Greg Turnbull / Photos donated by students.
To many people, a martial artist is what they see depicted in movies, video games, or the latest UFC sporting event. They are flying through the air with multiple kicks, brandishing fierce-looking bladed weapons, or displaying a head-to-toe canvas of body art to the cheers of adoring fans.
However for others, the definition of a martial artist is someone who has devoted the better part of their lifetime, outside of the spotlight, spilling countless amounts of blood, sweat and tears, dedicated to preserving ancient fighting techniques and developing one’s own character. There is no ego nor any accolades – just a relentless understated focus on acquiring perfection in an art where perfection is impossible. For those who are able to progress this way in the art of karate, eventually they will earn a black belt. For many, this represents a completed goal and an end to their training; however, in the grand scheme of things, this is just the beginning.
There are very few individuals who have attained the highest rankings in karate. We are very fortunate in Victoria to have a select few of these Masters and Grandmasters. One such Grandmaster is Hanshi Masanobu Kikukawa. His list of accomplishments and respected designations are hardly known outside of the few people lucky enough to be able to learn from him. Arriving directly from Okinawa over 20 years ago, Kikukawa’s goal upon arrival in Victoria was to teach and preserve the techniques and strategies he had learned and mastered.
Kikukawa currently wears the red belt of a Grandmaster designating him as a 9th degree black belt in the art of Shorin-Ryu karate. He also holds a 6th degree in Ryukyu Kobudo (traditional Okinawa weapons), 3rd degree in Aikido, and 3rd degree in Judo. With such a long and diverse set of skills, Kikukawa has a long and diverse list of masters that he trained under.
This brings us to Kyoshi Gamini Soysa – half a world away, Sosya, an 8th degree black belt, is widely recognized as a pioneer of introducing Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate in Sri Lanka (1976), India (1982) and other South Asian Countries. Both Kikukawa and Soysa had one common teacher, Keishun Kakinohana. This past week, Soysa traveled all the way from Sri Lanka to learn the traditional weapons system that Kikukawa teaches here in Victoria. Although the two had never met, there was instant comradery between them.
After exchanging respectful greetings, which are just as important as any martial skill, it was right down to the business of training. During Soysa’s short time here, each day consisted of 6 to 8 hours of training under Kikukawa’s watchful eye – constant explanation and repetition of moves with seemingly microscopic corrections in position and execution that would be invisible to the average observer. The goal was for Soysa to be able to take these weapons systems back to Sri Lanka and share it amongst his hundreds of students.
The Okinawa weapons, also known as Ryukyu Kobudo, are unique amongst the martial arts as originally, all weapons were outlawed by the ruling Japanese Samurai. The Okinawa people were creative and developed fighting techniques utilizing basic farming and fishing tools: kama (a small, rice-cutting scythe), tonfa (a millstone handle), eku (a fisherman’s oar), bo-staff (a long stick used to carry pails of water or crops), etc. These techniques have been handed down, generation by generation, from master to student until today.
During the training sessions, Kikukawa demonstrated his extensive knowledge of all these weapons by showing the physical applications to each move. By understanding the application, students are able to understand how to execute each movement more correctly. Without this understanding, the moves simply would devolve into a ritualized dance.
Along with fighting technique and etiquette, the traditional martial arts also encompass their own philosophies. Kikukawa shared one of his favorites with the group:
“If you fight, you don’t have to win – but don’t lose. If you lose, fight again – then you don’t have to win.”
He explained some of the lessons from this philosophy. If you always win, you will always be challenged by others who are looking to prove themselves. If you always lose, you will be taunted and teased for failing. If you have lost but are still willing to get back up and fight, you will earn the respect of your peers and become friends. At that point, win or lose does not matter.
Upon completion of all the training during Soysa’s visit, once again there were many pleasantries and bows back and forth. Soysa was so pleased with his training that his is looking to invite Kikukawa to travel all the way to Sri Lanka to help continue the exchange with each other – once again, assisting with Kikukawa’s goal of preserving and sharing his techniques.
For more information on Hanshi Masanobu Kikukawa, please visit:
For more information on Kyoshi Gamini Soysa, please visit: