Martial Arts - A Way of Life

April KataNote: This message goes out to anyone who was involved in the arts in the early to mid 70's that may have literature and/or photographs containing information on me. My collection of photos and articles have been badly damaged and am looking for any originals available.

Excerpts from magazine articles:

Inside Kung-Fu Magazine, 1974? - by Alan Sutton “Where do the Children Play?”

James Ibrao may be the world’s only 48 year old Hawaiian born Kung-Fu instructor with six grand children. He is one of those refreshing individuals who is always up - just what you would expect from one whose youth was spent chasing bare-foot after slightly clad wahines amid sun drenched shores and swaying palms. His abundant energy unrestrained humor and enthusiasm set him apart from traditional Sifu. However, his teaching styles are not to be denied. In two short years, after three decades in Martial Arts, James Ibrao has established himself as one of the foremost instructors of young people in the state of California - if not the nation.

His award winning students are proof of his competency. Take for instance his pride and joy, 13 year old April Hiraki. After only seven months under Ibrao’s demanding gaze, she is today considered one of the top women’s kata performers around. She has added 27 trophies to her collection during this brief span, and was barely nudged out of the divisional title at last years Internationals. Yet those in the know agree that she will become the gal to beat in the years to come. Appreciatively, April’s mother credits Ibrao with much of her daughters success. “He spends a lot of time with her. I think he is really very thorough. Some of the other instructors I’ve seen aren’t that particular with every move being just so. It’s just ‘do it’ and that’s it,” she says....

...What is it, then, that prompts many southland parents to enroll their children at Ibrao’s school when there are countless others to choose from? The most effective means of advertising known to man: word of mouth. “We asked around, and everybody said that Jimmy was very good with kids,” offers Mr. Hiraki, April’s father...

Inside Kung-Fu Magazine “Golden Fist Awards - Karate’s answer to the Oscar or just another knuckle sandwich?”

Golden Fist Award Friday, March 14 1975 at the Wilshire Ebell Theater...

The martial arts demonstrations, as anticipated, where excellent. Thirteen-year-old April Hiraki, recipient of the Outstanding Women’s Kata Soft Style Award, delighted on-lookers with one of her intricate Kung-Fu sets...

Professional Karate, Sept. 1975 “Golden Fist Awards”

...Official Karate editor, Al Weiss and the lovely star of such films as Black Belt Jones and Live and Let Die, Miss Gloria Hendry, present the women’s form awards to April Hiraki and Beverly Romero...

Inside Kung-Fu Magazine 1975 By Alan Sutton, "April, Barron & Jim : Innocence plus experience mean kata excellence"

Monday through Friday - except for a 2-4 hour daily workout - their lives are no different form any other kid's. They go to school, horse around with friends, watch TV; have to put up with teachers dirty looks, homework and moms nagging them to keep their rooms neat; face the endless scuffles of growing up with infinite vitality, candor, dreams of wonder. Weekends, though are something else. While the majority of their peers take part in the big game - be it The Little League, Pop Warner football or some other type of organized despair - 13 year olds April Hiraki and Jim Brown and 10 year old Barron Tabura participate in one of the most individual of all sports - kata or form competition.

Their's is a punishing sport. The restless hours spent in transit to and from remot tournament sites spanning the greater Los Angeles/Orange County basin, the meets themselves which are generally all day affairs, the long intervals betweens events and the real or imagined capriciousness of the judges can be draining. Not to mention the forms - sometimes containing 100 moves or more - requiring strength, speed, accuracy, flexibility, balance and focus in order to be a winner.

And they are - winners that is. In a little over a year, this handsome young trio of martial arts prodigies from Southern California has a massed a string of victories in regional play that spectators find staggering and competitors, discouraged; furthermore, a good number of them lately come from "open" competition, i.e., no age limits! Yes. Many a grownup black belt has suffered ignominious defeat at the hands (and feet) of thesee exceptional youungsters.

April and the boys dutifully oblige the interviewer as a followup to a picture taking session that began shortly after sunrise on a recent Saturday morning. With Barron's father's studio as a backdrop the questions escalate from mundane to poignant...

...She was born in West Covina, California, and now lives with her parents and a brother in Rowland Heights. Besides being an outstanding kata performer, she is an A student and a strikingly beautiful young lady. And that's okay because she doesn't act like she knows it. Her hair is dark brown and cascades tantalizingly down to the waist. She is a petite five feet one, and prefers Levis and tank tops to skirts and dresses. In short, she is the kind of girl you would want to take home to meet momma.

Finding suitable competition is her biggest headache. A knowledgeable observer, who has studied her form since she first began competing and who is intimately familiar with the West Coast tournament scene, describes that dilemma. "April might go to compete and find that there are two or three girls entered in her division - She can't get up for that. She may win, but still, in her heart, she knows that competition is the name of the game. "I don't really deserve this trophy because there wasn't any competition" - I've heard this from her many times. She'd rather be competing against 30 girls and take third; then you know you really accomplished something."

"I was originally taking Kenpo," she recalls politely, "but my dad didn't like their forms. So he asked around and everyone said Jim Ibrao was a good form man."

The Sil Lum Kung Fu sets that Ibrao has been showing April for the past nine months obviously agree with her. The trophy shelf at home is ready to crack under the strain of all that iron and, what's more important, her strength and stamina have improved tremendously. Ibrao is understandably pleased with her progress. "Like any sport, you are always looking for a protege to represent you or your school or your system, whatever. Every instructor looks for that. Then finally you realize that you have a worthy student; and instead of being selfish with youur knowledge, you try to show them as much as you can and let them go out and show it. That's why a student like April has done so much for me. She's done well for herself; she's promoting me and the art too."...

Martial Arts Newsletter, June 1976, Vol.1(1). “Interview with April Hiraki”

It is Martial Arts Newsletter’s privilege to interview Miss April Hiraki, one of the most exciting karate competitors around the Southern California area. April is in the ninth grade and has been studying the martial arts for four and a half years. She practices two to three hours three days a week. Her school’s name is The Northern Shaolin Kung-Fu Association. When asked what her workout consists of, she answers, “First we start with warm-ups and stretching, then we practice our kicks, then we pair up and work on combinations, after that we stretch again for our katas. The main workout consists of practicing our katas and kumite. Whenever I change my kata, I want to practice it over and over again to get it perfect.” April competes in the black belt division but explains that in Kung-Fu there isn’t a belt ranking system. When her instructor feels she is ready, he will promote her to the next step. “Right now I feel I am not ready for the next step,” she said. Miss Hiraki knows about 30 katas and has entered many contests. She has acquired approximately 80 trophies during her four and a half years of training. She really enjoys competing but confessed that she gets tied at times and feels like quitting. “Karate is my life and I guess I will keep competing until my legs fall off,” responded April. Miss Hiraki loves anything she can do with her hands. Making jewelry, sewing and drawing are her favorite hobbies. She has appeared on TV in the Prep-World of Sports program and also a two day series on martial arts featuring John Saxon as the emcee. If offered a position to be in a movie, she said she would grab the first chance. Her plans are to be a dental hygienist in college. When asked if she has ever used her knowledge of martial arts in a real situation, April answered, “no but she would use it if she had to, only as a last resort. I believe in avoiding a fight rather than creating one.” One of April Hiraki’s most embarrassing moments was when she had just won first place in a kata competition and tournament promoter asked her if she would repeat another kata which she did over two months ago at another contest. She had not practiced the kata but began anyway. Half way through the sequence, her mind went blank. She bowed off the mat and was very embarrassed. Here she had won first place in the competition and couldn’t even repeat an old kata. “I try to review as many katas as possible hoping to never be in that situation again,” replied April. She hopes karate will some day be a sport in the Olympic Games. “That would set a great goal for me to be one of the competitors in the Games,“she said. “Judo made it into the Olympics, I hope karate will too!” Martial Arts Newsletter thanks you April Hiraki and wishes you luck.

Inside Kung-Fu Magazine, Sept. 1976, Vol.3(9). “13th Annual International Karate Championships”

LONG BEACH CA. - Ed Parker’s 1976 13th Annual International Karate Championships were held over the weekend at the Long Beach Arena on July 31st and August 1st.

...A proud Sifu James Ibrao saw at least two of his pupils, Ed Niel and Peewee LeMont Clark, do very well. An ex-pupil of his, April Hiraki, who is with Johnny So presently, did exceptionally well, pleasing the crowd if not the judges...

Copyright © 1998-2003, 2004 [April M. Hiraki-Morris]. All rights reserved