Spotlight: Ryusho Sakagami – Master of Budo

It is important that the martial art instructor foster a sense of self-responsibility in his students. For the students, the best way to learn is to practice, persevere and think about the intent behind the technique.

Ryusho Sakagami

Known as a walking encyclopedia on various martial arts by his contemporaries, Ryusho Sakagami dedicated his life to the pursuit of Budo. He was ranked in Karate (8th Dan); Kubodo (8th Dan); Aikido (5th Dan); Iaido (8th Dan); Jodo(7th Dan); Judo (5th Dan); and Kendo (7th Dan).

Ryusho Sakagami was born in April 1915, in Kawanishi City, Japan. His father was a prosperous winemaker and ran a sake (rice wine) bar with his wife. Sakagami’s father also practised Kendo and Jujitsu. His Grandfather ran one of Japan’s oldest Kendo Schools.

In 1925 Sakagami began practising Kendo at elementary school. He was aged 8 years, and also studied Kendo under the tutelage of his grandfather. He later began practising Tomari-te with Master Tamagusuku. A customer who frequented Sakagami’s parent’s bar introduced into Master Tamagusuku.

Sakagami enrolled at the prestigious Tokyo-based University, Kokushinkan. He wanted to become a Kendo instructor. Kokushinkan was known as a hotbed for Kendo practice.

During his spring and summer holidays, Sakagami would visit Okinawa. While there he studied under Karate masters Chomo Hanashiro and Shinpan Gusukama, practising Tomari-te. It was around this time that he was introduced to Shito-Ryu founder, Kenwa Mabuni, who had made the move from Okinawa to the Japanese city of Osaka. Mabuni was also the 2nd generation successor of the Itosu-Ryu style of Karate. Hanashiro and Gusukama encouraged Sakagami to start training with Mabuni. Sakagami’s parents were unaware of his visits to Okinawa. He did not want his stern grandfather to know of his love for Karate, as he would not tolerate a love for another martial art.

In 1937 Sakagami started practising Shito-Ryu Karate with Kenwa Mabuni in Osaka. Dakagami soon became a dedicated student of Mabuni.

After graduating from University, Sakagami moved to Osaka, where he taught Kendo. He also assisted Mabuni with his teaching duties at Kansei, Doshisha, and Toya universities. He also had a chance to train under the legendary Okinawan master, Choki Motobu.

Sakagami received his Shihan ( Instructor) license from Mabuni in 1941. He returned home to Kawanishi City where he established the Gembukan Karate-Do Dojo. He also started teaching Kendo at the Ikeda High School.

The Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of Japanese martial arts, awarded Sakagami the honorary title of “Renshi (man of discipline)” in 1944. This was for his efforts to promote Karate.

In January of 1952 Mabuni named Sakagami as the 3rd generation successor of the Itosu-Ryu Karate style. Even though Sakagami was a senior Shito-Ryu student of Kenwa Mabuni, Kanei Mabuni was named the successor to the lineage of the Shito-Ryu Karate style, as his eldest son.

Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu Karate, died on 23 May 1952.

In 1953 Sakagami moved to Tokyo to teach. He had previously been teaching at Kenwa Mabuni’s Osaka dojo between 1951 to 1952. However, Sakagami eventually settled in Tsurumi, located between the cities of Kawasaki and Yokohama. He also founded the Japan Karate Itosu-Kai.

Sakagami established the Zen Nippon Karate-Do Itosu-Kai dojo in 1955. At the dojo, he taught Kendo, Karate, and Judo.

Sakagami had been a student of Kobudo Shinken Taira, for a number of years. In 1959 Taira awarded Sakagami a Shihan license. In 1963 he promoted Sakagami to 8th Dan. The previous year Sakagami had been promoted to 7th Dan in Kendo.

In 1961 Sakagami organised an All-Styles All-Japan Karate Championship. The tournament was open to all styles of Karate, including Goju-Ryu, Shotokan, Shito-Ryu, and Wado-Ryu. His student, Fumio Demura, won the title.

Always keen to promote martial arts, Sakagami has had a number of books published, especially on the weapons of Kobudo. In one book, “Nunchaku and Sai. Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts“, his son, Sadaaki Sakagami, performed the demonstrations shown in the book.

On 15 January 1982, the Japan Budo Society awarded Sakagami the “Distinguished Service Award” for his service to the martial arts. Proficient in a number of martial arts, he has received other awards and promotions. In 1977 he was promoted to 7th Dan in Jodo. Three years later he was promoted to 8th Dan in Karate by FAJKO. The Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iai school promoted him to 8th Dan in 1987.

In March 1990 Sakagami opened a new dojo in Kawanishi City. Two years later, on 19 August 1992, the Japan Karatedo Rengokai awarded him the rank of 10th Dan.

On 28 December 1993 Ryuho Sakagami died from heart failure. His son, Sadaaki, succeeded him as the 4th generation successor of the Itosu-ryu Karate style.

On 22 June 1994 Sakagami was posthumously awarded the rank of 9th Dan by the JKF.

A complete martial artist, steeped in Budo culture, Sakagami held ranks in Karate, Kubodo, Aikido, Iaido, Judo, Jodo, and Kendo. He once said:

The most important thing to keep in mind is that all forms of Budo are not courses of study, but rather a way of life.

He has had a number of notable students that’s included his son, Sadaaki Sakagami, Seiko Suzuki, Fumio Demura and Kei Tsumura. His contribution to Japanese martial arts cannot be overestimated.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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