January 13th marks the third anniversary of the passing of my teacher Kanzaki Shigekazu sensei. Although years apart, it is a bit ironic that Kanzaki sensei passed away a day after Minowa sensei. Like Minowa sensei, Kanzaki sensei’s death left me in a bad place, and I was filled with sadness and much regret. But similarly, as the days and weeks progressed I was able to remember all the fond memories of my time with him.
For instance, many times before practice I would go to Kanzaki sensei’s house to chat with him. He was always so interesting to talk to, yet I doubt he realized what a well-spring of information he was about old-style Karate he was. Sensei always came across as a kindly grandfather type outside the dojo. Sometimes we would go to a ramen shop that he liked that was a around the corner from his house. Being from Kyushu, he invariably ordered tonkotsu ramen as it was his favorite. We would talk about different things, work, family, and Karate of course. Occasionally he would drop these “bombshells” during our conversations and think nothing of them, but to me they were gems of Karate history. Once during our meal he stated,
I remember Kyoda sensei told me that he met Funakoshi Gichin sensei when he was evacuated from Tokyo and stopped in Oita. Funakoshi sensei suggested that they have a kata exchange, Kyoda sensei would teach Bechurin and Funakoshi sensei would teach Kusanku. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time, so it never took place.
I think I just about choked on my ramen when he said that. For him it was just a matter of fact, but for me it was a wonderful piece of Karate history. After eating, we would head back to his house and chat a little more. Around 6:00 pm or so Mr. Kamada (who also sadly passed away many years ago) would come and take Kanzaki sensei to practice – I suppose sensei didn’t trust my driving 🙂 Although he started training late in life and had only been practicing a couple of years at that time under Kanzaki sensei, Mr. Kamada was incredibly dedicated. To this day I have tremendous respect for him and was saddened when he passed away suddenly.
We trained at a kominkan which is vaguely like a neighborhood community centre. After changing we would all warm-up and perform some basics by ourselves and then we would practice sanchin kata as a group several times. There was no group “bow-in” by the way. Afterwards we practiced kata individually and receive corrections from sensei. He never missed even the smallest mistake. Next we would do arm and leg conditioning drills, ippon kumite, and kakie and then finish with sanchin kata. That was essentially the pattern that practice followed. At the end of class we would bow from seiza. Often we would continue practicing or chatting and people would drift out as their schedule dictated. Eventually we all headed home. It was such a great group of people that felt more like a family than anything. It all brings back so many great memories.
Reflecting on the passing of Kanzaki sensei, I am grateful that he too instilled in me a love of Karate. But unlike Minowa sensei who looked forward, Kanzaki sensei looked back towards the past and to the preservation of the Tou’on-ryu Karate he learned from his teacher, Kyoda Juhatsu. He was single-minded in his focus on passing Tou’on-ryu correctly to his students with integrity and honesty. That is a lesson that I still carry with me and try to pass on with my own students. I am so grateful that I was able to be his student and I miss him terribly.