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El camino del Yamanni-ryu

Una entrevista con Sensei Toshihiro Oshiro
por Dong Tran

Dong Tran: ¿Cuándo y dónde nació?
Toshihiro Oshiro: Nací 1o mayo 1949 en Haneji, Okinawa, Japón.

DT: ¿Cuándo comenzó practicar Karate? ¿Giraba su juventud  en torno a las artes marciales?
TO: Comencé cuando tenía séiscientos años. Pero, en realidad, cuando tenía ocho o nueve años en la escuala primaria el sempai mío me enseñaba Karate y Bojutsu. Así se puede decir que comencé con la edad de ocho. Pero, no es igual a la manera de la cual se pracitica en el dojo hoy día.

DT: ¿Lo llamaban Shorin-ryu en aquel entonces?
TO: No. Desearía que pudiera recordar qué Kata me enseñaron. Era una mezcla de los Katas Pinan y Naihanchi pero no sé quién lo había generado. Después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial muchos practicantes del Karate okinawenses quedaban prisioneros de guerra, y uno de estos campos ubicaba cerca de Haneji. Por eso pienso que uno de ellos les enseño Karate a la gente de nuestra ciudad.



DT: ¿Quién fue su primer Sensei de Karate? ¿También practicaba Ud. con Sensei Nagamine Shoshin? ¿Daba clases Ud. en el dojo de Sensei Nagamine?
TO: Mi primer Sensei de Karate era Sensei Shima Masao. Un año después que ingresé en su dojo me aconsejó que iba a practicar en el Hombu (Cuartel General) Dojo. Cuando había hecho el Shodan llegué a ser ayudante de instructor y luego instructor. No obstante, guiar una clase no es lo mismo como enseñar. Son dos cosas completamente differentes! Sensei Shima me enseñó de los Fukyu Gata a Chinto. En el Cuartel General Sensei Nagamine, Sensei Kushi, Sensei Yamaguchi y Sensei Nakamura me enseñaron el Kata Chinto. Especialmente Sensei Nakamura me enseñó el Kata Chinto de manera muy profunda ...

DT: ¿Cuándo encontró a Sensei Kishaba Chokei?
TO: Lo encontré cuando hice el cinto marrón. No es igual al systema de graduación moderno. En aquellos días practicabamos día y noche, los séis días de la semana. Llegué a obtener el cinto marron dentro de un año. El Dojo de Sensei Shima fue conjuntamende lanzado por los Senseis Shima, Taba, y Kishaba. Luego los Senseis Taba y Kishaba se marcharon a la madre patria Japón. Así solo Sensei Shima patroneaba la escuela. Cuando había hecho yo el cinto marrón Sensei Kishaba volvió. Así lo encontré. Era cuando empezó a enseñarnos. No obstante, Sensei Shima quedaba mi Sensei principal. Mi fundamento y las técnicas procedían de él. De Sensei Kishaba obtenía un montón de conocimiento y pulía mi técnica. 

DT: ¿Dónde practicaba?
TO: El entrenamiento era algo muy personal. Si el Sensei vió que un estudiante particular quería practicar de veras, lo llevaría a su casa enseñándolo más.  

DT: ¿Cuándo lo encontró a su profesor de Yamanni-ryu Chogi, el hermano de Sensei Chokei?
TO: Seinsei Shima siempre hablaba de Sensei Chogi Kishaba y Sensei Chokei también hablaba de su hermano, que era un buen practicante de bo-jutsu en efecto. Cuando Sensei Kishaba Chokei volvió de la madre patria Japón no tenía donde vivir. Así vivía en la casa de su hermano Chogi, a donde yo solía de ir para practicar Karate con él. Necesitaba ocho años hasta que al final ví la técnica de bo de Sensei Chogi por mis propios ojos y qué diferente era de la de otra gente.

DT: Had you heard of Yamanni-ryu before that?
I had never heard of Yamanni-ryu before. The first time I heard that word, it was from Kishaba sensei himself. But other senseis knew about Yamanni-ryu; I was just a young kid and didn't know about it.

DT: Was Kishaba sensei actively teaching Yamanni-ryu at that time?
I don't know. The only thing I knew was that every time I came to his house for training, I was the only student.

DT: Did Kishaba sensei accept you right away or was there a testing, waiting period?
I was allowed to practice with him because I was recommended by his brother.

DT: Were you also working at the time?
I was working then in the Police department.

DT: Is Kishaba sensei the sole successor to Masami Chinen sensei, the founder of Yamanni-ryu, or are there other teachers?
I believe there were other Yamanni-ryu instructors. They learned from Masami Chinen or his grandfather Sanda but I heard that only Kishaba sensei knows all the Yamanni-ryu katas. Other people may have studied from Masami sensei or Sanda sensei but how many people can really say they learned from them? No one can claim Menkyo Kaiden because there's no such thing. The word doesn't even exist in the Okinawan language.

DT: Can you tell us about a typical training session with the Kishaba brothers?
I never practiced with them on the same night. I would train at the dojo, for instance, from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. then go to Kishaba Chogi sensei's house for bojutsu. Once in a while I practiced at the hombu dojo then go train with Chokei sensei afterwards. The sessions were separate. I used to train bojutsu with Chogi sensei in his veranda. It was dark but there was some light. I could see what he was showing me but mostly I heard (his bo cut the air). His technique was so swift but he would not break it down for me. He would only do the same technique over the same way. When teaching kata he would break it down but wouldn't explain anything. He would only say, "Do this!" I haven't learned all his techniques yet. I think he has more to teach.

DT: Did you have to do a lot of training and research on your own?
Yes. Of course Kishaba sensei taught me a lot of kata, techniques, and history but technically I had to research for myself and do a lot of self-training. The foundation and 99% of my knowledge and technique came from Kishaba sensei but I had to practice a lot on my own.

DT: Most of us are used to being spoon-fed. Can you tell us how Kishaba sensei taught you Sakugawa-no-kon?
There was light in his veranda but still it was very dark. Now I wish I could see what he did but I'm surprised I could follow the sound of his bo. He just told me what to do. The first time he showed me the kata it was very different. I think he slowed it down for me.

DT: At the time, there were no basic or intermediate katas; you went directly from Suuji-no-kon to Sakugawa-no-kon. Is it why you feel today it is necessary to create more basic katas to introduce the student to Yamanni-ryu slowly?
Right. As far as Ryubi-no-kon is concerned, there was already a basic kata by that name but it didn't work. When I had to teach in the US I had to create a simple kata. You know how hard Suuji-no-kon is, even though it looks simple. I adapted the existing Ryubi-no-kon to Yamanni-ryu and showed it to Kishaba sensei. He approved it because he knew the Okinawan katas were too difficult and we needed introductory ones.

DT: Did Kishaba sensei also teach you the secondary weapons or did you have to research on your own?
He never taught us the small weapons. He said there were only katas for bojutsu and karate in Okinawan martial arts. For everything else (sai, tunfa, etc...) We would have to study ourselves.

DT: Can you tell us how Kishaba sensei taught you saijutsu?
One day I ordered a pair of sai that was very well balanced, with a good shape. I brought them to Sensei's house and asked him to teach me. I knew there must be a way to control the weapon (even if there was no kata). Sensei really liked those sai so he took them and we went upstairs for our regular bojutsu practice. Halfway up the stairs he turned around and swung the sai-just once-in front of my face and said: "This is how you are supposed to swing the sai." That was the only time he showed me. He said that as far as the small weapons were concerned, I had to study on my own. And that's what I did.

DT: When did you come to the United States?
In 1978. I came because one of my karate sempai, who owned a dojo in California, had passed away. They needed a replacement instructor, so I came.

DT: When you came here, did you begin teaching Yamanni-ryu right away?
For five years after I arrived in the US, I taught only karate. Karate was the main curriculum because I felt bojutsu was something I did just for myself. I didn't teach anybody until one day I went to a tournament and saw how people practiced bojutsu. Somebody asked me to do a demonstration and when I did people were really surprised at how different it was from their styles. Interest picked up and that's when I started teaching Yamanni-ryu.

DT: It has taken a while; are you happy with the foundation you have laid so far?
As far as introducing Yamanni-ryu to the public, I hope I did a good thing for Okinawan martial arts. Some people have said that karate has changed into a modern version while ancient kobudo has not. I hope that through Yamanni-ryu they can get a glimpse of the old karate. I don't know if I have done a good job. Maybe if there had been a more capable person (than I) and he could have taught Americans and made Yamanni-ryu more popular and raised people's level of martial art...I only know I did my best. But I'm happy with what I've done and seen. Even though there are people who are just using Yamanni-ryu's name, there are those who sincerely want to learn it, and that makes me very happy.

DT: You have given seminars and clinics abroad as well. Recently you have been to France. Do you feel Yamanni-ryu will grow on the international level?
I think so. In other countries people want to learn Yamanni-ryu but it's difficult for them to get instruction. I was lucky to have been invited to France to teach last month. This was the first time Yamanni-ryu was introduced in public in Europe.

DT: What are your hopes for the future? You have begun using kendo bogu (armor) to practice tournament-style kumibo. Do you want to incorporate this into the Yamanni-ryu syllabus?
The introduction of kumibo and intermediate katas was not my idea but rather Kishaba sensei's express orders. He requested the kumibo practice but the technical implementation was my own. For the future of Yamanni-ryu I believe that the sport/competition aspect of it will make it easier for the public to understand up to a certain level, but at a higher level, people will have to do the martial art, the Way of martial art. However, if we do only the martial art, people might not be able to do Yamanni-ryu and it might disappear.

DT: Thank you, sensei, for granting me this interview and sharing your views with us.

Dong Tran first met Oshiro sensei in 1986 and has achieved the rank of nidan in Yamanni-ryu in 1998. He brings Oshiro sensei out to New Jersey for an annual workshop in June. His dojo, the Asian Arts Center, is located in West Caldwell, NJ. His web site is:


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