The Long and Short of It
The first time I came to Japan, in 1977, I visited
O-Sensei after participating the IAKF world karate
championships in Tokyo. An American competitor had
kicked in the pelvis so severely that I had to be
and when I met O-Sensei in the company of my teacher,
Shane Higashi, and fellow competitor and Chito-Ryu
member David Green, I was hobbling,
barely able to walk. Getting in and out of cars,
I had to lift my leg with my hands because it hurt
too much to raise it with my leg and hip muscles.
I despaired at coming all the way to Japan and
then being too
injured to practise at the honbu.
the performance of Shotokan kata in Chito-Ryu dojo
was a source of tension between
Canada and Japan, the curriculum also wasn't standardized
in Japanese dojo. Here we are performing
Heian Yondan for one instructor. The difference,
I guess, is that at every Japanese dojo I ever
visited, Chito-Ryu kata were the main focus.
O-Sensei examined me and announced that
I would be able to practise in three days. Three days
later, I donned my gi and waited in the backyard dojo
for instruction. When O-Sensei
gave us a command, I shouted, “Osu!” as
we did in Canada to show that we understood a direction.
The master spoke to his son, who informed me
that his father didn’t like that word because
it was used by gangsters. (Instead I should say, "Hai.")
I was determined to redeem myself by
performing the deepest, most impressive zenkutsu-dachi
I could during basics. O-Sensei spoke to his son
again, who told me that in Chito-Ryu we don’t
use zenkutsu-dachi, the long signature stance of Shotokan karate.
My head reeled. I had to
relearn my karate from the ground up, including how
to do the shorter Chito-Ryu front stance, using inward
tension and a turned-in front foot (to protect
groin attacks), called
then hangetsu-dachi and later known in Chito-Ryu
as seisan-dachi. At the time I could not understand
why Chito-Ryu in Canada, under the leadership of Masami Tsuruoka-Sensei
teacher), was so different than what was done in Japan.
When I returned
to Japan, in 1979, the issue of the differences
between Japan and Canada
to a head. Before coming to Japan, Eric and I had
to come to his
Toronto dojo once a
week to practise
kumite. We did this for more than a year and benefited enormously from
the expert instruction of the Father of Canadian karate.
many dedicated students.
One day in Kumamoto, Eric and I were
ordered to attend a meeting with young Chitose-Sensei
instructors. They asked us about our visits to the
dojo and what we learned there. When questioned about
the kata performed, I said it was
class, but when
we did kata they were usually Shotokan kata (the Heian kata, Bassai-Dai,
Empi, Jion, etc.) and only occasionally a Chito-Ryu kata like Shihohai,
in low Shotokan stances.
Before coming to Japan, I had done a
grading for my nidan in front of Tsuruoka-Sensei (and
failed). Asked what kata I performed, I responded
that I was only instructed to do one: Bassai-Dai.
We had one more meeting like
this with senior Chito-Ryu people and then were brought
before O-Sensei and
in a similar manner. During the meeting O-Sensei looked extremely
despondent, staring off to the distance and sighing,
as if he had a hard decision to make.
I'm not sure why this suddenly became
such a pressing issue in Japan, what brought things
to head. It was obvious that a lot of thought
and soul-searching had gone on before Eric and I were
Eric and I were there when O-Sensei spoke
to Tsuruoka-Sensei on the phone about this situation.
I do not know if this was the conversation
in which the boom was actually lowered, or whether Tsuruoka-Sensei
had phoned in response to some official notification
conversation with Tsuruoka-Sensei
and then with Tsuruoka-Sensei’s wife.
At the end of the conversation, Tsuruoka-Sensei had me
I come to see him when I returned to Canada.
Back from Japan in August, I went to
dojo and met with him privately in his office. I told him
what I had
how I had answered.
He thanked me, offered no recriminations and then I left.
While a lot of hurt feelings attended
the split between Tsuruoka-Sensei and the Chito-Ryu
organization, and still linger, I think in many ways
the situation was
development of his
karate – if I may be allowed an opinion on someone
far my karate superior – Tsuruoka-Sensei
had a lot in common with the pioneering Shotokan instructors,
with their scientific analysis
of technique, stress
on body mechanics and well-thought-out, standardized
curriculum. It was natural for Tsuruoka-Sensei to want
to pursue his own ideas in
teaching karate. And it
was just as natural for O-Sensei to want someone in charge
in Canada who represented his karate in a manner that
he approved. He appointed Higashi-Sensei as his representative