Friday, July 15, 2011

Arigato Gozaimas, Shihan

I'd like to take a minute to talk about Shihan Hitoshi Shiozaki.

When I was in university on Victoria in 1998, I met Chantal, and through her, her husband Junichi.  "Jun" asked if I would be interested in coming to the karate class that he attended.  At that time, I was an out-of-shape ex-athlete, and thought that martial arts might be a fun way to get back into shape.

I was not prepared.

At our first class of Yoshukai Karate (I would have found out that basically means "real fighting karate" if I had thought to look it up), I met his instructor, Shihan (Master) Hitoshi Shiozaki.

Now, Shihan was not much to look at.  Probably about 5'2", he wore thick coke-bottle glasses, slacks and plaid shirts buttoned to his neck.  He was probably in his 50's at the time, and his only transport was an old blue bicycle.  He smiled and laughed a lot while we changed and did our pre-class warmup, and seemed like a harmless little fellow.  Then training started.  No laughter now - just focus, and sweat, and pain.

I have never worked harder than that in my life.  Stretching, pushups, kicking drills, kata, "toughness training", more stretching.  So much stretching.  And the toughness training.  For Shihan, the way to make your body tougher was to work it.  We kicked, punched, kneed each other.  We had little cloth gloves to keep from splitting our knuckles, but that was it.  3/4 power, most of the time - no pads.

I left the first class and staggered to my friend's house, where we were setting up for our Sunday D&D game. Collapsed on the couch and moaned.. "Water.. water".  I was hooked.  I went 2-3 times a week for almost 2 years.  That fall my mom got me a 20 lb bag of epsom salts for my birthday.  I learned that I can take a relentless beating and my body does not break.  My skin doesn't split when I punch, and even now I can throw a hammer of a straight left.

Sure, we learned kata, but more often, we did kumite.  It was great.  Challenging and painful, but really great. I learned more about Hitoshi, too.  Hitoshi Shiozaki was a student of the founder of Yoshukai Karate, and a 6th-Dan black belt.  He practiced Karate most days of his life for 30 years, and won the All Japan Full-Contact Karate Open Tournament 4 times in the mid-80's.  Think about that.  All Japan, Full-Contact, open tournament.  Won it 4 times in a row.  Truly unbelievable.

I eventually moved away from Victoria, after achieving a green belt in Yoshukai.  I practiced Tae Kwon Do and Kickboxing later, and the skills Hitoshi taught me always came in handy.  Primarily because he taught me to respect my master and fellow students, to listen carefully, and to come ready to fight, but never to pick a fight.

Hitoshi Shizaki died of complications from an asthma attack in 2006 in Japan.  I said goodbye to him 6 years earlier, when I left Victoria to travel, but somehow, I thought he would always be there, in that little dojo in the industrial park, riding his bike, laughing with his students after class.

I have only ever met 2 people in my life who deserve the title of "Shihan".  Hitoshi Shiozaki and Jon-Lee Kootnekoff.  It saddens me to learn of Shihan Hitoshi's passing.  "OSU!" Shihan.  Thank you.

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