Text: John Ingham
Photos: John Ingham
KARATE – DO GOJU – RYU
I AM NOBODY – GOING NOWHERE – AND A LONG TIME TO GET THERE
I would like to dedicate this short account of my karate training to Kisaki Sensei. I have very fond memories of him and the things he taught me. It is not possible to write about everything in such a short space, but the impact will last with me for the rest of my life.
The most inspirational discussions I have ever had were with him sitting in his office above the Yuishinkan Dojo. It didn’t seem strange at the time that I was receiving very Christian talks from a very Buddhist man.
I would like my great students to be able to understand our connection with Goju Ryu and the important part they play in that history. The best way for that to happen is for them to be able to understand where our karate came from.
At the end of the last private training I experienced with Kisaki Sensei in the Yuishinkan Dojo, he said to me how happy he was. “Mr Miyagi passed his karate to me. I have now passed that karate on to you John. I am so happy Mr Miyagi’s karate did not stop with me. You must make sure you pass on this karate or 2,000 years of Budo will stop with you. You must not let that happen or you will be the one that has lost it.” Mr Kisaki died a short time later.
Mr Kisaki once said to me that if I could not follow, how could I lead. The prospect of leading anyone is very scary. When I look at the great students I have, I can see how important this is. Friends like Glen, Phil, Garry, Mark, David, Theo, Mac, Ken, and others continue to inspire me. I can’t name all of the students here, but they have all impacted in one way or another. When I was putting pen to paper, I compared myself to Alfred after his return to training. I remember what I was like when I was a Green belt, and to be honest, I was no where near as good as Alfred. Then I looked at the great black belts we have and then I compared myself to them when I was 1st and 2nd Dan. Knowing my standard and understanding back then and the standard of the black belts today, I would have been too ashamed to stand in the same line as them because I can see how low my standard really was. I hope I can be worthy to carry everything I have been given to do.
I was once asked by Kisaki Sensei why I started doing karate in the first place. I told him that for some reason, I had always wanted to do it, but I was not really sure why. He sat in his chair in the Yuishinkan Dojo, dressed only in his Fundoshi, (the old Japanese underwear), and he then looked at me for a few short moments and then smiled, almost reverently and said, “You did not choose karate John, Destiny chose you.”
In the Beginning
With those words of Kisaki Sensei in mind, perhaps it is not prudent to start this story of my journey in karate at my karate beginning, but to go back further, to another beginning. I now know that Destiny certainly did have something in mind for me, right from the beginning. Perhaps karate was one thing in mind for me because from my first breath, I was fighting.
I have been told on occasions that I may be a bit determined in the things that I pursue. Perhaps it could be seen by some people as stubbornness. I will leave that up to them to decide. I remember once when I was shearing in Millicent and I told the farmer that I would really like to join the police force. I recall with great clarity his response, “John, you are a shearer. You will always be a shearer, so know your place in life.” I never thanked him for that. For me, that was one of the greatest motivational speeches I have ever received.
The world is full of people that can’t, I am only interested in the people that can. I do not have much time for people that have a problem and feel self pity. Get over it and get on with it. Life will not sit and feel sorry for you. Use what you have been given and be grateful. Many people are not as lucky as us, especially as lucky as me.
“The only thing that changes with any problem, is the way you handle it.”
“For every problem, there is always an answer, but are you smart enough to find it.”
I did, and to the best of my knowledge, still do hold the record for being the smallest baby ever born in the Millicent Hospital that survived. I have been reliably informed that I was born almost three months premature. Our family doctor, Dr. David Harris, once told me that when I was born I looked either like a rat or monkey. He could not really make up his mind.
He told me that I was so small that he remembers laying me on the palm of his hand, my head on his finger tips and my feet touching his wrist. I spent a long time in hospital and the joy for my parents must have been great, because after an extensive time, I was allowed to come home. This was the beginning of a life full of good luck. I honestly consider myself to be a very lucky person. If I had been born a few years earlier, I probably would not have lived after the first few days. I had been given a challenge, and I had won that first fight.
More good luck came my way when I was about three years old. I am told that I contracted polio. My Aunty, Aileen Bellman, told me that my mother and grandmother spend endless days looking after me during that period of sickness. I am so lucky because in those days, most people that suffered from polio usually had problems with their legs. It was not until I was about 55 years old that I found out that my lungs had been affected by the polio. I was so lucky that I did not end up in an Iron Lung. It appears that I do have reduced lung capacity, but I have lived with it all of my life so in reality, I don’t know anything else.
My luck continued as I got older and when I was about ten years old, I contracted Encephalitis in the brain. I think some of my family would say that this contributed to the simple brain that I seem to possess now. Another young lad in Millicent from the Stephen’s family also contracted the same illness as I did and it was about the same time. I was extremely lucky because I appear to have escaped unscathed, unfortunately, the other lad was not so lucky. The only thing I do really remember clearly about this illness was that when I was in hospital, I knew I just wanted to die. I actually begged for that to happen. Once I was better, I was very angry with myself, even being so young, for nearly giving up. I never gave up again in anything I did after that.
When I was about 13, I remember falling over and unfortunately, I managed to cut my left elbow right in the joint. I went to the doctor and this was stitched and in the first few days, everything seemed to be okay. The following week my arm had gone to a very swollen lump of which I had not control at all. To move it, I had to lift my wrist and move the arm. I had a huge lump under my arm and there was a blue line moving across my chest. My parents took me to the doctors and as soon as he saw it, he gave me a couple of injections and the pulled the “Cone of Silence” around my bed, actually it was a very light curtain, and told my parents to get me to the hospital immediately as if they had brought me to see him fifteen minutes later, he would be amputating my arm. Once again, I was very lucky and I had won another fight.
I have been subject to a few other fights, such as a back operation and I also spent a little bit of time in hospital as a result of burns from a burst hot water bottle. It was at that moment when I was ten years old when I wanted to give up when I had Encephalitis in the brain, I decided that the principle to “never give up again” has guided me through the challenges with my health and it has been a driving force in my police career and my life. It has also been my companion throughout my journey in karate. I have never been satisfied with not doing my best. The world is full of people that give up. I will never be one of those people. I was given a wonderful body when I was born and I will give back a wonderful body when I die. I am a firm believer of “What is, not, What if”
So, after Destiny chose me and gave me very valuable experience in fighting and endurance, I started my karate training in Millicent, South Australia in 1970. Even though I was always interested in the martial arts, there was not much exposure to it, especially in a small country town.
I was playing soccer at the time and a player from Melbourne, Malcolm Lomax, came to play for our club and the rumour was that he had martial arts experience. After a very short time Malcolm had quite a few people training with him in his back yard. Even though I really enjoyed soccer, I was not blessed with natural talent for the game so I decided to ask Malcolm if I could train with him to try and improve my soccer. I was allowed to train with his group and I have to say, I enjoyed the non-sophistication of the training. There was no understanding of kata and to be honest, I am not sure that Malcolm knew that much about them. Most of the focus was on fighting.
A few of us trained in Malcolm’s back yard with no structured training until one of the members, Bob Crowe, found a real karate club in Adelaide and came back and told us about it. He was so excited because they actually had a Japanese teacher and the members looked “Bloody good and very hard”.
After a short time, contact was made with the manager of the club, a gentleman called Mr Don Bates, and after a short time of what seemed like intense negotiations, we were accepted as members of Goju Ryu Seishikan and Millicent became a recognised dojo. The most important people within the Seishikan Dojo for me were Shihan Masao TADA (5 Dan) who was sent to Adelaide from the Hombu Dojo in Kyoto and Sensei Phil Bates (2 Dan) and Sensei John Plant (2 Dan). These instructors made regular monthly trips to Millicent for training. I remember with great pride and trepidation the first time Tada Sensei came to Millicent for training. He arrived in the main street of Millicent, George Street, with his wife and two sons, Mr & Mrs Don Bates, Senseis Phil Bates and John Plant and also Graham Skanell, another of the Seishikan Black Belts.
The Millicent Karate Club welcoming committee consisted of the students Steven Szabo, Bob Crowe, Dean Slaughter and I. My mother, Wilma, was also there.
The arrival of Tada Sensei was in fact an historical occasion in the slowly evolving history of Millicent. He was the first real master of any martial arts to not only come to Millicent, but also anywhere in the south east of the state. It is very hard to describe the pride I felt that Saturday morning, standing in front of the Millicent Post Office with that fine band of people. All of them in one way or another, impacted on me in ways that I could not fully realise until many years later. It is a little sad now to look at the picture of the grand arrival because many of those in the picture have at since died and left a huge emotional void in many people. My pride still remains and has not changed at all but thank goodness, my hair and style of clothes have!
Tada Shihan & his wife and two sons when they arrived at Millicent for the first time.
The training under Tada Shihan was not only ruthless, but it was also merciless and every training was an achievement, if you survived. He ruled with an iron fist and he had the ability to develop a very strong fighting spirit in all that trained with him. Nobody ever gave up, if you did, you left the dojo for good.
It was during this time that I really understood the meaning of fear. I clearly remember each time I went to the Hombu Dojo in Gunson Street, Adelaide. I enjoyed the drive from Millicent to Adelaide and as I approached the ‘Eagle on the Hill’, a well known landmark in the Adelaide Hills, I would always start to feel sick By the time I reached the dojo, I was actually physically sick and I would have to stop so as not to make a mess of the interior of my car. One Friday night as I approached the dojo, I had to stop to be sick. As I did, a police car pulled up behind me and the two police members got out of their patrol car and as they walked up to me I heard one of the policemen say, “Boy, have we got a drink driver here. Look at this silly bugger” After a very short conversation and I had provided my driver’s license to them, I told them I didn’t actually drink alcohol but I was just going to karate training. One of the officers asked me where I was going to do the training and I told him, “Gunson Street”. I really felt great after he said, “Oh Jesus, you poor bugger. Are you training with Mr Tada? You poor bastard and good luck mate.” They left and walked back to their car and as they faded into the night, I heard the last words of comfort, “That poor bugger is stuffed.” These great public protectors were very familiar with Tada Sensei as he was teaching karate and self defence to the police recruits at Fort Larges, the South Australian Police Academy. Oh yes, they knew Tada Sensei alright.
It is probably difficult for some of the members in the martial arts these days to understand what training was like back in those days. Every training saw so much blood and bruises. I remember the Millicent Dojo had a clock on the wall and as we trained, I would watch the seconds slowly ticking by. I can remember one particularly hard training with Tada Sensei in our dojo and thinking “Oh God, another second has gone, thank you”
Tada Shihan at one of the first trainings in Millicent
If blood was not on your gi, then you did not train hard enough. I certainly preferred the blood to be someone else’s though. In Millicent we had some very strong people and I think it was very good that nobody would ever give up. It did not matter how sore or what injury you had, you never gave up. Perhaps the fact that I was a shearer at the time enabled me not think too much about the pain then, or I was just too stupid to realise it hurt.
Our initial training in the Millicent Dojo after commencing with Tada Sensei and Seishikan was very basic. All we knew of real karate were front punch, middle point block and two kicks, groin and stomach kicks. We practised these techniques vigorously for two hours every night and of course, we added physical training as well. It wasn’t unusual to do at least 1,000 full squats each night. The squats we did then were full squats with the feet parallel and flat on the ground. Looking back it is easy to see that this was in fact not good for our bodies.
I was never really afraid of any students in Millicent and I loved the contact of kumite. The person I loved to fight with the most was a Japanese instructor that was living with us, Satoshi Inada. He was Sho Dan, not very big, but he was a great fighter. He was very good, but the thing he hated the most was I was able to read what he was going to do in the fighting so I could counter it. It was not good karate that enabled me to outsmart him; it was my desperation to ensure I did not get hurt too much. I did not tell Satoshi until much later how I could read his coming moves. If he changed them then, I could get hurt even more. He said a few things that should not be repeated here.
I remember when a Japanese Second Dan, Fujitsugu Osada, came to South Australia from the Hombu Dojo in Kyoto to train and live. The first time I trained with him there were only three of us in the dojo, Satoshi Inada, Mr Osada and me.
Mr Osada wanted to start the training with fighting instead of basics or kata. I thought that was a bit strange and he kept speaking in Japanese to Satoshi and making reference to my height.
I was a bit taller than him but he was Japanese, so I was a bit afraid. He wanted to fight me first but I was able to persuade Satoshi to fight him first so I could see how Mr Osada fought. Because I was older than Satoshi, he really did not have much choice in the matter. Boy I really loved Japanese culture that afternoon.
The only way I could describe the beauty of their fighting was like watching two frill necked lizards attacking each other. It was beautiful, powerful and also frightening.
I was so engrossed in the moment of their fighting that I did not realise that they had finished. Mr Osada then said he would like to fight me now. I heard him say in Japanese that he was told Australians were not strong or fast, so he was looking forward to the fight. I could see I had the reputation of the Australian Nation on my shoulders that cold Saturday afternoon, so I was going to make sure he knew what we were like. I was not fast, that was true, but he had never fought an Australian shearer before. With the pride of a country and fear in my heart, Satoshi started the fight. After a few very painful exchanges of blows, mostly from Mr Osada I decided to use my foot sweep. I had been told by my students that it was a bit painful when I used it. I waited until Mr Osada moved his feet and then I swept as hard as I could and I remember punching him twice in his ribs and he went down on the floor and appeared to have a bit of difficulty breathing. As Mr Osada was trying to stand up, Satoshi was castigating me for the lack of control and hitting Mr Osada so hard. He said it was not a good thing to do. As Mr Osada turned away from us, Satoshi was smiling so much and gave me a victory salute and kept muttering “Yes, Yes, Yes”. I later found out that in Japan, Mr Osada and Satoshi used to fight a lot in the Hombu Dojo and Satoshi was always on the receiving end of numerous beatings from Mr Osada. I think Satoshi was forgetting his Japanese heritage and was becoming influenced by us Australians. When I foot swept Mr Osada, I am not sure who received the greater shock, me for sweeping him, or him for being swept. Aussie pride was preserved, and so was my body. We became very good friends after that and he eventually lived in our house as well. We went on to have many friendly and bloody encounters in training.
There were very good fighters in Seishikan, especially in Adelaide. Sensei Phil Bates and Sensei John Plant quickly come to mind. They were both 2 Dan at the time and the things that impacted on me the most were the determination and dedication these instructors constantly displayed. Neither Bates Shihan nor Plant Sensei were giants in stature, not compared to some of the other senior students, but they never gave up in any part of karate. You had to fight for your life and if you did not, you would soon be on the floor and not able to get up for a while. I was most inspired by these two men as they were not Japanese, but they both displayed the exact traits of the two masters I had trained under, Tada Shihan and Tsujimoto Shihan. They were like fearsome Japanese warriors, but in Australian skins. It was always so scary when Bates Shihan would smile at you when he was fighting, because you knew that he had your measure and you were about to get a severe pounding. The frightening thing was that you just never knew where the attack would come from because he was so flexible. Plant Sensei would just drive his punches in and you could feel your internal organs falling apart. I felt the utmost respect for him and decided not to ever push him too much when I saw him break a person’s leg clean in half in a championship. That vision has never left me.
Bates Shihan and Plant Sensei were wonderful fighters and had marvellous control and always looked after you. I remember when I did my first grading in the Adelaide Dojo under Tada Shihan; I thought everything went well until the kumite. Tada Shihan told a group of us to stand in two lines in the middle of the dojo and face our opponents. I was not looking in front of me and when I stood up straight after bowing, I saw the most horrifying sight in front of me, Sho Dan, Peter Hudson. For the members in Australian karate in the 1970’s, you did not have to describe Peter Hudson. Everyone knew him.
He was quite tall, was so powerful, had no understanding of control and could not envisage the meaning of pain. I wondered what I had done so wrong in my life to be standing in front of the devil himself. When Shihan Tada was not looking, I respectfully asked Peter not to be too hard on me. He said, “No worries, I will take it easy on you”. He would just make it look good. After his first kick, I was trying to find the truck that must have somehow got into the dojo because I knew it had hit me. I could not believe a person could be hit so hard and still be alive. At least I thought. I was still alive.
The punishment kept coming, my body was deteriorating, Peter was happy and in the corner of my eye, I could see Shihan Bates and Sensei Plant trying to hide smiles that seemed to be getting bigger all of the time. I did not know two minutes could last that long. My only consolation was Tada Shihan said I did a great job. It really helps when you think the devil has come to claim your soul.
About a month after the grading, Tada Sensei came to Millicent with Sensei Phil and Sensei John and he was going to present our grading certificates. After we had trained for a while, Tada Sensei asked four students, Bob Crowe, Steven Szabo, Dean Slaughter and me, to come to the front of the class.
I was very happy because I was to receive my very first grading certificate. How stupid can one person be to think that it would be so simple? Tada Sensei told us to step in Sanchin step as in the first step of the kata. This is one time in my life that I really thanked God for letting me be the last to receive something. I was the last in the line and as we stood in the Sanchin posture, I could see out of the corner of my eye Phil and John Plant standing at the front and looking a little puzzled.
Tada Sensei walked up to the first person in the line and stood in front of him and then out of nowhere came a sickening sound of a deep thud and then an almost un-natural groan. I did not know what it was, but I heard Steven Szabo sink to the floor in what can only be described as immense pain.
Tada Sensei moved along the line and faced each student then I realise the thud was one of his kicks. Each person received their stomach kick and each person groaned and fell to the floor or staggered like a tall building after an earthquake. Falling would have been better.
Time can move slowly and it appeared to be in very slow motion, then Tada Sensei was standing in front of me. Hell was at the gate and here was the devil himself. All Tada Sensei said to me was, “Hard.” I looked into those deep bottomless pits that were supposed to be his eyes and there was nothing there. I increased the power in my stance and it was so hard I thought I had broken the bones in my hands. My feet nearly ripped the wooden floor and I held my stomach so tight and I tried to lean forward in a way that could not be seen. Sweat was dripping down my face. It felt as if I was under a water fall somewhere else. Perhaps my subconscious was trying to help me escape the moment. I did not even see Tada Sensei’s foot move but my God, I felt it. I really thought that my belly button was now poking out of my back. I absorbed the kick and I was so happy that I did not sink to the floor. I think it took me a few minutes to release the pressure in my body.
Tada Sensei smiled at us as if we had been given a special blessing. We were then presented with our first karate certificates and the greatest shock, we received our green belts. I was in a group of four that were the first in Australian Seishikan to ever receive a green belt at their first grading. I think that record is still in tact.
In 1974 Tada Shihan returned to Japan and Tsujimoto Shihan (5 Dan) replaced him as the representative from the Hombu Dojo. Tsujimoto Shihan was from Osaka and even though he was of the Seishikan Dojo, his karate was different. Tsujimoto Shihan was influenced by Kisaki Sensei and the Goju Ryu of the Yuishinkan Dojo. What really surprised me the most about Tsujimoto Shihan was the way he kicked and his kumite. It was not until much later that I realised Tsujimoto Shihan’s way of kicking was really Goju Ryu and it demonstrated the techniques of Kisaki Sensei. I think every one was very surprised to see Tsujimoto Shihan did not fight in Neko Ashi Dachi as Tada Shihan did. To me, this was a great improvement as we did not have to suffer so many injuries.
Tsujimoto Sensei in Millicent
The training under Tsujimoto Shihan was very difficult and very hard as well, but he led with compassion and dedication. His approach was different to that of Tada Shihan. He was a loving family man and that reflected in his training. He had a very good understanding of kata and the various applications that could be utilised.
I first experienced the power and impact of his Goju Ryu when I first did kumite with Tsujimoto Shihan. His fighting did not look as fast as Tada Shihan, but the impact was terrible. I remember him kicking me twice in the stomach and on both occasions, I could not stand up for quite a while. I was not winded, but I lost complete control of my legs. He had complete devastation in his karate. We did not follow him through fear, but a real desire to be like him. Tada Shihan had implemented a never give up under any circumstance attitude, but Tsujimoto Shihan refined that ideal with one of never give up, but also utilise kindness and never show the enemy any weakness, even though it may exist within you. Under Tsujimoto Shihan I really developed a desire to learn more about the Goju Ryu he was teaching and the real impact of his kata. I could see there was so much more in them than we really understood.
Kumite with Tsujimoto Sensei. I got the punch in, but I felt real Goju Ryu after with his kicks. Will I ever learn?
What I really liked about the early days were the championships. There was no protective equipment such as gloves, mouth or groin guards. There were no ranking such as grade, height or age etc. Everyone’s name went into bucket and then they drew out the competitors names. A 10 Kyu could be matched with a 2 Dan. It did not matter. I can remember at the National Goju Championships in Adelaide in the mid 70’s, the team from New South Wales were wearing groin protectors and one of the Japanese instructors wanted the team disqualified. I am not sure how the dispute was resolved but they ended up fighting. I really enjoyed that tournament because my team from Millicent were lucky enough to come second in the team event. I had never felt such pride in my life before that tournament, our little team from the country almost beat the powerful New South Wales team. I can remember saying to our team members that we may not win, but make them fight for every point they may get and don’t give them anything. It almost worked.
SA state championships. Again, hair and no gloves.
Another thing that I distinctly remember from that tournament was meeting Ceberano Shihan for the first time. I was getting changed in the change room and Ceberano Shihan came in to wash his hands and he spoke to me and wished me luck and asked where I came from. What impressed me so much about him was the fact that I met him again many years later and he still remembered my name. For me, Ceberano Shihan was, and remains a true gentleman.
Training in Japan
When I moved to Melbourne in 1981, I changed my karate direction a little and commenced training under Noda Shihan (6 Dan) from the Kujukan Dojo in Kyoto. Noda Shihan’s karate was not foreign to me as he used to be a senior student of the Seishikan Dojo as well. During my first visit to Japan in 1984, I was training at the Kujukan Hombu Dojo when Noda Shihan came in one morning to take me to have private training with Harasaki Shihan (8 Dan) I was lucky to have private training with him everyday and all of the time was spent on kata and the bunkai and other training.
After I had been training privately with Harasaki Shihan for two weeks I was told I was ready to go and train at the Yuishinkan Dojo in Osaka. At that stage I did not know about the Yuishinkan Dojo or the master, Kisaki Sensei. I also did not know about the plan for me to go to train in the Yuishinkan Dojo. I can still clearly remember driving to the dojo with Noda Shihan and arriving at the Yuishinkan Dojo. I was a little bit concerned because Noda Shihan started displaying signs of stress. When we walked to the door of the Yuishinkan Hombu Dojo and bowed, it immediately became apparent why Noda Shihan appeared to be a little apprehensive. I had never seen such ferocious training in my life. To me, this was like stepping back in time and I was looking at Samurai fighting. There was power, grace, beauty and utmost control. I immediately remembered Tsujimoto Shihan as this training was a direct reflection of him.
I knew this was the real start of my martial arts life. None of the hard training I had previously done had prepared me for this. I knew my training paled into insignificants and I was now exposed to a level of severity and learning that I did not know existed.
The training in the Yuishinkan Dojo was extremely hard. I could not believe the intensity and the duration of all members. Even the children set a very high standard of ability and endurance. I remember one night at Kisaki Sensei’s house we had dinner and it was very hot and I was wearing a “T” shirt and he wanted to know what the silly picture was on the front. He said the picture looked like a dead person. I said respectfully to him that I know his training in the Yuishinkan Dojo was very difficult, but I had survived Marysville and our winter camp. He just smiled and said gently, “Haha – Kangaroo, we will see.”
Some of our students in the hall at Marysville. We had just completed 2 hours of kin geri, non stop.
The Yuishinkan Dojo not only had their own senior instructors at training every night, but also masters from other Ryu’s as well. There was a multitude of Yuishinkan 7 Dan’s training every night including Nakayama Sensei, Oota Sensei, Taniguchi Sensei, Nagoya Sensei, and a few others as well. I was also lucky enough to train with Yoneda Shihan of Shito Ryu. He was a very close friend of Kisaki Sensei and he used to train on a very regular basis in the Yuishinkan Dojo. Coming from Australia, it was very difficult to comprehend the possibility of training with so many high ranking instructors.
In the Yuishinkan Dojo with Taniguchi Sensei, Sensei Eddy Devos of Belgium.
I was impressed at each training by the standard and the knowledge these members had. It did not matter how many questions I had for a move in a kata, they would answer it instantly then have a dozen more options then challenge me to find even more possible uses. My brain started to ache a lot after a few trainings. I just could not keep up with the explosion of information.
During my first trip to Japan, Harasaki Shihan recommended that I receive a private lesson from Kisaki Sensei. At that stage, I did not really comprehend the importance of that suggestion. I was not really familiar with Kisaki Sensei, except to say I knew he was the head of the Yuishinkan Dojo.
I was told by Harasaki Shihan that Kisaki Sensei was a direct student of Chojun Miyagi Sensei and he had also received a lot of private training with Miyagi Sensei. Kisaki Sensei also attended Ritsumaken University in Kyoto and trained at the Goju Dojo within the university. Kisaki Sensei was not a student of Gogen Yamaguchi Shihan as has been expressed by some other karate instructors. Harasaki Shihan showed me several old photographs of Kisaki Sensei and Miyagi Sensei together. I remember asking Kisaki Sensei once if he was a student of Yamaguchi Shihan and he answered emphatically “NO”. I never asked again.
When Kisaki Sensei and I were training in the dojo by ourselves, he showed me some techniques taught to him by Miyagi Sensei. At that stage I feel that they were beyond my understanding. The initial training with Kisaki Sensei was extremely intense and mentally draining.
After I trained regularly in the Yuishinkan Dojo, Kisaki Sensei invited me to train privately with him on a daily basis. The training became very difficult because I now trained from 4.30 to 6.00p.m with the juniors, then from 7.00 p.m. until 10.pm. and I was also expected to train by myself as well in the dojo. The training with Kisaki Sensei was usually from 1.00 to 3.00 p.m.
When Kisaki Sensei decided to give me private lessons he asked me to choose just learning the Goju kata movements with an understanding of the classical bunkai, or learning the kata and then being able to find many applications that were not always obvious. I chose to learn and find.
Kisaki Sensei then said that he would teach me how to find so many things in the kata and how it can be used. All I can say is that after that time, I was continually amazed at the things that are in the kata and how they can be applied in so many other ways.
I have been doing karate now for 40 years and I am afraid that I do not have enough time to learn everything. I continued this private training with Kisaki Sensei for 13 years prior to his untimely death
I was very honoured one day because Kisaki Sensei told me he was going to take me to Okinawa to train with some of the Masters there and then to China to train with the old Masters he continued to train with. I was told by Nakayama Sensei that Kisaki Sensei had never taken anybody to China for the intense training with the Chinese Masters and I must understand how important this was for him to choose me. He said Kisaki Sensei was a very important man in Karate, he said like a God. I saw that importance one day in Osaka when there was a meeting in the Yuishinkan Dojo between Kisaki Sensei and Hayashi Shihan of Hyashi – Ha Shito Ryu. I was shocked to see Hayashi Shihan (10 Dan) bowing lower than Kisaki Sensei (9 Dan) and bowing three times. It put into perspective the enormity of this man. His ability was only exceeded by his humility.
After a very intense private training with Kisaki Sensei, he told me to stay in the Dojo because he was going to have a meeting with some other teachers and he wanted me there with him. After the high ranking teachers arrived and they had some Japanese Tea and Scottish whiskey, one of the teachers went to Kisaki Sensei’s office to collect something. When he came back to the group with the article, Kisaki Sensei presented me with a document that was made of Japanese Rice paper and on the document there were characters of Chinese men in various karate poses.
Each individual character was printed from a wood carving and each one was different. The total made a sequence that had been assembled just for me. There was also Chinese writing on the document that came from a wood block as well. The document had Kisaki Sensei’s stamp and other stamps of importance as well. One of the teachers that was at the meeting said that this document as presented was the only one in the world and there would never be another one the same ever. He said the original wood blocks were nearly one thousand years old and the Masters from China had given them to Kisaki Sensei. I was told very strongly never to lose or damage the document. As I left the Dojo that day one of the teachers came out after me and asked me if I would sell the document to him for $US 5,000. Of course I said no.
Receiving a certificate from Kisaki Sensei after a 7 day kata seminar.
For some reason, Kisaki Sensei invited me to attend the Masters class on Wednesday nights in the Yuishinkan Dojo. These classes were held for Masters on an invitation only basis. On most nights, there were approximately 30 people all training. It was very intimidating to see so many great teachers from different Ryu’s training in the one room. The nights would be spent just studying kata and the bunkai. I was very embarrassed a few times when Kisaki Sensei called me to the front of the class to demonstrate some of the bunkai to these gentlemen. I remember Kisaki Sensei told me once to demonstrate a technique from Kurarunfa, but he stressed that it could not be the classical explanation and told me to demonstrate another application and he then said “Kangaroo Boy, make sure it works. If it does not work, these teachers will think I am no good as your teacher. If your bunkai does not work, we can show them kumite together.” Oh God, my fighting with Peter Hudson now seemed like child’s play. I had been told a few days earlier by Nishikawa Sensei (8 Dan Hayashi-Ha Shito Ryu) that Kisaki Sensei was doing sparring with Taniguchi Sensei and he was able to knock Taniguchi Sensei out cold in about 10 seconds.
In kumite, I could never match the speed of Taniguchi Sensei and I had no hope of beating him, so how could I survive kumite with Kisaki Sensei. Even though he was into his 70’s, I was not going to take the chance. I may have been a shearer, but I was not that stupid. I certainly made my application of the bunkai work. I felt very sorry for Ikeno Sensei (8 Dan Itotsu Kai) because of fear, I may have given him a “Green Stick” fracture to his arm. It was him or me, and at that time, I was not taking the chance of kumite with Kisaki Sensei.
I remember one day at training with Kisaki Sensei we were studying Seipha. We had spent two hours doing the first three sequences over and over again. I was getting so frustrated because it was so hot, I was tired and my brain was about to explode because of all of the information that I was trying to understand. We had completed about 30 different applications to these simple moves and I was at breaking point. I felt utterly stupid and not worthy of training with this great man.
He must have sensed my utter frustration because he stopped and told me to sit down and asked me to inspect his Sanchin Kata. My God, me inspect his kata. What a joke. I have never seen such power and beauty in my life and I was almost spell bound by what I had seen. He then shocked me by saying that his kata is no good and he will never be good enough. He said if Miyagi Sensei saw his kata he would be ashamed. He said Miyagi Sensei had beautiful kata and nobody could equal him. That day was one of the most profound lessons I have ever learned. If Kisaki Sensei could feel so bad about his kata, it was certainly okay for me to feel bad about mine some times. In my heart I thanked him for the little lie he told me.
After that demonstration he told me to get changed and we are going somewhere. I had no idea where we going to but I was glad to be going with him. We took the train from Moriguchi to Yawata and then took a short ride on a cable car to the top of the mountain. Once we got there, he stood at the bottom of the stairs and then appeared to be reflecting on something.
He then told me that this is the best present he can give me. This was a special place for him as this is where he came with Miyagi Sensei for special training. He asked me to please do not talk when we go there. He just said, “My God is here.” We then walked up the stairs and into the temple grounds. There was such a peaceful feeling there and he said to me, “This is karate. This is martial arts and we are now linked to Miyagi Sensei and all history of martial arts.” I did not say a word.
Walking behind Kisaki Sensei into the temple at Yawata. Mr Miyagi trained here.
As we walked around, Kisaki Sensei asked me to wait as he stopped to pray at each of the little shrines. I could see a procession of Monks approaching us and the monk at the front immediately stopped in front of us and bowed very deeply in front of Kisaki Sensei. They appeared to be friends and exchanged a short conversation. The monk wanted to be introduced to me so Kisaki Sensei said, “This is John. Australian, Kangaroo Boy.” From that day I was just called Kangaroo.
As it was very hot that day and we were both very thirsty, I suggested to Kisaki Sensei that we should get a drink. He said that was a good idea so we went to the vending machine. I took out my money to pay for them but Kisaki Sensei pushed my hand away and put in his money. I told him I wanted to pay and he said, “No, this one is cheap. You pay for the expensive stuff.” I never actually paid for anything. It all must have been cheap.
In the early 90’s I was invited to attend the 2nd and 3rd International Goju Ryu Yuishinkan Kata Seminars that were held in Nara. There were approximately 30 instructors and students from Europe and about the same number form Mexico and South America.
Sasaki Sensei, the chief instructor for North and South America
I was the only representative from Australia on the first occasion. The seminar was a live in camp and went for 7 days straight. Training started at 7.00 in the morning and stopped at about 10.30 at night. It was just kata all day. I was so impressed to see so many of the highest ranking Goju teachers from all over Japan.
Tsugimoto Sensei at the Yuishinkan Kata seminar, Nara
At the second kata seminar there was to be a very big Goju tournament. I think it was the Kansai tournament. Kisaki Sensei decided to have kumite trials at the seminar and even though I was one of the oldest members there, I was selected to compete. I was selected as the captain of the Yuishinkan “A” Team and I was told by Shihan Fujiwara of the JKF Goju Kai that I was the first foreigner to be selected captain of a Japanese “A” Team.
Kisaki Sensei then said he would like to me to compete for the Mexican National Yuishinkan Team. I protested and said I am too old and I am not Mexican. The team members said my name was now Juan Rodregus and I was an honorary Mexican. I was lucky enough to win all of my fights in the team event and we managed to get to the top 6 in the team event. I was happy with this as I had previously reached the top 8 in the men’s open event at the JKF Goju Kai National championships in Takamatsu a couple of years earlier. I was actually the oldest in that tournament.
As a result of my training with Kisaki Sensei, I have been able to establish strong friendships with wonderful instructors such as Sensei Yonada (8 Dan Shito Ryu), Ikeno Sensei (8 Dan Itotsu Kai), Nishikawa Sensei (8 Dan Hayashi-Ha Shito Ryu) and Sensei Rumiko Oki (7 Dan Shotokan). I mention these teachers in particular because they have all been to our dojo in Melbourne and continue to provide wonderful leadership and direction.
After the Death of Kisaki Sensei
After the death of Kisaki Sensei in 1996, events changed in the Yuishinkan Dojo as a struggle for the position of leader of the Dojo commenced by the instructors. Taniguchi Sensei was always the most senior instructor and Kisaki Sensei had confirmed that. Training in the dojo started to change and the philosophy of Kisaki Sensei was changing. The kata that Kisaki Sensei had so strongly taught and protected was now changing. The constant changes of the JKF Goju Kai kata were being introduced into the Yuishinkan Dojo as the standard kata.
I remember Kisaki Sensei said to me that Miyagi Sensei did not change his kata all of the time, so why does the JKF Goju Kai. Taniguchi Sensei did not want to see the deterioration of Kisaki Sensei’s dream so he left the Yuishinkan Dojo to implement the Ryushinkan Dojo. I had seen the change and I was very disappointed and I really believed this was not what Kisaki Sensei would want, so I also left the Yuishinkan Dojo and joined the Ryushinkan Dojo to assist Taniguchi Sensei. This was done to carry on the training of Kisaki Sensei as he had trained. Kisaki Sensei was known for his extremely hard training, so Taniguchi Sensei wanted to preserve this.
The road of the Ryushinkan Dojo has been a little rocky, but I feel as though the integrity of Kisaki Sensei’s training has been maintained, even if in a small way.
After I left the Yuishinkan Dojo, I received many calls from Kisaki Sensei’s wife asking me to re-consider and remain with them. Threats were made of expulsion from the JKF Goju Kai if I did not return to the fold. I was not really worried about the membership of the JKF Goju Kai because Kisaki Sensei always insisted that my own dojo was the most important. He said that too many people put too much emphasis on the importance of belonging to organisations such as the JKF Goju Kai. If more importance is placed on your own dojo, then other organisations will naturally become stronger. I have not returned to Yuishinkan but I still have many friends in the organisation.
In an effort to retain the understanding and knowledge of Kisaki Sensei’s kata, Shihan Phil Bates, the Chief Instructor of the Seishikan Dojo in Australia, my good friend and student Glen van Boven and I have commenced studying and training together. We have a desire to preserve the kata of Kisaki Sensei as he was taught by Miyagi Sensei. Our respective Dojo’s have established the Nippon-Den Kempo Karate-Do Goju Ryu (Ryushinkan / Seishikan) to continue this work.
Sensei Glen van Boven, myself and Shihan Phil Bates
Miyagi Sensei once said that there are many secrets in Goju Karate. Kisaki Sensei said the secrets are in the kata and are there for all to see. Just open your eyes and trust the Goju Ryu Karate.
After considering this history, I am now convinced I have actually reached the real beginning of learning karate. The journey begins now.