By: Stuart S. Sumida
A keen eye for the common threads that run through many styles has made Bill Ryusaki and his style of martial arts both effective and unique. In a martial arts community often torn by divisive comparisons of vastly differing styles or arguments concerning which art is ‘best’ or ‘most effective’, Ryusaki has blended aspects of Karate, Judo and Aikido bringing a realistic approach to the maturation of his Kenpo system.
Ryusaki’s idealistic and occasionally low-key approach to the martial arts sometimes belies his considerable success in Hollywood. His acting credits include early work with Bruce Lee on the “Green Hornet”, “Hawaii 5-0”, “Wild, Wild West”, and a couple of appearances with David Carradine in “Kung Fu”. More television credits include “Knots Landing”, “China Beach”, and “Falcon Crest”. His diverse background in the martial arts has lead to an equally diverse array of motion picture roles, from “Planet of the Apes” to taking ukemi (falls and rolls) for Steven Seagal (both on the mat and on the street) in the movie “Above the Law”. Other films have included “Rambo – First Blood Part II”, “Karate Kid II”, “Showdown in Little Tokyo”, “Robocop II”, Ridley Scott’s “Black Rain”, and shooting it out with Jean Claude Van Damme in “Double Impact”. But his work isn’t limited to portraying martial artists. He has driven stunt cars on “Hill Street Blues”, provided comic relief on “Perfect Strangers” and played a World War II detention camp internee in “Welcome to the Paradise” with Tamlyn Tomita and Dennis Quaid.
Equally impressive are the martial artists who have trained under or with Bill Ryusaki. With Ed Parker, Bill was one of the early pioneers of Kenpo on the United States mainland. His students have included Cecil Peoples, Benny Urquidez and the Schumann family to name but a few. His unique ability to combine the best of many arts has attracted the likes of judoka Hayward Nishioka and weapons expert James Lew to his Ryu-Dojo.
How can one person combine so much, as well as teach and interact with so many? The key, Ryusaki says, lies in the continuity and traditional values of the arts passed from his father to him, couple with his refusal to limit his creativity in the study of many arts.
Deep Traditional Roots
Born in Kamuela on the big island of Hawaii, Bill Ryusaki’s first training came from his father, Torazo Ryusaki. His father held black belts in both Judo and Shotokan Karate. In a family of seven brothers and four sisters, all of the brothers trained in Judo. Though uncharacteristically tall and lean for a judoka, Ryusaki was quite successful, ultimately attaining the rank of yon-dan (fifth-degree black belt). He became particularly proficient in the way he employed sweeps and shime waza (choke holds and techniques).
However, family training didn’t end with judo. Torazo Ryusaki required everyone to train in two martial arts. His brothers chose kendo and aikido and Bill recalls that he often stood as practice dummy for his older brothers. For himself, he chose karate and thus from an early age had the multiple influences of karate, judo and siblings that trained in a variety of arts.
Ryusaki’s early training in karate was derived from the Kenpo system and the pervasive influence of James Mitose via William Chow and Sonny Emperado. Combining roots placed within him by his father, Bill Ryusaki established for himself a broadly based martial arts perspective that began to blossom when he moved the mainland.
The Dojo as Family
Ryusaki came to Southern California in the late 50’s, training with Ed Parker and others. He struck out on his own in 1962 and opened the original Ryu-Dojo in North Hollywood, California. Referring to the name, Ryusaki explains, “My school Ryu-Dojo is dedicated to my father. Dedicating my school in his name is just my way of saying ‘This is for you dad’.
The theme of familial devotion is a strong one with Bill. Ryu-Dojo could never be characterized as a traditional dojo run as a business. Students paid dues early in their training, but fees were often waived as they became more dedicated and approached the rank of black belt. One student recalled an instance when a fellow student couldn’t pay and remembers that Ryusaki told them not to worry, to just go clean the windows or the mats. The training has always been more important than the compensation. In fact, before his acting career took off, Bill often took odd jobs just to keep the dojo open for his students. Though such an attitude has present logistical difficulties in the past, it has created a fiercely devoted family of instructors and students.
Roots of the Past to Success for the Future
Ryusaki is pleased that the long roads of martial arts training, acting and stuntwork have merged with considerable success. However, he is anything but complacent. Ryusaki finished working on ‘Robocop III’ in which he both acted and instructed other actors; his most recent work was with Jean Claude Van Damme in ‘Universal Soldier’. In spite of his success in films, when asked of the future Ryusaki returns to the themes that have been so important to him. It’s a succession for me; From my father to me and now to my family. Everyone in the dojo is family. My daughter Kimmy trained and was an Internationals Champion for two years running in 1975 and 1976. With obvious pride, Ryusaki now points to his son Ryan, who at 7 years old was already a natural. Ryan is commonly found in the dojo with his father and his father’s students. As with his father, he began to show an immense excitement for the martial arts at a very early age. Following in his footsteps led to a role for Ryan in ‘Showdown in Little Tokyo’.
With Bill Ryusaki’s continuing dedication to his students and style of Kenpo Karate, Ryan can be assured of a heritage that stretches back to his grandfather, Torazo, and continues to evolve with an open and fluid ability to compliment Kenpo karate with the best of many arts.
"This is one of the greatest things that ever happened in the Martial Arts field. Now we are setting the standard for the rest of the world to follow. Thank you WorldBlackBelt for bringing this solution to the world", Bill Ryusaki.
If you would like to contact Bill Ryusaki you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org
By: Stuart Sumida