What follows has taken me over ten years to both research and most importantly, to weigh-up the ramifications of my research. I am a firm believer in just because we CAN, does not mean we ‘should’. With knowledge comes responsibility. My closest friends have been kind as they listened to the wrestling between my academic training as a historian and my wish to enable Chito Ryu practitioners. Ultimately, I believe accuray is important rather than misleading people. And to this end I have decided to share my research.
There are people who wish this information to be known but due to obligation and fear of reprecussions will not. Indeed, some who know this information have already be exorcised from membership in some circles. The ability to impose such social penalties is not the sign of a healthy or enlightened orgaisation. So for those who cannot speak openly, I do hope you find carthesis in this article.
On a personal level, both a researcher and practitioner what I assert below sits uncomfortably with me. Nonetheless, it is my sincere goal that my research will further others to find evidence which contradicts my findings.
Most importantly I hope that those largest bodies with the responsibility for preserving and developing the work of Chitose Gochoku (such as the Hombu in Kumamoto, the Canadian Chito Kai and the USA Chito Kai) will take responsibility for making available in English and Japanese an historically detailed and accurate portrayal of Chitose. I sincerely believe that such bodies hold a moral obligation to provide, in English, translations of Chitose’s formal writings. Chito Ryu is a small karate RyuHa and has as many English speaking practitioners as Japanese. I firmly believe that these speakers should have access to an accurate portrayal of the thinking and life of our founder - indeed all who practice Chito Ryu should have such accuracy available to them in their native tongue. Afterall, when we all bow to show respect to OSensei, who are we bowing to?
Only Chitose's smaller work, Kempo Karate-Do is available in English thanks to the translation by Christopher Johnston with the support of Hanshi Dometrich and Michael Colling of the USA Chito Kai. The much more detailed and, in my opinion, informative Zen Nippon Chito Ryu Kyohon (shortened title) remains only in Japanese. Zen Nippon Chito Ryu Kyohon is fascinating work for in it one gets a greater understanding of how Chitose conceptualised the role of karate in leading a well-balanced and purposeful life.
While the information in the Kyohan is available via the dojos affiliated with the above three organisations, it is an historically significant work that deserves more respect and exploration.
For all who search for the historical Chitose, the information available is thin and repetitive. In Japanese, there are the above works in which Chitose in his own words outlines his martial history and variations of the information found in the Chito Ryu Kyohan text (published by the Hombu in 1975 and edited again in 1979). In English, there are general introductions provided in the Canadian Chito Kai instructor manuals, the Tsuruoka and Higashi texts in various forms. However, all these texts do not deviate much from the script issued by the Hombu.
NB: A word of caution the Kyohon means to book, whereas Kyohan means study guide - they are not the same text, and for this reason, I refer to the Chito Ryu Kyohon as the brown text hereafter, in reference to its brown, cloth cover.
There are, however, three other texts which do add to the canonical history of Chitose. There is the Unante (1995;2000) text by John Sells, which while presenting useful historical photos has numerous factual inaccuracies and assertions. More interesting are the Colling article from Dragon Times (https://www.dragon-tsunami.org/Dtimes/Pages/article33.htm) and the June 2002 article from Traditional Karate, composed by Rune Ingebrigtsen. These latter works make a sincere effort, using oral history, to fill-in-the gaps of the life of Chitose, before the 1950s. Unfortunately, when working with oral history, a central challenge is the stories often repeat the common myths passed down, not to mention the Hawthorne Effect.
As I explored the early years of Chitose’s life, I noticed a minor but, substantial discrepancy between the texts available in English and Japanese around Chitose’s medical career. For example, Colling’s asserts: ‘Chitose took up teaching for a short while at the Okinawan Teachers College, and by 1922 he was ready to head back to Japan to study medicine. He was accepted as a student at the Tokyo University Medical Center and became a doctor in 1924, then spent five years working in a hospital after graduation from medical school before he was accepted as a full doctor by the Japanese Medical Association.’ However, the text from 1975 Hombu suggests that Chitose came to Tokyo in the 1920s and was quite busy practising medicine. In other words, he was practising medicine when he arrived.
Another interesting point is that half of the English text state he graduated from medical College. In contrast, the other half stated he came to Tokyo to study medicine, but no mention is made if he graduated. In neither of the text which Chitose penned himself does he mention either his medical career or graduating from a Japanese university. There remain two other pieces of the enigma that is the Chitose medical career.
Firstly, in the 1964 article for Black Belt magazine Chitose claims to have been a gynaecologist. Secondly, in most of the English text is the assertion at one level or another that Chito Ryu was based in part on Chitose’s studies as a doctor. No such claim is made in the Japanese texts which I consulted although as I will explain later, he does consult with physicians in writing his Chito Ryu Kyohon (brown text).
As time passed and I researched more on this apparent minor issue, I uncovered that several seniors in Chito Ryu knew about this discrepancy in the medical assertions. Using their support and insight, I have spent time researching Chitose’s medical claims and based on my findings I believe he was not a medical doctor, at least in the sense of having a University certification.
Below I discuss the evidence.
Japan during the Meiji Period (circa the 1850s) did have professional schools of medicine and indeed readily caught up with their Western counterparts. The ‘discovery of the plague bacillus in 1894, the discovery of a dysentery bacillus in 1897, the isolation of adrenaline(epinephrine) in crystalline form in 1901, and the first experimental production of tar-induced cancer in 1918’ (https://www.britannica.com/science/history-of-medicine/Japan) all bear witness to the great strides Japan made in the field of medicine. The most notable school was founded in 1857 at the University of Tokyo. By Medical Act of 1874, all medical doctors had to be certified (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6288623/). In other words, to be a certified doctor in Japan meant to study and to pass medical exams.
One of the great myths about exploring Japanese history is that many records were destroyed either as a result of the great Kanto earthquake (1923 - famous in karate circles for destroying Funakoshi’s Tokyo Dojo) and the bombing raids that marked the end of the World War 2. However, such an assertion is simply not accurate. Japan has an excellent national archive, which is available online at https://rnavi.ndl.go.jp/research_guide/entry/theme-honbun-102014.php . Indeed the listing of doctors is complete for the 1920s and early ’30s and neither the name Chinnen nor Chitose are listed. In other words, Chitose was not a recognised doctor, at least of western-styled medicine.
The simple lack of agreement as to if it was Kyoto or Tokyo where he attended university appears to add a need for at least some level of caution when accepting the oral history passed down regarding these years.
Of course, there is the genuine possibility that Chitose attended university just never graduated. We know by the mid-1920’s he had a wife and son and would have been responsible for their care, even if they remained in Okinawa. Those responsibilities plus the massive destruction caused by the 1923 earthquake could have induced the young student to give up his studies.
I also know of two other Japanese researchers who have tried to find evidence of Chitose’s medical certification and found as I did. Likewise, I asked for the help and support of a surgeon and university lecturer who also, could find no evidence that the young Chitose ever graduated with a medical degree.
Had he been a doctor and a university-educated person one would expect him to hold a commissioned officers rank in the Japanese Imperial Army. However, I was unable to find any such standing.
A point of note here is Colling's asserts that in 1919 Chitose was part of the Imperial Body Guard however this seems highly unlikely, as he was an Okinawan. Appointing an Okinawan to serve as an imperial bodyguard in the late 1910s would have been similar to selecting an Irish national to guard George V.
Chitose would have been meeting his national conscription expectation during these years and would have served in Kyushu where Okinawan conscripts were stationed. Had he been an imperial bodyguard in 1918-19, one would have expected him to hold a position of similar status with his remobilisation in the mid-1930s. Again, no evidence was found on any front regarding such condition. Indeed most people consulted believed he was stationed in Kyushu for the duration of the war.
Japan was devastated by the war. It was a prime time to be a doctor yet we know via photo evidence that by 1946 Chitose was holding fundraisers for Okinawa (Sells, p. 136) and not working there as a doctor who was severely needed. Additionally, he married a second time in 1946, and his new wife already had a daughter. Soon other children would follow. However, rather than working as a doctor, he tried unsuccessfully to open a hardware store in Kumamoto in the early 1950s, before landing a more permanent position with local garrison as a karate instructor.
The Japanese Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology was formed in 1948 and based upon a review of the notes from this meeting and the first national meeting Chitose was not present. Membership in this Society was essential if one wished to continue to legally practice as a gynaecological doctor in Japan. Given the date and what we are told in the orthodox history of Chitose, he was still practising medicine at this time so as a gynaecologist we could expect him to attend, especially in light of the massive need for such specific medical care in the aftermath of the war.
When Chitose penned his Brown Book in 1971 he acknowledged that the following doctors had given him advice and support:
So what this does all mean? Closing thoughts
On the one hand, some may be upset for they believed that Chito Ryu was founded on Chitose’s medical training. Of course, even given the orthodox narrative, his practice as a gynaecologist would appear to have little impact on designing a karate system.
Some may believe he misrepresented himself. Perhaps? However, exaggerating the truth has been part and parcel of people trying to escape terrible poverty and find meaning in situations of utter destruction. If he did exaggerate his medical knowledge in the name of promoting his RyuHa, he would not be the first or the last to do so. Indeed, the field almost expects such.
On the other hand, of course, there is the genuine possibility that Chitose served as a medic during the war and thus gained considerable knowledge in the field, even if he was never officially certified. Also possible is he may have studied traditional Okinawan medicine, and that is what he could have been practising on the mainland during the 1920s. Neither of these practices would have enabled him to consinue practice post Wolrd War Two when under the occupation regulation of professions became increasingly documents and centrally controlled.
However, until those that know or have access to such information are willing to share, we remain in the dark.
Personally, having wrestled with this knowledge for over decade now, I realise that by focusing on the medical issue, I may have been missing the incredible and profound RyuHa which is Chito Ryu. Indeed liberating myself for the need to cling to a mythical past meant I could focus on what was important - the connection between the formal two-person drills we have been left and kata.
For me, the historical Chitose is far more appealing than the mythical one. He is a man with an incredible will to power. Someone who, despite racism, lack of opportunity, war, and unimaginable loss managed to pass-on something which has made my life much more fulfilling. For this, I am forever in his debt.
Of course, my sincere wish if for the evidence to come to light which is historically robust and proves what I assert herein is wrong. That is the whole point of research: To open conversations and questions.
There remains much research to be done in karate and Chito Ryu history.
Viable next steps for those in Chito Ryu would be to place Chitose in is Okinawan family, fill in the void of knowledge we have about his life before the 1950s and as always to preserve yet develop the rich roots he left us.
Selected Works Cited.
Chitose, T., 2000. Kempo Karate-Do (trans. C. Johnston)
Chitose, T., 1971. 生理解剖医学に立脚せる 全日本空手道連盟千唐会 教本
千唐流本部 1975 千唐流空手道 入門・基本編 全日本空手道連盟千唐会
Ingebrigtsen, R., June, 2002. Traditional Karate p. 34-38.
Sells, J., 2000. Unante (2nd edition)
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan