“The essence of Karate-do lies in the development of individuals… …Karate-do transcends social class, age and fortune, and it can be mastered by everybody.”
(KEMPO KARATE-DO Universal Art of Self Defence, An Illustrated Guide by Tsuyoshi Chitose, translated by Christopher Johnston. Shindokan International, Toronto, Canada. pg. 92)*
From China to Okinawa – The Inception of Karate:
Okinawa is a small island of about 1,207 square km that is part of a chain of islands in the South Seas. It is about 640 km from both China and Japan. Both these nations had a huge influence on the history of Okinawa and thus, the development of karate. It was from the indomitable spirit of the Okinawans which karate sprung as a system of self-defence that was much needed by this small nation which was forced to be unarmed for much of its history.
Okinawa was coveted by China and by Japan not only because it was along trade routes, it was also strategically located for military advantages. Both nations have ruled Okinawa, subjugating its population and banning weapons thus creating the impetus for Te to develop. China contributed to karate’s base: a) when many Okinawans traveled to China to learn its fighting arts, and b) from the Chinese who moved to and lived in Okinawa. These teachings were later molded by a population who needed to defend themselves without the use of weapons, to become an Okinawan system; a fully formed, empty hand, one blow, strong fisted practice of self-defence techniques. Later, during the 1920s, the now distinct Okinawan martial art was taken to and taught in Japan. The Japanese further adapted karate by developing the sports aspect of the martial art.
- Note: all further quotes are from this text: KEMPO KARATE-DO, by Tsuyoshi Chitose. ISBN 0-9687791-07 and are only referred to by the page they are found on.
Development of Te into Tode, an Okinawan Martial Art:
“The training in the old days consisted mostly of kata and defense.” (pg 13)
As Te developed there were no style associations but variations of the many self-defence techniques sprung out of Naha, a port town, Shuri, the site of the King and his castle, and in Tomari, another port city. These places are only about 5km distance from each other, not a long distance for a nation of people who were used to walking. Although karate is said to have been practiced in secret, martial artists of the time all lived close enough to each other that they could share what they were practicing to develop a very practical, effective system of training. The very core of karate are its forms (katas), the sets of defences and attacks that refer to combat and are practiced repeatedly to embed them into the martial consciousness of its practitioners. The katas that were developed in Okinawa are the basis for the katas we practice today and are the genesis around which karate continues to progress and develop. A variety of historical information is available about the katas that developed in each area and subsequently defined the different styles that individual karate teachers developed. Chito-Ryu developed from a combination of Naha te and Shuri te, reflecting the early training of the founder of Chito-Ryu, now known as Dr. Tsuyoshi Chitose or O Sensei (meaning great teacher).
Development of Karate and of Chito-Ryu:
“Budo is the stillness that results from discipline. It clears your soul and allows you to become one with nature… In this way it enables you to perceive movements of your opponent… you will understand how to avoid and side step in order to defend yourself against these movements” pg. 17)
O Sensei Chitose, founder of Chito-Ryu, was born as Chinen Gua in 1898 in Naha. Being the maternal grandson of Matsumura Soken (known as Bushi Matsumura), one of the best martial artists of his era, probably helped O Sensei Chitose’s entry into the world of Tode. He had opportunities to train with excellent karate teachers and practitioners of a martial art that had developed through centuries from a rich historical background, and at that time, there were huge opportunities to learn. At the age of 7 years, O Sensei Chitose had his beginnings training in the roots of Naha te from Aragaki Ou (5th master of Tode) and, as time passed, he had other opportunities to practice with many more masters in the art. The martial arts became his life-long study extending from karate into grappling, Judo and Okinawan weapons training. As well, he learned a wide variety of kata from what we now consider to be different styles of karate.
In 1905, O Sensei Chitose was present when the practice of Tode became accepted as part of the curriculum in the Okinawan school system and was taught by Itosu Sensei. He was a student of Gichin Funakoshi and a friend of his son. In the 1920s, Funakoshi Sensei went on to demonstrate Tode in Japan and was instrumental in the spread of Tode there, and for the changing of the name ‘Tode’ to ‘Karate’, meaning empty hand in Japanese.
Karate Development in Japan:
“Karate-do must never be something that we ourselves initiate.” pg 17
When O Sensei Chitose went to Japan to become a medical doctor, he changed his name to Tsuyoshi Chitose and continued to train with Funakoshi Sensei, as well as supporting him by teaching classes for him. O Sensei Chitose also trained extensively with and taught many of the people who created the many styles that are familiar to us now. During his time in Japan he also maintained contact with his Okinawan roots, and with Okinawan martial artists with whom he continued to train. Around 1937 he was involved with forming the Okinawan Prefecture Karate Do Promotion Society along with many other notable karate leaders of the time.
The Second World War was extremely devastating to Okinawa because it was the strategic militarily position from which the American Army and Navy launched their attack initiatives on Japan. The battle for control of the island nation between the Japanese and the Americans cost many innocent civilians their lives and among them were many of the Tode masters of the time. Because the devastation was so complete, many of the records, books, and historical accounts of the development of Tode were also destroyed. Some of the well-known Tode instructors died of starvation after the war as well. The death toll consisting strictly of Okinawans during this period has been conservatively estimated at around 150,000.
The aftermath of the war brought frequent contact with American soldiers stationed in Okinawa and Japan who wanted to learn this form of empty handed combat. O Sensei Chitose was based in Japan at that time, was invited to teach at an American Base and began to teach martial arts openly. Starting his first dojo in 1946, he was enthusiastically ready to teach karate to the new generation.
O Sensei Chitose sought to create a comprehensive curriculum for his students which incorporated the many aspects of his martial arts training. O Sensei Chitose was a proponent of protective equipment so that strikes in the karate dojo could more closely resemble a real life situation. Because he was a medical doctor, O Sensei Chitose focused on creating improving physical and mental health in his practitioners.
“Kempo Karate [is] a self defense method based on physiology that incorporates both offensive and defensive tactics.” pg 97
The underlying philosophy that guided O Sensei Chitose in his teachings is embodied in this statement: “…the spirit of karate-do is found in the saying: In karate, there is no first attack. This saying encompasses the view that karate is fundamentally an art of self defense, that it is not a martial art which is used to advance on and attack others”….pg 109
O Sensei Chitose knew that karate “forms a foundation in the lives of people” (pg 93) And, he had a vision, a singular purpose which was to teach karate to the youth of the world to assist the development of their character and their health. He wanted the practice of karate spread to all.
O Sensei Chitose did not immediately create a distinctive name for the karate he was teaching, continuing to use the term Kempo Karate-do, which is the title of his book. Later, he honoured the memory of one of his first teachers and of karate’s roots in China by referring to his curriculum, his style as Chito-Ryu, the “thousand era style.” Because O Sensei Chitose had been brought up in a world rich with Tode practitioners and knowledge, he then honoured his past and his karate teachers by creating kata that preserved these roots.
“Karate kata should be practiced over and over so that the details of every movement are thoroughly grasped…with a clear idea of how the techniques should be used in any situation. There are many defensive and offensive techniques in the kata and many oral traditions concerning them.” (Written by Itosu Sensei, pg 115)
O Sensei Chitose also imbued his kata with variations based on principles of healthy physical practice; a reflection of his knowledge as a doctor. He broadened the syllabus by incorporating weapons training, grappling techniques, judo throws and joint locks, eventually creating a broad based, curriculum rich style for his students. O Sensei Chitose had high rankings in Judo, Kobujutsu and other martial arts in addition to an extensive base in karate due to his diversified training experiences.
Karate Spreads to North America:
“In Karate, movements in any direction are well balanced and because each movement of the arms and legs is in reaction to an imaginary assailant with prescribed intentions, we move with full energy in a very precise fashion.” (pg 112)
One of O Sensei Chitose’s first foreign students in the 1940s was Canadian born Masami Tsuruoka who trained with him about 10 years before returning to Canada. The young black belt was instrumental in inaugurating, on foreign soil, O Sensei Chitose’s dream of spreading karate to the youth of the world (pg 21) when he opened a dojo in Canada in 1957.
Tsuruoka Sensei had been teaching for about 4 years in his Toronto dojo, travelling the country training and teaching when he brought practitioners of many styles together for a North American tournament. One of his students, Shane Yukio Higashi won the silver medal for kumite the first year and the next year, won gold in kumite. Tsuruoka Sensei (10th Dan, Hanshi [1929-2014]) is known as “the Father of Canadian Karate” for introducing karate to Canada, for his support of other martial artists in their beginnings and for working to unite the styles of karate in Canada under one banner, the National Karate Association now known as Karate Canada. Tsuruoka Sensei honours O Sensei Chitose by stating the following:
“I am pleased …that Chitose Sensei is getting the recognition he deserves as one of the pioneers of karate-do in Japan and abroad.” (pg 11)
In 1952, a young soldier named William J. Dometrich (9th Dan, Hanshi [1935-2012]) committed to learning karate, had to patiently wait outside O Sensei Chitose’s dojo a number of times before he was accepted as one of his students. Once he was allowed to train, William Dometrich found it to be very strenuous and difficult but was in good enough shape to train hard. Later William Dometrich would return to the United States to open a dojo and with his wife Barbara, become the co-founder of the United States Chito-Kai Federation (USCKF). Dometrich Sensei continued to teach well into his 70s, spreading karate throughout the U.S. He stated: Tsuyoshi Chitose “was, in many ways a major force in the development of modern Japanese Karate-do…. He is gradually being recognized by karate-ka of all styles as one of the key Sensei in the development of today’s modern karate.” (pg 13)
In the mid-50s O Sensei Chitose was instrumental in founding “…the Kyushu Association Head Quarters of the All Japan Karate–do Promotion Society, and became its President.” (pg. 23)
In the very early 60s, O Sensei Chitose was invited to Hawaii to teach karate. He must have been very gratified to know that he was fulfilling even more of his dream to spread the learning of Karate-do to the youth, the future citizens and leaders of the world. He spent at least 4 months there teaching not only what had become known as Chito-Ryu, but other kata he had learned from some of his original karate teachers.
O Sensei Chitose made trips to Canada in 1967, 1973 and 1982 and spent much time travelling the country, training students and promoting them as well. In 1979, Shane Higashi was appointed the head of Chito-Ryu in Canada (Councillor) and Sensei David Akutagawa was appointed as Vice Councillor. In 1996, Sensei Akutagawa separated from Canadian Chito-Ryu and went on to form his own organization. Sensei Higashi has worked tirelessly for more than five decades to teach and vigorously promote Chito-Ryu across Canada and internationally. O Sensei Chitose’s passing in June of 1984 was mourned internationally by the karate world.
“Karate-do… can provide nourishment for the mind and body for anyone who desires it.” (pg 92)
In Canada, Shane Higashi (10th Dan, Hanshi [b. 1940]) continues to show dedication to his teacher, O Sensei Chitose, by working industriously with a demanding teaching schedule to impart and share O Sensei Chitose’s vision with the next generations of karate-ka. Higashi Sensei ensures that O Sensei Chitose’s Chito-Ryu karate is still practiced with due care and impressive attention to detail. Further, Higashi Sensei continues to honour his teacher by continuously researching and developing a deepening understanding of the techniques and their applications. His learning becomes his teachings and these are passed to his senior students and from them to the rest of the practitioners.
For over half a century, Higashi Sensei has worked to carry on the dream of O Sensei Chitose: teaching karate while being satisfied with nothing but excellence in performance and attitude. He encourages his students to develop their practice and broaden their knowledge of Chito-Ryu karate. Higashi Sensei teaches children with gentle encouragement and adults as they require, while he challenges and guides all to promote and share O Sensei Chitose’s Chito-Ryu with all the corners of the world.
It was ensured that “isshin” was printed in kanji at the start of all the newly revised Canadian Chito-Ryu technical manuals. Isshin translates to “oneness of heart and spirit.” This Japanese word embodies the unity and the harmony he is working to promote among all his students, through O Sensei Chitose’s, and now his, Chito-Ryu group. Higashi Sensei has dedicated a lifetime to being the exemplar of O Sensei Chitose’s vision for all of us. We are all taught to reach our goals through the practice of “peace, perseverance and hard work.”
The Canadian Chito-Ryu Karatedo Association has grown under the guidance of both Higashi Sensei and the Canadian Technical Committee into the World Chito-Ryu Karatedo Federation with affiliate members in other countries around the globe. The Canadian Chito-Ryu Karatedo Association continues to welcome Chito-Ryu groups and other karate organizations into their fold who share a passion for seeking the spirit of karate and an appreciation for the philosophy of “isshin.”
“So it is my hope that the tireless, professional devotion of each of you, spreading the spiritual and physical training aspects of karate-do widely throughout the country, may contribute to the spiritual cultivation and physical betterment of people all over the country.” (pg 21)