.”
Studying karate with Goodin costs only $5 a month, the same fee he charged when
he started his Hikari dojo 11 years ago. It’s a family affair. His wife, three
sons and daughter all have trained and taught alongside him.
Goodin says his goal is to help people learn karate, not preside over a large school
of disciples. “Karate is to elevate other people, not to elevate yourself,”
For Goodin, the study of karate is inextricably intertwined with its historical
and cultural context. He’s delved deeply into the martial art, which dates
back to China and Okinawa. (He explains that the characters for karate originally
meant “China hand,” not “empty hand,” which gained currency
in 1920s Japan.) For years, Goodin spent his spare Sundays researching old newspaper
articles on karate. Trips to Japan and Okinawa yielded photos and rare books. And
local sensei and their families entrusted him with stories, photos and other materials.
Goodin writes articles and tributes to Hawai‘i’s karate pioneers, posts
old photos, and blogs on his web site at hikari.us,
which also hosts the online Hawaii Karate Museum. It’s all, he says, a tribute
to all the sensei who have shared their knowledge with him over the years.
“I don’t read or write Japanese,” Goodin says. “I’m
not Okinawan. I just have a knack [for finding things]. I think it’s karma,”
he says. “I must’ve been very bad in a previous life,” he says,