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Hard to be Soft


When I was a young man training at the Chito-Ryu hombu in Kumamoto, Japan, O-Sensei (Tsuyoshi Chitose) would often stop a class to check our stances. He would go around to test leg muscles and exhort the students to use more shime (closing or contracting tension).

Before going to Japan in 1977 and ’79, I had trained in Chito-Ryu in Toronto, Canada under Higashi-Sensei. At that time, the head of the style in Canada was Masami Tsuruoka-Sensei. While Tsuruoka-Sensei was a remarkable teacher, none of the weekly classes I took with him – supplementing my training at Higashi dojo – prepared me for my experience in Japan. Instead of zenkutsu-dachi, the long Shotokan-style front stance taught by Tsuruoka-Sensei, we did the shorter hangetsu-dachi (half-moon stance), which is now called seisan-dachi in Chito-Ryu.

After doing zenkutsu-dachi in Canada for a decade, I was drilled in hangetsu-dachi in Japan, in 1979. (I'm the ugly foreigner on the right.) My high, stiff stance shows that I had little understanding of the principles of shime and shibori.

But even more difficult was trying to understand and apply the concepts of shime and shibori. Shime comes from the Japanese word “shimeru,” meaning “to shut or close,” and referred to the inward tension applied to stances such as uchi-hachiji-dachi and hangetsu-dachi. (In stances such as shiko-dachi, an outward tension is applied, called hari.) And shibori comes from shiboru, meaning “to wring or squeeze.”

As I wrestled to make shime and shibori part of my technique, O-Sensei would make comments translated by his son, the current Chito-Ryu Soke, or Sakamoto-Sensei, his son-in-law. I was too tight. I had to learn to soften up.

Thoroughly frustrated, I thought, “What I am supposed to be, hard or soft?



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