My book currently gives me the opportunity to get in contact with many different people. On one hand, I get interesting questions and on the other hand wonderful stories are shared with me. In the current blog article I would like to share the experiences and stories of Albert Thai Sensei with you. In the late 1960s Albert Thai Sensei practiced Karatedo Doshinkan in France and Austria. Let's listen to his stories:
It was coincidence or fate that my brother came to France in 1969/70 for a sabbatical and talked me into taking up karate. I was a bookworm, and built like a worm, and never liked any physical activity.
My brother invited Hanshi. He was then in contact regularly with his sensei, Walter Todd, and Walter Todd wrote to him and told him about Hanshi, Kanken Toyama's youngest disciple, who was in Austria. I remember my brother quoting from the letter "Hanshi is very proficient in karate", so my brother got in touch with Hanshi and invited him to Clermont (France). The karate club was part of the Michelin all-sports club of the ASM, and part of the Judo section, there was no federation of karate then. They took kindly to my brother and had no objection when he asked them if he could invite Hanshi and they provided with the travel expenses for Hanshi who waved any teaching fees.
The second year, I was in charge of the karate section (me, I had only one year of karate!!! Of course, my brother showed me things at home too, there was no holiday from karate, but still, I was a very beginner), and I also asked if we could invite Hanshi again, and again, they said yes and provided us with the funds. Again, Hanshi did not ask for any teaching fees.
The old masters were different then, and so were we. We were young, college kids most of us, not naive, but eager to learn, to respect, to worship even. They were the stuff that legends are made of. Travelling, let alone flying, was expensive. So when a legend comes knocking ...
Oh, I remember Hanshi well, I saw him only three times (and his brother Ichikawa Nobuo, once), but he first impressed me as a very nice person.
Now, even with hindsight, when I remember him in the dojo, I still remember the feeling of awe we felt. He was so impressive, such a short man, and such power! When he did his ushiro geri, with his body almost parallel to the ground, I thought he could break a wall.
And his flying yoko geri! I remember once, in his demonstration, and our friend Patrice was the target, standing there with his arm raised as if he had done jodan tsuki, Hanshi did it several times, and there were silent ohs and ahs, our looks could tell it all, and then once, his heel got slightly into Patrice's sleeve, and Hanshi did not drop as smoothly, but he spun around and landed and went up with an ura tsuki, and stopped in time. His face then was the face of a fighter, but a split second later, he was laughing again.
In the comments on YouTube about some of the videos that were posted, Doshinkan has often been accused of being all show and no substance, a style for college professors who are afraid of contact. Sadly, and honestly, I don't think those videos should have been posted. And true, Hanshi was against competition, and even jiyu-kumite in the club. But in those days, only a fool would think that Hanshi could only do things for show.
For his demonstration of a block followed by a counter, he had to have a partner, and he would ask my brother on his first visit, or one of us (boy, were we scared!), but with us, he had always been gentle, it was only when he was hitting the air that he really unleashed all his power. And that, to me, is also the mark of a great master. What's the point of hitting and hurting your own students? But in Tulln (Austria), we noticed that when he demonstrated with his brother, Shihan Ichikawa Nobuo, it was not the same thing. Once, his brother staggered back after being hit and Hanshi said "Nobuo, come here, again!", and for once, I was happy I was not Hanshi's brother! Again, they were both masters, they knew each other's strength.
And to this day, I still quote Hanshi, not in a slavish way, but because I believe in the truths that he told us. He said that in the dojo, the beginner is the equal of a 10th degree master, in the sense that if the beginner does everything he can, if he gives it everything he has, then he can be sure that the master cannot do more than is possible for him. And I remember his "must try", or "must brush up" when it comes to katas. And sometimes he does something different in a kata, because he is really fighting, he is not just performing a choreography, then he stops, shakes his head, waves his hands, and then starts again. With the same kime, the same power.
And one thing we dreaded, he would tell us to sit in seiza, and if too tired, to rise on our knees, when we are to listen to him. And sometimes, he would explain katas for 10, 15 minutes, then up we go and he would expect us to do things as fast and as strong as we can, so I told my friends beforehand, ok, Hanshi is a great master, he is a pro, he can do it, but we have to be careful and not stretch a muscle. But in that atmosphere, it was difficult to hang back, even for self-preservation!
Hanshi went to the U.S. several times I think, and for reasons that are not for me to mention mainly because I don't know them, some of the clubs decided to remain as they were and not go over to Doshinkan.
But we always remember Hanshi as a very nice person and a great master, we remember his big laughter, and his caring for both advanced learners and very beginners like us.
Ichikawa Hanshi died over 20 years ago. The memories of him live on in all who knew him and in his students. Thank you, Thai Sensei, for sharing your memories. These stories are a wonderful way to get an impression of the training in the old days and they give us a feeling of the man Ichikawa Isao.
All photos and the newspaper article are courtesy of Albert Thai Sensei.
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In this blog I would like to answer some of your questions about the book. In addition, there are a variety of photos and interesting stories that have not found entry into the book. Furthermore, the blog should serve to give you new historical insights immediately, so you do not have to wait for the second edition of my book.