NINJA: THE SHO KOSUGI STORY

Chapter II: Early Life in America (1968-1980)

Intent on going to college to study to become an International Trader, Sho arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport on May 28, 1968, and boarded a bus he hoped would take him to his new home in "Little Tokyo".  Unfortunately, Sho's inability to read or speak English led him to take the wrong bus.  A few hours later, the bus dropped him off in a seedy part of L.A. littered with vagrants and gangs.  As Sho made his way through the streets, 3 men suddenly jumped out at him, with one of them holding a knife.  Although unable to understand what the thugs were saying, the blade transcended all language barriers.  As the 2 other men grabbed Sho from behind, Sho delivered a powerful kick to the armed man's chest sending him crashing to the ground.  The other 2 assailants, seeing their friend moaning in pain on the bloody sidewalk, decided to flee.

 

Shortly thereafter, as an ambulance brought the would-be robber to the hospital, Sho went to a Los Angeles Police Station where he spent the rest of the day.  Fortunately, Sho's subsequent days in America would not be as traumatic.

 

After spending 6 months studying English as a second language at the Kenburia Adult School in Los Angeles, Sho began taking classes at Pasadena City College where he studied for two years before transferring to California State University, where he went on to receive a Bachelors degree in Economics.  During his time at Pasadena City College, in order to pay for his studies, Sho had to work a variety of odd jobs such as doing laundry, working as a parking attendant, a dishwasher, a helper, and a gardener.

 

Sho also began teaching karate at Pasadena City College and soon had over 80 students, eventually opening up his own studio in San Gabriel, California.

 

All the while, Sho continued to expand his own martial arts skills by studying with renowned Shitō Ryū Karate and Kobudō master Fumio Demura (出村文男), Gosoku-ryū Karate, Jūdō, Aikidō, Kendō, and Iaidō master Takayuki "Tak" Kubota (窪田孝行), and Shindō Jinen Ryū Karate, Kobudō, and Iaidō master Kiyoshi Yamazaki (山崎清司), who'd been his senpai at Master Konishi's dojo in Japan.

Fumio Demura

Takayuki Kubota

Kiyoshi Yamazaki

 

For several years, Sho also participated in Fumio Demura's popular martial arts demonstrations at the Japanese Village and Deer Park, an amusement park in Southern California.  These demonstrations, which incorporated a variety of martial arts including Karate, Kobudo and Kenjutsu, were famous for their use of theatrical lighting, music and costumes to show the audience the power and excitement of the martial arts.  Noted fellow martial arts masters such as Kiyoshi Yamazaki and Dan Ivan also regularly participated in these crowd-pleasing events.

 

 

Sho also reportedly appeared as a contestant on the popular television program TED MACK AND THE ORIGINAL AMATEUR HOUR, where he won the top prize.  Unfortunately, attempts to find a copy of Sho's episode via OriginalAmateurHour.com and the Amateur Hour Collection at the Library of Congress have thus far been unsuccessful.  If Sho did appear on the program it would have been between 1968 and 1970, since the program aired its final episode on CBS on September 27, 1970.  The search for it continues...

 

Wanting to attract even more students and to make a name for himself in hopes of breaking into movies, Sho also competed in various martial arts tournaments all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico during this time, and by 1974 he had won an astonishing 663 trophies and cups, which included winning the L.A. Open in 1972, 1973 and 1974.

 

1973 Japan Karate Federation Tournament at Orange Coast College, California
(L-R): Jiro Ohara, Sho Kosugi, Howard High, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, and Minobu Miki

 

Sho also continued to teach the martial arts during this time and he became particularly close to a young Chinese woman named Shook, who he had originally met at English Language School.  After graduating from California State University in 1973, Sho and Shook were married.  Sho taught Shook the martial arts for 4 years, until she began to raise their children: Kane, born in 1974, Shane, born in 1976, and Ayeesha, born in 1983.

 

Sho and Shook on their wedding day in 1973.

Shook with baby Shane and Kane.

Sho with Shane, Ayeesha, and Kane in 1998.






During these early years in America, Sho also tried his hand at acting and appeared as an extra in various movies over an eight year period, including the 1974 movie THE GODFATHER PART II, where he played a passerby dressed in a large coat with a cap pulled down over his eyes.

 

Sho also appeared in a couple of low budget martial arts films during this time.  The first was a Taiwanese film entitled SIX KILLERS, shot on location in Taiwan in 1974.  Unfortunately, no further information has been found on this film, and it remains a mystery as to what role Sho played in it, and what other title(s) it might have been released under.  The search for it continues...

 

The second, filmed in 1975, was a South Korean film shot in Los Angeles entitled AMERICA BANGMUNGAEG (아메리카訪問客 Visitor of America) aka "The Stranger", aka "The Stranger From Korea". This film was subsequently dubbed into English and a new ultra-cheesy opening scene featuring a man (supposedly Bruce Lee) bursting out of a grave marked with Bruce Lee's name was tacked on and the film was re-titled BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE.

 

 

Despite the misleading Bruceploitation title and the typically bad English dubbing, the film nevertheless features some excellent fast-paced fight scenes between Sho and the film's star, Korean-born California-based Tae Kwon Do master Jun Chong.  And in a role that seems to foreshadow what was to come, Sho plays Suzuki, a sword-wielding modern-day samurai dressed in a traditional kimono, who also fights hand to hand and with a pair of sai.  Another interesting element in the movie is that Sho's real-life business card, which at the time read "Sho's Karate Dojo", is shown in a scene where Jun Chong's character picks it up and looks at it before making his way to said dojo where he engages in a fight against a number of students all wearing white Karate gis with "Sho's Karate Dojo" printed on the backs.

 

 

Another film on Sho's early résumé is THE BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN starring Tony Curtis, Jackie Earle Haley, Tomisaburō Wakayama (若山富三郎), Antonio Inoki (アントニオ猪木), and Hatsune Ishihara (石原初音), filmed in 1977 and released in the summer of 1978.  Don't blink or you'll miss his appearance in this film though.  Sho's on-screen time is just a few seconds as he's merely one of a group of Karateka doing a Kata demonstration.

 

 

Sho also reportedly appeared in a 'samurai sketch' in an episode of The Richard Pryor Show in 1977.  Though there was indeed a sketch featuring Pryor as a samurai warrior defending a geisha against multiple samurai led by Tak Kubota at the start of the second episode, which aired on September 20, 1977, it doesn't look like Sho is one of them, with the possible exception of one tall samurai who's only seen from the back...

 

Title card for 'The Richard Pryor Show' samurai sketch

Tak Kubota in 'The Richard Pryor Show' samurai sketch

Is this Sho in 'The Richard Pryor Show' samurai sketch?

 

Sometime during this period, Sho also reportedly appeared on the children's program ROMPER ROOM.  While these small film roles and TV appearances did allow Sho to spread his wings and try new things, they did not do much to pay the bills, so while he continued to teach the martial arts at his dojo in San Gabriel, California, he also continued to do a number of odd jobs on the side, such as working as a chef, working at a country club, washing dishes, etc...  Sho also made good use of his Economics degree by working as a local sales representative for the Japanese Electric Co.

 

As a highly respected martial arts instructor and weapons expert, Sho was also featured in a number of articles in prominent martial arts magazines and was on the cover of the May 1978 issue of Karate Illustrated and on back-to-back issues of Black Belt Magazine in October 1979 (with Tak Kubota) and November 1979 (with one of his students).  Sho was also nominated for Black Belt Magazine's Hall of Fame in 1979.

 

 

Sho was also dedicated to promoting and fostering cultural exchanges through the martial arts by organizing trips to the Asian countries where the styles originated.  In June 1978, Sho headed a group called the Martial Arts Promotion Union which included martial artists from the 3 major styles of the martial arts, Karate, Kung Fu, and Tae Kwon Do, and organized a 3 week martial arts tour that began in Los Angeles and went to Tokyo, then Seoul, and finally Taipei.  In Japan the tour members worked out at the famed Mt. Fuji Dojo, and competed in a "good will" tournament against some of that school's top competitors.  While in Korea, they worked out and competed against the best fighters in the country at the famed Tae Kwon Do Dojo in Seoul, and then engaged in some Kung Fu practice in Taipei before competing against Taiwanese fighters.  The tour, which was open to highly motivated black belts and exceptionally gifted brown belts, was so successful that summer tours were also organized in 1979 and 1980.

 

 

During this time, Sho also continued to participate in martial arts demonstrations at various events and also organized tournaments such as the "Hollywood Open Karate Championships".  In conjunction with this he also hosted what was billed as the "Hollywood Martial Art Action Contest" where martial artists of all ages were called upon to stage the most entertaining act they could devise for a panel of judges which included various agents, actors, and martial arts celebrities.  One of the participants who wowed the crowd was Sho's 5-year-old son Kane, dressed in traditional samurai garb, and wielding a samurai sword in a self defense routine against four or five slightly older warriors.