Del Saito

I think it is good to maintain the various styles, as each has many unique qualities and flavor. Styles offer healthy choices for students. Once they have come to understand their style, they can better appreciate other styles while maintaining their unique characteristics and integrity.

Del Saito

One of the foremost Shito–Ryu instructors in the world, Del Saito has over 40 years’ worth of experience and has trained under great teachers like Chuzo Kotaka and Kenzo Mabuni. He has gone on to become an outstanding instructor and administrator, espousing the importance of Traditional Karate.

One of six boys, Del Shigeo Saito was born in 1948, in the town of Wailuku, on the island of Maui, Hawaii. He grew up on the island of Oahu.

Saito’s father worked as a carpenter and sometimes took him to work during the summer holidays. His mother was a housewife that cared for her six boys.

Following Japan’s attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in 1941, Saito’s father was one of many Japanese-Americans interned in the internment camps dotted around the United States during WWII. He was interned in the camp at Lake Tule in California for four years.

A shy kid, Del Saito attended the Sunset Christian School on the island of Oahu. As an island boy, growing up he loved surfing. He also loved watching samurai movies.

Saito’s first martial art was Judo. He began learning the style in 1961 under a Sensei Palimo in the nearby sugar plantation town of Kahuku. He had convinced his parents to sign him up for classes.

Saito found Judo difficult. He especially found the throws difficult as he was much smaller and lighter than many of his partners. He wanted to quit but knew his father would lecture him on the importance of commitment.

In 1962 Al Kahalekulu, a Karate instructor saw a group of kids practising Judo. He approached them and encouraged them to come to his dojo to learn Karate. At the time Karate was still a bit of a mystery to many people. However, Saito jumped at the chance of changing from Judo to Karate. He managed to persuade his parents to let him change styles.

Al Kahalekulu taught Chito-Ryu Karate-Do. He was a powerfully built Hawaiian man, who was described as being a gentleman, but a tough teacher. He was a big influence on Saito in and out of the dojo. He would make monthly visits to his students’ homes to check with their parents how they were doing and behaving.

Saito found the Karate training tough but he loved it. He found it much preferable to his previous Judo training. He practised every chance he got.

Having left school, Saito enlisted in the US Air Force and served in Vietnam. After four years he was honourably discharged.

In the late 1960s, Al Kahalekulu retired completely from Karate. He had promoted Saito to 5th dan and gave him the authority to teach Chito–Ryu.

In 1971 Saito met Chuzo Kotaka for the first time. A former All Japan Karate Champion, he settled in Hawaii in 1966 and established the IKF (International Karate Federation).

Saito started learning Kotaka–Ha Shito–Ryu Karate in 1974, from Chuzo Kotaka, who excepted him as a student. Kotaka was his first Shito-Ryu instructor, and he remained his student until 1999.

On 10 November 1975 Kotaka promoted Saito to 2nd Dan.

Saito’s next promotion by Kotaka came on 27 September 1976, when he was promoted to 3rd Dan.

Saito was promoted to 4th Dan on 15 May 1978, by Kotaka.

By the end of the 1970s, Saito had moved to California. He regularly competed in tournaments organised by Dan Ivan, Fumio Demura, and Ray Dalke.

On 15 May 1981 Kotaka promoted Saito to 5th Dan. Due to his great organisational skills, Saito eventually became Kotaka’s National Director for the IKF.

By 1984 Saito had moved to the state of Oregon. He became the Director of the Annual Oregon Karate Championships.

Saito worked hard as an instructor. In 1986 he received the National IKF Outstanding Instructor Award.

Saito had met Joe Mirza, a Shotokan practitioner, at one of Ray Dalke’s tournaments. Mirza was the chairman of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) National Karate Program. He convinced Saitos to join the AAU and help develop American Karate into an international force.

In 1987 Saito joined the AAU and became the AAU Pacific Northwest Regional Director. Two years later he became the Oregon AAU Karate Chairman.

In 1989 Kotaka awarded Saito with his Shihan (Master Teacher) license. The following year he was awarded his Shihan license by Kenzo Mabuni.

1990 saw Saito presented with the AAU’s Outstanding Service and Leadership Award. That same year he was the stunt coordinator for the feature film, Martial Marshall, produced and directed by Robert Clouse.

Saito was appointed Oregon AAU Vice Chairman in 1992. He eventually became President in 1993, a position he held until 2004.

On 1 September 1994 Saito was promoted to 6th Dan by Kotaka. That year he was also inducted into the International Karate and Kickboxing Hall of Fame.

On 15 September 1996 Kotaka promoted Saito to 7th Dan. That year he also started learning Eishin–Ryu Iaijutsu under Masayuki Shimabukuro.

1997 was a big year for Saito. He was inducted into the AAU Hall of Fame as ‘Man of the Year‘. He was also the recipient of the AAU ‘Ten Year Service‘ award and the AAU ‘President’s National Leadership‘ award.

In 2000 Saito was promoted to 1st Dan in Iaijutsu by Masayuki Shimabukuro.

Following organisational changes in the IKF, Saito decided to leave the organisation. He started training under Kenzo Mabuni, the son of Shito-Ryu founder, Kenwa Mabuni.

In 1998 Mabuni promoted Saito to 8th Dan. He also awarded him with the title of Hanshi.

Mabuni normally required his students to work and teach within his organisation. However, he allowed Saito the rare opportunity to pursue his own Shito-Ryu independently, without being tied to Mabuni’s organisation.

In 2000 Saito was promoted to 2nd Dan in Iaijutsu.

Saito continued his progression within the AAU. In 2002 he became a member of the AAU National Executive Committee. He remained on the committee until 2004.

In 2004 Saito received more awards from the AAU. He was presented with the AAU’s ‘President’s National Leadership’ award and also the AAU’s ‘Outstanding Service and Leadership‘ award.

In 2005, Saitio was promoted to 3rd Dan in Iaijutsu.

Saito was promoted to 9th Dan by the International Shihan Kai.

On 2nd July 2008, Saito established the Saito-Ha Shito-Ryu. He felt it was time to establish his own school of Shito-Ryu Karate.

In 2009 Saito established the Traditional Karate-do Federation International. He became the President of the organisation. That year he was also presented with an honary grade of 10th Dan by the International Shihan Kai.

The University of Israel presented Saito with a Master’s Teacher degree in Budo Science in 2009.

On 30 April 2014 Saito became a member of the WTFSKF (World Traditional Fudokan Shotokan Karate-Do Federation) Board of Directors. Later that year, on 23 October he became the President of the Okinawa Karate Department at the WTFSKF.

In 2010 Saito was presented with the ‘25 Year AAU Service Award‘.

In 2020 Saito’s book ‘Saito-Ha Shito-Ryu Karate-Do For the Modern Warrior‘ was published. His other book, ‘Karate-Do, The Way of Shito-Ryu‘ had been published in 1991.

Del Saito is one of the recognised world leaders of Shito-Ryu Karate. He has made it a point not to get embroiled in the politics that plagues so much of the Karate world.

Away from Karate, Saito, a deeply religious man, lives in Grants Pass, Oregon. He has developed strong ties within the community.

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