By Brett Hart
After nearly 50 years of training some of the biggest names in martial arts and serving as a movie stunt man, Fumio Demura remains modest about his National and International influence in the martial arts community.
”I’m not famous,” Demura Sensei says. ”I’m just doing my best. That’s all.”
A 1961 All Japan Champion, Demura Sensei moved to the United States in 1965 where he introduced Shito-Ryo Karate Do and Okinawa Kobudo to the nation as well as creating and introducing Kobudo Kumite to the World at the age of 68.
His prowess and innovation in the martial arts world led Demura Sensei to train many of the top martial arts icons, including Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal.
Movies and Television
What Demura Sensei is possible most well known for, however, is his stunt work in the Karate Kid movies and his mentor-ship of Pat Morita’s character, Mr. Miyagi in the movie franchise.
Demura Sensei says many aspects of the Karate Kid movie reflected his own personal life, such as the fishing and ”Wax on. Wax off” – a phrase in which he coined.
”I was doing (Wax on. Wax off.) for years before they made the movie,” he said, noting that after seeing the movie, many of his students called him and said, ”That’s me and you!”
Over the years, Demura Sensei has worked in 14 feature films and nearly 40 different television programs. He’s also written eight books and produced numerous videos, demonstrations and competitions around the globe.
Movies and competition bring out very different sides of the martial arts. In movies, he said, ”You have to sell what you’re doing,” Demura Sensei said.
He pointed to the 1971 cult classic movie ”Billy Jack” when Billy says, ”I’m going to take this right foot, and I’m going to wop you on that side of your face. And you want to know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re going to be able to do about it.”
He also pointed to the ”Wax on. Wax off” scene in the original (1984) Karate Kid movie.
”That type of thing,” Demura Sensei said. ”In the movie business, you have to have some selling point.”
In contrast, he noted that in competition there are rules, such as no hitting or kicking the groin or neck.
The Birth of a New Career
As a young man, Demura Sensei wanted to be an actor, but his father was against it. So he went to Nippon University where he majored in economics.
However, after wining the All Japan Championship, it changed his career direction towards the martial arts. Even with all he’s accomplished Demura Sensei says that moment is still his favorite.
”We had 48 provinces and each province has two people,” he said. ”We had 80-90 people competing. … Me and the other guy were the only two left. No other people there. … Not that much nervous, but kind of friend, but enemy. We don’t talk to each other, just waiting for the time to come up. That is a moment I’ll never forget.”
After his victory, Demura Sensei was introduced by his friend, Wisconsin native and internationally-known martial artist Donn Draeger, to Ohio-born martial arts promoter Dan Ivan, who brought him to the United States to teach karate.
Now, at the age of 78, Demura Sensei has Genbu-Kai Karate schools in 30 countries and 13 states within the United States. When asked how many students he’s trained over his career, he responded, ”Not too many. About 30-40… thousand.”
While several of those students are well-recognized action stars, that part of the job isn’t always glamorous.
”Some people, they just listen to me and do it,” Demura Sensei said. ”Chuck (Norris) and Bruce (Lee)… just listen. ‘Ok. Just do it that way?’ That’s it. Some people say ‘OK. Do it this way? But I do it that way.’ … Sometimes it’s very difficult.”
Evolution of Karate: From Fighting to Flooring
A lot has changed in Karate for Demura Sensei over the years.
”It used to be a different way,” he said. ”For example: Fighting. Everybody had a different way of fighting, but today everybody looks the same because they go to the world champion and everybody copies from that. … And the Kata – same way. … They do same kata from DVD or something. You watch and you copy. It used to be, you never do that kind of stuff.”
Even the flooring has evolved over time.
”I started karate with wood floor,” he said. ”In the beginning it was a little harder. We come to here, we had wrestling mat, but I hit my toes all the time. Then later, we got tatami mats.”
The tatami mats, Demura Sensei is referring to are the Elite Striking Art Pro Mat Tatami Mats from Greatmats. They are 1.5 inch thick 1×2 meter mats with a 1.5 inch thick polyurethane foam core and tatami-textured vinyl surface.
”The mat is best for me – tatami mats – not to soft, not too hard. And I can throw the kids without hurting them,” Demura Sensei said. ”On the legs, it’s not too bad. So perfect for me.”
He first learned about the tatami mats while visiting one of his schools that were using Greatmats martial arts mats and liked the feel and function of the mats. So when it came time to order mats for his relocated studio in Santa Ana, California, he turned to Greatmats.
”I recommend people if they have money, buy the tatami mat. … In the beginning… people said ‘too soft.’ But now, they love it!”