Ask the Senseis: What was Your First Meeting with Sensei Shintani like?
By: Sensei James Ryan
St. Catharines Wado Kai Karate
Sensei Neil Prime (St. Catharines, Ontario): “The first time I ever saw Sensei Shintani was when myself, and three of my friends, all went to watch a class prior to joining. I remember that Sensei was a very soft spoken man, and he welcomed us to stay and watch his class. Most of what was going on was a blur. I was truly mesmerized. I remember watching in total awe as he blurted out commands, and led the class by demonstrating the techniques he wanted the students to perform. I really don’t remember if we watched for five minutes or an hour, but I do remember when we were getting up to leave, he asked if he would see us back. My friends and I answered in unison with a very keen, ‘Yes!’ All four of us – those who went to watch that night, were eventually graded to our yellow belt some time later. I was the only one out of that group who stuck with it beyond that. This was also the first time I met Sensei Brian Chmay. He was a green belt at the time. That was over 40 years ago.”
Sensei Brian Chmay (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario): “I had heard quite a bit about Sensei Shintani before I met him. Everyone who ever spoke to me about Sensei held him in their highest regards. I finally got to meet him when I was a yellow belt. That would have been in 1978. He was soft spoken, but you could sense and feel his strength, his dedication and his sense of morality. I would feel these characteristics every time I worked out with or spoke to him. When you were with Sensei Shintani, you always felt that you were in the presence of a truly great karate instructor and one of the humblest people you’d ever meet.”
Sensei Peter Ruch (Nayarit, Mexico): “The first time I met Sensei Shintani was at the Hamilton dojo with Sensei Rolly Day. I felt at the time that I had met a person who was totally in control and was eager to teach anyone who was in the dojo. His enthusiasm, to say the least, was uplifting and made you want to work harder. You did not want to disappoint Shintani Sensei, although I never saw him get upset with a student. He was a great instructor.”
Sensei Heather Fidyk (Calgary, Alberta): “I remember how when Sensei Shintani walked into a venue of 200+ people, the room went immediately quiet in anticipation of training and learning. Additionally, Sensei would spend time watching and assisting every person at least a couple of times at each training session. This translated into a lot of repetitions for every drill. Repetition is key to the muscle memory and cognitive development of karate, especially the basics.”
Sensei Ron Mattie (Welland, Ontario): “I was taking karate at our high school, where green belt, [Sensei] Denis Labbé worked out as well. I was a white belt. Sensei Shintani taught at the Welland dojo on Fridays where Sensei Labbé also worked out. I had other commitments on Fridays and couldn’t make those classes, but I happened to go by one night and dropped in to watch. [Sensei] Peter Ciolfi was teaching and Sensei Shintani was in the office with Sensei Dominic Morabito. I went into the office and introduced myself to Sensei. I was 14-years old, long hair, army jacket and in a rock band. We shook hands and he asked why I wasn’t planning to work-out that night. I explained that I couldn’t make Fridays, but that I worked-out at the school dojo with Sensei Labbé. He nodded his head and I walk away, and watched the class for a few minutes before leaving. Years later at a black belt workout in Hamilton, Sensei talked about the first time he met me. I was a Yodan at the time, teaching many of his black belt classes and clinics. He repeated pretty well everything I just mentioned, but added that when I walked away, he turned to Sensei Morabito and said, ‘This kid is a punk and he’ll never make it.’ I looked at him and thought, What the heck? Then he continued on by saying, ‘Don’t ever underestimate anyone. They could end up being one of your key people.’ What a humble man, Sensei was, and that lesson taught me lots.”
Sensei Denis Labbé (Welland, Ontario): “I met Sensei Shintani in October of 1972. I was 14-years old and Sensei was starting a school club after hours at Confederation High School in Welland. I was excited to start karate after seeing his demonstration the week before in the school gym with a few of his ranking black belts. The demonstration was well put together, and of course the brick breaking demonstration was cool. I learned very quickly that breaking bricks and boards was not a part of our training. I don’t remember too many things on my first day with Sensei (after all, it was 46 years ago), but I do remember this soft-spoken man teaching us the basic techniques, and when he demonstrated the forms, it was with extreme power. You could see the power on his facial expressions – this soft-spoken man with the ability to do a lot of damage. We did lots of basics on that first day, and next thing you know, the class was over with (two hours later). I came back every week after that to the school club. Then, when I graduated from high school, I moved to Sensei Shintani’s Monday and Thursday evening classes in Welland where I met Sensei Peter Ciolfi. He was a brown belt at the time.”
Sensei Jim Atkinson (Delhi, Ontario): “My first time seeing Sensei Shintani was in 1982 at the Delhi tournament. I was intrigued and mystified by his presence. I was almost afraid to approach him, as I didn’t know what to say. I just watched him in awe as he interacted with people, and carried himself with such confidence. However, he had a calm and humble way about him too. I remember him as the centre judge of the black belt division, and the control and respect he had with every fighter, as well as the other judges. It was unforgettable for me. The first time I had actual interaction with Sensei Shintani was later that year at the Simcoe tournament. Once again, I watched as he presented himself around the event with confidence, smiling and interacting. I was a yellow belt and had just finished my event. I don’t remember the placings. I was suffering from some back problems at the time. We received our medals, and as I was leaving the floor, my heart skipped a beat and I lost my breath as Sensei Shintani approached to speak with me. As he began to talk, I felt the calmness from his smile. He said, ‘You did a great job out there. You fight with good respect.’ I will never forget those words. He then asked me about my stiff back and took me aside and gave me the best back-cracking I ever had. From that day forward, Sensei Shintani had my complete respect and admiration – how he had taken the time for me as a yellow belt when he was followed by thousands. I truly believe that meeting with Sensei saved and directed my life.”
Sensei Michel Gosselin (Hearst, Ontario): “I remember I was new to the organization and met several people for the first time. The date was July 5, 1997 and the event was the first ever Shintani Team try-outs (competition). Sensei was there and watched the event. He was a kind, well-respected man, and I could sense that about him right away.”
Sensei Michael Csoke (Hamilton, Ontario): “I was first introduced to Sensei Shintani in 1970 when he attended our club (Tora Karate club) in Hamilton to showcase some of his techniques. At the time, I was a 17-year old white belt who only thought that 7th degree black belts lived in Japan and walked on water. What impressed me the most about Sensei was his demeanour. For a man of his stature, he came across so humble and engaging, even to a mere teenaged white belt like myself.”
Sensei Bruce Perkins (Simcoe, Ontario): “My first encounter with Sensei Shintani was at my yellow belt grading. l drove from Wawa to Timmins. The facility was packed and Sensei was teaching at the start of the grading. Sensei had us throwing a single punch to the head. He walked through the group and offered advice and encouragement to each and every person on the floor. Sensei would stop and have someone demonstrate the punch, explain a point, and then he’d continue on with the count as he circulated through the group. The thing that stood out the most was Sensei’s soft spoken demeanor. He had this aura of confidence and authority about him, and yet he showed genuine compassion for everyone on the floor. This trait became one of the cornerstones of the SWKKF. As Sensei led this organization, he demanded that all of his black belts conducted themselves in this manner, both on and off the floor.”
Sensei Darren Marshall (Toronto, Ontario): “My first meeting with Sensei Shintani was not on a karate floor. I interrupted his nap after he drove 11-hours to Wawa. I was working at the Wawa Motor Inn, where, thanks to my employee incentives (35% off on rooms, plus one free weekend chalet rental), they were able to stay in a chalet. Senseis Bruce Perkins and Jack Gingras were there, as were two of the other Welland contingents that I recognized – Senseis Ron Mattie and Peter Ciolfi. I wasn’t planning on going down and meeting Sensei Shintani – there’s so much background to how Sensei got there, it’s hard to relate… it was 1992 or ‘93 and Sensei Shintani had not been up to Wawa before, as far as I know. The clubs: White River, Marathon, Wawa Wado Kai and Michipicoten Wado Kai did not have enough funds to finance the visit. Then I remembered my employee incentives from working at the hotel. I asked the manager for all of my incentives on the same weekend – free banquet room rental, 35% off every room for my group, a free chalet, etc. It saved us over $3,000 at the time.
“I met Sensei Shintani because Sensei Robert Johnson asked me to bring him a fruit basket. I had arranged for it to be delivered to the chalet while I was working in the kitchens, however, the manager at the hotel, Al Cresswell (who is now a radio host at CFNO Thunder Bay radio) came into the kitchen holding the fruit basket and informed me that one staff member was being paid to deliver it and I couldn’t pass this off. He then said that he was so surprised that I wouldn’t deliver it myself. After all my effort and convincing him to use all of my incentives to get Sensei there, he insisted that I get paid for the rest of my shift and that I go deliver the fruit basket myself, so I could meet this great man I’d been told about. If not for that thoughtful initiative on Al’s part, I think my life would be totally different.
“So I took off my apron and nervously walked down to the chalets, thinking about how I’d introduce myself to him. That’s when I saw Senseis Jack, Bruce, Peter and Ron. I figured if I gave the fruit basket to Bruce, I’d be off the hook. Sensei Bruce then walked me over to the chalet, opened the door and yelled out, ‘Sensei! There’s someone here to see you!’ As I stood there a moment, the world seemed to stop with my anticipation of meeting Sensei Shintani, and I felt empty – just totally drained, and I hadn’t even seen him yet. Then a man, whose nap I had just interrupted, slowly came out the bedroom and into the main area. Sensei Bruce informed Sensei Shintani that I had brought him a fruit basket, which I was dumbfoundedly holding, looking at this man. I was transfixed in my spot, no expectation, no thought. I stood there until Sensei Shintani was right in front of me, gently taking the basket out of my hands. I didn’t know what to say or think or anything. He then led me to the table where he said, ‘Well, let’s see what’s inside this basket. Are you hungry?’
“Then rather abruptly, Sensei Bruce announced, ‘Okay, I’m out, see ya!’ The door closed and I was all alone with Sensei Shintani in total shock. I thought Bruce had planned to stay. I was surprised at how easily Sensei Shintani was able to help me relax, and before I knew it, we were discussing all of my problems. We talked about my life, my experiences, and how rough it had been. I had recently lost a couple of friends – one died in my arms, and I found myself, for what I can remember, just being listened to… not told what to do, not admonished for my actions, not judged.
“It was then that I realized, I had used up over two hours of his time. As I apologized, (we had our first workout that night) Sensei grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You are never alone, Darren. I’ll never let you be alone again.’ I felt it… I believed it… and I wanted to work harder for him. It was almost a year later that I moved to Lindsay and started Lindsay Wado Kai, as I wanted to do something great for Sensei.
“Well… you know the rest. We built it and they came, and I realize now that it was never just for Sensei. He gave me a purpose, and in turn, my whole life – my wife, my brother-in-law (Sensei Kris Reynolds) all stem from this. So asking… what stands out? It was Sensei Shintani’s ability to listen and let you draw on your experience to tell him who you are – making you motivate yourself.”
Sensei Mike Rust (Toronto, Ontario): “Unfortunately, I never met Sensei Shintani in person. He was sick when I joined the Federation in 1999 and then died shortly after. I can say I’m pretty well-researched when it comes to Sensei however, as I’ve studied with many of his direct students intensively for the past 20 years. When I first learned about Sensei, I thought he sounded like a true karate Master – someone who would welcome someone from another style and say, ‘Don’t worry. Karate is karate – kick, punch, block – it’s all the same.’ Sensei was definitely someone who walked the talk: Respect, humility, kindness and integrity. That’s the type of example that I would want to follow. He was definitely a very special man.”