1.27.2010

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.

7 comments:

JORGE said...

Good afternoon! I read your article with great interest because I was part of the Ochoa Dojo too. I was a brown belt, promoted to that rank by Sensei Shinoda and I had the pleasure of meeting almost everyone you mentioned in your article except you.Like you, I didn't know too much about the politics/financial or business decisions taken behind doors. Your article revealed a lot of information that now makes sense but at that time, it was confusing to say the least. Thank you for the "revelations"!!! Keep writing,stay in touch!!

JORGE LUIS MUNOZ

Jorge Morales-Santo Domingo said...

I wasn't part of the Dojo while Shinoda was there. I came at the tail end, you were probably my instructor in '73. Most of what you read in this post came from Gusi himself. But that "confusion" I also experienced and it persisted up to the present. But the most important thing was the experience of Goju in our lives. Hope you kept at it. Arigato Tocayo!

Anonymous said...

Hi, just a minor comment. How is it that I am "second generation 1974" ? If I am in the same photo with the other 4 black belts and Master Toguchi. I am the first person from left to right. That photo was taken after our shodan exam, overseen by Master Toguchi.
regards,
Rene Pietri

Raul Pujol said...

Just a couple of comments.

Sensei Kimo Wall never practiced or taught Isshin Ryu. He started practicing Goju Ryu in Hawaii. Later, when he arrived in Okinawa as a marine, he continued his Goju Ryu studies under Seiko Higa at the Shodokan (Goju Ryu) dojo. It was at that dojo that he also starten to learn Kobudo with Matayoshi Sensei.

Kimo Sensei did not change the Kobudo katas he learned from Matayoshi.

As of his Karate katas, he didn´t change them either. After he resigned from Shoreikan, he just continued to perform them as they are done at the Shodokan dojo as taught by Seiko Higa Sensei.

Perhaps you should interview Kimo Sensei himself next time he comes to Puerto Rico. He will be able to clarify many things for you.

You should verify the information provided to you before you publish it as a 'fact'.

And by the way, Rene Pietri is first generation, not second, as your source stated.

Best wishes, RP

Jorge Morales-Santo Domingo said...

“You should verify the information provided to you before you publish it as a 'fact'.”

My dear friend Raúl, as far as facts go, I’m neither an editor-factfinder in a newspaper nor a member of a peer review committee on a scientific journal. A lot of people have contested Gusi’s recital of the facts, for example, in the comment preceding yours, René Pietri himself makes this clarification. This is a blog of my experiences in Goju and as part of that journal I thought it interesting to get Gusi’s view of things that passed long before either you or I were there. You see, my purpose was to “try” to get at the truth if this was at all possible. I did not purport to establish the interview as “fact.” I had hoped that others would contribute and among all the differing views maybe some truths would surface. After all, Gusi was there at the beginning. Jaime Acosta had also given me an interview that in some major points contradicted this interview. The same happened when I talked to Dionisio Pérez, and so on. You yourself also personally made same comments that gave another slant to the story of Goju on the Island. And here I publish your comment, no censorship. But please knock off the check the facts bullshit since this tone is abrasive and not something I expect from you. You do have my phone number, right? I have no desire to stir a storm in a teacup over something that in the final analysis means nothing to the practice of Goju. The mistakes, if any, I suppose are inevitable. I hope one day the truth will be known.
If you wish, prepare a full essay on the matter and I promise that I will publish it down to the last period.
My fond regards, your friend Jorge..

Sam said...

One thing to keep in mind. In the 60's and 70's there was a huge exodus of Toguchi's senior students. You will here differnet veriosn depending on who you talk to for all of them.

There was a lot of bad blood at the teim and depending on which side of the fence people were on, you will get a different story. Those who stayed loyal to Toguchi were giving a slanted story about those that left for a number of years.

It was bad enough that for a period of time, Toguchi even tried to discredit Masanobu Shinjo. It was a sad state of affairs in the Shoreikan, but it is true.

Many of those that left the Shoreikan, but were still willing to learn either aligned themselves with another one of Miyagi's students (Typically Higa or Yagi). Some did so officially like Kimo Wall, and others, like Shinjo did it unofficially.

If you are presenting one persons opinion, people need to take a chill pill and understand the politics and mis-information going on at the time caused, and is still causing confusion.

In some cases, people were so upset and hurt by the things that happened which caused them to leave, that when they broke ties with the Shoreikan, they never talked about training in that organization again. This has lead some people to think they never did, and again has caused some confusion in later years.

So everyone should step back and keep these last points in mind.

Jorge Morales-Santo Domingo said...

Sam, your post is one more proof of the confusion that reigns in many martial art styles when third or fourth generation practitioners attempt to get at the “truth” of their particular style’s history. It is so prevalent that I have to believe that the problem may have a common cause. Without meaning to offend any of the “masters,” very few were articulate enough in their sparse writings to shed any light as to why katas vary so much or so little from school to school within any one style. I am very far from an expert in this or any related field of the martial arts and my blog speaks only to my humble experience in Goju, in Puerto Rico, and within the limited access that I had to the origins. That is why I attempted to approach my old teachers, and Gusi was the only one who accepted the invitation to opine. Others commented but relented to put their thoughts to paper. But that aside, what I have learned is that regardless of the slant any of my diverse teachers in Goju gave to their legacy, somehow the basic tenets of Goju remained the same. And I believe that proved true in your case in Colorado too. I’ve studied Goju, first in Shoreikan, then in Kodokan (under Kimo Wall) then in Chi-I-Do of Kayo Ong (by way of Jaime Acosta & Co.). In all I learned Goju, although they may disagree. This is what is important. So, when all is said and done, I respect all practitioners of Goju, claiming no truth or favorites. Which makes me believe that the art is stronger than its particular advocates and shines through regardless of their disagreements.