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Shihan's Corner


In Search of the Chito-Ryu Essentials

 by Ken Sakamoto, Saikoh-Shihan

Thirty years have passed since I started to learn Chito-Ryu Karate, with an ambition to catch up O-Sensei. I would like to take this 30th anniversary of the start of my karate training as a good opportunity to think about the Chito-Ryu Karate essentials, which have somehow fluctuated through years. I do not want people to think of Tsuyoshi Chinen O-Sensei, the 6th Tode Master and founder of Chito-Ryu, as a legendary great man of the past. Besides, I think that it is a time for us to sum up what we experienced this last year's nightmare.

I will be subjective in writing this article, drawing upon my experience, even though I am not sure how how well I am able to attain the essentials of our Karate.

I have been trying my best to establish a system of theory and skills of the traditional Chito-Ryu Karate. But, without my Master, it seemed to me as if I was lost in a high, snow-covered mountain, desperately struggling to climb up toward its summit. However, when I remember his personal lessons, imbuing my body and mind, and try to analyze the skills he showed me, I feel something being awakened in my subconscious. These memories provide me with ideas and methods to overcome the steep rock walls in front of me and to cross the deep valley under my foot. These ideas and methods guide me with a light showing the way.

I cannot tell whether this is the last obstacle to get through before reaching the summit to grasp the "real meaning" of Chito-ryu. But now, at last, I can see a gate before me, through which I enter to find "the Heaven-Earth-Man form, the Kung Fu Karate." [I am not sure, but this may be a reference to Kung Fu no kata, the family kata of O-Sensei‹Peter Giffen>] This surely is " the form without form, the non-form with form" which I grasped from O-Sensei's lessons, when I was thunderstruck to realize that "O-Sensei's Karate is really extraordinary!"

If we had some leaders with high techniques and character who would show us the way to understand the real meaning of Chito-Ryu, we could be easily encouraged without so many difficulties to find out our level of learning. In the past, however, the form that could lead us to the essence, the real meaning of the traditional Karate Koryu, and a wide range of knowledge about it, was veiled as a ³secret form.² [i.e., Kung Fu no Kata? ‹PG>] This result, to our great regret, is abandoning our effort to establish the training method and ranking system. It was an escape from the harsh reality.

Some people said to me pretentiously, "Since the form of Karate Koryu has been inherited, sacred, by the Soke, it is a taboo to try to learn it. Even a Shihan cannot touch it." Some others said, "Chito-ryu Karate is nothing but a mixture of Shuri-te and Naha-te, so it's very, very light!." It looks like a taboo, still now, to talk about the "Karate Koryu."

But if so, I would like to write here what I have been thinking about it. I will explain my thoughts by answering two questions I have had in the past.

First, why did O-Sensei perform the "secret" form of Karate Koryu at so many public matches without hiding it at all?

O-Sensei must have been giving us a massage through his Karate again. He was trying to say: "Look at my form, and move carefully. Try to catch something through it. Study more, and come up here!" If it was the "secret form" to be inherited only by the Soke as some people insist, he would never have made it open to the public.

I heard that, at the competition for the 6th Karate Successor, several famous masters including O-Sensei fought each other with the "Kung Fu Karate."

I am now practicing "Koryu" so that I can perform the kata of Koryu-Tensho and Unsu at tournaments and reunions. But I am not yet mature enough to tell those people watching me how to catch something from my form. What I would like them to do, when they watch me trying to go up a little bit higher [in my training], is to perceive the tradition of the Koryu school.

I should say I am far below the level of skills to give my inner power to other learners, like O-Sensei used to do. But nothing will come out if you don't try to investigate.

In Karate Koryu, you have to get well disciplined by yourself (Naiko-Ho) as well as sufficiently trained to express yourself highly, regardless of the result of match. Otherwise, you would only follow your own movement without understanding what you are doing, so you can hardly expect your energy to reach other people. It is the world of "form without form," where you have to move following your own feeling.

I can easily understand why many Karate players, after long years of training, switch to other martial arts, including Taikyoku-ken (Bujutsu). They cannot be satisfied with themselves. I myself might have moved to Taikyoku-ken (Bujutsu) if there were no "Karate Koryu system" in our Chito-Ryu; because in Taikyoku-Ken they have established their theory and skills based on their own philosophy, with leaders to advise and guide learners to the right direction.

O-Sensei has successfully fulfilled his missionary role to show us the "Karate" tradition and carry it on, living through those difficult, unstable years. I am not exaggerating to say that it all depends on us, the present leaders, whether this Chito-Ryu, properly named by O-Sensei after the age's needs, as well as its history, tradition and skills, can survive or not.
As for me, I will start to learn some Koryu forms like Seichin (including monkey movements) and Ho-En (a primitive Kung Fu named by a master of the Obakusan in Fukien Province of China). Then I will challenge the final stage "Kung Fu."

I can only describe from what I learned about it because it is unknown form, but I am sure that the "Kung Fu" form has an enormous, exorbitant splendor to "unite in itself the Heaven and the Earth (the highest status of soul-body-unification, or Kyori)."

"The "Secret" is not hidden on purpose. It is something you have to acquire through self-training, self-concentration and insight based on your inner experience. The secret of any valuable thing, like all the forms of knowledge, cannot be obtained without making efforts. It has nothing to do with superficial knowledge. What matters is spiritual comprehension at your bottom of heart, which, like all the profound wisdom, you cannot get just at a glance." (Lama Anagalica Govinda)

Secondly, what did he want to say when O-Sensei often told us leaders, "I have taught you the first half, but not yet the second half" ?

The "second half" must mean "the form of karate Koryu" I have just explained here. But of this "second half," I have been studying it from another viewpoint.

When I mastered Kusanku and Ryusan forms, which they say are for high ranked players, I was somehow skeptical about the forms and techniques starting from "Li-chin" to Ryusan. I thought they were too short and was sure that something should be wrong. This drove me to study it from a different point of view.

And I found a lot of things I couldn¹t understand. For example, while Tenshin, a form for high ranked players, and Shiho-wari, a basic form, are both the skills needed to defend and counterattack, dodging aside, but how and in what way can you explain the difference between the two forms?I was afraid that Tenshin was not long enough to show its important features. Kusanku seemed to be inferior to other school¹s similar form, so too with Chinto, which included the same "Asuka" should be more refined. Rohai as well as Ryusan are incomplete. So is Kusanku. We can use the toe as a kicking technique [i.e., kick with toe instead of the ball of the foot‹PG] in Sochin , and the ippon-ken as a "tsuki", can¹t we? Can we also use the "Sui-ho (zigzag walking)" or "Sui-ken" technique for "Sanshiru", which is a sister form of "Goju-shiho"?

Regarding these points I asked many questions, sometimes directly, judging the right moment to ask, some other times indirectly, not only to understand each technique well, but also to get the clear image about each form. I was prepared to be scolded for some of the questions.

Why did I take these actions? Because I thought we could learn the sparring techniques well through forms like Seisan, Niju-shiho [Niseishi Sho?‹PG] and Henshu-ho. What we had to learn was the meaning of forms, I thought. Each technique was certainly important after Bassai, but if you did not understand what the forms were telling us, it was useless to exercise the "form" that was the fundamentals of Karate. Without understanding the meaning of forms, "we cannot insist that we have our own system, the Chito-Ryu forms and techniques."

Here I present the Ryusei Kata system, based on my own investigation about the "second half" of O-Sensei¹s word:

Basic form--- Seisan, Ni-seishi
Kei-i I---Bassai, Chinto, Sochin, Tenshin, Rohai
Kei-i II---Sanshiru, Ku-sanku
Koryu I---Ryushan, Tensho, Unsu, Seichin

"Kei-i I" is made from the image of animals¹ mind, whereas "Kei-i II" from that of human beings¹.

"The "Idea" is not a philosophical theory nor a metaphysical proposition, but it is a stimulus that drives us toward a new spiritual condition. We must look for our own way of self-expression and teaching method suitable for our time and environment, in order to keep the "idea" working lively in us." (Lama Anagalica Govinda)

The aim of learning Karate or the goal of Karate is not the same for all practioners. They have a variety of "values" depending on their motive, age, profession, experience, etc. It is, therefore, not an easy task to define the Karate-do with its indispensable principles. But the "essentials" on which our karate is constructed cannot ever be altered.

Each Karate school or group has established, in order to determine its own originality, its own idea and theory, for example, like "Traditional Karate", "Karate as a Martial Art", "Karate as a Fighting Art", "Karate as a Sport", "Karate Education", "Karate and Health", "Karate and Business Administration" and so on. They have been making a big effort to establish their Karate quality and to promote their social status for survival and proliferation.

Chito-Ryu, a "Karate-Do based on physiology and anatomy," was established by O-Sensei, who was also a medical doctor. He has tried to make it available to a lot of people, setting up "Peace and Perseverance--You shall reach your goal if you try your best!" as its educational idea, and "Accomplishment of Character" or "Consolidation of Humanity" its final goal. These are the facts of Chito-Ryu that we all can agree ton.

I have something important to tell you here. If we think that "the most important thing in our Chito-Ryu is nothing else but to believe in our historical facts and make succession of the teaching," [i.e., passing on the leadership of the style from father to son‹PG] if we, being afraid of harsh wind and waves, suppress a new movement towards technical innovation and re-creation in order to stay in our tradition, then what would happen? There is no doubt that we would stagnate and lag behind others, so that our Karate tradition (so strong and pure) could be spoiled sooner or later.

"Succession of Chito-Ryu tradition" does not mean just sticking to the old formalities. It means that we, living now in this world, should try to create our own skills and philosophy, and make them open to the world through our performance. Thus we can get more knowledge and wisdom, which should be of great use for us as well as for other people.

If we follow Chito-Ryu tradition in this way, we can also apply in practical use the philosophies of the Karate founders like O-Sensei, the martial art practitioners who contributed so much to Karate succession, and the old Kung Fu people. I am sure this is the duty of "Ryusei" [i.e., Sakamoto Sensei¹s new organization‹PG].

So do not say that O-Sensei's day is over. Should you say so, you deny your Karate, and Chito-ryu, too.

I do not know how deeply I have investigated the essentials of our Karate, so I hope to receive reader's critical opinions with their own thoughts about the Chito-Ryu essentials. I welcome your discussion for the development of our Karate.

This "Chito-Ryu Karate Essentials" have no more appropriate words to finish it than this: "achievement through efforts." [presumably one¹s personal efforts‹PG] But what to achieve and where to go? To answer these questions, the following words may be helpful. I appreciate your patience to read this article, and I pledge here to train myself more and more in order to deepen my investigation.

"A Karate player cannot prove his real achievement unless he lives long. I an 82 now, so... Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" (O-Sensei)

"The real power of respiration isn't coming out of my hand here, but of this stick there at 4 or 6 feet ahead, instantly! Like this..., here!" (Gesshu Sugawara Sensei, Master Morihei Ueshiba¹s disciple, Master of Aiki-Juhjusu, at Motomiya-Town of Fukushima Prefecture)

"When you play in a gymnasium you have to concentrate your mind, as if you were catching and pulling the whole building into yourself... Karate is, say, a moving Zen!" (Heshiki Sensei, Master of Matsubayashi Shorin School, in New York)

""Hakkei (internal explosion)" is similar to the power you use when you hit a flame pillar... but it's a tiny matter. You have to understand that Bujutsu is far bigger, much far...! " (A Master of Oh-Baku-San temple where a Zen-Master In-gen studied, in Fu Kien Province, China)