Interview with Sensei Paul Louis Roentgen
By: Sensei James Ryan
St. Catharines Wado Kai Karate
“Learning the art of self-preservation (also known as self-defense) is achieved through a series of blocks, punches, kicks, strikes, movements, and combinations. By practicing on a daily basis, both physically and mentally, with the thought of becoming a complete martial artist in terms of mind, body and spirit, the results will always be rewarding. This is definitely not a quick fix, but rather a long, hard rewarding train ride, so my advice to you is – don’t ever get off the train.” – Sensei Paul Louis Roentgen (Hachidan), The Way of Karate-do
Recently, I had the honor and privilege of sitting down with Sensei Paul “Lou” Roentgen, age 83, who was an original student of Hanshi Masaru Shintani back in the 1960’s, where he also trained alongside Sensei Brad Cosby in the historical Grimsby dojo. It should also be noted that I am currently in the process of editing Sensei Roentgen’s new book, entitled: The Way of Karate-do, which has been generously donated to the SWKKF and will be made available to all members in the near future. During our time together, we openly discussed the many important philosophies of his book, his fondest memories of Hanshi Shintani, and the importance of always staying on the train. Enjoy!
JR: What can you tell me about our founder, Hanshi Masaru Shintani?
PLR: Sensei [Shintani] would walk into my house and he would never say hi to everybody at one time. He’d say, hi Monica, how are you? Hi Kelly, how are you? Tracy, how are you? Denva, how are you? He would address each person separately. He wouldn’t just say, hi, how’s everybody doing?
JR: Why do you think he did that?
PLR: I think he liked to have a personal connection with each member of the family – each person, instead of just taking everything in as a whole, or a spectrum. Everybody was an individual and that’s how Sensei was. He never associated you with them. You were you.
JR: Recently, I’ve been working on an article for Black Belt Magazine to talk about our organization, the Senate and the SWKKF, and one of the observations at the end of the article was that Hanshi could have been a very rich man when you consider how many people he had trained with over the years, but instead, he chose a life of humbleness and honor. I don’t get the impression, especially with what you just said there, that Hanshi Shintani was a man who was full of a lot of self-importance.
PLR: No, he was rich in other things, which people would pray to have.
JR: Such as?
PLR: His personality, his honesty, his way of explaining simplicity – nothing was technical or difficult to understand. He would do things to enhance who you were. Like I’ve told everybody, although it’s probably not on record, Sensei said to me when I was a yellow belt, he said, Lou, you have a very short in-step, about 29 inches? Yes, Sensei. He said, you’ll never throw a head kick. And he left it at that. Later, when I was a brown belt, I walked right up to Sensei and I said, Sensei, I would like to show you something. I stood there and I threw a sidekick to his head – lightning fast, and he just turned around and laughed.
JR: That stayed with you as a yellow belt. Would say that it discouraged you or motivated you?
PLR: Motivation. He had a real sense of people. He knew who he could motivate and who he couldn’t. He must have picked that up in me – in my attitude because I came out of wrestling and boxing and all of that, so I was in that frame of mind – that attitude. He picked up on it and made a statement – it was then up to me to take it from there. And he would do it in such a subtle way, that you would make up your own mind to either do this, or accept it as is and say to yourself, oh well, forget it, I can’t do that. And he seemed to know who he could say that to, and who would take it and run with it.
JR: You had a chance to talk about Hanshi Shintani the night before the National Tournament. What was discussed?
PLR: The whole story revolved around who he was. He was such a humble person. He never showed any of his… he showed his ability in some ways, but not in all the ways of who he was. As I told the guys, Sensei was a very humble person, and he knew what physical condition he was in, so nobody ever saw him with his shirt off. Have you ever seen posters of Bruce Lee? Sensei was just as ripped. Not an ounce of fat. He was in peek physical condition. If you ever saw him in person, you’d say, ya, he’s got it. And he demonstrated that power – fingers, fists, voice, humbleness – I never once heard him raise his voice – never.
Sensei Brad Cosby: He had a way of looking at you when confronted with a situation that would make you back down.
PLR: You got the point – you got the message. But, I mean… eating humble food with him, you’d sit there and he’d say, you having supper tonight, Lou? I’d say, sure, so he’d bring out a slab of tuna. He’d have sauce in a bowl, a bowl of steaming rice, and then he’d say, dig in. He’d slice me a thin cut of tuna, roll it, dip it in the sauce, and add the rice. Simplicity at its best. So good. Other nights he’d say, well, what are we gonna have tonight? Whatever, Sensei, I’d say. So he’d bring out a bowl of rice and crack an egg on top. The rice was steaming – crack a raw egg on top. He’d say, go ahead. It was pretty good. It was a simple thing. There was no showing off with him – just total humility. He used to break stuff and then pull the pieces out of his knuckles. Then he’d sweep it up.
JR: You trained with Hanshi a long time. When did you first meet him?
PLR: I first walked into his dojo – the dates aren’t exact – sometime in the mid-60’s.
JR: And you travelled with him? You trained with him?
PLR: Once, before I earned my black belt – I haven’t told too many people this… I received mine in a very short time because we trained seven days a week. And we learned very fast. In those days, we didn’t have many katas to learn. How many katas did we do?
BC: We didn’t do pinans, we did heinans.
PLR: Heinans, and that was about it.
BC: There were some of the Kitagawa katas in there as well.
PLR: We basically did our power kata, chonan kata – little, simple katas. Nothing like now though. Sensei would ask me, Lou, what did you learn at the last tournament? Do you remember how you won? And if I said no, then Sensei would say, well then you didn’t learn anything. How did you lose? I don’t know. You didn’t learn anything. So I pulled the same trick on my students. If they couldn’t remember how they won or lost, it was a waste of time. It was all about learning – not winning or losing. I remember one time in Niagara Falls, I came off the floor – it was the first division I ever won as a yellow belt. I was smiling and happy and Sensei asked, what are you smiling about? I just won, Sensei. So? he said. Did you learn something? That was him – learning, remembering, was it a good time or a waste of time? There was always a method in what he said. There was always a reason why he said something. He never just said something off the cuff. One day, I was having a hamburger with him at a restaurant just near where he lived and he ordered everything on his, including onions. I said, no onions please. He said, Lou, but you love onions. I said, yes, Sensei. Then why aren’t you having onions? he asked. I’ve got to teach tonight, I said. He just smiled and laughed. You won’t offend anybody with onion breathe, he said. What’s funny is that I never looked for fault with him. I always looked for gain. If you look for fault in people, you might lose out on something that they said which was good. Some people are too busy looking for bad things instead of looking for good things. So whenever I went to see him, I was always looking for something that was going to stay with me.
JR: I trained under Sensei Peter Ruch when I was younger. Then I missed about 20 years. I came back and was able to see almost from an outside perspective, just how much the organization had changed in that 20 years. And much to my surprise, many things hadn’t changed, but also in other ways, certain things had evolved, such as Shindo for example.
PLR: Some things you can’t change. Some things stay the same forever. The only things that change are the improvements to make things better. But the system never changes.
JR: So given that you trained so long ago with Hanshi Shintani, and you’re now back into the fold of the SWKKF, what is your impression of the current state of the organization and how do you think Hanshi would feel about where it is today? Similarly, he’s not been with us for the past 20 years. What are your impressions of the organization and what do you think his impressions of the organization would be?
PLR: Sensei would be very impressed because I don’t see people looking for self-gain. I see people who are concerned about keeping Sensei’s spirit alive and his attitude alive and the whole association of Wado, alive. There are many people who have impressed me – a lot of humility. I mean, Denis [Labbé] came and sat down with me and we had a good chat about all sorts of stuff, and also about things that are happening today. Later on, he sat next to me again, and afterwards I said to myself, ya, we’re okay. Everything is going down the right way. I see you got off the train for a while. The train did a few laps before you got back on. The important thing is you got back on and you saw the change and now you’re a life-timer.
PLR: That’s what’s important. Is this just a short-term thing or is this your life? I went astray for a while in South Africa – we all do in some way, but it doesn’t take you long to get back onto the train – to regain your vision. We all get distracted by one thing or another – it’s called being human. It doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you find your way back before it’s too late. And to be able to share what you’ve got with others. If you’ve got something good, share it, otherwise it’ll die. You need other people to make it grow. You can’t keep it to yourself.
JR: So now that you’re back into the organization…
PLR: It’s just nice to belong back with Sensei’s family. That’s what these guys are.
JR: At the National Tournament, as a Shodan, I was all the way down on one end, and you were all the way down on the other end, and this is a pretty tight-knit group…
PLR: You know what? They didn’t need to show me the honor that they did, because I’ve been away for a long time. Both Sensei Denis [Labbé] and Sensei Ron [Mattie] placed me back – not necessarily where I belong, but where I respectfully should be. I was not expecting it.
JR: So, I imagine there were a whole lot of students, black belts included, who might have been wondering…
PLR: Who is this guy?
PLR: I’m just a long-time person who’s been in the Wado system since before Otsuka Sensei came to be. We were a little club in Grimsby… what? 25, 30 students?
BC: Yes, something like that.
PLR: Work hard. Sweat blood. Best teacher in the world. We had a good group. Some went away. Some pulled some nasty stuff. That’s life. One person, who I won’t mention by name, used to get up and fight and claw away at someone, pulling hair and all that, and Sensei would say, sit down, sit down, and he’d get really annoyed with that person. Ultimately, they couldn’t get their black belt through Sensei, so they ended up leaving and got it elsewhere. Sensei had a definite way about him. You either belonged or you didn’t. I didn’t see him throw anybody else out from there. He accepted everybody. Some better – some worse. If you were there and you turned out good, that’s fine. That’s why I say, if out of the hundreds of people that I’ve taught, you get one good person, then you’ve had a successful life. You can only try and impart what’s good. Don’t keep anything that’s good to yourself. Share it.
JR: Speaking of which, what inspired you to want to write this book?
PLR: Inspiration – where does it come from? Maybe it was from what Sensei planted in me – what I remember about him, what it’s done for my life. I’ve been able to correct myself in many ways because of it. Nobody can say, well, I’ve had a beautiful train ride all these years. There are a lot of hard bumps along the way, but then you correct yourself, you come back to where you should be, and you become a nice person. You know you’re capable of inflicting pain and damage onto people, but you would never even think about it. Only in a life-saving situation, and yet, it’s still not done with malice in your heart – only for the protection of your own. I mean, it’s funny how you change your thinking. Brad’s the same. He thinks like me. We talk in the car and we’re down the same path. Like twins, we are. And all because of one person – Sensei. Brad spent a lot of time with him and I’ve spent a lot of time with him – personal stuff, lots of good memories. Not everybody can have good memories, but we have a lot of good memories. That’s what Sensei Shintani imparted onto us.