Chitose Tsuyoshi (Chinen Sho) - A Man of his Time - Part 1
History challenges us. Not the ‘McDonald's’ version served up to placate an awkward past, special interest or simply to plaster over painful truths. I am talking about a history that forces us to look at the past as experienced adults and to accept that the past is complex, messy and often not what we wished it to be. One only has to look at recent macro events such as the Dutch reviewing their role in WW2, the emergent exploration by Irish historians of a past that was often self-inflicted and the rise of multicultural or feminist history where voices have been given to those once silenced. Such history seeks not to strip the past of its glory but rather to reveal it, in its struggles and achievements, it its challenges and the great effort it took to overcome them and to learn. Indeed history reveals that the leopard can and does change its spots.
What I present below and in coming weeks has been over a decade in the wings. I have hesitated out of respect for Chito Ryu and for fear of causing offence or worse. Moreover, Chitose-sensei and his karate ryu-ha have deeply impacted my life and led to many gifts, not the least of which are family and friends. Nevertheless, among these friends are many who know all of what follows however, they are bound to silence by cultural norms and in some cases family obligations.
Moreover, having spent time studying Chitose-sensei (i.e. O-sensei) I believe the incomplete history we now have of him does him a great disservice. Every day, all over the world people bow out of respect to him yet only some have actually spent the time to trace his footsteps through time. Indeed the story we currently have of O-sensei is colourless and fails to place him accurately within his time/space. He lived, survived and thrived in turbulent times the likes of which Japan/Okinawa and arguably the world had never previously witnessed. That he left us this fine gift of Chito Ryu deserves better treatment than a simple nod of acknowledgement at the start/end of class or a cleansed history. Placing O-Sensei as a man of his time who would, in his own way shape it, is to add flesh to an otherwise tasteless dish.
History is not concerned with truth, it is however concerned with validity. What follows is what my research has uncovered. To this end there are footnotes where the reader can trace the argument laid out. Like many before me who researched O-sensei they relied heavily on ‘eye-witness’ testimony. However, unlike previous works I have sought to verify any statements made by cross-referencing them with other sources usually books, articles, other eye-witness accounts and thankfully photographs. This process in research is known as triangulation.
It is my sincere hope that every and all assertions I make will be challenged with meaningful evidence. Moreover, as I will argue, the main bodies currently promoting the legacy of O-sensei are guilty of neglecting to present us, his students, with an accurate and meaningful history of the man. Likewise, they further detract from O-sensei by not ensuring the legacy he left us via his writings are translated into the language of his worldwide audience.
Additionally this offering is meant to be read alongside other information provided on Chitose. In particular, the current study seeks to shed light into the life of Chitose up to the end of World War two as arguably after this date and his expansion outside of Japan his history is well recorded. Indeed, the fullest narrative I know in written in English is Michael Colling’s Chitose Tsuyoshi: A Bridge Through Time (2002) and published on the Dragon Times via their dragon-tsunami organisation.
Intercultural Research - A Challenge
Delving outside one's-cultural landscape can pose a challenge however, using various lenses and remaining culturally sensitive helps avoid many of these potential pit-falls. That being said it is also important to not view the other as something exotic and beyond understanding. To this end eye-witness accounts when delving into Japan, especially in its martial history carries numerous challenges. Aside from the language there is also within Japan, the notion of Honne/Tatemae. A loose translation of honne is true feelings/thoughts, while tatemae means the feelings/thoughts expressed to the world. In Japan, with its emphasis on ‘wa’ (harmony) tatemae holds trump. Adding to the obfusciation is the cultural practice of revering the dead. As a general rule to be truly Japanese the following these two cultural norms is arguably above all else. It is not too much of a stretch to see a correlation between the implications of these norms and the notion of ‘omerta’ in Spannish - that is to 'keep your mouth shut'.
Moreover, some were asked by O-sensei not to tell his full story for he had been a bit of a rascal. However, with maturity and appreciation for what he left us I believe we are now ready to see the man for what he was: someone driven by a will to power that included sharing his karate knowledge with the world. Someone, who inspired others to be more than they believed. Someone, who through his ryuha enabled the coming together of different people from different walks of life and who ultimately enriched many lives.
What I write below is well known in some Japanese circles however, there it may be impolite and culturally insensitive to speak about such things. While researching this topic I asked people who had the information and the evidence to write about it however, they declined out of a fear of people in Japan misinterpreting their intent as one geared towards smearing the name of O-sensei and their relatives. To help protect these people where I have not used their names to cite the evidence however, I have used other sources to support what they initially told me to be true.
Indeed a primary example of this cultural norm at play is that it was only in 2018 that the ‘other’ history of Chotoku Kyan was told by Joe Swift in his groundbreaking text: The Downfall of a Ryukyuan Samurai. Using aritcles from 1898 in the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper Swift uncovers the story of Kyan the prostitution broker and the scandal that, for a while, engulfed this father of modern karate. However, Swift's work rather than detracting from Kyan, is from a historical viewpoint, a meaningful insight into the challenges and fall from grace so many upper class Pechin experienced when Japan annexed Ryukyu and later abolished the ‘samurai’ class. The mythical past of this warrior class continues to confuse and mislead people everywhere, no more so than in Japan.
A Man of Many Names - Okinawa to Tokyo
From what is rpesented in English we are tole that Chitose was born October 18th, 1898, in the Kumochi area of Naha City. His father, Chinen (Masuo) Chiyoyu, took on his wife's family name as was the custom at the time but never took up the study of the Okinawan martial arts' (Colling; 2002). However, this information is inaccurate while the date of his birth is correct, the year is not. Likewise, his father was called Chinen and thus DID NOT take his wife's name.
Throughout his life Chitose used at least 5 different names. This use of multiple names makes researching him more of a challenge than the norm. While some attempt to read a wayward reason for the change of name, the simple truth is many Okinawan’s at the time changed their name to a Japanese one and adopted Japanese dialect (McCarthy, 1999; Japan Times, October 22, 2016). Thus, the name change from Chinen, a very common Okinawan name, to Chitose aligns the young Chinen with others of his generation such a Maezato Shinken (better known as Taira Shinken) or Tominakoshi Gichin (Funakoshi Gichin). Indeed some Okinwan’s still change their names when they move to the mainland today.
However, this assertion needs qualification. Currently we know he used only two surnames Chinen and Chitose. Where some of the confusion lies is that he often used different kanji (Chinese script) for his first name using various combinations that could be read as 'Tsuyoshi' before deciding on the combination is his now most associated with.
As an aside the name ‘Gwa’ Chinen’s first name read as 小 actually means 'small' and is a name of endearment. Likewise for personal reason Chinen in the 1930s changed the kanji of his name. The explanation for this kanji change was deeply personal and had NOTHING to do with illicit activities as some have speculated.
During this time, late 1800s there was very little legal documentation around names in either Japan or Okinawa so tracing his birth name is a challenge. Listed below are the lineage of names Chinen (pronounced Chinin in Okinawa) used until finally deciding on the 'Chitose Tsuyoshi' one.
Name in Chinese Script Phonetic Translation Years Used
知念 小 Chinen Gwa. Use as his childhood, 'pet' name
知念 近直. Chinen Chikanao The name registered on his birth certificate and also supposedly used at the Keio University embukai with Funakoshi in the 1920s - date to be determined. These kanji are those he selected in the 1930s and not those listed on his family register.
知念 強直. Chinen Tsuyoshi. Used between 1930s - 1940s
千歳 剛直. Chitose Tsuyoshi. Used in the early years in Kikuchi and Kumamoto - 1930s-40s
千歳 強直. Chitose Tsuyoshi/Gochoku. This became his official name when his friend Tsuruta Akira took Chitose’s 'new' name to the government offices in Kumamoto and registered it there. Sometime in the 1950's
千歳 強直 was the name Chinen would use for the rest of his life. He would publish under it and indeed, it helped facilitate getting recognition as a Hanshi on June, 2nd 1968. He was recognised thus by the All Okinawa Karate and Kobudo RengoKai. Above is a copy of his diploma and it is signed by the following people: Higa Seitoku (Chairman), Uehara Seikichi (Head of examinations) and Matsuoka Seiho (Honorary chairman). At the time the presentation of Hanshi was the highest award possible in karate. This is NOT the document however, where he was awarded the 10th dan. I have been unable to track it down.
Many thanks to my friend and colleague Miguel Da Luz on clearing up some of the finer points of pronunciation for this article.
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