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