Conversations with Gusi

(This post owes a lot to the thoughtful collaboration and input of Sensei Gusi González, proofreading it for errors and helping in drafting the same. Most of this information can be found on his site http://chiido.org/index.php and Gusi allowed me to quote freely from it. The photos that accompany the post are also from his site.)

Quite some posts past in the blog I mentioned running into an old Goju teacher from the first Ochoa years of my training, Gusi González, whom I’ve referred to as the “soft sensei.” I knew of his whereabouts but hadn’t seen him for many years. We traded calling cards and promised to keep in touch. I later sent him a link to this blog. Soon after I received an e-mail where he voiced his concern about what I truly knew about the history and development of our school, particularly the shift from Shoreikan to Chi-I-Do. We agreed to meet and talk about this on his next trip to the Island and we did.

This post is the result of that conversation.

In essence, I pretty much got it all wrong. Myths and half truths came into sharper focus as I sat there listening to him in an Old San Juan diner.

In a nutshell, what Gusi had to say was this:

Luis Gandía Portela, Efraín Palmer Ramírez, Antonio Fornaris Rullán and Pedro J. González García (“Gusi”) were introduced to the Martial Arts in 1969. They were introduced to the Shoreikan Goju Ryu Okinawan Karate by Sensei Kimo Wall who came back to Puerto Rico that year, forming the core group that went on to establish Goju Ryu on the Island. Kimo Wall had been an Isshinryu teacher in Puerto Rico when he was with the Marines, and had met Luis Gandía when he came one or two years before. Eventually he was stationed in Okinawa and started training Shoreikan Karate under GM Seikichi Toguchi's students. The first dojo was established on Eleanor Roosevelt Street, Hato Rey, in 1970.

In 1971, Sensei Kimo Wall brought Sensei Nobuharu Shinoda to Puerto Rico to help propagate the system on the island. Sensei Shinoda took over the dojo training and teaching until 1972, when Grand Master Seikichi Toguchi, Sensei Kow Loon Ong and Sensei Toshio Tamano visited Puerto Rico accompanied by the other instructors from the Island.

After training under the guidance of Grand Master Toguchi, Grand Master Matayoshi, and Sensei Kow Loon Ong, Puerto Rico instructors were invited to New York for an International Demonstration and Training in 1972. In 1973, Grand Master Seikichi Toguchi brought Grand Master Shimpo Matayoshi (an Okinawan Kobudo and Karate Master (6th generation) of the Okinawan Weapon Arts) to Puerto Rico. After training under the guidance of Toguchi, Matayoshi, and Senei Kow Loon Ong, the Puerto Rican Instructors were invited to New York for an International Demonstrayion and Training event in 1972.

The Shoreikan Dojo in New York, directed by Kow Loon Ong, left the organization.That same year after teaching and training in the Shoreikan Organization, Pedro and the Puerto Rico dojo left the organization for personal and political reasons.

In 1974, he and the other instructors from Puerto Rico traveled abroad and trained in Tokyo, Okinawa, Taiwan and India, in search of the roots of art and knowledge. They continued their relation with Sensei Kimo Wall, but he was having personal problems and only Sensei Kayo Ong was willing to continue to guide and instruct them on the art without any financial compensation and he then committed to teach them the full Goju Ryu syllabus, since he had learned it through Akira Kawakami. Matayoshi suggested that Gusi should follow Kow Loon Ong since hi smastery of technique and expertise was on par or even surpassed some teachers in Okinawa.

So the lineage of our school of Goju-Ryu in Puerto Rico is as follows by history and rank : (Kimo Wall and Shinoda, initial teachers) and then, more formally: Toguchi-Matayoshi-Kawakami-Kow Loon Ong-Gandía-Fornaris-Palmer- (Gusi)Gonzalez.The second generation (1974) were René Pietri and Jorge Rodríguez. They were followed in 1975 by Angel Meléndez, Jorge Arzuaga, Jorge Gandía, Mimi Gandía, Angel Peña, and Julio Navarro. Then came Michael Rosslein, Enrique Santacana, Carlos Alvarado, Nelson Borrero, and Ramón Díaz. Afterwards came the generation of Gilberto Rodríguez, Carlos Alvarez, Carlos Alvarado, and Angel Santana, etc. All these generations became black belts under the influence, guidance, and dedication through the years on the part of Kow Loon Ong who continues to visit the Island and teach and continue the legacy of that original spirit that bean with Gandía, Palmer, Fornaris, and González back in the '70's

Most of this was going on right under my white belt nose. The climate change in the dojo was going on even in the years that I practiced there, unbeknownst to me. After all, I was just a white belt and not party to what went on behind the scenes. What most struck me as I sat there listening to Gusi was that in the early ‘70’s Puerto Rico was in fact a pioneer in the practice of Goju Ryu Karate outside Okinawa and that Puerto Rico was part of the formative stage that Okinawan Goju Ryu karate was undergoing as it was being exported worldwide.

Gusi told me that in those first years of training in the early ‘70’s the Goju curriculum given outside Okinawa stopped short of what we call the classic katas which then had to be taught by a 5th Dan. Kimo Wall had not yet learned the full kata syllabus, and thus the efforts to bring one to Puerto Rico, which led to the arrival of Shinoda. Kimo sent a letter to Toguchi about this need, which letter was“intercepted” by Shinoda, then secretary to Toguchi. Shinoda brought the letter to the attention of Toguchi, but interpreting it to mean that Kimo was asking for an English-speaking teacher from Okinawa. And guess who was chosen. So we have it that Shinoda came to the Island “under false pretenses.” Everybody here though he was a 5th Dan, including Kimo. Gusi surmises that he was not, the head instructor should know the whole Goju Ryu System from Saifa to Pichurin to be able to guide and instruct his students. Nonetheless, the caliber of training and number of students enrolled here caught Toguchi’s eye. There were at least five dojos: Ochoa, UPR, Caguas, San Lorenzo, and Mayaguez, all of them with at least 75-100 active students.

The only 5th degree black belt from Shoreikan at that time in North, Central and South America was Akira Kawakami, who came to New York due to financial and political problems in the Shoreikan /ex Goju Kai dojo of Thomas Bodie, but he finished the Goju Ryu syllabus up to Pichurin with his highest ranking students: Kow Loon Ong and Joseph Donovan. This led to his visit here the following year. Of course, it came out that Shinoda was not all he led others to believe, yet the school was one of the highest in students of the Shoreikan organization. Steps were taken to correct the matter, but not without consequences. Kimo felt slighted. It was his idea to bring Shoreikan to the Island and yet he was being shunted in favor of others. The school here backed Kimo, but he did not wanted to commit and GM Toguchi was very disappointed with him and did not wanted him in Shoreikan, the Puerto Ricans teachers learn about this when they went to Okinawa and had conversations with GM Toguchi and GM Matayoshi, who, in turn, introduced them to other high ranking teachers in the Goju Ryu and Matayoshi Kobudo organization.

The Ochoa Dojo proved too important in Toguchi’s eyes to leave it at the hands of either Kimo or Shinoda. After some give and take it was decided to strengthen the training of the highest ranking local students to form a cadre of instructors. The local school was so crucial in Toguchi’s plans that he was thinking of coming to stay on the Island himself. Imagine that! Shoreikan decided then to have the local senior students train in Okinawa and Japan to bring them up to par.

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. It upset the cart of all I thought I knew about the Dojo, and about Kimo. But what I learned just changed the cast of characters and how the plot evolved, not the essence of what we practiced and continue practicing on the Island. Yet it did put things in a new light. But regardless of the ruptures and new beginnings, schools and sensei, Goju Ryu in Puerto Rico is basically traditional Okinawan in focus in training and outlook, with the differences residing on the emphasis of the particular sensei, whether Shoreikan (too many modern katas were added and the classics were not that important), Kodokan (changed many forms, added more forms and changed Matayoshi’s Kobudo system and katas), or Chi-I-Do (Emphasized classical katas, kept Matayoshi katas intact, preserving the essence of teaching Martial Arts). I practiced under all three.


Inhabit the Invisible House

Do kata until it disintegrates and you are left with nothing. Inhabit the house until the walls crumble.

At my age when they ask me what I derive from karate they have already taken stock of my paunch, drooping jowls, sallow skin, flaccid arms, sunken eyes, gray hair. What will this old bugger dare to say?

I just live in the kata of the everyday.

Fear, a barking dog in the dark, sitting stone still in a doctor’s office awaiting judgment. A prayer repeated over and over again in an empty church.

Peace, sitting in my sister’s living room watching the swaying famboyán tree.

Joy, running into a friend from long ago.

Resignation, the perfect kata never attained.