Happy Birthday Sensei – Kanzaki Shigekazu
Happy Birthday Sensei – Kanzaki Shigekazu

Happy Birthday Sensei – Kanzaki Shigekazu

April 22 would have marked Kanzaki sensei’s 94th birthday. Thinking about sensei this day, many good memories come to mind. Initially, I was going to keep this post private, but on reflection I thought it would be better to share a few of my impressions of him.

Kanzaki sensei was a man who practiced the old ways. Like his teacher, Kyoda Juhatsu he did not care about how many students he had or your opinion about what he taught. Students were there to learn, and his obligation was to teach; it was that simple.

I first reached out to him almost 25 years ago and despite writing several letters to him, I was initially ignored. When I was finally able to talk to him over the phone, I expressed a desire to visit him in Beppu to talk about Tou’on-ryu and his time learning from Kyoda sensei. I even harboured the hope of being able to practice a little Tou’on-ryu as well. However, he would have none of it and outright refused. He politely explained that he had recently lost his wife and was in no frame of mind to have visitors, let alone a foreign one. He told me to contact him in a few months and perhaps then we could arrange a date to meet. So, I phoned a few months later and he still (understandably) wasn’t ready to meet anyone. This went on for about four months until he finally relented to meet me, and we set a date.

I won’t repeat the story of our first meeting as I have written about it before in this blog but suffice it to say I wasn’t disappointed. At the time of our first meeting, sensei was around 70 years old, and I was around twenty-nine. After being allowed to train regularly (I wasn’t officially a student yet), rain or shine, I went to practice as often as I could for the next two and a half years. Week after week I persevered, trying as best I could to unlearn what he referred to as “my bad habits.”

Kanzaki sensei could be curt, a bit rough and occasionally off-putting in his austere way of teaching. Personally, it never bothered me, nor did I ever regret a single minute being with him. Even today I remember (as best I can) everything he taught me. What I received from him I still treasure to this day more than any dan rank or license. It’s unfortunate that I was too inexperienced as a teacher and my students were unable to appreciate what they were being taught. The result was I gave up trying to teach anyone Tou’on-ryu more than a decade ago. Now when people ask about learning Tou’on-ryu I tell them to contact Ikeda sensei.

When I think about my time with Kanzaki sensei, I was (for better or worse) his first, last, and only foreign student. I know that I disappointed him at times, but he never said anything; he was too much of a gentleman. However, I could sense that I did and will always feel ashamed for doing that. I suppose I was like his other young, Japanese students who were generations removed from him and were more interested in taking shortcuts and acquiring material things. Some of his students could not understand the importance of investing time in hard self-study and self-reflection through training; perhaps that is why there were so few of us. As I matured, I came to understand what he was trying to teach me all those years ago, but it was many years later… too late I suppose….I have always been a bit ‘slow’…. or as my Irish father would put it, ‘a bit thick’.

Of all the teachers I had the good fortune to meet in my life, he is the one who impressed me the most not only technically but the way he thought, spoke to people, and how he carried himself through life. No, he wasn’t a saint, and he certainly had his flaws, but he was someone who I wanted to emulate. I want to sincerely say, “thank you” for everything he taught me. Kanzaki Shigekazu died on June 25, 2016, at the age of 88. He rests in the small cemetery in Beppu, Oita-ken not far from his teacher, Kyoda Juhatsu. Ikeda Shigehide, the most senior, active student of Kanzaki sensei, continues his teaching within the Tou’on-kai (東恩会) and is now the current soke.

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