Food For Thought
In the course of
my karate training, I made three pilgrimages to live
at the home of and train with Tsuyoshi
Chitose (1898-1984), 10th dan master and founder of
Chito-Ryu karate: in 1977, 1979 and 1980. Each time
I was humbled
by the master’s openness and generosity, letting
young, ignorant foreigners intrude on his family life.
He shared his table and leisure time as readily as
his knowledge of karate, demanding in return only a
sincere effort to learn his art.
I particularly remember meals together, where the
whole family would gather in the kitchen,
usually after a grueling workout. We’d begin by holding
our chopsticks in front of us, almost in a prayer position, and say, “Itadakimasu,” giving
thanks for what we were about to receive, and then dig in.
Typical meal scene with O-Sensei, in 1977.
From left: Tsuyoshi Chitose, Mama-san,
(hidden), Reiko-san, myself and
David Green of New Brunswick, Canada.
Though the kitchen was the one place
in his Kumamoto home with Western-style chairs and
sometimes see O-Sensei
sitting cross-legged on his chair. He would
only take his concessions to modern living so far.
When he caught me looking, he laughed.
O-Sensei and I were co-conspirators. If his wife or
him something he didn’t like, he’d make face and, when they weren’t
looking, quickly shove the offending dish across my way. I’d have
to eat the food before the women cottoned on. At lunch, we would often have an
coffee. O-Sensei loved to dump packet after packet of sugar into
his cup. His wife and daughters would utter outraged warnings and
to stop him. If he managed to fly under their
take a long, satisfied sip of supersweet coffee, his eyes twinkling in
With breakfast O-Sensei usually ate a
raw egg. He broke it into a shallow bowl, set aside
the shells and tilted
it into his mouth as if it were an oyster, swallowing
in one, two gulps. At the end of the meal he poured green tea into his rice bowl,
picked up a yellow pickle with his chopsticks and swished it around the bowl's
inner surface to dislodge the last sticky grains of rice. Then he drank the tea-rice-pickle
mixture so not a morsel was wasted.
O-Sensei often held court at the table.
long, intricate talks on the martial arts to his
son, the current Chito-Ryu Soke, and son-in-law, Ken
Sakamoto, now the head of Ryusei Karate-Do. With wholly
inadequate Japanese, I couldn’t follow the thread of the lectures, to my
great and lasting detriment. But I noticed that as the master spoke, his
hands would move with intricate, flowing open-hand motions, as if he were trying
to bless or exorcize his bowl of curry rice.
At the same time, his
wife, the soul of kindness, who insisted we call her “Mama-san,” would
in an unconscious manner copy his hand gestures. Though I was told she
practise karate, I theorized that she was a secret master, who would provide
backup if her husband ever needed it.
After the meal was done, we would give
thanks by saying, “Gochisosama
by a bow in our seats. In the evening, we’d often retire to the living
next door, sit on the tatami mats and watch samurai dramas