Mas Tsuroka

I have seen the best Karate. All that really matters is what kind of human being you are.

Mas Tsuroka

Rightly known as the ‘Father of Canadian Karate‘ Mas Tsuroka did a lot to establish Karate in Canada. Many instructors teaching Karate in Canada today, can trace their lineage back to Tsuroka.

Masami Tsuroka was born in Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada on 12 January 1929. He had three siblings, sisters, Hideko and Ayame; and brother Masaaki.

In 1942, during the height of World War II, Tsuroka and his family were placed in an internment camp, for being Japanese. The camp was located in Tashimi, British Columbia. The family also spent time in Roseberry.

Aged 17, Tsuroka and his father moved to Kumamoto, Japan, in 1946.

In Japan, Tsuroka started learning Chito-ryu Karate from its founder, Tsuyoshi Chitose at his Yoseikan dojo. He would wake up early in the morning to punch and kick his makiwara board for an hour before school. After school, he would complete his chores at home, then head to the dojo.

For the next few years, Tsuroka train diligently under Chitose. In 1949, aged 20, he was promoted to 1st Dan. By 1956 he had been promoted to 3rd Dan.

Tsuroka returned to Canada in 1956. The following year he began teaching Judo and Karate. He taught at Mac’s Gym, a small fitness gym in Toronto. It was owned by his friend Mac Mia.

1958 saw Tsuroka establish the first Karate dojo in Canada. He rented a space larger than that of Mac’s Gym. It was located above the Lakeside Bowling Alley in Toronto. He taught 7-nights a week at the new dojo. He did this after working full time during the day. By this time he was married. His wife Kei taught women’s classes at the dojo.

Tsuroka’s first generation of students who trained at the dojo would go on to become some of the most successful martial artists in Canada. These students included his son David, and Shane Higashi, who would become his first black belt.

In 1961, Tsuroka’s teacher, Chitose, took his first trip outside of Japan. The 4-5 month trip was funded by a group of his students living outside of Japan.

The following year Chitose appointed Tsuroka as his Chief Representative of Chito-ryu in Canada. He also appointed William Dometrich as his American Representative of Chito-ryu.

1962 also saw Tsuroka organise the first Karate tournament held in Canada. The 1st Canadian Karate Open Championship was held in front of a crowd of 1400 spectators. There were 40 competitors from Canada and the United States. Tsuroka was the Chief Judge and Chairman of the tournament. He also took part in a demonstration against two opponents.

The event was won by Gary Alexander, a 3rd Dan from New York. Tsuroka students, Quai Wong (a green belt) and Shane Higashi (a brown belt) finished in second and third place respectively.

In 1962 Tsuroka started teaching Karate at the University of Toronto. This was the first university Karate Club in Canada. He also held the first summer camp in Canada, at Kamp Kamikaze in Ontario. The event was open to all styles of Karate.

Chitose made his second visit to Canada in 1962. He visited the Canadian Hombu. Tsuroka had the opportunity to meet his American counterpart, Dometrich, for the first time.

At the 2nd Canadian Karate Open Championship in 1963, Shane Higashi improved his position of the previous year, by defeating Sam Pearson in the final. Pearson was a member of the US Marine Corps. Higashi’s victory represented a culmination of Tsuroka’s teaching.

In 1964 Tsuroka established the National Karate Association of Canada (NKA), which is now known as Karate Canada. Formed with four other instructors, the association incorporated the cities of Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Montréal, and Quebec. The Association covered all the provinces and territories of Canada. It was open to all styles of Karate. It provided assistance in running Karate clubs and overseeing competitions. Tsuroka became the association’s first president.

The 3rd Canadian Karate Open Championship was held in 1964. It was renamed the Canadian International Open Karate Championships. The expanded tournament attracted competitors from Canada, the United States, Japan, and Hawaii.

Tsuroka was promoted to 5th Dan by Chitose in 1965. That year he relocated his dojo to a prime location in downtown Toronto.

On 3 October 1965, the 2nd Canadian International Open Karate Championships were held. The kumite event was won by Okinawan competitor Zenpo Shimabukuro.

1965 also saw the 1st Canadian National Exhibition Karate Championships being held. The event was won by another of Tsuroka’s top students, Fred Boyko.

In 1966 Tsuroka was awarded his 6th Dan by the All-Japan Karate-Do Association.

The first inter-university tournament held between Ontario universities took place in 1967. The tournament was won by the University of Toronto.

In 1967, Tsuroka made his student, Monty Guest, the Head Instructor of his first branch dojo in Toronto.

1967 was Canada’s Centennial Year. Tsuroka invited Chitose and his student Mamoru Yamamoto to conduct demonstrations and courses in Canad. These were held at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre’s Nisei Karate club. The events were to promote Chito-ryu Karate and celebrate Canada’s Canada’s Centennial Year.

Tsuroka was awarded his 7th Dan by the All-Japan Karate-Do Association in 1968.

Between 10-13 October 1970, the 1st WUKO World Karate Championships were hosted in Japan. Tsuroka lead a Canadian team, selected by the NKA. John Carnio from Toronto won a silver medal behind Koji Wada of Japan.

The 2nd WUKO World Karate Championships were held between 21-22 April 1972, in Paris, France. There was controversy when the Japanese team led by Masatoshi Nakayama, walked out of the tournament, following a disagreement over judging.

The Japanese walkout led to the rival International Amateur Karate Federation (IAKF) being formed. Tsuroka was able to send competitors to both of the rival WUKO and IAKF World Championships.

On 16 November 1973, Tsuroka was elected the Vice-President of the Pan-American Karate Union, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hidetaka Nishiyama was named the organisations Executive Director.

In 1974 Tsuroka helped establish the Karate Ontario Association. The association was responsible for governing all styles of Karate in the Canadian Province of Ontario. Doreen Davis was named the first president of the association.

Tsuroka had become disillusioned with the direction the Canadian Chito-kai Federation was taken. He stepped down as Director. He was replaced by his senior student, Shane Higashi, in 1979. That same year Tsuroka established the Tsuroka Karate-do Federation.

On 6 June 1984, Tsuyoshi Chitose, the founder of Chito-ryu, died in hospital, following a long illness.

Tsuroka was awarded the Order of Ontario, on 27 May 1998. The award was for his significant contributions to martial arts. It was presented to him by Hilary Weston, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

On 13 May 2006, Tsuroka was awarded his 10th Dan by the National Karate Association. That same year he was one of the five original inductees into the Canadian Black Belt Hall of Fame.

In 2011, the Canadian Black Belt Hall of Fame created the Masami Tsuroka Life Time Achievement Award. This award was created in honour of his achievements to Canadian martial arts. His wife Kei was the first recipient of the award.

On 10 October 2014, Masami Tsuroka, died in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. He was aged 85 years. It could be argued that no one did more to promote Karate in Canada, through newspaper and magazine articles; demonstrations; and television appearances. At one time the tournament he created, was the biggest in North America.

Tsuroka’s sons, David and Kazumi, have continued his legacy, through their Karate practice.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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