Tou’on-ryu

On Sunday August 11 I took the train from my in-laws home in Nogata to the town of Beppu in nearby Oita prefecture. Beppu is best known for its many hot springs. I’ve enjoyed a visit to these in the past but I was here for a different reason today.

I had arranged to practice with Ikeda sensei, the current chief instructor of Tou’on-ryu karate.

I’m not going to go into detail regarding the history of this style, as there is someone eminently more qualified than I who has already done just this. However as a quick introduction I should point out that this is a style which was founded by Juhatsu Kyoda sensei with the intention of carrying on the tradition taught to him by Higaonna Kanryo sensei. 

My first introduction to this fascinating tradition came via Yoshino sensei who was a student of the current soke of the style; Kanzaki sensei.

I was put in touch with Yoshino sensei through a contact who would later become a good friend, at this time I had no express desire to study Tou’on-ryu. I was just interested in learning Okinawan karate and kobudo. However after a few months of training with Yohisho sensei he asked me to meet him on a Saturday morning I was then taught what I now know to be the Tou’on-ryu version of Sanchin. I found this version to be quite different from other versions I had studied previously and extremely interesting.

In terms of the training session I took part in on Sunday, I would imagine it was pretty much a standard session. I was greeted warmly but at no point did I feel I was being given any special consideration. It was nice just to get on with the training!

The class started with individual kata practice. Ikeda sensei remembered me from an event I had attended two years previously and seemed happy that I had at least remembered the pattern and techiques of the Tou’on-ryu forms we had covered then.

In total there were six students including myself in attendance. After a more formal warm-up we continued with conditioning drills and ippon-kumite before concentrating on kata.

The kata practiced this evening were; Shiho-uke, Sanchin and Seisan. All of these were practiced many, many times.

Ikeda sensei moved throughout the group, observing and giving each student individual attention. There was no mass kata to the count so often seen in the west. Rather we were encouraged to experience the kata, learning from ourselves and our class mates and working on the corrections pointed out to us by sensei.

Viewing Tou’on for the first time would probably come as a shock to those with little experience of Okinawan karate, even then it is very different in application than Goju for example. My initial reaction the first time I saw the Tou’on version of Sanseru was one of initial shock followed by intense curiosity! It really is that different from other versions.

I really am extremely grateful to Ikeda sensei for allowing me to study Tou’on this summer. Make no mistake, this is in no way some secretive pseudo cult. They train openly in a multi purpose hall in a community centre. However this is a small group of people who are very serious about what they practice. They do not court publicity, all they are interested in is carrying on the tradition of Kyoda sensei. You will find no videos on You Tube. This is not a franchise with a three story headquarters in Tokyo and a profitable sideline in books, DVD’s and T-shirts.Again as I pointed out a few weeks ago when visiting Murakami sensei, my overwhelming impression here was of traditional karate in the truest sense of the word practiced with integrity, honesty and dignity.

Reflecting on the session on my way home, it came to me that I had possibly met an extremely high percentage of all who are currently practicing Tou’on-Ryu. Really have a think about that, especially when you hear words such as traditional being thrown around the place.

For those interested in finding out more about his fascinating style I recommend the works of Mario McKenna who studied with Kanzaki sensei directly for a number of years and has carried out extensive research on karate and kobudo history in general.

Once again my thanks to Ikeda sensei and Mario for so kindly helping to organise my visits this summer.

I look forward to experiencing more of this fascinating form of karate throughout the next few weeks.

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