Chito-ryu Diversity

By: Michael Colling
with contributions by Don Schmidt
United States Chito-kai

 Chitose Tsuyoshi

Prior to World War II there wasn't any style of karate known as Chito-ryu. What existed at that period was a gentleman we now know as Chitose Tsuyoshi, also known by the name Chinen Gua when he resided in Okinawa, who was an extremely gifted individual who had access to most of the senior teachers Okinawa had to offer. With his  intelligence and the ability to perform the skills he had been taught by such seniors as Arakaki Seisho, his first sensei (1840-1918), Higaonna Kanryo (1853-1915), Kyan Chotoku (1870-1945), Hanashiro Chomo (1869-1945) and Motobu Choyu (1857-1928) Chitose advanced quickly. Some of the students he trained along with during this early period were Miyagi Chojun, Kenwa Mabuni, and Chibana Chosin who become the next generation of karate leaders. 

By 1946 Chitose was ready to open his own dojo which he named Yoseikan. All his teachers were gone, either passing on before the war or as causalities of this conflict. ( Some have mentioned that Chitose quit one style or another to start his Chito-ryu but he was now on his own due to natural occurrences). He began teaching at his first dojo in Kikuchi City, Kumamoto. Out of this beginning would come the first generation of Chito Ryu students.

A few that we would become familiar with were Masami Tsuruoka, one of the first students, and still active in teaching 57 years later, who was there when Kempo was the term used by Chitose to describe his art. William J. Dometrich, the first  non-Japanese Chitose accepted, and still teaching today in the USA, where he was also the first to bring Chito-ryu out side of Japan. Thomas Morita, who brought Chitose's art to Hawaii in the early 60's. Michael Foster, a direct student of Chitose's top fighter in the 60's, Mamoru Yamamoto, who brought the Yoshukai organization to North America.

Thomas Morita (Hawaii)

Masami Tsuruoka (Canada)

William J. Dometrich (USA)


  Mamarou Yamamoto


     Michael Foster

Two other servicemen who passed on Chitose's teachings in the USA in the 50's were Wallace Reumann and Henry (Hank) Slomanski. Wallace Reumann returned to the New Jersey area to open his dojo. He created the American Karate Federation, which grew to a 27 dojo membership. One of his top students was James Cheatham (now deceased) who in turn produced two well known fighters from the east coast, Kareem Allah and Prentiss Newton.


     Wallace Reumann


   James Cheatham

Henry Slomanski

The second gentleman, Henry Slomanski, after serving in Japan returned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky around 1958. Elvis Presley studied karate in Germany in the late 1950’s when he was serving in Germany in the Army as part of a tank unit. Elvis left the Army and Germany with a kyu rank and returned to the states in 1960. On July 21, 1960, Elvis received his shodan rank from Slomanski Sensei. On October 17, 1963, Elvis received his nidan rank from Slomanski Sensei.

Slomanski also gained another very notable student, Dan Inosanto, who later followed Bruce Lee and, in time, took over as Lee’s senior instructor. Slomanski Sensei also instructed Reumann and promoted him to godan, which Chitose Sensei accepted at that time. He retired from the US Army as Sergeant Major.

William J. Dometrich returned from Japan to West Virginia, his birth place, in December, 1954, and taught his first Chito-ryu class at Fairmont State College, in January of 1955.

Masami Tsuruoka, Sensei, returned to Canada in 1956 and opened his first dojo in 1957 at Frank Hatashita's Judo Dojo, at the request of a few friends. This was one of the first karate dojo in Canada. By 1960 he had a large enough student body to open his own dojo on Queen Street East. 

This group comprised the first generation of Chito-ryu students all having Chitose Sensei as their teacher. From this small first core we see the second generation starting to form and bring out many names we are familiar with today as our direct sensei in one manner or another. Some of the students Tsuruoka Sensei taught were Frank Baer, Monty and Nathan Guest, Shane  Higashi (Tsuruoka Sensei's first shodan), Tran Quan Ba, Andre Langelier and Fred Boyko. (The list has many names to be added but these gentleman stand out in Canada from this period).

The mid 60's saw rifts forming in the Chito-ryu family. In 1965 Tom Morita left to join Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu under Nagamine Shoshin, Sensei, a well respected teacher in Okinawa. With the departure of Morita Sensei Chito-ryu quickly ended in Hawaii and Chitose Sensei transferred the U.S. Headquarters to the Yoseikan Dojo in Covington, Kentucky, with Dometrich Sensei as the head instructor during 1967. It was at this time that the United States Chito-kai was formed at O-Sensei's request. 

A small group in the Ottawa-Hull area broke ties with Tsuruoka Sensei to form the Canadian Karate Association. This group and Tsuruoka Sensei had differing opinions on how karate should be run in Canada, with this group deciding to leave and run their own dojo as they saw fit. 

In 1971 the Yoshukan became the Yoshukai and went independent of Chitose Sensei and the International Chito-kai. With this move Yamamoto Sensei formed another independent organization. 

In 1979 Tsuruoka Sensei went his own way and Shane Higashi became counselor for Canada, and David Akutagawa was appointed vice-counselor. 


              Shane Higashi


                 David Akutagawa

In 1984 Chitose Sensei passed away in June and his son, Chitose Yasuhiro, became head of the International Chito-kai. At this time he also took on the name Chitose Tsuyoshi, as is Japanese custom, and is known to many in Chito-ryu as "Soke"- meaning "from the founding family". 


     Yasuhiro (Soke)  Chitose

In the mid 80's Michael Foster branched out from his Sensei to form his own organization, Yoshukai International Karate Association, now giving two large groups of the Yoshukai teachings, Yamamoto Sensei's and Foster Sensei's. 

On August 14, 1994, the United States Chito-ryu Karate Federation became independent of Japan and the International Chito-ryu. Dometrich Sensei stayed on as Chairman and Chief Instructor. In August, 1996, Lawrence Hawkins became the new U.S. Chairman with Dometrich Sensei still serving as the Chief Instructor. 

By the end of 1996 David Akutagawa, Sensei, had passed in his written resignation to the International in Japan, and in 1997 he formed Renbukan, which now is known by the name Renshikan. 

In 1997 Ken Sakamoto would leave, forming Ryusei Chito-ryu, and  a few other seniors in Japan would also go their separate ways. 

There are other small bodies who claim Chitose O-Sensei as their founder through lineage but aren't that large to be overly concerned about, though I am researching as many as I find. 

All the seniors mentioned above-no matter what direction they may have taken-are all direct descendants of Chitose Tsuyoshi, O-Sensei. Each man received senior ranking directly from O-Sensei. This small group brings together well over 50 years of Chito-ryu growth and has produced many fine karate students and teachers coming into the next millennium. This evolving of Chito-ryu reminds me of a tree with O-Sensei as the trunk, the source for our knowledge, and all these Sensei as the branches sprouting from that trunk, each having a personal take on O-Sensei's teachings but with their own shape (interpretation). As they studied at different times they each saw a change, evolution, of Chitose's methods. 

Who is to say who is Chito-ryu? And who is not? Do you go by a style's name or do you look at the teaching hierarchy—who taught whom? Where does the knowledge base we are discussing come from? Who brought the kata into what we call Chito-ryu? I just want what one other individual mentioned--to study what Chitose Tsuyoshi, O-Sensei, left to us--his Chito-ryu, in whatever flavor it is. If I can train with, or take to, all these Sensei then won't I get a better understanding of our founder? 

All the above seniors share in part of that history, each is an individual who has his own personal story to tell about his  journey with O-Sensei. If we can focus on the knowledge each has to pass on, then I feel we honor O-Sensei's memory and we all can benefit.