Peter G. Urban
August 14, 1934 - April 7, 2004
Master Peter George Urban was born August 14, 1934 in Jersey City, New Jersey but was raised and educated in Union City, New Jersey. After graduating from Emerson High School in 1952 he joined the United States Navy, and was later stationed in Yokohama, Japan. He began his training in the martial arts in 1953 under Richard Kim. However, in 1954 he was transferred to Tokyo, Japan and due to the great distance he was unable to train with Sensei Kim. But it was through Sensei Kim that he was introduced and later began training with Master Gogen Yamaguchi. During that same year he was also introduced to Master Masutatsu Oyama also of Tokyo, Japan.
Eventually he focused his training under Master Yamaguchi. This period was shortly after World War II and it was not uncommon for Master Urban to suffer the prejudice of his classmates who saw their country devastated by the very military in which he served. As an American, he was known to his classmates as gaigeen (the Japanese word for foreigner) or round eye.
While still in the Navy Master Urban opened his first dojo in 1956 and began training the 212th MP who were also stationed in Tokyo, Japan. By1957 he was the first American to compete in the All Japan College Karate Championships. Sensei Urban was again chosen to compete by Master Yamaguchi in 1958, this time at Chuo University where he fought the captain of the Chuo University Karate team. Later in that same year he married a Japanese woman named Meiko Ito.
His time in the military was coming to an end in 1959 and he returned to the United States after he was discharged from the Navy. In that same year he opened his first American dojo on 14th Street and Summit Avenue in Union City, NJ. His dojo grew and in 1960 he opened his second dojo on 17th street in Manhattan, NY.
During this time Master Urban slept during the day and taught classes and trained at night. The Manhattan Dojo was located on the second floor and the students would enter through the stairs. Master Urban entered through the elevator. As he approached he would ring a gong to signal his arrival and the students would line up to begin class. When class was over he would dismiss the class by ringing the gong and exit via the elevator. After class the black belts were expected to listen to lecture tapes that lasted 30-40 minutes and the tap machine was behind a small stage with a curtain.
He went on to establish structured tournaments in America, one of the first of those being the North AmericanKarate Championships in 1962, held at Madison Square Garden. His only child Julia was born in February 1963and in 1964 he returned to Japan for further study and re-search.
Master Urban’s greatest accomplishment came when he published his first book, The Karate Dojo, Tails and Traditions of A Martial Art” in 1965. During these years he also went on to become president of New York City Metropolitan Karate Society the Eastern Director of the Butokukai Martial Arts Organization, and System Chief, Midwest Goju Karate Association.
Master Urban believed that America deserved its own style of Goju just as Japan had established its own style from Okinawa. With that belief he traveled back to Japan in 1966 to ask Sensei Yamaguchi for permission to proceed with his plans. However, Master Yamaguchi told him no stating that according to Bushi-Do that no white man can achieve nirvana. This response angered Master Urban who also quoted Bushi-do and relayed that according to Bushi-do Japan can never lose a war. An angry Yamaguchi and a dejected Master Urban, they parted company. Master Yamaguchi explained that he would not change his position and Master Urban thanked Master Yamaguchi relaying that he had been a great teacher.
Upon his return to the States Master Urban announced that he would sever his ties with Goju Kai and would found the U.S.A. GoJu Association. He continued to work under Master Richard Kim and the Butokukai but later went on to form the U.S.A Goju Association (U.S.A.G.A) which is still in operation today.
Eventually he moved his Manhattan dojo to his now famous Chinatown dojo in 1967 located at 232 Canal Street, New York City. Also known as the Shanghai Dojo, this was a bold move given that an American Sensei was establishing an American dojo that was open to the public in the heart of Chinatown surrounded by the Kung Fu masters.
Master Urban embraced changed and encouraged his senior students to break off and form their own systems. To this end Master Urban was quoted as saying, “That is the evolution of the art. Without change there is no progress, no development. Change, by definition is progress; I take great pleasure in knowing that changes are being made, in seeing the many minds making those changes in Goju”.
If establishing Goju in America was not enough he made his first trip to Europe in 1977 and established USA Goju in Italy and again in 1978 he traveled back to Padova, Italy to teach and promote a tournament. However, tragedy struck in 1979 when his wife Meiko passed away.
He received many awards during his life-time including the Presidential Sports Award on May 9, 1997 signed by President Bill Clinton. One of the last awards bestowed upon Master Urban came in 2003 when Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame named him “Man of the Year” Master Urban later passed away on April 7, 2004 leaving behind a lasting legacy with his many students for years to come and is widely regarded as the father of American Goju Karate.