Te-Kempo-Jiu-Jitsu & Okinawa-Te’s Connection to James Mitose
(Lost Years of Mitose equate to Gordon Doversola)
By: Sensei Larry DeLano & Sensei Mike Pecina
The purpose of this article would serve to show a direct relationship of Shihan Gordon Doversola’s Okinawa-Te creation to the instruction, mentorship and influence of James Mitose, the Great Grand Master of Kempo Jiu-Jitsu. The story and linkage prove phenomenal to say the least, and has been established through research, investigation, guesswork and discovered “coincidence” by Sensei Michael Pecina.
From Wikipedia, “Mitose ultimately called his style Kosho Shorei-Ryū Kempo, which can be translated as “Old Pine Tree School Kung-Fu”. Matsumura Sōkon’s style, which he taught to Ankō Itosu who taught it to Gichin Funakoshi and Motobu Chōki, was Okinawan Shōrin-ryū, which is often translated as “Little Pine Forest School”. When Mitose first began teaching in 1936, he called his art Kempo-Jiu-Jitsu (“Kung-Fu flexible technique”) and would later refer to it as Shorinji Kempo (a Japanese translation of “Shaolin Kung-Fu”) or Go Shin Jitsu (“Self-defence technique”).” However, Mitose held to a Japanese association as opposed to an Okinawa connection.
Mitose referred to his Kempo as Kempo -Jiu-Jitsu. Gordon named his expression Okinawa-Te. Mike refers to his version as Okinawa-Te-Budokan. I reference my adaption as The Way of Te. However, Mike and I agree as we work on the path forward for Okinawa-Te the more appropriate name per history and expression would be Te-Kempo-Jiu-Jitsu (Teacher Student Ways of Te). Gordon created the original forms of his Okinawa-Te from his unique life experiences, but left everyone wondering about application stemming from his forms. His path of creation proves most interesting since Mitose and other students of Mitose were strictly application oriented. In Gordon’s case, through his sense and nature for movement, lack of in-depth application instruction, inherent sense of showmanship or his desire for expression, saw and expressed his Kempo vision through what I’ve labeled his focus, float and flow method.
To move forward with Te-Kempo-Jiu-Jitsu, Mike and I seek to link kata with application through basic concepts, understanding and principles. Students should not practice motions without understanding use.
I, Sensei Larry Delano, am aware many of the following circumstances and instances since I initiated training with Gordon at the age of 12 in 1959. I earned black belt at age 17 and gained the position as Gordon’s first black belt. These were fun times filled with learning the martial arts and experiencing Gordon’s newly discovered creativity first hand. I learned the Falling Leaf and Bear Forms, the Bookend Forms of Okinawa-Te for my first belt test. Then Gordon taught me what he named the Te Form. This form brims with the motions of Mitose’s Kempo. Though at the time, I had no idea, but thanks to Mike I do.
Mike being ten years my junior, initiated training with Gordon close to the time my interaction with Gordon came to an end. Mike and I met years later through a mutual friend. Mike had a very close student teacher relationship with Gordon. Due to Mike’s inquisitive mind, he began to question Gordon about his teacher, experience and the art. Gordon was evasive to say the least, but this didn’t deter Mike. His investigative efforts intensified. He reconstructed Gordon’s martial arts life in Hawaii and California. He talked to former instructors and fellow students. Slowly he pieced together Gordon’s life experiences which surprisingly lead to Mitose. In essence Mike recreated Gordon’s past. He trained and practiced in the same arts, and intensified his questioning of Gordon. Eventually, he showed Gordon Mitose’s book, “What Is Self Defense.” With this, Gordon Pointed out his instructor as McCandless (a student of Mitose’s) but did not acknowledge he had trained directly with Mitose.
However, for all those interested in Gordon’s creation, Mike is owed a debt of gratitude for his efforts and what he accomplished. He has linked Gordon’s creation and legacy to ancient history and practices. Through his work Okinawa-Te has a narration as to its association with the history of the martial arts, not just a story, but a continuum. What lead up to its creation and a path forward for the inspiration would more appropriately be titled Te-Kempo-Jiu-Jitsu.
Gordon, to those who knew and practiced with him, was certainly a mystifying character. His charisma, and creativity were unmatched by most people. The old Readers Digest articles about the most interesting person you’ve ever met, certainly applied. But along with being interesting there exist the good, the bad and the ugly. Gordon’s mentor, Mitose, certainly had a dark side which seems to have been passed to Gordon in some ways.
In Gordon’s early years, with creativity running in high gear, everything was positive. He drew students into his schools like magic. It wasn’t long before he had three locations: Hollywood, Bell Gardens and Canoga Park. Ted Tubera and John Lewis before Lima Lama were students of Gordon’s and managed the Okinawa-Te Bell Gardens location. This history explains the mention of Okinawa-Te on the window/wall of Ted’s school.
At the Hollywood location, Joe Lewis, of the Joe Lewis Fighting System, the originator of full contact karate and first heavy weight kickboxing champing, trained with Gordon for two plus years. Then arrived Jim Kelly, again, trained with Gordon for a few years. He eventually appeared in several action films, and costarred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. Both Joe and Jim sparred in tournaments wearing Gordon’s Okinawa-Te patch. I participated, trained with both and served as their sparring partner over those years.
However, coincident with Mitose’s incarceration in 1974, a kernel of bleakness crept into Gordon’s being. For several years, Gordon’s initial creation held firm, but as life’s demands increased, Gordon’s black belts came and went, the urgency for money lead to increased fees for promotion or the outright sale of higher rank. Then over the years, his enthusiasm dampened and his creation parted from his original precepts. The demand and urgency seen in his early years waned and instruction and insight drifted.
We should think about the life and person of Gordon Doversola (December 1, 1934 – April 19, 2011), not in the usual way of: Where did he practice? What did he learn? What were his credentials? Instead, let’s consider: What was he exposed to? Who was his real mentor? What did he create? Was it innovative? Was it effective? Was it a new and distinct martial art way? What may be accomplished with it for the future?
Martial arts were born out of the way and challenge of war along with the need for personal defense. So application and use were esteemed paramount. Overtime many different ways of the martial arts evolved and multiplied. Such a development is not good or bad, it’s just life and the endless curiosity of mankind to challenge and improve what exists or has been conceived.
As the methods of martial arts proliferate, the expansion certainly involves the main divisions: weapons, grappling and striking, but some are more regimented than others. Others take on the characteristics of the associated society or times. Other approaches incorporate hard or soft, views of internal energy, personal health and the inner being. Some just seek practicality.
This energy or desire to seek the new or unseen has accomplished wonderful and awful outcomes. However, it lies at the heart of everything we do. So, what was Gordon doing when he created Okinawa-Te? And, why did he name his creation Okinawa-Te? The name certainly confused many.
Gordon grew up in Hawaii in the Palama settlement. During his childhood, he would have witnessed war, violence and the need for self protection. Also, at this time, a number of martial arts were practiced and taught: Kung Fu, Karate, Kempo, Jiu-Jitsu, weapons, Polynesian arts, etc. Besides training in Kempo, Gordon also studied Danzan Ryu Jiu Jitsu from Okazaki. Gordon’s contemporaries and teachers at the time saw a need for more all encompassing self defense applications which lead to the idea and creation of Kajukenbo (Karate, Judo and Kempo). Creativity was blossoming. However, Gordon said himself that the training was brutal, and that Emperado was no one with which to mess.
However, the original force of Kempo in Hawaii was James Mitose. The Kempo in Kajukenbo stems from him. While he states in his book, Kempo Jiu-Jitsu, from his principles a practitioner may create thousands of techniques, he was not happy with the blending activities in Hawaii. So he and his previous students separated (William Chow and Adriano Emperado). Driven by dissatisfaction or other issues, one may only speculate? But, Mitose ventured to the mainland (1954), and from then on, only taught a few, select students. In fact, from 1954 to 1959 could be considered the lost years of Mitose. This period was when Gordon trained as a closed door student of Mitose. From this training, Gordon was mentored into his own way of Kempo, which he eventually referred to as Okinawa-Te. Al Tracy related to Mike that Gordon trained with Mitose at least three times a week. Also, Joe Lewis mentioned in his writings that Gordon introduced him to his “mysterious” teacher, Mitose. Mike and I both think that Gordon did so since he knew Mitose would appreciate Joe’s toughness and that he was training with Gordon in Mitose’s Kempo.
Mike Pecina relates a story about Gordon teaching in Echo Park. One day, he tells the students do they want to continue to learn Kempo or his “new” way? Step forward if you do. Whether or not he called it Okinawa-Te at that time no one would know? I believe it became Okinawa-Te when he opened his first school in Glendale California in 1959.
Mike believes Gordon’s initial Mitose training covered approximately two and a half years, as Gordon stated himself in his legacy story, and culminated with his opening of the Glendale School. However, the Glendale School was not open long before he moved his teaching back to Hollywood. Eventually, locating on Sunset not far from where Mitose lived. Mike and I both believe that Mitose visited Gordon’s school from time to time. Location and circumstances would almost dictate the visits.
Let’s step back for a moment. Gordon arrived on the mainland a very young man with no work and no money. More than likely he was interested in finding Mitose. But first he needed to survive. Thus he taught basic Kempo since martial arts in general were unknown and exotic and other than Ed Parker or Mitose no one knew he was not highly ranked. Also, he possibly worked as a welder.
Gordon, for all intent and purpose, was gifted in his ability to learn and display martial arts skill. For this task he had a photographic memory. However, from early on he wasn’t regimented to one way. Part of this characteristic may have related to his Kempo instructor Woodrow McCandless (5th degree under Mitose) passing away and his friend Joe Emperado, involved with Kajukenbo, being stabbed and killed. Also, Professor Chow persuaded Adriano Emperado and other students to leave Mitose and start a new school. Even McCandless joined the Emperado brothers before he passed away. These instances, along with Mitose moving to the mainland, lead Gordon to also venture to the mainland (1957).
Once on the continental US, Gordon trained with Oshima and his Shotakan Karate. Oshima commented to Mike Pecina that Gordon was his best brown belt. Also, Gordon taught Kempo with the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department. Per Gordon, while with his instructor, Mitose, he continued to train at Oshima’s school so as to have training partners.
He eventually met James Mitose in LA and commenced to train with him. This fact agrees with Gordon’s legacy story of how he met his “Okinawa-Te” master, Teiken Nugesto. Also in agreement with Gordon’s old master story, another student of Mitose’s, Terry Lee, mentioned the same “ritual” of meeting and going to MItose’s home multiple times to persuade Mitose to train him. Also, an odd support story stems from the Oshima training. Again, per Gordon, Oshima requested Gordon perform some of “his” forms for visiting Japanese/Okinawan Karate dignitaries. He demonstrated a Shotokan form but Oshima said no, the “other” forms… (Falling Leaf and Bear?). The dignitaries commented that the forms were similar to very old Okinawan forms of which they were aware or had seen. Could this be the tie to the name Okinawa-Te? Maybe, for Okinawa-Te does refer to Kempo. Also, Gordon always stated Okinawa-Te was older than Shotokan. Okinawa-Te as Mitose’s Kempo certainly predates Shotokan.
The form scenario is interesting from the perspective that Mitose in his first book indicates there are two ways of training: dance (form) and application. Per Mitose, “A person does not need a partner… There are two ways to practice Kempo. One way is Keiho or Kata form. It could be practiced as a sport or exercise by yourself or in a group. The other way is Jitsute (real combat) to be practiced with a partner for purely self-defense.” Mitose practiced and taught from the Jitsute perspective, from what Mike has deciphered. Whether or not he also taught forms is hard to say. He had expressed appreciation for the Japenese Naihachi form. Another link, Gordon had also mentioned appreciating the same form.
Another interesting twist with forms comes with Mitose’s connection to the Neko Buto Katas or Cat Dances. Articles indicate that Mitose taught Neko forms to Robert Trias. The accepted thought being that Mitose created the Neko forms to teach quick cat like movements. These forms would arm a student with deception through the use of snap, speed and change of direction. From an awkward base or motion, with the grace of a cat, the practitioner would spring into a new base or new motion.
For our story, cat forms provide an interesting relationship between Gordon and Mitose. Gordon taught cat forms early in his teaching experience, 1959. When I tested for purple belt, I was very intrigued by a student who performed a Neko Kata. It fulfilled all the requirements stated above for a cat form. Later, Gordon taught me a Neko form. Both proceeded from his short cat form. Interestingly, Gordon’s cat forms bear no resemblance to the ones ascribed to Mitose. Gordon’s are far more graceful and cat like.
Stepping back to the Oshima request of Gordon, do your forms. From where did these “other” forms of Gordon’s derive? Form Mitose’ own statements, he knew of forms but never appeared to teach forms. A best guess is that Mitose mentored Gordon on the creation of forms, principles to incorporate? Maybe since Gordon knew the Shotokan forms, they started with these? Quite possibly Mitose saw something in Gordon, as his student that would support the creative development of Kempo forms? The thought here is that Mitose either gave these forms to Gordon or together they developed them. However, Gordon’s 12 short forms bear similarities to various Shotokan forms, but with tweaks. Quite possibly the original plan was the short forms would all have long versions. However, Gordon’s forms follow more a Kempo flow, but certainly his way.
The original two forms of Okinawa-Te are the Falling Leaf and Bear. Gordon referred to these as the bookend forms of his way. He demanded that the moves be performed a specific way. His attitude proves interesting since with Mitose it was his way of the highway. These two forms were also the long versions of Gordon’s first two short forms: Straight Punch and Slanted Elbow. An interesting possibility or connection, Mike heard it was rumored that Mitose had an Old Man Form and a Bear Form, the same forms?
Let’s consider further the possible Mitose connection to Gordon’s forms. Bookends may be thought of as the beginning and end. The Falling Leaf and Bear forms offer opposite technique views. The initial Falling Leaf motions fly forward with strikes but the Bear claws and shreds as it drops backward. The first was fashioned on bird wings and demonstrates thrusting, covering and poking motions while the Bear the rips, tears and swats. These forms may have been a collaborative effort between Gordon and Mitose, or primarily from MItose. Maybe formulated and provided to Gordon as a guide or template for the creation of additional Kempo forms?
At this point, it’s important to realize that Gordon’s expression was through forms not as a technician. While he certainly applied technique and taught sparring, he wasn’t big on breaking down principle or explaining the motions of his forms. He tended to think that if you were interested you would purse the understanding. His basic applications (waza and grabs) that became belt requirements were basically Kempo.
From early personal experience, Gordon treated the Falling Leaf and Bear forms different from his later form creations. He always stressed one way to perform these two forms. It’s true that later much harder, more ridged and squared of versions of these forms appeared. These two forms, as well as all Okinawa-Te forms, should be performed in a dynamic fashion with exquisite focus, animated float and vibrant flow. The three F’s of Okinawa-Te.
There exists a naming convention to several of Gordon’s forms that also appears in other Kempo applications. Both have Falling Leaf, Sword and Hammer and Bear motions. In Gordon’s Okinawa-Te the names refer to forms whereas in Kempo they refer to applications. And we need to remember that Mitose’ Kempo is the genesis to all modern Kempo.
Further support for a connection to Mitose comes with Gordon’s participation in the Nisei Week Tournament in Japanese Town in LA (1964?). His students sparred and demonstrated, and Gordon performed his Spear-Less Spear form. He performed there as the Master of Okinawa-Te (Kempo). His acceptance in to the tournament and demos would have to stem from Oshima’s knowledge of the Mitose/Gordon teacher student relationship. If not, then Gordon’s standing would be an Oshima brown belt, certainly not a master martial artist.
When Gordon opened his first school in Glendale, Ca in 1959, it was the first Okinawa-Te School. He was there for a short time then moved to the LA, Hollywood area. He eventually documented his past training with the “old” created story of Teiken Nugesto. While Mitose trained Gordon, he didn’t train others, or if he did, very limited numbers. Apparently, to avoid being bothered, Mitose asked Gordon to not tell others of his personal training. But a few Kempo teachers of at that time knew Gordon was training with Mitosi.
The Mitose imperative left Gordon in a poor position of credibility. So, he created a brief, historically accurate picture of his Mitose training but changed the names. However, he left clues in the names as to what he was doing. For instance, his legacy master’s name, Teiken, derives from Hiken. Hiken refers to a Mitose stance or hand position to cover the fist, and signifies a “Treasure in Your Pocket” not to be displayed. Another interesting association here, Gordon named his son Teiken after the fabricated master. Is this another clue? Along with incorporating Mitose’s three hand positions into his forms. As well as, Mitose’s handicapped position. In addition, Mike Pecina believes Gordon originated his formal draw to Low Ridding Horse as the Forth Hand of Mitose. Gordon strove to teach Mitose Kempo, but to not draw attention to Mitose as his instructor. Why? possibility Mitose told or asked him not to, or due to Mitose’s stern demeanor Gordon thought it best not to, or because of Mitose’s reputation in nefarious activities? No one for sure knows. Gordon left clues along the way, but never openly admitted the connection.
In 1974, at the Hillhurst dojo, Gordon told the students now to refer to him as Shihan, and that Larry DeLano (Gordon’s first black belt student) would hold the title of Sensei. Coincident with this proclamation, Mitose had been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and was sent to jail. So, Gordon’s tie to his Kempo instructor and mentor was gone, and Gordon was now the Master of Mitose’s Kempo, which he referred to as Okinawa-Te, to hide in plain view that it was Kempo and stemmed from Mitose.
So, it appears an agreement or imposition of some type had been made between Gordon and Mitose to not share the mentor relationship. Yet, a few Kempo practitioners did know that Gordon was training directly with Mitose. Then Gordon created a linage story that represents the truth, but alters the names. He also calls his new system Okinawa-Te. Why Okinawa-Te? The reason could be since Mitose was Japanese Kempo, a reference to the older versions of Te and the original Chinese influences, with Okinawa-Te basically meaning Kempo, or Gordon’s version of Kempo.
When Mitose went to jail, Gordon called our class together and told everyone to call him Shihan and refer to Larry Delano as Sensei. In essence, Gordon became Mitose and Larry became Gordon. The only issue is that he didn’t explain what he was doing.
Gordon was faced with an additional problem. He was basically Kempo and Shotokan. Everyone knew he trained with Oshima, but few knew he trained with Mitose. And his longest training prior to Mitosi was with McCandless and Emporado in Hawaii.
If he couldn’t acknowledge Mitose as his mentor, how would he do it? If he showed straight Mitose technique, everyone would know. Mitose was very set on his way: Punch, Strike, Kick, Throw and Lock, no fancy tricks. This path was Gordon’s too. A main martial art reason Mitose came to the mainland was his disapproval with what was taking place in Hawaii, the merging of other ways with his Kempo. This no no was one of the dictums he left with Gordon, don’t join with other martial arts or organizations.
So to solve his dilemma, Gordon took the form process of Shotokan and Kung Fu and created Okinawa-Te forms. However, he incorporated Mitose Kempo moves and added some Shotokan, kung Fu and blended them together. He thought of these existing ways as renditions. His unique addition was his creativity with focus, float and flow. His forms were beautiful and contained all the patterns, foot work and strikes, more or less… the motions of Mitose. He formalized Mitose’s way into forms, and at the same time, he formulated his way, which is contained in his forms. Possibility this development happened at Mitose’s behest? Create Kempo forms. However, the way of these forms was not one of full application expression but more a way of movement and flow.
Gordon’s addition to the arts lies in his creation of “Kempo” forms, but it’s up to the student to seek the value contained within. The issue with understanding forms and application came directly from Mitose. Gordon told Mike that his instructor would accept or answer only a limited number of questions. You did it his way or didn’t train with him. (In fact, this inflexibility may have been an issue in Hawaii.) Gordon maintained this trait of Mitose. He didn’t readily expound on his forms. He left it for the student to decipher or not. If not, they didn’t want to understand enough.
Something mentioned before but worth restating, Gordon had a photographic memory for motion. However, both Mike and I agree it was not just recall. When Gordon ingested movement the actions became part of him, part of his arsenal of movement or being. In addition, the motions expanded through variation on variation.
An additional fact exists with Gordon focusing on Forms and Sparring. While he taught applications, he didn’t follow the path of Kempo, of application or application principled use. His focus was more on forms which included or were based on Kempo principles. Also, in the sixties with the advent of tournament competition and sparring, his focus shifted. Also, Joe Lewis showed up and then Jim Kelly and martial excitement of the time rested with competition.
From all the above, it’s obvious that Gordon had substantial exposure to Kempo methods. In Gordon’s case, he trained for a couple years directly with the Great Grand Master of Kempo. It’s possible that the mentoring continued after Gordon opened his school. The near proximity of Mitose’s residence and Gordon’s schools dictate interaction.
The innovative aspect comes with the inclusion of Kempo principles within the forms Gordon created. This way was not typical. For the future, these principles need to identified within the forms and corresponding applications established. Through Gordon’s way and pictured within his forms, he brought a beauty with his focus, float and flow method. The forms are practice tools. They are not the be all and end all of training but another device. Practice and study of them may help a student find their unique way. One way to view these forms would be through achieving a gestalt of the overall form. Study the form as a whole to build applications that would be yours, your way.
Another thought in support of the Mitose Gordon connection, the Mitose hands. Remember the assumption that Gordon would not disclose the identity of his true mentor. However, per Mike, Gordon offered clues and hints. For instance, the Mitose three hand crest: I’ll add the crest on a post to follow.
You find the Mitose hand positions buried throughout what Gordon taught, but never called out as such. Then again Gordon tweaks and hints with what Mike calls the creation of the Forth Hand: I’ll add the pic on a post to follow. It’s the hand position on the draw to Low Riding Horse.
This hand position Gordon puts in the very middle of his way, it’s unique to his way, and at heart was morphed from Mitose’s hand positions.
Now it’s time to consider the way of Gordon’s forms. These motions are what he left us. His creations don’t follow the normal path of forms, bunkai kata, or application following application. Gordon’s forms deal more with chaos and the process of focus, float and flow.
Where did he gain the gumption and understanding to create forms on the fly or with little pre-thought? Looking at Mitose’s background, Mitose himself created the cat forms for Robert Trias. The key word is created. Gordon was his student, so it’s not unbelievable that Mitose shared or encouraged this creative process with Gordon. Maybe he shared his patterns of movement, for instance, his use of the octagon, big to small, the box steps, angles, circles, spiraling, cutting the circle in half and arcing?
It’s important to remember that Gordon became Mitose in almost every way. Early on, Gordon even resembled Mitose. The things he repeated: the different doors to pass through, building an army, telling stories, covering his nose in reference to “bad” technique, Kempo being the forerunner of modern Karate. If you were creating, he might consider it to be too Chinese or Japanese.
As Mike and I move forward with Te-Kempo-Jiu-Jitsu, the goal would be to identify and define principles and applications. In so doing, practice and value of these Te-Kempo forms may be enhanced and moved beyond just beautiful movements.
A linage chart exists on this FB page. It provides and interesting overview and should help with comprehending various historical relationships.
Hope you found this story interesting and helpful,
Mike and Larry