HOME > Feature Articles > 【Exploring the spirit of the Ryukyu】Series 8 (HIDEN 12/2023)「Touyama Satoshi SENSEI」

(Translation from “HIDEN” magazine; December 2023 issue).
8th episode, “Ryukyu Kokugi Karatedo Goju-Ryu Shinjikan”

Another mythic Dojo with a mythic Kaicho

Interview/Writer: Daniel Mardon
Photography/translation: Yuko Takahashi

The “Ryukyu Kokugi Karatedo Goju-Ryu Shinjikan” is located in a solid building bordering the Pacific Ocean.

The name “Ryukyu Kokugi” relates to Waza originating from the Ryukyu and it expresses the ancestral character of the Touyama Honbu Dojo.

First opened in Koza City in 1974 by Kaicho Touyama Zenshu Hanshi 10th Dan, the Shinjikan Dojo was moved to Awase in 1990.  Awase is the birthplace of Touyama Zenshu Hanshi, where he still lives today.  Zenshu Hanshi is a direct senior “Deshi” (disciple) of Toguchi Seikichi Sensei; a Goju-Ryu legend who had opened the famous “Shoreikan” in Koza in the early 50’s.  

The Dojo gate at the bottom of the building is made of concrete and is truly unique and beautiful. You must go through this gate to go up to the Dojo on the third floor. Touyama Kancho and Daniel Sensei

Touyama Satoshi and Hideko are the son and daughter of Zenshu Hanshi and both are Karate Masters who have earned titles in several championships.
NOTE :  當山 (Kanji), とうやま (Hiragana), To-ou-yama (Romaji) are the proper spelling for the Sensei’s family name.  Sensei prefers to have his name pronounced “To-ou-yama” instead of Toyama (富山とやま) which is a different spelling for Toyama Prefecture.

Touyama Zenshu Kaicho (right) and his daughter, Odo Hideko Shihan (left). Shihan Hideko is the winner of the NahaTe style Adult II Women’s Gold Award at the 2nd Okinawa Karate World Tournament 2022 and is the deputy Kancho of Shinjikan.

A few months prior to this interview, I had the chance to meet Zenshu Hanshi for a conversation about biomechanics and the secrets of the “Gamaku”.

Satoshi Sensei became the second generation Kancho 15 years ago, after his father suffered a stroke by the age of 72.  He had to suddenly change jobs in order to take over and his younger sister came to help as they didn’t want to abandon their students.  If their father is renowned for being aDento bunka Karateka” (Traditional culture Karateka), due to his artistic talents (art, carving, calligraphy), Satoshi and Hideko Sensei are appreciated for transmitting a very pure heritage coming from Toguchi Sensei.  

Being myself a rehab specialist using Karate on my patients, I was very happy to hear from Zenshu Hanshi that he performed his rehab mostly with Karate techniques…!  Actually, if Zenshu Hanshi is not teaching much lately, he is still the Kaicho.  I was lucky to get a class from him in early 2023.

It is a few minutes before 18:00 and Satoshi Sensei is here to meet us at the Shinjikan entrance, situated at the bottom of a solid concrete building in the bay of Awase.  The Sun sets earlier in this season and we want to take pictures with the amazing light.  Being here on the East and Pacific coast of Okinawa, the Sunrise is of course famous, but the Sunset reflecting from the West (only 8 kilometers away) gives an extra special dimension.
We quickly passed the big Dojo on the 3rd floor, to climb to the 4th floor which is an open-air Dojo-terrace of the same size.  A sweet and salty oceanic breeze adds to this beautiful scenery where the sky meets the ocean in shades of surrealistic blue colors.  Glad Yuko Sensei’s photographic talent caught most of it…!  Our Karate-Gi seem to catch the fading light and allows us to take a few poses before going downstairs for the class.   

The entrance of the Dojo is decorated with some masterpieces of Zenshu Hanshi.   The artistic creations of the Kaicho are adding art to the [martial] art…. What an experience !

Biography of Satoshi Touyama

Shinjikan Kancho (Director/Chief instructor)
Permanent Director of the Okinawa Karate Federation.
Member of Okinawa Prefecture Karatedo Federation.

(1-) How did you start karate?

From the age of 3, my father often brought me with him to the Shōreikan Dojo in Nakanomachi (Okinawa City).  I still have a strong memory of watching my Dad training with Toguchi Sensei in a large Dojo.  Actually, It wasn’t a big Dojo, but it looks big in my memory.  I have been told that one day, I performed “Gekisai 1” Kata in front of everyone.
Despite being only 3 years old, I had managed to memorize that kata just by watching it during practice.  People encouraged me and said, “Wow, you’re good at it!”  My father and my mother, who was also present, were very surprised.  I guess we can say that is how I started… 

Later, during elementary school, (which lasts 6 years in Japan from 7 to 12) my father taught me privately 2 Kata.  But I officially entered my father’s Dojo, “Shinjikan”, when I became a Junior High School student at 13.  At that time, there were no students of my age, so I practiced alongside adults.

NOTE from Daniel Mardon:  In Karate lingo, people use the name 入門 “Nyu-mon” (lit. : “Enter the gate” Enter + Gate) to signify that they are officially engaging into the way (Do).
The expression “Nyumon入門” also refers to the beginning of learning a particular field of to study an art or a sport or to become the disciple 弟子 of a Shisho. 

In traditional education, “learning” meant learning from a specific teacher as a whole person.  Nyumon literally means passing through the gates of a master’s house to become his disciple (Deshi).  This word  is sometimes used when starting to study at a dojo or at a private school. It was always the master’s decision whether to allow a person to become an apprentice or not.

On Touyama Kancho’s Chudan Oitsuki, Daniel Sensei blocks with a Chudan Soto Uke in Shiko-Dachi.

Touyama Kancho explains a technique from Goju-ryu’s kata “Shisochin”.

Satoshi Sensei detailing a Kihon.

(2-) What are the characteristics of your school (Dojo)?

The name Goju-ryu carries the harmony of hard and soft.  At the “Shinjikan”, we place emphasis on walking; meaning putting one foot in front (or back) of the other on the ground.  The Waza (techniques) are done while moving, so we value the direction of movements and the process.  For example, when doing a circular movement, we use the power of the circle to master the Waza.
Breathing is also very important in Goju-Ryu and we use abdominal breathing.  It is characterized by a brief exhalation with a powerful “ハッhuff”, or by a long and slow exhalation to train power production.

I would say that in this Dojo, we train our mind and body, as well as our breathing.

(3-) What is your favorite Waza and Kata?

When I was young “Sesan”. Currently “Shisochinシソーチン” and “Sanseiruサンセール“.

A pose from “Shisochin” by Touyama Kancho.

Two different stances. Daniel Sensei in Shotokan kamae and Touyama Kancho, Goju-Ryu style.

Good environment gives a good mood.

(4-) What is your most impressive memory of your Sensei/(Shisho)?

My Shisho is my father, Touyama Zenshu.
At the age of 38, my Dad established the “Ryukyu Kokugi Karatedo Goju-Ryu Shinjikan”.  He was so passionate that he had explored a lot in Karate and had already attained the summit of perfection.  Karate is about trying to reach perfection, but many of us never achieve that goal.  My father is a small man, measuring about 160 centimeters….  He has always researched how to use his small body to defeat larger people. When I was young and I was grabbing his hand during training, I was always surprised to feel something special in his calloused hand… Beyond his strong grip, I could feel an aura with “growth-rings” that was telling a lot about his rigorous training and I thought “I cannot compete with this man” !
NOTE : Japanese people refer to “tree growth rings” to qualify human experience.

My father also possesses a Shihan (Master) license in Calligraphy.  He has studied and researched the similarities between Calligraphy and Karate. He says that the 3 different ways of writing the same letters can be compared to Karate-moves !  How the brush and the hand move… 

For example, you have :
-First, the flowing stroke of “Sousho 草書”; which looks like the circular motion of Goju-ryu and that are using less unnecessary force.

-Second, you have Kaisho 楷書, which on the contrary, describes square and straight sharp lines.  

The third style, Gyosho行書 is in between.
According to my father, something similar happens in Karate
when you perform “Sousho’s 草書” circular movement without unnecessary force.

He also enthusiastically practiced Iaido 居合道 keiko (training).  When you pull-out a Katana, the trajectory also goes in a circular motion like in Karate. I don’t think many Karateka are practicing Iaido.  

My father also practiced Sado 茶道 (tea ceremony).  The aim is to control your mind and face yourself.  This is also very much the principle of Karate.  I can understand his reasons and feelings for naming his Dojo “Shinjikan”!  “Shin” refers to the Mind and one of the meanings of “Ji” is also “to control for better condition”…

The sculptures represent Toguchi Sensei, my father’s Shisho.  He says that carving uses similar techniques and forces as Karate does and that he was mindlessly sculpting the image of his Shisho.

My Dad kept in the door of his car a hard oak stick of about 30 centimeters long and whenever he drove, he would hit his arm for strengthening.  Also, when we went fishing, he would keri (kick) hundreds of times until he caught a fish.

“Chi ni ite ran wo wasurezu” 治に居て乱を忘れず is a phrase my father often quotes, and it is the one that changed me the most.  In Confucius’ words, it means; “Even in a peaceful world, we should never neglect to be prepared for emergencies…”
One day, as I was in Toronto (Canada) to coach with my Dad, as I was going to the bathroom at a highway drive-in, my father gently stabbed me in the back with a ballpoint pen and told me “You have been killed !!!!  You may be able to beat someone in front of you because you practice karate, but if someone comes from behind, you don’t know what will happen.  When you go to a place you don’t know, you don’t know what will happen, so first make sure you have an escape route and don’t show your back to people. You don’t understand what “Goshinjutsu” 護身術 (self-defense) is !  You must always be prepared to use Goshinjutsu techniques.”
These Confucius words have changed my approach to traditional Karate and my own way of life as a martial arts karate practitioner. 

Both my father and grandfather lived through difficult times during and after the war.  My father also experienced, like many, the “Koza riots” (コザ暴動, Koza bōdō); the anti-American riot of December 1970.  He was a young adult Karateka at that time. 

Zenshu Touyama Kaicho (left) and Touyama Kancho demonstrating “Sanchin” in 2001 at a New Year celebration in Awase.

The Shinjikan Dojo is honored and protected by two imposing, 1 meter high, wooden statues representing Toguchi Sensei. They have been carved by Zenshu Kaicho.

Sculpture executed in bas-relief by Touyama Zenshu Sensei.

(5-) What is the difference between Okinawa Karate and mainland Karate?

First of all, Okinawa Karate has a history that has been preserved by Masters who have lived through turbulent times. Secondly, in the past, Okinawa Karateka would learn from one teacher or from teachers who had special Kata.
For example, my father was also trained by Higa Seko Sensei and Furugen Shunshin Sensei, who often visited Toguchi Sensei’s Dojo to assist his keiko (training). What is actually interesting about Okinawa Karate is that despite strictly following the teachings of the main Master, some subtle differences exist from each disciple.

Just a little anecdote… It was the wife (who was a midwife) of Furugen Sensei, who delivered me and my sister at birth.  We therefore kept a deep relationship.

(6-) Do you often teach to foreigners?

We have branch Dojo in Canada and India.  Nina Edgar, a New Zealand female Karate athlete selected at the Tokyo Olympics, is a student of Shinjikan. She has been attending this Dojo since she was 5 years old. After returning to her home country, she continued to practice Karate and of course became the representative of her country, but I was also happy that she practiced wearing Shinjikan’s Do-Gi in New Zealand.

With brother & sister Touyama Sensei.

(7-) What do you think about the globalization of Karate?

I’m happy.  However, I would like people to learn more about Okinawan culture than just Karate.
When you watch a Ryukyu dance performance 琉球舞踊の組踊, the performers walk smoothly with their hips lowered, and keep their hips lowered until the end of the dance.  This must have taken a lot of practice, and it is very similar to our Suri-ashi (foot dragging) 摺り足 in Goju-Ryu.

The imprints of the history and philosophy of the Ryukyu are contained within the Kata of our traditional Karate.  I wish people could realize that techniques are somewhat related to the history, social background, culture, etc. of our ethnic group.  This allows a better understanding of the Kata.  Okinawa Karate is indeed a big part of Okinawa culture.

(8-) What do you think about Karate becoming a competitive sport, including the Olympics?

I think it’s good for expanding Karate and to improve children’s motivation and skills.  However, winning in competition requires amplifying techniques to make them big and beautiful. Same with the pauses when you should be moving.  It is like acting.  I am concerned that it creates a Karate far from Okinawa Karate.

The amazing Sky Terrace Dojo also holds training/Keiko sessions. This is the shore where Zenshu Kaicho used to kick until he caught a fish.

(9-) What does today’s Karate mean to you?

Budo and Martial arts are about learning Reisetsu 礼節(étiquette), respect, and culture and training the spirit. It has a deep meaning in conveying to children, who are still in the stage of forming their personalities, the importance of respecting others and in helping to eliminate conflicts from around the world.

(10-) How do you envision the future of Karate?

Based on my experience of Okinawa being a fierce battleground during the war, I would like to bring peace to the world through Karate.
It would be good to hold a festival of peace like the “World Martial Arts Festival” in order to sow and to nurture the seeds of peace !  Each year a new host country would celebrate it and we could value each other, become friends and practice respect.  I also wish that children can fall in love with Karate and expand their horizons through it.

(11-) Do you have any message for the world?

I would like people to come to Okinawa to learn not only Karate but also the traditional culture of Okinawa.

Zenshu Kaisho’s shodo (Calligraphy) posted at the entrance of the Dojo. All his wisdom as a martial arts expert is contained in this calligraphy: “Through training, you refine your mind and body.”

(12-) What does “Karate” personally mean to you ?

Something close to me. It is a part of my life.

Daniel Sensei’s conclusion:
This great interview of Satoshi Sensei has allowed us to learn more about the principles of traditional Okinawa Karate.  Besides the cultural aspects, we have also explored the circular techniques of Goju-Ryu through the analogy of Calligraphy.  Satoshi Sensei made the excellent remark that despite Okinawa Karate being transmitted with great respect for the original techniques, we can often see and appreciate an extra personal touch from the disciples.  This is a fact that I am happy to hear.  Satoshi Sensei also offered us priceless anecdotes especially concerning his father Zenshu, who is a true legend. Most of us are probably envious about having such a Karateka legend for Dad with so many talents. Thank you very much Sensei…

With the children class of the Shinjikan Dojo.

Daniel Mardon; the Karateka-Therapist 

Creator of Aromapressure® method and physiotherapist with a valid US license, Daniel Mardon was born in Paris.   One of his specialties is to teach and to perform lymphedema and subcutaneous tissue-damage care, after radiotherapy for cancer patients at medical institutions and subcutaneous tissue-circulation stimulation before and after surgery.
He was also a therapist for two famous soccer teams in Paris.    Since 2005, he has focused on producing top-class hotel spas in Japan, as well as physiotherapy education and awareness-raising activities for health care professionals.  Author of several books, among his major publications includes “The Physiology and Bodywork of Physical Therapy ” (Published by BAB Japan) and DVD “Daniel Mardon Aromapressure® Method ” (Pony Canyon). He regularly appears on television and radio shows, and has featured in numerous media publications.

『身体療法の生理学とボディワーク』(The Physiology of Somatic Therapy and Bodywork)
Co-written by Daniel Mardon and Yuko Takahashi
On sale now on the BAB Japan website!