In Memory of Sensei Leon Pantanowitz

A message from: Higaonna Morio Sensei

To coincide with their recent National Gasshuku, IOGKF Israel held a special celebration to commemorate the 40th anniversary since Sensei Leon Pantanowitz began teaching Goju-ryu Karate. Below is the letter Higaonna Sensei for the event to pay tribute to his student and friend…

Congratulations on the 40th anniversary of when Sensei Leon began teaching Goju Ryu Karate in Israel.

Leon was a great martial artist as well as a wonderful human being.  He truly represented the idea of “Bunbu Ryodo”, martial arts training, education and character development together. 

He was the pioneer who spread Karate in Israel. His contribution towards the IOGKF and Karate society, both in Israel and internationally, was tremendous.  He was an excellent Karate practitioner as well as an outstanding leader and instructor who influenced countless young people in their development of their mind and body.

I met him in 1969 when I visited South Africa for the first time to teach seminars.  Later he moved to Israel, his homeland where he opened his dojo in Natanya city and started teaching Karate. 

He attended every major event of IOGKF, such as the World Budosai, World Championships, Chief Instructor Gasshuku and European Gasshuku, and he trained hard at each event. 

He devoted his whole life to spreading true traditional Karate.  He voluntarily taught Karate to the youth of refugees for no charge.  He taught them both the physical and mental aspects and helped them improve themselves.  He was not just a great instructor, but also an exceptional educator. 

It was during the chief instructor gasshuku in 1987 when I was still living in California when Leon said to me, “Higaonna Sensei, the founder of Goju-Ryu Karate was Chojun Miyagi Sensei and Goju-Ryu was originated in Okinawa. You should move back to Okinawa and teach Karate there to the next generation.”  He continued with, “It makes a big difference whether you learn Gekisai Dai Ichi in San Diego or in Okinawa.  The atmosphere there is different.”  His words struck me and I still remember them clearly to this day. Later I decided to move back to Okinawa.

Leon was also a very religious person.  He followed Judaism and its teachings throughout his life.  Under Judaism, you can not carry cash, drive cars, or use electricity from Friday evening till Saturday afternoon.  Sometimes he had to wake up very early in the morning and walk for three to four hours to the training hall, and walk back after five hours of hard training.  I was very impressed by his devotion toward his religion.  Once he said to me, “Higaonna Sensei, it is exactly like traditional Kata.  You can not change the tradition.”

I miss him a lot, but his spirit still lives in my heart, as in all of the IOGKF members’ hearts.