The Las Vegas Dojo

The Las Vegas Dojo

While visiting Nevada in November 2008 I took the opportunity to train at a local traditional Shotokan Karate Club. I originally made contact with the club’s instructor, Sensei James Tawatao through their impressive web site ( Their purpose built dojo was located a few minutes from the famous Las Vegas Strip. The varnished wooden floor training area was approximately 10m by 10m, mirrored and equipment with makiwara and free standing torso striking posts.

I trained at two adult lessons, one for mixed grades and the other for brown and black belts. I could not have made a better choice. Both the Instructor and students made me feel very welcome and the training regime was very high quality authentic shotokan. Sensei Tawatao very kindly agreed to be interviewed following one of the training sessions. A very enjoyable eye opening evening was had which was interspersed by additional contributions from two other club members which ran into the late hours on the rights and advantages of ‘carrying’ and ‘toasting’ any aggressors as a first resort rather than waiting for the distance to be closed! (But that’s another story).


Some of the senior grades

Some of the senior grades


Sensei, please would you tell me a little of the remarkable story of your instructor, one of the originators of the JKA and the origins of the Las Vegas Shotokan Karate Club


My Instructor, Master Osamu Ozawa was born in 1925 in Kobe, Japan. His family is believed to have descended from the famous Takeda samurai clan lineage. He started his karate training at the age of thirteen in December 1938 under Kenwa Mabuni, founder of the Shito-ryu karate. He trained under Master Mabuni for two years. In March 1942, at the age of 17, Master Ozawa entered Hosei University and was introduced to Shotokan karate when he joined the university karate team. In September 1944, Gichin Funakoshi promoted Master Ozawa to Shodan.


In October of 1944, Shihan Ozawa was drafted into the Japanese Navy where he enlisted as a Kamikaze pilot. In July 1945, Master Ozawa along with four others climbed into their planes to meet their final destiny. His plane crashed shortly after take off resulting with a punctured lung, broken eardrums and partial loss of vision. Slowly recovering from his injuries, Master Ozawa decided to go back to Hosei University in November 1946. He also started karate training again at the university. He graduated from Hosei University in March 1948 with a degree in economics.


In April 1949, the first organized collegiate karate demonstration was held in Tokyo where Master Ozawa and other legendry karate-ka met to discuss the future of University karate. Contributors included Isao Obata, Fusajiro Takagi and Shuntaro Itoh from Keio University, Masatoshi Nakayama, Masatomo Takagi and Hidetaka Nishiyama from Takushoku University, Taiji Kase from Waseda University, Genshin Hironishi, Hiroshi Noguchi and Shigeru Egami from Senshu. At this meeting, the foundation was laid for the formation of the Japan Karate Association. Master Ozawa continued to be actively involved and in 1953, the JKA was organized and received official government recognition as the karate governing body for Japan.


In November of 1954, Master Ozawa sponsored the biggest budo demonstration of its time in Japan held at an auditorium in Kobe. Over 10,000 spectators came to watch the demonstration by such prominent instructors such as Master Nakayama who later became the technical director of the JKA, Master Okazaki, and many others. Shortly after his successful karate demonstration, Master Ozawa was officially appointed the Chief Instructor of the Kansai branch of the JKA, which consists of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto and also passed his 4th degree black belt. In May of 1962, Master Ozawa received his 5th degree black belt diploma from Mr. Takagi, the Managing Director of the JKA.


In December 1964 Master Ozawa arrived in the US and subsequently opened a dojo in San Gabriel, California in 1967. In 1974 he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and opened the honbo dojo in 1981. A month before opening, an inaugural Traditional Karate Tournament with only 30 competitors was held to publicize and promote the new dojo. This annual tournament has grown to be one of the largest and most prestigious tournaments of its kind in the world. At its peak the event has attracted more than 2000 competitors from 25 to 40 countries.


During the January 1986 tournament, the International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF) delegate from Japan presented Master Ozawa with his 8th degree black belt. Prince Higashikuni, president of IMAF and uncle of the emperor Hirohito signed the certificate; this was especially significant to Master Ozawa. Only four other people had ever been honored with such a certificate – Hironori Ohtsuka, founder of Wado-ryu karate, Gogen Yamaguchi, founder of Goju-ryu karate, Hiroyuki Ohtsuka, successor to his father as head of Wado-ryu and Hirokazu Kanazawa, the head of Shotokan Karate International.


In 1995, Master Ozawa passed the responsibility of the dojo’s future to me, in conjunction with 3 other senior grades. In April 1998, Master Ozawa hosted the 18th Annual Traditional Karate Tournament but two days later died of natural causes. The large annual tournament is now known as the Ozawa Cup international tournament and continues the legacy of Shihan Osamu Ozawa.


Sensei, from my own experience of over 20 years training in the UK with a number of the large associations I have never witnessed the reciting of the dojo kun. Each of these associations has been party to either first or second generations of Japanese instruction and periodically host Japanese instructors. Despite this, the reciting of any code of ethics has been missing and generally I believe is very rare. Can you tell me a little of your own Dojo Kun and how it is applied.


After mokuso at each and every lesson a 5 point code of ethics is chanted first line by line by the senior student and then repeated by the whole class, first in Japanese and then in English. This Dojo Kun is displayed on a large board at the front of the training area below photographs of Masters Gichin Funakoshi and Osamu Ozawa. The five precepts displayed at the Las Vegas dojo consist of:



  • Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomu beshi – Endeavour to build your character. This ideal states that priority should be given to building one’s character rather than strength, speed, technical skill or fighting ability.
  • Makoto no michi o mamoru beshi – Have fidelity in seeking a true way. The ‘way’ should not be a route of self indulgence, weakness or a victim of their own commercial, ego or elevated rank fantasies.
  • Doryoku no seishin o yashinau beshi – Cultivate a spirit of endeavor and perseverance. Training should never be treated as an amusement or a distraction from life’s serious aspects. Those in a hurry to get results seldom learn quickly.
  • Reigi o omonzu beshi – Always act with good manners. This can avoid inflaming poor situations but should not be considered a weakness. According to the teachings of Confucius acting with good manners should be a reciprocal process.
  • Kekki no y o imashimu beshi – Refrain from violent and uncontrolled behavior. Force may be used if morally correct for self defense or protection of the innocent.


These concepts point the way towards the ultimate aim of training which is mastery of one’s self. It should be chanted with strength and never mumbled insincerely so that the oath penetrates the mind of all participants. Technique is on no importance as the spirit must be developed and disciplined allowing the karate-ka to begin to make progress in the ‘way’.


Sensei, I noticed that the senior kyu grade attending the adult beginners and intermediates session was wearing a blue belt. Please would you describe the belt hierarchy.


Within our grading structure the colour of the belts gradually darken as the student progresses. Having achieved black belt status, with time the colour of the belt fades returning to white and the circle (of life) is complete, emphasising the need for the experienced karate-ka to maintain the mind of a beginner.


Sensei, please tell me a little about your club, its affiliations, and your sources of continual learning.


Our purpose built dojo was opened in 1981. I together with 3 other Seniors and a number of Assistant Instructors teach 7 formal adult, 4 child and 2 new student orientation classes every week amounting to a little under 20 hours in total. The club is predominantly made up of adult members and totals around 100. This is a little on the low side compared to historic numbers of about 130. There has been a proliferation of other Martial Art clubs being established in Las Vegas and it probably now amounts to 150+.


I do not teach at any other locations or have any satellite clubs. The Las Vegas Shotokan Karate Club is a stand alone organization and is not a member of any other larger association. However our links and credibility established by Shihan Ozawa is second to none. I am mentored by Sensei Takayuki Mikami1 and Sensei Fumio Demura2 both of which are honored guests at the Ozawa Cup. Members of our dojo and I attended a Hokubei Karate-Do Shihankai Budosai (Japanese Karate Masters Association of North America) seminar last month. This featured courses by Master Mikami and Master Morio Higaonna (Goju Ryu). Both of which lined up and trained as the other taught.


Sensei, you mentioned your very popular international competition earlier in the interview. Please can you tell me a little more about the event.


The 2008 event, held in March of this year was the 28th continuous competition that Las Vegas Shotokan Karate Dojo has hosted. The event has always been very well supported by a number of different styles and a significant number of very senior instructors. It has come a long way since the inaugural event that attracted just 30 competitors and 6 instructors. At its peak 2000 competitors from 30 countries have taken part over the four day event. This is testament to the respect and appreciation that Shihan Ozawa had within the karate international community.


This year’s schedule of events started on a Thursday with registration and a lecture by Sensei Demura. Friday included two further seminars from notable seniors followed by the Ozawa Cup Banquet. Tournament events started on the Saturday with the completion of all Kyu events and the elimination rounds for Dan grades. A children’s Easter egg hunt preceded the Dan grade finals on the Sunday.


Categories included Japanese and Okinawan kata, Shobu Ippon kumite for the preliminaries followed by Shobu Nihon kumite for the finals, WKF kumite and Kobudo for both individual and team events. As you can see from the tournament brochure the Ozawa Cup is a massive event and is very well supported through sponsorship. It occupies a significant amount of my time throughout the whole year to organize and is never far from my thoughts. Incidentally Sensei Aidan Trimble and members of his Federation from the UK has attended the event in previous years.


Sensei, I would like to thank you and your students for your kind hospitality. I would like to reciprocate your kindness and offer you or your students the opportunity to visit my Dojo near Oxford in the UK if the opportunity ever materialises in the future.

Sensei James Tawatao with Sensei Paul

Sensei James Tawatao with Sensei Paul

Superscript references.



  • – Sensei Takayuki Mikami 8th Dan Shotokan karate. Recognised as the first graduate from the JKA Instructor’s programme established under Masters Nakayama and Funakoshi. Named as American Instructor of the year in 1990, elected President of Japanese Karate Masters Association of North America from 1995, and Chief Instructor of JKA American Federation from July 2008.
  • – Sensei Fumio Demura 9th Dan Shito-Ryu Karate. Renown for his kobudo abilities (weapons). Many film appearances including the Karate Kid series. Chief Instructor of Shito Ryu Itosu Kai USA and President of Shito Ryu Genbu Kai International.


Paul Edwards