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Scenes with O-Sensei


Food For Thought
In the course of my karate training, I made three pilgrimages to live at the home of and train with Tsuyoshi Chitose (1898-1984), 10th dan master and founder of Chito-Ryu karate: in 1977, 1979 and 1980. Each time I was humbled by the master’s openness and generosity, letting young, ignorant foreigners intrude on his family life. He shared his table and leisure time as readily as his knowledge of karate, demanding in return only a sincere effort to learn his art.

I particularly remember meals together, where the whole family would gather in the kitchen, usually after a grueling workout. We’d begin by holding our chopsticks in front of us, almost in a prayer position, and say, “Itadakimasu,” giving thanks for what we were about to receive, and then dig in.

Typical meal scene with O-Sensei, in 1977. From left: Tsuyoshi Chitose, Mama-san,
Mitsuko-san (hidden), Reiko-san, myself and David Green of New Brunswick, Canada.

Though the kitchen was the one place in his Kumamoto home with Western-style chairs and table, I’d sometimes see O-Sensei sitting cross-legged on his chair. He would only take his concessions to modern living so far. When he caught me looking, he laughed.

At meals, O-Sensei and I were co-conspirators. If his wife or daughters served him something he didn’t like, he’d make face and, when they weren’t looking, quickly shove the offending dish across my way. I’d have to eat the food before the women cottoned on. At lunch, we would often have an instant coffee. O-Sensei loved to dump packet after packet of sugar into his cup. His wife and daughters would utter outraged warnings and try to stop him. If he managed to fly under their radar, he’d take a long, satisfied sip of supersweet coffee, his eyes twinkling in sly triumph.

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With breakfast O-Sensei usually ate a raw egg. He broke it into a shallow bowl, set aside the shells and tilted it into his mouth as if it were an oyster, swallowing in one, two gulps. At the end of the meal he poured green tea into his rice bowl, picked up a yellow pickle with his chopsticks and swished it around the bowl's inner surface to dislodge the last sticky grains of rice. Then he drank the tea-rice-pickle mixture so not a morsel was wasted.

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O-Sensei often held court at the table. He’d give long, intricate talks on the martial arts to his son, the current Chito-Ryu Soke, and son-in-law, Ken Sakamoto, now the head of Ryusei Karate-Do. With wholly inadequate Japanese, I couldn’t follow the thread of the lectures, to my great and lasting detriment. But I noticed that as the master spoke, his hands would move with intricate, flowing open-hand motions, as if he were trying to bless or exorcize his bowl of curry rice.

At the same time, his wife, the soul of kindness, who insisted we call her “Mama-san,” would in an unconscious manner copy his hand gestures. Though I was told she didn’t practise karate, I theorized that she was a secret master, who would provide backup if her husband ever needed it.

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After the meal was done, we would give thanks by saying, “Gochisosama deshita,” accompanied by a bow in our seats. In the evening, we’d often retire to the living room next door, sit on the tatami mats and watch samurai dramas on TV.



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