Kongō-zue (Michael Thaler’s walking stick)

It is said that every journey begins with the first step. A journey can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It can be long or short. It can be strenuous or effortless. It can also be inconsequential or carry with it great meaning. My friend Chris Brock and I recently had the unique and great pleasure or embarking on a journey of significant meaning.

This honor was brought forth to us by our Sensei; Richard Rohrman. Sensei Rohrman had a Karate Ka by the name of Michael Thaler that came into possession of a wooden staff or walking stick. Unfortunately, Michael’s life of peace and beauty prematurely ended due to a horrendous illness. Prior to his demise, Michael told Sensei Rohrman that he would leave some items of remembrance for him. After Michael passed, Sensei Rohrman went to Michael’s home where he met Michael’s sister. Sensei happened to notice a walking stick which Michael’s sister offered to Sensei. The stick had Kanji or Japanese logographic writing down the length of its shaft on all four sides, which none of us at the time understood. Sensei Rohrman believed the stick to carry great symbolic weight and carry with it a tradition of going on or being part of a journey. I remembered that I had planned to go climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the near future and asked if taking the stick with me to the top of the mountain would be a fitting way to further the continuance of its journey? Sensei Rohrman agreed that it would. I invited Chris Brock to accompany me on this climb and we set out to plan our trip.

Prior to the climb, we planned to stay at a motel near the mountain and start the climb the next morning. I have used this same motel many times in the past and was friendly with the owner; Miyoko Honda. We checked in and it then occurred to me that being of Japanese descent, perhaps Miyoko could translate the writing on the stick. We brought the stick into her office and Miyoko began to read the writing. She said that the stick is a “Prayer stick” that is used by Buddhist monks while traveling between temples. As such, it is an item that should be shown great respect. Miyoko became very interested and told us she would contact her friends in Japan to try to get additional information. Chris and I were now piqued with interest and elated to be a part of this. We offered our sincere thanks to Miyoko and turned in for the night.

The next day we set off for the mountain carrying our now distinguished companion. We began the climb in what was good weather for October. However, as we ascended the wind picked up significantly and the temperature inversely fell precipitously. After many hours of climbing, we arrived at the summit with our acclaimed guest still with us. The temperature with the wind chill was approaching 20 below zero. However, we were warmed by the notion that we had fulfilled our understanding of continuing the journey of Michael’s walking stick.

On our return home, we were contacted by Miyoko who, after contacting her friends in Japan, sent us additional information. Here are her results;

 Hi Bob & Chris! I found out more details from my girlfriend in Japan. According to her & her husband, it's called "金 (Kon=Gold) 剛 (Gou=Hard)杖 (Zue=stick), which is used for a journey visiting temple to temple in Shikoku Island. Those characters in the lower part is a prayer called "Hannya-shinkyou" and in the upper part old letters of Buddhism (Bongo) can be seen. Under the white tape, it's written "南無大師遍照金剛", which is Koubou-taishi (Buddha)"s precious word. Under that it says "同行二人" which she translated that " I'm visiting those temples together with "Koubou-taishi) praying for Buddha and two of us together always". Does it make sense?

It is most regrettable that Michael Thaler could not have come with us on this journey or even have endured long enough to know that it was undertaken and the tradition of his walking stick was advanced once more. For our part in this saga, Chris and I were profoundly privileged that Sensei Rohrman perceived the meaning and tradition of Michael’s walking stick and asked us to participate in the continuance of its tradition. During the all too brief time we knew each other, Michael Thaler demonstrated a kindness and compassion that touched me deeply. I hope this in some small way keeps the memory of Michael alive. While Michael was still alive, he maintained a blog. The title of this blog is truly the story of this walking stick; “One foot in front of the other.” 

                                                                                    Bob Wilson


                                                                                    Budo Kai; Traditional Karate and Fitness   


Miyagi Chojun Sensei 1888-1953

October 8th marks the passing of Miyagi Chojun Sensei, founder of Goju Ryu Karate. It's been nearly 60 years since that day, and, for better or worse, much has changed. As contradictory as it may seem, tradition and evolution appear to coexist in the curriculum of many well respected Okinawan Karate practitioners. It's a slippery precipce that balances Goju Ryu while keeping it true to its origins and, at the same time, in search of its future.

What would Miyagi Sensei think of Goju Ryu today? Innovation in training methods, from Junbi Undo to Kata, is a clear example of his own eclectic approach. What if time and technology merged sooner? What would Miyagi Sensei's blog and YouTube channel look like? :)

As I continue to train, I'm left with many questions. Some will surely be answered with sweat and time. Others will probably remain as questions. In any event, today is filled with reverence and gratitude.

Domo arigato gozaimashita Sensei

40th Anniversary

It was June 1971...

I entered the East Rutherford School of Karate & Ju Jutsu to take my first lesson in the martial arts. A professional photographer just happened to be there that day, and captured the first seconds of my 40 year journey. I can't help but think there must be something to fate...


I can still feel that moment.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way.


Shoshin - Beginner's Mind

Happy New Year! I've always found the New Year not only to be a great time for resolutions, but also a time to look back upon past experiences. It's funny how some of the most memorable parts of my training came from the most unexpected places.

Having just about grown up in the martial arts, I've long been aware of the many great experiences training can give children. Like in any type of education, the student will have many questions along the way, and the teacher will carefully guide them.

Well, years ago, I called a young child up in front of the class for a promotion. Seeing the joy in children's eyes when they've worked so hard to improve is truly amazing. Up until that point, I had always shaken a students hand, said "congratulations," and then smiled and said "do you know why you're here?" Usually I was met with something like "to get my yellow belt!" Not this lesson. The young boy turned to me, and with such a pure and open way about him, said..."to learn."

For a moment, he was the sensei, and I that white belt so many years ago. His answer, to this day, makes me smile... and makes my New Year's resolution that much more promising.

Happy New Year, everyone!

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few."
--- Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi

A Closer Look

Traditional Karate Do is taught using Japanese/Okinawan terminology. As students progress in their training, they learn to appreciate the value of this. A special atmosphere is created in the dojo, when one comes to understand the deeper meaning of many of the words and phrases. For the serious karateka, terminology is as much a part of training as is the study of kata.

One of the most misunderstood, misspelled and mispronounced of these words is Budo. No, it's not Buda...I can't tell you the amount of checks I've received through the years that had that written on them! Budo is correctly formed by combining the words Bu and Do. Together they translate as martial way. Although this interpretation is correct, the true meaning of Budo is found by studying its history.

Originally the martial arts were studied as a means of survival. In Japanese, these arts were referred to as Bujutsu (martial technique). With the coming of the Edo Period and latter Meiji Restoration, change and peace turned war arts, in many ways, obsolete. Still, these arts had much to offer. In order for Bujutsu to grow, the emphasis had to be shifted. From this change came the concept of Budo. Although the roots of Budo lie in self defense, the higher aim became self perfection. This ideology was best expressed by the legendary Karate master Funakoshi Gichen Sensei who said; "The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants."

Judo, Aikido, Kendo and most martial ways ending in Do, are examples of Budo, which were transformed from Bujutsu. Traditional Karate Do as a form of Budo can be seen as somewhat of an add on though to these classical Japanese Budo, as it was imported from Okinawa. Still, the concept of Budo applies.

Budo is a tool for education and self discovery. Its translation of martial way only scratches the surface. The written Chinese characters for Budo further sum up its essence. Bu is made up of two sections. The first means stop, and the second means spear. When combined with Do, they represent what some view as meaning "peace through martial training". This reflects the essential difference between the older Bujutsu and Budo. The former is a pure combat method designed for use on the battlefield. The latter is self defense, while seeking to avoid conflict.