Chito Ryu

Chito Ryu (千唐流) is a style of Karate founded by Dr. Chitose Tsuyoshi. As a young man born and raised in Okinawa, Dr. Chitose grew up studying the pre-karate art of Tode (or “To-te”) from many of the top masters of the period.

He later moved to mainland Japan to practice medicine, where Chito-ryu evolved as he utilized his modern medical knowledge of anatomy and physiology to modify traditional techniques to make them both more effective against opponents as well as less detrimental to the bodies and joints of long-term practitioners.

Although generally classified as a Japanese karate style simply because O-Sensei Chitose formulated and founded Chito-ryu principally while living in Kumamoto, Japan, many modern practitioners feel it is more properly categorized as an Okinawan style given that its roots and techniques are firmly grounded in and derived from traditional Okinawan tode.

Development & Influences: “Development & Influences” will primarily deal with O-Sensei’s early training and instructors, the “middle-years” influences of his medical instruction and teaching with Funakoshi, then conclude with his continuing study of Okinawan and Chinese kata and techniques that continued to be folded into the style.

Definition of the Chito-Ryu Crest: There are four main part to the Chito-Ryu Crest:

  • First, the outline of the crest represents Yata No Kagami (八咫鏡, Yata No Kagami), the sacred mirror of Japan which stands for wisdom and honesty.
  • Second, the disc in the center of the crest is the Hinomaru (日の丸, “sun disc”). The sun is the cultural symbol of Japan which is derived from Asian mythology and is represened as the national symbol seen on the flag of Japan.
  • Third are the Japanese characters seen on the Crest (千唐流 空手道). These are read as Chito-Ryu Karate-do and represent the Chito-Kai Association.
  • Fourth (no longer used on some crests) is the Clasping of the Hands in the Circle. The fingers clasping hands in a circle is representative of the way of Karate. Many Eastern philosophies understand the belief in life as a continuity or a continual flow as seen in the mathematical symbol, the circle, a line without beginning or end. Within that circle lie two hands clasping togother in apposition. Where one ends the other begins, continuously chasing each other year after year. The seasons are an example of contrasts; summer, winter, spring, and fall. Karate can also be seen to be like the seasons; hard and direct, soft and circular. It takes these two contrasting feelings to make a whole and, in the same way, Karate requires a person to be hard and direct, soft and circular. Only when a student has mastered these two elements does he/she really know the Way of Karate.

The design is based on the crest of the All Japan Karate-Do Federation founded by Toyama Kanken, of which Chitoryu was a member. Another version still remains in use by the International Shudokan Karate Association. See also Shudōkan.

Signature Aspects of Chito-ryu: “Signature Aspects” would, of course, briefly review what makes Chito-ryu technically different from other karate styles. I’ll certainly look to the Chitonet membership for suggestions in this area. a large part of many chito-ryu techniques is the emphasis on beginning and arriving at the start and finish of a technichue, as opposed to the motion of getting there, though there are exceptions to this.

Gichen Funakoshi and Chitose Tsuyoshi

A few additional trademarks of Chito Ryu Karate include the hip technique emphasis during Kata performance and hard, slow respiratory techniques. The hip technique (koshi-waza) is performed by first stepping back, then forward when beginning many of the katas (unlike fast Shotokan and Goju Ryu forms). Although this movement takes more time when completing some techniques, like low blocks (gedan barai) it provides greater power through greater hip movement.

In addition to koshi-waza there are many respiratory techniques which are used during kata training. These hard breathing (kokyo) techniques help cleanse the body by compressing the internal organs in order to excrete toxins and enzymes, in the Chitoryu katas respiratory techniques are usually used to signify either choking or throwing an opponent (shime or nage). Dr. Chitose created Chitoryu by combining 70% of the strength techniques from Shorin Ryu and Shorei Ryu.

Chito-derived and Influenced Styles: “Chito-derived & Influenced Styles” will give a nod to many of the great karate-ka who trained with or under O-Sensei and then went on to use his methods in styles of their own such as Ryusei, Yoshukai, Tsuruoka-ryu, Shintora-Kai and others which I know are represented in the Chitonet membership.

Showa: Showa is the code or “motto” of Chito-Ryu practitioners. Shown below are the English and phonetic Japanese versions. Ware Ware Karate-Do O Shugyo Tsurumonewa Tsuneni Bushido Seishin o Wasurezu Wa to Nin o Motte Nashi Soshite Tsutomereba Kanarazu Tasu!

We who study Karate-Do Shall never forget the Spirit of the Warrior’s way With Peace, Perseverance, and hard Work We shall not fail to reach our goals! This code is often recited at the end of classes.

Chito-ryu Around the World: “Chito-ryu Around the World” is where I see more specific historical information on the “history” of Chito-ryu in varioius countries, how it progressed in Japan through the life of O-Sensei and then passed to his son as the 2nd Soke, how Tsuruoka brought it to Canada and Dometrich to the US and so forth.

International, Canada: Chito Ryu is a popular mainstream karate style in Canada, with almost 60 Chito Ryu dojos in 8 of Canada’s 10 provinces. O-Sensei Chitose visited Canada in 1967, accompanied by one of his leading protogés, Yamamoto Sensei (who would later go on to found Yoshukai karatedo).

This trip was organized by Tsuruoka Sensei, widely recognized as the father of Canadian karate, who was then head of Chito Ryu in Canada. During this trip, O-Sensei Chitose presided over events at the Canadian National Karate Tournement in Toronto and conducted clinics at dojos across Canada. The current head of the Chito Ryu style, Soke Sensei – the son of O-Sensei Chitose, continues this practice and conducts clinics in Canada for Chito Ryu practitioners approximately every other year.

Chito-ryu Diversity: Prior to World War II there wasn’t any style of karate known as Chito-ryu. What existed at that period was a gentleman we now know as Chitose Tsuyoshi, also known by the name Chinen Gua when he resided in Okinawa, who was an extremely gifted individual who had access to most of the senior teachers Okinawa had to offer. With his  intelligence and the ability to perform the skills he had been taught by such seniors as Aragaki Seisho, his first sensei (1840-1920), Higashionna Kanryo (1853-1917), Kyan Chotoku (1870-1945), Hanashiro Chomo (1871-1945)and Motobu Choyu (d.1926) Chitose advanced quickly.

Some of the students he trained along with during this early period were Miyagi Chojun, Kenwa Mabuni, and Chibana Chosin who become the next generation of karate leaders.  By 1946 Chitose was ready to open his own dojo which he named Yoseikan.

All his teachers were gone, either passing on before the war or as causalities of this conflict. ( Some have mentioned that Chitose quit one style or another to start his Chito-ryu but he was now on his own due to natural occurrences). He began teaching at his first dojo in Kikuchi City, Kumamoto. Out of this beginning would come the first generation of Chito Ryu students.

A few that we would become familiar with were Masami Tsuruoka, one of the first students, and still active in teaching 57 years later, who was there when Kempo was the term used by Chitose to describe his art. William J. Dometrich, the first  non-Japanese Chitose accepted, and still teaching today in the USA, where he was also the first to bring Chito-ryu out side of Japan. Thomas Morita, who brought Chitose’s art to Hawaii in the early 60’s. Michael Foster, a direct student of Chitose’s top fighter in the 60’s, Mamoru Yamamoto, who brought the Yoshukai organization to North America.

Two other servicemen who passed on Chitose’s teachings in the USA in the 50’s were Wallace Reumann and Henry (Hank) Slomanski. Wallace Reumann returned to the New Jersey area to open his dojo. He created the American Karate Federation, which grew to a 27 dojo membership. One of his top students was James Cheatham (now deceased) who in turn produced two well known fighters from the east coast, Kareem Allah and Prentiss Newton.

The second gentleman, Henry Slomanski, after serving in Japan returned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky around 1958. Elvis Presley studied karate in Germany in the late 1950’s when he was serving in Germany in the Army as part of a tank unit. Elvis left the Army and Germany with a kyu rank and returned to the states in 1960. On July 21, 1960, Elvis received his shodan rank from Slomanski Sensei. On October 17, 1963, Elvis received his nidan rank from Slomanski Sensei.

Slomanski also gained another very notable student, Dan Inosanto, who later followed Bruce Lee and, in time, took over as Lee’s senior instructor. Slomanski Sensei also instructed Reumann and promoted him to godan, which Chitose Sensei accepted at that time. He retired from the US Army as Sergeant Major.

William J. Dometrich returned from Japan to West Virginia, his birth place, in December, 1954, and taught his first Chito-ryu class at Fairmont State College, in January of 1955.

Masami Tsuruoka, Sensei, returned to Canada in 1956 and opened his first dojo in 1957 at Frank Hatashita’s Judo Dojo, at the request of a few friends. This was one of the first karate dojo in Canada. By 1960 he had a large enough student body to open his own dojo on Queen Street East.

This group comprised the first generation of Chito-ryu students all having Chitose Sensei as their teacher. From this small first core we see the second generation starting to form and bring out many names we are familiar with today as our direct sensei in one manner or another. Some of the students Tsuruoka Sensei taught were Frank Baer, Monty and Nathan Guest, Shane  Higashi (Tsuruoka Sensei’s first shodan), Tran Quan Ba, Andre Langelier and Fred Boyko. (The list has many names to be added but these gentleman stand out in Canada from this period).

The mid 60’s saw rifts forming in the Chito-ryu family. In 1965 Tom Morita left to join Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu under Nagamine Shoshin, Sensei, a well respected teacher in Okinawa. With the departure of Morita Sensei Chito-ryu quickly ended in Hawaii and Chitose Sensei transferred the U.S. Headquarters to the Yoseikan Dojo in Covington, Kentucky, with Dometrich Sensei as the head instructor during 1967. It was at this time that the United States Chito-kai was formed at O-Sensei’s request.

A small group in the Ottawa-Hull area broke ties with Tsuruoka Sensei to form the Canadian Karate Association. This group and Tsuruoka Sensei had differing opinions on how karate should be run in Canada, with this group deciding to leave and run their own dojo as they saw fit.

In 1971 the Yoshukan became the Yoshukai and went independent of Chitose Sensei and the International Chito-kai. With this move Yamamoto Sensei formed another independent organization. In 1979 Tsuruoka Sensei went his own way and Shane Higashi became counselor for Canada, and David Akutagawa was appointed vice-counselor.

In 1984 Chitose Sensei passed away in June and his son, Chitose Yasuhiro, became head of the International Chito-kai. At this time he also took on the name Chitose Tsuyoshi, as is Japanese custom, and is known to many in Chito-ryu as “Soke”- meaning “from the founding family”.

In the mid 80’s Michael Foster branched out from his Sensei to form his own organization, Yoshukai International Karate Association, now giving two large groups of the Yoshukai teachings, Yamamoto Sensei’s and Foster Sensei’s.

On August 14, 1994, the United States Chito-ryu Karate Federation became independent of Japan and the International Chito-ryu. Dometrich Sensei stayed on as Chairman and Chief Instructor. In August, 1996, Lawrence Hawkins became the new U.S. Chairman with Dometrich Sensei still serving as the Chief Instructor.

By the end of 1996 David Akutagawa, Sensei, had passed in his written resignation to the International in Japan, and in 1997 he formed Renbukan, which now is known by the name Renshikan.

In 1997 Ken Sakamoto would leave, forming Ryusei Chito-ryu, and  a few other seniors in Japan would also go their separate ways.

There are other small bodies who claim Chitose O-Sensei as their founder through lineage but aren’t that large to be overly concerned about, though I am researching as many as I find.

All the seniors mentioned above-no matter what direction they may have taken-are all direct descendants of Chitose Tsuyoshi, O-Sensei. Each man received senior ranking directly from O-Sensei. This small group brings together well over 50 years of Chito-ryu growth and has produced many fine karate students and teachers coming into the next millennium. This evolving of Chito-ryu reminds me of a tree with O-Sensei as the trunk, the source for our knowledge, and all these Sensei as the branches sprouting from that trunk, each having a personal take on O-Sensei’s teachings but with their own shape (interpretation). As they studied at different times they each saw a change, evolution, of Chitose’s methods.

Who is to say who is Chito-ryu? And who is not? Do you go by a style’s name or do you look at the teaching hierarchy—who taught whom? Where does the knowledge base we are discussing come from? Who brought the kata into what we call Chito-ryu? I just want what one other individual mentioned–to study what Chitose Tsuyoshi, O-Sensei, left to us–his Chito-ryu, in whatever flavor it is. If I can train with, or take to, all these Sensei then won’t I get a better understanding of our founder?

All the above seniors share in part of that history, each is an individual who has his own personal story to tell about his  journey with O-Sensei. If we can focus on the knowledge each has to pass on, then I feel we honor O-Sensei’s memory and we all can benefit. ~ By Michael Colling