W.H. “Bill” Price and Kuniba-Ryu
W.H. “Bill” Price and Kuniba-Ryu:
The evolution of traditional martial arts in the 21st Century
By Kevin Watson and James Herndon
The explosion of mixed martial arts (MMA) and various televised fighting championships has forever altered the landscape of martial arts. Today you’ll find an abundance of MMA schools and “experts” who will teach you to “cage fight.”
Many students may not realize it but the traditional weaponless Budo (Karate-Do, Judo, Aikido, etc.) are always adapting and are open to change. As living arts they continue to evolve and reflect the reality of the times. In other words, all martial arts—whether they are “traditional” or “modern”—are “mixed martial arts.” A perfect example of this evolution—the need to adapt and refine traditional principles and techniques for the modern era—can be seen in William H. Price and the organization he founded in 1995, the Chikubu-Kai.
W. H. “Bill” Price began his training while stationed on Okinawa in 1962 as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He trained in both in Goju-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu, and he also began his career in law enforcement at that time. After service in Vietnam he returned to his home state of Virginia and worked in state law enforcement. He met Shogo Kuniba, Soke in 1971. This was the first time Kuniba had visited the U.S. mainland and thus began a 21-year period of learning, training, and sharing both on and off the mat for both men. Eventually Price, Sensei was named as Kuniba, Soke’s successor (Ni-Dai Soke) for the martial arts of Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do.
Shogo Kuniba was the founder of three distinct arts during his lifetime: Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu, Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu, and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do. He began his training at the age of 5 in 1940, and continued for more than 50 years until his passing in 1992. Due to his unique upbringing, Kuniba studied different styles of Karate as well as Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido, Kobudo (weapons arts), and Iai-Do (sword arts) with many of the greatest teachers of his time, including Kenwa Mabuni (the founder of Shito-Ryu) and his father, Kosei Kokuba (a direct student of Choki Motobu). Shortly before his death in 1992, he appointed William H. Price as Ni-Dai Soke for the arts of Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do. This was recognized by both the Japan Karate Federation and the Seishin-Kai Karate Union of Japan, which was founded by Kuniba father in 1943.
The fact that Kuniba entrusted the continuation of his arts to someone outside of Japan following his death was unusual. Kuniba’s synthesis of Motobu-Ha Karate-Do (from his father) and Shito-Ryu Karate-Do (from Kenwa Mabuni and his senior student, Ryusei Tomoyori) that he created in 1956, Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu, all stayed with his family in Japan, with his sons named as successors. However the other two arts that Kuniba created, Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do, were entrusted to William H. Price. The reason for this can be summed up in one word: reality.
Karate vs. Reality
“I present this as a warning. You are what you are, not what you think you are. Violence is what it is, not necessarily what you have been told.”
Sgt. Rory Miller
As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam, and over 50 years as a law enforcement officer, Mr. Price is uniquely qualified to teach martial arts in a way that is functionally relevant to the world we live in. Perhaps even more importantly, he is able to share and impart the traditions and techniques he learned from Kuniba in an applicable manner for people from all walks of life, whether they are in law enforcement or not.
Kuniba created and continually modified traditional techniques that he had learned during decades of training. Years of study, not only of several styles of Karate-Do in Japan and Okinawa, but of Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and Aikido, gave him the foundation for his fusion of these arts into a unified, cohesive whole. So he created Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do, which literally translated, this means “Kuniba’s method of self-defense.” This was to be his legacy and his trademark—the ability to flow between different “ranges,” or the various distances that fights occurred in the real world while still adhering to the original techniques. By incorporating the striking techniques of Karate-Do (usually taught from a longer distance between opponents) with the grappling and groundfighting techniques of Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and Aikido (taught in close range practice), Kuniba, revealed his insight, innovation, and creativity. As Price, Soke explained in an interview:
“ As far as Goshin-Do is concerned, it should be remembered that Kuniba, Sensei’s upbringing allowed him opportunities that would be almost impossible to duplicate today. When he was 5 years old he began training in Judo. At that time many of the founders of the styles were alive and he had the opportunity to train with them—all of the great people from Judo, Aikido, Jiu-Jitsu, Iai-Do, everything. He was able to train with the greats. It would be very unusual in his later years if he didn’t take advantage of this training and just pull out the best of all the styles that he trained in and blend these techniques together. This of course was how Goshin-Do was formed, and it certainly compliments Karate because all arts, as you know, have these voids. Goshin-Do helps fill these voids when you can’t punch, kick, or block then you can go straight into Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido, Judo or whatever as part of your system. Of course a lot of people use the individual techniques of these arts here and there but when you put it into a system and blend it into your Karate then you have a completely different ballgame. The big difference in this case was that it was done by someone with the expertise that only Shogo Kuniba had.”
A little-known fact about the creation of Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do was that it was done in close collaboration with W. H. Price. When Kuniba first began to teach and interact with American martial artists in the early 1970s, martial arts were in their infancy in America. He quickly noted the difference in the Western body-type and those in his native Japan. This necessitated change in order to make the techniques work. And this is where Price was able to add to the system by emphasizing reality. Because of Price’s career in law enforcement and his direct experiences in confronting and overcoming violence, both men had ample opportunities to explore and adapt Kuniba methods to the harsh reality of violence which can be an everyday part of police work, and sadly, for many people in America today. The unique relationship these two shared allowed for a free exchange of ideas, and the end result is shown today in Price’s teachings which emphasize reality in training and application.
Goshin-Budo or Goshin-Do?
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Kuniba, Soke visited and taught martial artists mainly in the Southeastern U.S. Then he taught many more Americans after he immigrated to the United States in 1983. Some claim that they learned his system of Goshin-Do, previously known as Goshin-Budo, in those years and that permission was given to them by Kuniba to carry on their lineage and methods. They are correct. Kuniba sought conflict with no one and wished to give people what they wanted in their training and to leave a positive impression on everyone he met. So it is important to note that all students of Kuniba who continue to teach his methods and do not dishonor his memory with false and exaggerated claims of rank or status as a result of their time with him are teaching correctly. Having said that, any instructor’s teachings are based on the length of time they spent with Kuniba. With Price’s input and knowledge, the martial arts of Shogo Kuniba were under constant refinement and evolution until his passing in 1992. Some students who were and are legitimate students of Kuniba left his organization prior to his death. As a result, these students are teaching Kuniba arts as they knew and understood it when they were either active members of an organization under the auspices of Kuniba or actually direct students of his. Consequently, their curriculum and instruction may not reflect all of the additional curriculum, enhancements, and refinements that were later added by Kuniba, Soke.
Chikubu-Kai and Kuniba-Ryu
“Although I must say that even though Kuniba, Soke would always push his students, he always knew everyone’s limit. And one thing you could always say about training with him, is that even though everyone that trained with him would say that he was one of the hardest and most demanding teachers you’ve ever met, he would never allow anyone to be hurt. And that was kind of unique. Sensei never taught for himself. He taught for his students and he was never bogged down with ego like so many Americans are today. He knew his ability and if you were around him a couple of minutes, you knew it too. So, he’d spend his time trying to impart that into his students. Although he was a very hard teacher, and a very demanding teacher, he was also the most compassionate and understanding person that I’ve ever trained with also.”
William H. Price, Soke
Sadly, Kuniba was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1991 and passed away in 1992 at the age of 57. As stated, through announcements in Waynesboro, Virginia in May 1992, and also through written correspondence in June of 1992, he named William H. Price as Ni-Dai Soke for the martial arts of Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do.
During the 21 year span that these two spent together, Price pioneered and developed the Defensive Tactics Program for the Virginia State Police becoming the head instructor for Defensive Tactics statewide for all law enforcement personnel. This program was developed during his many years of service and training with Kuniba and is still in place today.
As Ni-Dai Soke, Price continues to expand, refine, and develop the arts. Again, it is rare than a highly skilled Asian founder has entrusted a non-Japanese with his art. This is because Price ably and amply demonstrated his qualities as a martial artist and as a leader.
In 1995, several years after the death of Kuniba, Price and one of Kuniba’s most senior students, Goichi Kobayashi, Shihan, formed a new organization: Chikubu-Kai (Bamboo Warrior Association). This was done so that Kuniba’s art and teachings could be transmitted to future generations of students.
In the 21 years since Kuniba, Soke’s passing, and with the ebb and flow of students throughout time, the term “Kuniba-Ryu” has been in widespread use to name the totality of what Kuniba, Soke taught during his lifetime, and simplifies the need to delineate between the vast array of arts and styles that comprise the system (Karate-Do, Judo, Aikido, Jiu-Jitsu, Iai-Do, Kobudo, etc.).
To see what Kuniba-Ryu is, all one has to do is look at the Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu curriculum as an example of material which was developed by Kuniba, Soke as early as the late 1960s-early 1970s, but which was not introduced into the system until the 1980s. This curriculum not only added new techniques and Bunkai into the system, but also unique training principles and philosophical concepts, as well as Chi Gung training elements influenced by Kuniba, Soke’s study of other martial arts and his simultaneous development of Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do, which (as stated above) fused his knowledge of other arts (Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido) with his Karate. In effect, this amounted to a blending of all arts at the same time. This certainly meant that technical skills had to be increased due to the unique nature of Kuniba, Soke’s teachings and due to the fact that elements of the other arts Kuniba, Soke sought to incorporate into his teachings contained strong elements of Ki, or Chi development training.
Some examples of this include the Goshin-Do Kata developed by Kuniba, Soke and the “ibuki” breathing incorporated into the practice of Kata at various times. This type of breath control was also emphasized in the Karate Kata taught by Kuniba, Soke and reflects a further refinement of Karate technique, in effect blending hard energy with soft energy and seeking the most efficient use of the mind, body, and technique—achieving internal and external balance.
This was further confirmed in conversations with both Price, Soke and Kobayashi, Shihan in the years following Kuniba, Soke’s passing. Both of them stated that they knew of no specific Chi Gung or Ki development training that Kuniba, Soke did, but that he definitely had incredibly strong energy and technique. Yet, in conversations with Kobayashi, Shihan, he did confirm that during his research and travels in China, he sought out information on internal martial arts and passed this on to Kuniba, Soke. Kobayashi, Shihan also stated that Kuniba, Soke told him to continue to research and develop knowledge of these arts for the betterment of the art. Thankfully, Kobayashi, Shihan has continued to train in and share knowledge of his many decades of study in the internal arts of Tai Chi Chuan, Hsing-I, and Ba-Gua, as well as Iai-Do and Chi Gung, with the membership of Chikubu-Kai. He continues this effort to this day and is a valuable and beloved senior Shihan and advisor to the Kai, frequently travelling to China and the United States to train and teach.
Other examples of the continued refinement and evolution of Kuniba-Ryu can be seen in the Bunkai of the Kata. These were expanded to reflect what Price, Soke refers to as a “Zanshin” level of practice. In other words, Bunkai were developed to go into groundfighting range if needed, and more use of Jiu-Jitsu techniques were integrated into the Bunkai to enable the student to have at least some familiarity with all ranges of fighting, and not just a pre-set “Ma-ai”, or distance, which is so prevalent in sport Karate. Since Kuniba, Soke was developing and refining Goshin-Do, the advances he and Price, Soke made in this area were incorporated into both Karate-Do and Goshin-Do Bunkai. Many of Kuniba, Soke’s senior students, particularly in Japan, were not exposed to this type of information while he was alive, instead preferring to practice only Motobu-Ha Shito-Ryu as they had learned during their time with him. Therefore, as both Kuniba-Ha Shito-Ryu and Kuniba-Ryu Goshin-Do were being developed at the same time, naturally the Bunkai of these arts, as well as the technical standards of performance, were modified and enhanced to reflect these advancements.
The “Traditional Mix” of Martial Arts today
At the time of Price, Soke’s promotion to 8th Dan, he became the highest ranking member of the Japan Karate Federation in the world outside of Japan. This is important to note because the Japan Karate Federation was originally created by the “founding fathers” of Karate as we know it today. To put this in some sort of historical perspective, many people may recall that Kuniba, Soke was posthumously promoted to 10th Dan. At that time, there were only 5 people, at most, who had ever achieved this status. People such as Funakoshi Gichin (the founder of Shotokan) and Mabuni Kenwa (the founder of Shito-Ryu) were in this group. Therefore, our lineage and history in an unbroken line back to the founders of Karate is beyond reproach, and increasingly rare among martial artists today.
In the 21 years since Kuniba, Soke’s passing, Kuniba-Ryu has been and always will be a living martial art. Under Price, Soke’s leadership, we in Chikubu-Kai have been taught that our art is what he describes as “Zen Budo”. In layman’s terms, this simply refers to Karate training as it was originally intended—as a combat art (Jitsu) and mental discipline first, foremost, and always; rather than as a modern sport emphasizing competition. This one fact alone requires a methodology of training that is not as popular or well-known as other, more widely practiced styles or systems (Tae Kwon Do, for example) but is absolutely needed in order to train in the art as it was originally intended. Therefore, Kuniba-Ryu under Price, Soke’s leadership has continued to blend the best of traditional martial arts with modern fighting principles. As such, Kuniba-Ryu remains an exceptionally rare art in a confusing landscape of modern, “mixed” martial arts. As noted by others in the past, the art, by design, was structured to adopt concepts and techniques from other styles to form a modern system replete with traditional values, but with an open-minded philosophy.
With the passage of time, Kuniba-Ryu has continued and will continue to develop. Regardless of who trained with whom, when they trained, how long they trained, or what they trained in, Chikubu-Kai will fulfill its mission—ensuring that the arts of Kuniba Shogo, Soke will flourish and grow in a positive fashion while creating opportunities that will allow all interested people to share their unique abilities, expertise, and knowledge. By doing so, Kuniba-Ryu will develop at the highest level possible.
“Intend to get all you can from practice, but when you knock on the door of the dojo, do not think about graduating. There is no such thing as graduating, at least as far as plain and ordinary men are concerned”.
Shigeru Egami, Sensei
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Egami, Shigeru (1976). The Way of Karate: Beyond Technique. Tokyo: Kodansha International.
Herndon, J. (1989). The birth of a new martial art: The traditional path toward starting a new style. Inside Karate, Vol. 10, No. 12, pp. 24-29.
Herndon, J. (2009). A Primer of Kuniba-ha Karate-do: The Style of Shogo Kuniba. Orlando, FL: Kosho Publications.
Miller, Rory (2008). Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real-World Violence. Boston: YMAA Publication Center.
Watson, Kevin (2002). In the shadow of Shogo Kuniba: William H. Price and Chikubu-Kai— Carrying on the traditions of Kuniba-Ryu. South Carolina, private publication.