John S. O’Hara Sensei
February 8, 1934 to January 7, 2015
My Lifelong Teacher
A Profile by Sensei Steve Wilson, 7th Dan, Senior Student OGRKK
The Early Years
Shihan John S. (Stan) O’Hara is currently a Kudan (9th Degree Black Belt). Sensei began training in Naha-Te in 1962 in New Mexico. He later trained in Shotokan Karate-Do. After achieving his 2nd Kyu (brown belt), O’Hara (ne Magedson) left his beloved New Mexico for California. Because of the proximity of Sensei Gosei Yamaguchi in San Francisco, O’Hara converted to Goju-Ryu in 1966. In 1968 he made Shodan under Gogen (the Cat) Yamaguchi. Even though O’Hara was fully involved in Goju, he continued to train in Shotokan until he reached the level of Shodan. Ironically this was in 1969, after he had reached the same level in Goju-Ryu.
In the 1970’s Shihan O’Hara had one of the largest Goju-Kai dojos in America. The attendance at one of our promotional examinations was 200+, with an overall membership of well over 300 active students (ah, the good old days). In 1990, Sensei switched over to Okinawan Goju-Ryu, under Hanshi Higaonna Morio. Under Higaonna Morio Sensei, he obtained his Godan and was appointed Central California Chief. He was also appointed to the Yudansha grading panel. He was in charge of the Miyagi An’ichi retirement fund and helped write the criteria for Sanchin testing. Sensei left the IOGKF in 1995 for personal reasons pertaining to organizational matters.
Training with Sensei
I trained with Sensei 3-4 classes per day, five days per week and two classes each Saturday for almost five years in the 1970’s. During that time I saw Sensei do many physical things that I have never seen anyone else do in my 40 years of Budo. I have witnessed Sensei do well over 200 consecutive pushups numerous times, pound block walls for an hour straight, fight 5 or 6 black belts who were wearing bogu gear, full contact, one after the other, while he wore no protection. When in his mid forties, he announced that any black belt student who could do HALF the number of pushups that he could do, could have the keys to the Dojo. Needless to say nobody ever succeeded, although several tried. Sensei used to have the students hit him in the stomach, arms, shoulders and legs with two by six boards until they broke. Even in various Japanese Honbu dojo, I have never seen or heard of him being knocked off his feet. Once he got hit so hard his jaw was broken. He never stepped back, turned his head, fell or even asked for the match to stop. Another time, he blocked a kick and the bone in his little finger was sticking out of the skin. Sensei continued fighting for another fifteen minutes until class was over, he then went to have it set.
In 1957 and ’58 Sensei went to Germany at the invitation of the U.S. Government, where he was assigned to German/American relations. It was during this time that he became part of a German athletic club where he performed Track and Field as well as weightlifting. In 13 months O’Hara was able to garner over 24 German records, both local and national. O’Hara was quite active in American weightlifting on the local and national level as well. He captured many state and regional records some of which, as far as can be determined, still stand. His first love was Olympic weightlifting, but he also competed in numerous powerlifting tournaments. The highlight of his career was having been chosen alternate on the 1960 Olympic Team in Rome.
Those were the old days. Sensei was one of the most quiet and gentle men you could ever or will ever meet. In 41 years of training with him, I have never heard him use profanity, yell or even argue. He never talks bad about people and he never gives up on his students, no matter what difficulties they may be going through. Today he is the founder and chairman of the OGRKK, the culmination of his greatest dreams. I have documented over 75 pages of “drills” Sensei has created so they will not be lost or forgotten. Sensei is a staunch traditionalist but very, very innovative in the development of standing and moving drills as well as kumite drills. He taught and practiced Traditional Okinawan Goju-Ryu, with special attention to Kata, but places a very strong emphasis on Kihon, Kihon Ido, Neko Ashi Ido, Bunkai and Sanchin Kata. He has always been a fighting Sensei and thoroughly enjoyed engaging in kumite with his senior students.
Sensei was a High School English teacher for 28 years. He taught three or four Gasshuku’s (training camps and several seminars) per year at different locations throughout his region. He conducted quarterly Yudansha training with no charge to participants. He taught around 20 classes per week in his beautiful 3,500 square foot dojo in Bakersfield, California. He was married to a beautiful, wonderful and very supportive Black Belt, Sensei Catherine O’Hara (yep, he trained her too).
In 1999, after having trained for 38 years, has finally spread his own wings and formed his own organization. That organization is called the Okinawan Goju Ryu Kenkyu Kai. The focus of the organization is simple. Sensei wanted people to train hard, share with one another, and be good citizens who contribute to society. Sensei loved researching and sharing information. He wanted an organization absent of politics. He also has set-up the organization to contain a lot of value for little money.
Sadly Sensei passed away on January 7, 2015, at 4:32 P.M. in his home in Bakersfield, California. His family was by his side.
Sensei appointed Robison Sensei to lead the Goju Ryu Karate-Do of Bakersfield Dojo. Robison Sensei is a 6th Degree Shihan under Sensei. Sensei appointed Steve Wilson Sensei to be the Chairman of the organization, the OGRKK. Wilson Sensei is a 7th Dan, Shihan under Sensei and is his most senior student.
Sensei had a way of making everyone feel special. Every black belt in the OGRKK should try their best to emulate that effort and try to guide and teach future generations with kindness, understanding, and humility.
Every instructor and student in the OGRKK should also strive to continually improve our technical excellence by training hard, training regularly, researching, and sharing. As we always have, we should also go out of our way to support one another. We have very big shoes to fill and it will take all of us to do so.
We all love our teacher and we wished you had known him too, because if you did, you would have loved him too. It is our intention and hope that we represent him in a manner that would make him proud.