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Two American Karateka Furnish A First Hand Account
Of The State of the Arts in Japan

For a month this past summer, American martial artists Dan and Doug Ivan, practitioners of shito-ryu karate (and featured on our June '83 cover), sojourned in Japan. Their travels encompassed the hectic and harried world of Tokyo, the splendors of Tokugawa Ieyasu's memorial shrine at Nikko - and intensive search for Japanese martial art styles and masters.

Beggining this month, Kick Illustrated will feature their first hand reports on Japanese styles, schools and masters of the martial arts on a monthly basis - reports that cover not only legendary masters and intentionally known styles, but systems only slightly known to the world at large.

Our first installment of this series begins with an examination of Gensei-ryu karate, a lesser known form of Japanese karate-do - a report that includes a rare interview with the chief instructor of the style, master Kunihiko Tosa. Tosa is also a chief referee in international competition, and is affiliated with FAJKO (the Federation of All-Japan Karate-do Organizations). (*Now JKF... ed)


Gensei-Ryu: Karate Training The "Hard Way"

Photography by Robin Horvath

The two black belts fought as if engaged in a grudge match. The smaller of the two combatants took some shots to the face that lumped his eyes shut and puffed his lip. Punching from the ground up, he retaliated with some heavy body blows that would have creamed most ordinary karate men.

Here in an obscure dojo on the outskirts of Tokyo, in a community called Asaka-machi, we had found some of the best karate in Japan. The two black belts were engaging in "dojo" sparring, quite different from tournament fighting, as they later pointed out. In the course of thier battle, the two really came up with some off the wall techniques: drops to the floor, sweeps, body blocks and rolls. It was great to watch - although we did feel a bit sorry for the two combatants as they meted out such punishment to each other. Our sympathy wa wasted however, because when they fnishied, we found them to be the best of friends. Their system of karate was Gensei-ryu.

And their instructor was one of the most sincere and dedicated Sensei we discovered in our four week sojourn to Japan. He is Kunihiko Tosa, age fifty-one, a family man with two children. Sensei Tosa se a living example for his students. He is in perfect shape - and assured us that since he started karate at age seventeen, he has tried his best to stay that way.

Searching for a karate school in Tokyo can be quite an adventure. It's not like the States, where you simply climb in your car and drive to an address. There were three of us, two writers and our photographer. Finding Tosa's dojo took us nearly half a day. This included rides on subways, trains and a lot of walking. Tokyo, as you know, is jam packed with bodies, buildings and cars. The minute you step out in the morning, you enter a massive stream of human traffic. The streets are so crowded it's far more effecient taking the trains and subways. This involves a lot of pushing, shoving and running for closed doors.

As we mentioned, it was quite an adventure just to find Sensei Tosa's dojo, but well worth the effort involved. Quite frankly, we had chased down other leads on martial art schools that proved to be very disappointing. Like the U.S. Japan has some schools that are marginally qualified. Proportionately though, they don't have near the number of unqualified instructors teaching as we do here.

Americans have always had an affinity for strong, silent types. Sensei Tosa is certainly that. He is a man of great dignity and carries himself proudly like an ancient samurai. Like all men of his nature, he was quite modest. What we learned about him came from his contemporaries.

We made a point to cross reference our interviews of masters, by bringing up their names in rival schools. Sensei Tosa we found, commanded a great deal of respect from everyone. Also, you judge a lot by the product. His black belts and students were much like the master. There was a quiet strength in the entire group. None showed the false bravado that you find in some schools. They were well mannered and polite - but damn tough fighters.

Gensei-ryu traces it's lineage to Okinawa. Tosa's instructor was Master Shukumine Seiken. Master Seiken is still alive, but retired some time ago. Technically, the complete name of the system is Nihon Karate-do Genseiryu Butoku-kai. Tosa is a seventh degree black belt and Chief Instructor of Gensei-ryu, which was formed around 1950.

In Japan, this is a very large karate organization, but abroard there are very few schools yet. One of Gensei-ryu's few branches is in Huntington Beach, California, operated by his black belt Marutani.

Tosa is also a member of FAJKO, (federation of All-Japan Karate-do Organizations). FAJKO was formed by Japanese karate groups when world tournaments began to show promise. It is a large organization composed of many styles and masters. Their attempt to organized karate is well intentioned, and FAJKO is doing a credible job, but we did find many masters who are not joiners as well. Belonging to FAJKO did not affect the quality of karate. More, membership was a simple way to get your group involved in international competition. Kunihiko Tosa, during all world championships, is a chief referee. He has such stature in the ring and commands such respect that he is one of FAJKO's top competition organizers and referees.

One thing that is rather amazing to him, and perhaps his countrymen, is how the outside worlds has taken to the martial arts. It is, of course, part of Japanese heritage - and to find this heritage so deeply accepted by foreigners was somewhat of a surprise at first to Japanese martial artists. However, Tosa met competitors from all nations, and was treated extremely well. He feels martial art creates a bond between people, no matter what their race or culture. While Tosa never stayed in the United States or Europe long enough to learn much of the languages, his feelings are very warm from the experiences and kindnesses shown him by foreigners on his travels.

We asked Tosa about tournaments since he was so heavily involved in organizing and refereeing world competitions. Tosa answered "True karate is building the person, building the character. The ultimate goal is not to develop a tournament champion, but to develop a strong Budo character".

Tosa accomplished this in his dojo by relentless driving his students to their utmost. His class looks like a torture chamber as he commands students to kick harder, punch faster, work on kata, balance, force yourself to your limits and beyond. Again, the point is to perfect character in every man, woman and child that takes his class.

If during routine, daily training, some students show an inclination toward competitive sparring, Tosa guides them in that direction. Regardless, dojo-style sparring is a must. More emphasis is placed first on basic technique, then on kata. This gives the students a strong, healthy foundation from which they can expand in any direction they choose.

The kata in Gensei-ryu are not so different from those found in the other Japanese and Okinawan styles. However, a few innovations have been added by Tosa. Always considering the practical, he has incorporated more "drop kicks" and "sweeps" into some of the kata.

Tosa points out that there are, of course, some kata like Unsu and others that kick from the floor, but he felt the need to add more techniques to the training of higher belts. Therefore, he developed more drop kicks, sweeps and takedowns for close-in fighting. He is quick to point out that these additions in training are not for competition, but just good training for self-defense. As we watched, his higher black belts demonstrated these very impressive and effective takedowns and floor kicks.

From his headquarters in Asaka-machi, Tosa runs quite a large independent organization. He teaches full time, travelling to his many branches and holding special black belt and instructor training seminars at his headquarters. He has "live-in" black belts that reside at the dojo, 24 hours a day, absorbing and learning all they can. Someday they will be sent out to expand the Gensei-ryu system.

Karate has been rewarding to Sensei Tosa, mostly because of his involvement with people, shaping the characters and destinies of young people, giving them self-confidence and guidance in a very hectic Japanese lifestyle. Monetarily, karate instructors has also changed from what it was in the past. Now the profession of the martial arts instructor is recognized by society as a beneficial one - and not just a pastime for ruffians. Karate has earned Tosa a lifestyle which includes a fine home, an automobile and status in his neighborhood for his beautiful wife and children. He is recognized and respected by his peers. Karate has been a positive force for Tosa, and he has been a positive force on karate.

Source: "Kick Illustrated", January 1984 issue.
Original copy held in trust for Tosa Sensei by Michael Walker Sensei