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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

James Pounds Shihan Promoted

Santa Monica, CA
November 11, 2018

James Pounds Shihan, Head Instructor of Seiwakai of Texas Goju-Ryu Karate, was promoted to Nanadan (7th Degree Black Belt).  The Shinsa (grading) came at the end of four days of training with Seiichi Fujiwara Hanshi, the President of Seiwakai International and the Chairman of the Overseas Committee of the Japan Karate Federation Gojukai.

Mr. Pounds began training in traditional Japanese Karate in 1973. He is head instructor of both KarateATX Goju-Ryu in Austin and Blanco County Karate in Johnson City, TX.  He also holds a Kyoshi (Senior Master) license in Seiwakai and a Renshi (Master Teacher) license from the Japan Karate Federation Gojukai.  He serves as Secretary of the USA Seiwakai Board of Directors.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


I taught a self-defense class for women at the Gem of the Hills Center in Blanco last Wednesday evening. ( ) The class was from 6 - 8 pm and we had eight women participants, all of them very interested in learning or enhancing their defensive skills.

I used to shy away from doing stand-alone self-defense classes.  I felt that I would be responsible for falsely inflating a person's idea of their abilities after a two-hour session.  Generally, self-defense is a skill that requires repetition over time, coupled with some stressful training meant to make you "lose your mind" in order to become proficient.

I still believe that.  But in light of the growing meanness in our society and danger in the world at large. I also believe that having rudimentary skills is better than having no skills at all when it comes to self-defense. It is amazing what you can recall when you have to recall it.  Many of my karate students don't think they know as much as they do until I have them teach.  Then they are amazed that they can recall almost everything Sensei has taught them in the past, down to the smallest nuances.

This has made me re-think the value of even a two-hour defensive skills class. I keep the techniques basic and effective, because under duress that is what you might recall when the big adrenaline dump happens.  Primarily I teach awareness in these classes, but if you are attacked, how to increase your odds for survival.

This impressive group of women decided they wanted to have more time to practice their new skills and have asked me to teach a month-long series of once a week classes so they can truly assimilate their new skills. That's being proactive and I am happy to oblige their request. Maybe some will have enough fun and like the confidence they acquire to even join my karate classes taught at Core Fitness in Johnson City. ( )

Stay tuned for upcoming seminars.

Friday, August 31, 2018

CHANGES, CHANGES -- The New Blanco County Dojo

I apologize for not keeping up my blog.  I have been writing regularly, but much of it was for the Pan American Goju-Ryu Newsletter and the other work has been essays I am compiling for a book, so very little has made it to the blog.  There are very funny rules about what constitutes "unpublished" in the writing world, and blogs are published, so any essay I might like to post in this blog would be ineligible for a contest submittal in the future. 

But there is other news to report.

My family and I moved from Austin to Johnson City almost two years ago.  Over those two years I have driven to Austin (one hour each way) to continue teaching at the Karate Austin Dojo, until finally, due to increasing traffic and decreasing enrollment, that finally became untenable. So on July 1st, I left the Austin dojo in the hands of senior practitioners, with the understanding that I am Head Instructor of Seiwakai of Texas and as such, I will continue to be their dojo advisor and they are welcome to train with me at any time. That is now ongoing and they are operating as KarateATX ( 

Now finally, I will be opening a new dojo here in Johnson City, partnering with Core Fitness and at long last will be focusing again on both youth and adults! I am very happy about this as my youngest son is now old enough to begin training, so the time is right.  I aim to continue to pass on to the youth of Blanco County the values of traditional Japanese/Okinawa Karate-do because I know first-hand how that helps kids hold steady through the turbulence and varied influences of being a kid. And it helps us adults to stay fighting fast and fit as well.

So the time for positive change is now!  For me and hopefully for the families who will entrust me to be a great Sensei for their children as well as perhaps for themselves.  We start on September 11th, which is fitting as 9/11 symbolizes the resilience of the US as well as the ability to shake off an attack and rise to the occasion -- which is what karate-do is all about.  I look forward to growing in my teaching as well.  I've been doing this for 45 years now and I'm getting the hang of it, I think. After all, Picasso said it took him 90 years to learn to paint like a child.  I'm halfway there!


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Throw-Down Challenge

   At our North American training seminar last weekend in Santa Monica, Fujiwara Shihan, the head instructor of Seiwakai International commented, that while the overall quality of the students is generally better, the instructors are getting worse. 

   Pow!  That was like a punch to the gut while I was out there dripping with sweat, thinking I'm being a pretty good example of Goju-Ryu Karate.  I feel certain every other higher-level Sensei felt the same.  If they didn't, they should have because that was a direct throw-down challenge.

   Shihan also told us our experience was our biggest obstacle, that we keep doing our karate the same way because that's how we've always done it.  We have stopped growing in the art, but we aren't aware of it.

   He didn't say it in an angry or disgusted way...he said it to wake us up. 

   We do get stuck in our own ruts because most of the time we have no one to look over our shoulders or make the adjustments and corrections necessary to change and grow.  I know a lot of senior practitioners and teachers who only sporadically make the attempt to train with the head of our style, or to go to Japan or take advantage of the different opportunities for us to grow.  We teach, but do not make ourselves available to be taught.  If that is our path, we can only stagnate.

Motivational Speaker Mark Victor Hansen likes to say that every day we either get a little bit better or a little bit worse.  Even teachers need teaching.  Whether the reason for our avoidance is fear of failure or ego, the result is the same.  We can teach karate in our sleep we like to think, but the truth is that we quit seeing ourselves as we have become.  Many of us teach and rarely train.  We are living with the idea of ourselves, like an out of date photograph, which just isn't how we are any longer.

I decided to do a personal reality check after hearing Shihan's observations.  We all need improvement and another set of eyes to become our very best.  Our students deserve no less.  I accept that challenge.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

JAPAN TRAINING 2015 -- August 3 -- LAST DAY

August 3, 2015.  1800 Japan time
Japan Airlines 60.  Osaka Kansai to LAX

I’ve had a wonderful visit to Tokushima to visit Masumi and Dave Cooper and the Toyosaki family.  They were awesome hosts and Masumi’s father, Masao, would not let me pay for a single thing – from my hotel to the express bus to Kansai this morning.  He said it was because Terri and I took such good care of Masumi when she came to visit us in Texas about ten years ago, but I suspect he would have done that anyhow.

Yesterday we went shopping at the new mall on their side of the Yoshino River from Tokushima City.  Since it is new and since it is hot as hell right now, the mall was packed, and my true feeling is that if you’ve seen one mall, you’ve  seen most malls and this was no exception.  I found a couple of very cool shirts for Jacob and a summery shirt and breezy trouser set for myself, and then we ate in the food court with the kids.  After we dropped Masumi and the Kids off, Dave and I went for a massage.  Male masseuses work on males and female masseuses on women.  You are fully clothed in a little Jack LaLane style jumpsuit.  No oils.  My guy was very good however and after two weeks of travel and karate, he had me asleep on the table after about twenty minutes.

Dave dropped me off at the hotel while he went to catch up with his Awa Adori dance group at a Shinto shrine where they would perform later.  Masumi and family picked me up later and we also went to the shrine.  Got there right at dusk and the orange full moon was rising over the massive tori gate entrance.  The walkway was lined with glowing lanterns on both sides and I had a feeling something magical was about to happen.

The Awa dance dates back to the 1500’s when Tokushima prefecture was known as Awa and was the fief of a Samurai daimyo.  The dance is very tribal and seems a little like a mating ritual, with the women in their geta and kimonos, very fluid and supple as Se grass, and the men in jembei and colorful headbands and tabis, dancing around the women like dervishes.  The drums are pounding, shamisens and wood flutes droning on, and bells ring constantly.  Like reggae, it is almost impossible not to start moving your body with the beat.  The saying for the Awa Adori matsuri is “You’re a fool if you dance and a fool if you don’t, so you might as well dance.” The dancing lasted about an hour and then there were sparklers for the children.  Afterwards, Dave and I took the other car to the local onsen baths and had a most wonderful soak.  Then a light meal and some good conversation before he dropped me off.

Today Masumi, Dave, and the kids came to my hotel and we walked to the JR station together to have a light brunch at Starbucks and some last minute shopping.  I was terrified that I was not going to find the items Terri had given me for her “shopping list” but at the stores around the station, I scored big time and found everything she had requested.  She likes the small, interesting items like coin purses.  Tokushima is famous for its indigo blue dye and I was able to find the items in that beautiful deep blue with almost tie-dyed patterns.  Very exquisite.  Then we had to say our goodbyes and I boarded the express bus for Kansai, while Dave and Masumi had plans to head for the Oboke Gorge to visit their whitewater rafting pals.  Both of them used to be river guides.  They were such great hosts and are dear friends indeed.

All over Japan I am impressed with their civil and structural engineering fetes, mainly the way they have managed to build amazing roads, tunnels, and railways throughout this mountainous nation.  Today, however, I was awed by the entire area around Kobe and Osaka.  The area is one huge network of ports and bridges that almost defy imagination.  Wow!  Kansai airport itself was created as an island by using cofferdams, pumping the ocean out, and bringing fill in.  Then it was connected to the mainland by a bridge that must be four miles long and allows shipping passage beneath it.  This is one amazing country and a very ambitious people.

 In another eight hours, God willing, I’ll be in Los Angeles.  I always suffer a reverse culture shock upon arrival after the  politeness and orderly manner of Japan.  But it’s my country and I miss it.  I mainly miss Terri and Jacob.  It seems a long time since July 18 when I departed on this journey.  Thank you, love, for supporting my need to go.  Thank you to my senior students who took the dojo classes for me while I was away.  Thank you Dave and Masumi, and also the Aussies who always adopt me.  Thank you to Shihan Fujiwara and his wife and family for being so hospitable at their ryokan, and for him being my teacher.  Shihan, you are the best of the best.  We all know it.  I hope you do also.  I think other ryuha thought Seiwakai would be diminished after Tasaki Hanshi passed, but we have in fact grown and are getting better.  That makes me happy and proud and is a legacy I try to instill in my own students.

Now it is back to our lives.  Being able to attend a gasshuku such as ours is like entering a monastery.  We live and breathe Karatedo and don’t even think about news or politics or the mundane things that typically fill up our existence.  We get to do ONE thing and do it to the best of our ability.  And when it’s over we’ve  grown in ways we don’t even know and have hopefully changed in positive, subtle ways.  I know I have.

So, from somewhere over the Pacific, I’m signing off for now.  Thanks for coming along on this journey, whether actually or vicariously.  I hope you’ve grown some too.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

JAPAN TRAINING 2015 - August 1st, Day ?

August 1, 2015.   1006
Between Kokura and Okayama
En route to Tokushima, Shikoku

I left behind my many karate friends at 0800 to catch my trains.  The people you come to know through this strange and exclusive international organization is what keeps me involved.  I’ve met people of so many countries and occupations through Goju-Ryu Karatedo it is unbelievable, and I don’t see how our paths could have crossed any other way.  Some are merely acquaintances, but many become like brothers and sisters – family – whom even if you don’t cross paths for a few years, when you do, you take up right where you left off and are genuinely joyful to be together again.  And they are trustworthy, honest, and loyal, always willing to go the extra mile and watch your back in any country or situation.  In a word, it is wonderful.  So it was with genuine sorrow to say goodbye.  I almost teared  up when I said goodbye to Fujiwara Shihan because I like him so much and he always brings out the best in us and is an amazing host.

I’m heading to Tokushima to visit my dear friend Masumi Toyosaki Cooper, who I first met in 2004 on a whitewater rafting trip on the Yoshino River after my first Japan training.  Masumi spoke very good English and wanted a native speaker to talk to.  I now know her family, who are now my family too, and her husband Dave, who was a rafting guide from Australia, living in Japan.  They now have three children and live in Brisbane, but are here visiting her family, so I finally get to see their beautiful children.  Tokushima is a gorgeous city on the Pacific side of Shikoku, just across a straight of water from Osaka.  It is the home of one of the biggest matsuri festivals in Japan, the Awa Adori Matsuri, which draws over a million people to dance in the streets and have a great time.  It is the Japanese equivalent of Mardi Gras Festival, and like the Mardi Gras crews, the various Awa Adori dance troops will be practicing in the evenings while I am there.  When you walk along the river downtown, the big drums are slamming out a heartbeat rhythm, and everywhere are dance troops practicing.  Masumi and Dave are both dancers and I think Dave is quite famous as one of the few gaijin who can do it.  Not to mention he’s about 6’3” tall with a shaved head!  Very recognizable amongst the dancers.

My first two trains had no reserved seats left, so I’m using the unreserved cars, which is quite fun and like a land rush to get on, because there are always some folks left standing, kind of like a game of musical chairs.  And there is absolutely no chivalry.  You snooze you lose... and nobody offers a woman a seat.  I dropped my hand bag and already broke a real good bottle of sake (second time in that soft bag.  First time 2006) so my bag reeks of sake and people probably figure I’ve been on a drunk.  Oh well.  Good times!

My body has reached its absolute physical limits from the travel, time changes, different diet, gallons of sweat, and nine straight days of karate in a soaking wet gi.  I really don’t even care to put one on for a few weeks, because I am so sore and exhausted.  The training has been very good and very technical, but I really don’t know how many more times I can do this.  But I always say that, don’t I?

I found out this morning that I did not pass my Rokudan grading.  I thought I did a good job and had a better chance as there were only 13 grading this year (5 passed) as compared to 18 (3 passed) when I graded two years ago.  You never know what the grading panel is looking for and the standards are quite high at this level.  I know I am fighting the battle of age also.  In fact I was surprised to find I was the oldest one grading for Rokudan, which explains why I was number 13 out of 13.

The grading was held in a smaller Kendo room off the main area of the Beppu Budokan and it was so hot, instead of all of us going in at once, they brought us in in three groups of 3,5, and 5.  I was in the last group, which was apparently the eldest of the group.  That’s a good thing really, because you don’t really want to come right after a guys who is 48 or 50 and can stick a kansetsu Geri like a locomotive.  The older guys try to be a little more precise about timing and Kime (focus points) because they have lost some power.  Vassie Naidoo and I were speculating there are probably not many guys in their 60’s who can do what we do.  The grading panel is 6 stone-faced 8th dans, with 3 more observing from the side.  It is a bit intimidating.

I’m of course disappointed, and maybe more disappointed for Fujiwara Shihan and Seiwakai, but I have to look at it like the Japanese do.  For them, it is all about the doing, and failure is a part of the game.  They do not look at failure quite like we do in the west.  To have been there and made the effort is paramount on the path to perfection.  You won’t achieve perfection, but you keep striving.  There are many senior Japanese Sensei who have failed these grading numerous time and they seem totally unfazed and undeterred.  It is an honor to have been qualified to try.

My new friend, Sanny Yap Sensei, from Singapore helped me reframe it yesterday, even before I knew the results.  Sanny asked me how I felt about the  grading and I replied, “I think I did pretty well.”
He said, “No…how do you feel?”
I said that I felt good and he replied, “then hold on to that feeling because that is all you can control.  You never know how they see you and what they see.”
That was good advice.  I feel good about it all.

Vassie Naidoo, Desmond Tuck, John Dean, and I  went out to a Korean barbecue place last night with Jamie Duggan’s group from Brisbane.  This bunch of crazy Aussies are my adopted crew and they are so much fun.  Tough, funny, loud, and really strong karateka.  Definitely crazy as Texans.  Probably more so..  And they live life for today, so every experience is good and life is for living in the moment.  It was a great time and more than a little alcohol was consumed now that the pressure was off.  I can’t wait to see this bunch again.

Almost to Tokushima now.  I need a massage!!!  Over and out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

July 28th and 29th, 2015.  1155
On the Shinkansen –Akita to Oita

I’m currently heading from Northern Honshu to Central Hokaido.  A long bit of distance.  Someone said about 600 miles.  We are on our second bullet train, having left Omagari at 0640 and will arrive in Oita almost twelve hours later.  My traveling companions are Gayle and Mario Borg, Seiwakai instructors who live in Sydney, Australia.  Some of our Omagari group decided to fly because of the distance, but the trains are a much better way to see the people and sights of Japan.  You can also sleep well on them and eat or drink.  Why we can’t create a rail system as efficient as the JR system is beyond me.  What a wonderful way to travel.  We are currently almost to Nagoya, going about 180 mph, the countryside rolling by like a movie panorama.

Yesterday turned into an inadvertent rest day for me, much needed and much appreciated.  I asked to skip the morning session to take the train over to Akita to activate my JR (Japan Railway) pass, which can only be done in major cities.  It’s about a 50 minute trip and I got over and took care of business and headed back to Omagari with some time to spare.  Had my gi in my shoulder bag and started for the Budokan.  I traveled a couple of blocks when the bottom fell out and it started raIning cats and dogs and I was totally drenched.  I still had some time so thought I’d head over to the ryokan first and change clothes and maybe catch a ride back with Mr. Fujiwara.  I changed clothes and since my knee was hurting from the walk, I decided to lie down for a few minutes and elevate my leg.  Out!  Like a light. Awakened at almost 1600 and felt a bit guilty because I was probably needed for a grading panel for those grading for Seiwakai, but there was nothing to be done about it now.  When Mr. Fujiwara returned, I apologized to him for missing the session and he laughed when I told him what had happened and didn't seem too concerned.

We arrived at Beppu on schedule.  A couple of business men from Beppu once train told us that chicken tempura and sho chu, a drink kind of like vodka distilled from wheat, were two things  Beppu was known for (other than the hot spring baths, of course).  Beppu is second only to
Yellowstone National Park for the amount of hot spring geothermal activity.  It’s a bit of a tourist place around here, but not too bad.  Goodnight.  My hands are typing very weird things
As I keep nodding out while on the keyboard.  Long day.