Dai Shihan Professor Sig Kufferath
Professor Kufferath was a highly revered elder in the martial arts. He died in 1999 at the age of 88 after a career spanning more than 60 years in many art forms.
Pacific Coast Academy was honored to have Professor Kufferath in residence during the last years of his life. Sig was the senior student of the founder of Danzan Ryu Kodenkan Ju Jitsu, Professor Henry Okazaki, and received the title of Shihan from him in the 1940s in Hawaii.
At Pacific Coast Academy in the 1990s, Professor Kufferath awarded Russ Rhodes the Shihan title. Russ was Sig’s senior student as well as the co-founder and inheritor of Ken Ju Ryu Kenpo Ju Jitsu.
Born Siegfried Kufferath (he preferred to be called "Sig") on February 16, 1911 in Honolulu, his father was a former consulate to Japan from Germany. His mother was Japanese. As many as 11 different languages were spoken in the Kufferath home. As a student at the University of Hawaii, Kufferath excelled in track.
A student of Professor Henry Okazaki, founder of Danzan Ryu, Professor Kufferath was one of the original signers of the American Ju Jitsu Institute Charter, and after the death of Professor Okazaki in 1951, he was elected by the board of directors of the AJI as the head of the system and given the title of Professor. Professor Okazaki had earlier made Sig the chief instructor of his school, The Kodenkan, and had awarded him the title of Shihan.
In 1937 he was asked to visit the Jujutsu class of one of his neighbors. That neighbor happened to be Henry Seishiro Okazaki. Thus began Kufferath's long journey in the martial arts. In 1941, Kufferath received his first degree black belt from Okazaki and also received a Mokuroku (teacher's scroll), an honor usually reserved for second degree black belts. Along with his teaching partners Bing-Fai Lau and Esther Azumi (later Takamoto), Kufferath instructed at both the Kodenkan and Kaheka Lane dojos.
Kufferath learned the entire system from Okazaki and since he knew Japanese, was taught the system in that language. He also learned the Seifukujutsu, techniques of adjustment and restoration, and continued to teach and practice these arts until shortly before his death.
Their club was opened in 1942, a year after Sig received his black belt. In 1943, he graduated from Professor Okazaki's Nikko Sanatorium course in restoration therapy, and continued to practice and teach massage and body therapy for the rest of his life.
Besides teaching at the original Kodenkan in Honolulu, Sig also gave ju jitsu instruction at the Kaheka Lane Dojo, also in Honolulu, with his partner, Bing Fai Lau. Their club was opened in 1942, a year after Sig received his black belt. In 1943, he graduated from Professor Okazaki's Nikko Sanatorium course in restoration therapy, and continued to practice and teach massage and body therapy for the rest of his life.
He taught hand to hand combat in the U.S. Army, and was instrumental in bringing ju jitsu into the army curriculum when he and Bing Fai Lau put on a demonstration on February 8, 1942, just two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many generals and important dignitaries were in attendance at that demonstration.
In 1948, Kufferath attended a special Okugi (inner mysteries) class given by Okazaki for his black belt instructors. Upon completion of this course, he received a Kaidensho (certificate of mastery) and was given the title of Shihan.
Sig moved to California in 1957, and gave instruction first at the Pacific Judo Academy in San Jose, which was run by Shihan Bill Montero, another of Professor Okazaki's students, then later in Los Altos where he opened the Los Altos Akijitsu Dojo He served as Chief Instructor at three different schools opened by his students; Nikko Ju Jitsu School in Mountain View, The Kodenkan in Santa Clara, and The Pacific Coast Academy of Martial Arts in Campbell.
After Professor Okazaki's death in 1951, there was a leadership void in the American Jujitsu Institute (AJI). In 1952, the AJI membership elected Kufferath to succeed Okazaki as Professor. Kufferath continued in this position until 1960, when he moved to the mainland.
In the summer of 1993, Professor Kufferath repeated the Okugi class for a group of Danzan-Ryu instructors, thus passing on the Okazaki tradition to a new generation.
Professor Henry Okazaki besides teaching at the original Kodenkan in Honolulu, Sig also gave ju jitsu instruction at the Kaheka Lane Dojo, also in Honolulu, with his partner, Bing Fai Lau.
He was co-founder, along with Shihan Russ Rhodes, of the art of Ken Ju Ryu Kenpo Ju Jitsu, and was the director of the Ju Jitsu division of the Unified World Martial Arts Federation.
In 1996, he founded his own organization, the Pacific Coast Kilohana Martial Arts Association. He belonged to the World Head of Family Sokeship Council, and was installed in both the Danzan Ryu Hall of Fame and the Jujitsu America Hall of Fame. He was recognized as Grand Master by the Kodenkan Yudanshakai, and also held black belt rank in Judo and Aikido and a 10th in Chinese Kenpo.
As the coach of the Hawaiian team at the first AAU Judo Nationals, he led his team to victory, thus leading them to be the first AAU Judo championship team. He returned to competition approximately 40 years later, when he began competing in the Self Defense division at many local tournaments. Many competitors were surprised to be competing against a man in his 80's. Sig, for his part, loved the competition, and over the course of a few years, won more than 10 first place trophies.
He kept himself in such excellent shape that in his earlier years, he had to cut the lower part of the sleeves off his gis so that his arms would fit. Even at 87 years old, he could often be found in his backyard lifting weights, on the floor of his living room doing sets of 500 repetitions on his ab roller, or at Gold's Gym, where he and his daughter Leslee would go to work out. Lunchtime for Professor Kufferath often found him at his favorite Japanese restaurant, Truya Sushi in Santa Clara, while he was also a regular at the Touch of Aloha restaurant in Milpitas. Both restaurants have photos of Sig on their walls.
Professor Kufferath was active in teaching and practicing Ju Jitsu until just a couple months before his death. Besides teaching at regular classes, he presided over advanced black belt training for Kilohana yudansha at the Kilohana Home Dojo in Campbell, making sure that his black belts were constantly adhering to his strict standards.
Prof. Kufferath passed away at his home in Santa Clara, CA on May 7, 1999 with his family and friends at his side. He lived a long, full life and made an important contribution to many persons lives. He was 88 years old and had been practicing ju jitsu for over 60 years. He held a kudan (10th dan) in the art he had taught for so many years.
His teachings lives on through his "ultimate student" Shihan Russell Rhodes at the Pacific Coast Academy of Martial Arts.