Sakamoto Tameyoshi Sensei


The founder of the Okinawa Seito Karate-Do Shirenkan Goju-Ryu and one of the great but nearly anonymous teachers of Budo in the American Continent was born in Mongolia (Manchukuo) on Tuesday, March 23, 1937 and died on Friday, December 3, 2010 in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.

His father was named Sakamoto Kaname and his mother Sanpei Tomoko. Both were living in Manchukuo where Kaname was an accountant with the administration office for the railway of Manchuria, and also a Chinese translator for the Japanese officialdom.

At the age of five, Tameyoshi began to practice Kaiko or Kenyu with his older Chinese friends.  One day his father, who, because of his relationship with soldiers (he was a friend of the legendary Yamaguchi Gogen) saw Tameyoshi having an encounter with a bigger and older opponent, and noted the skill and courage with which the little Tameyoshi was fighting. Since then, his parents taught to him some of the techniques of Yawara and Kumiai Jutsu, to be used in real combat (especially against bigger and heavier opponents).

Also on several occasions his father brought him to witness executions in order to show him the consequences that result from breaking the law in those times. According to Sakamoto sensei, the hangmen were so skilled in the use of the sword that they were able to cut the neck of the condemned with a single blow, and the heads of some who were executed became separated from their body while the hangman was shaking the blood off the katana’s blade.

During childhood, Tameyoshi was spending time amongst both his Chinese and Japanese friends.  This allowed him to learn from both sides by way of playing games with them such as sparring.  Thus sensei Sakamoto’s love for the martial arts began more or less in the form of child’s play. At the end of World War II, all Japanese residents in China were forced to escape to Japan to save their lives.  Once the news of the surrender of Japan became known, inflamed multitudes of Chinese ransacked the houses of all the Japanese on the military bases of Manchukuo.

Consequently, the Sakamoto family was separated and forced to travel on foot long distances to escape death. At only nine years of age, Sakamoto sensei had seen the face of death several times during the distance traveled with his mother to escape the riots. These experiences allowed him to view death calmly and as something that is natural as well as unavoidable.

When in Japan, sensei Sakamoto was constantly rejected and harassed with the chant of Gai-jin (foreigner) because of his birth outside of the Japanese territory, and also for having a slight accent while speaking. Given the lack of food, clothing, and money that characterized the life of the Japanese people after the war, Sakamoto sensei was seen many times fighting for a handful of crude rice, a chunk of bread, or a piece of clothing.  This conditioned him forever to detest any type of waste.

He began attending school and practicing Sumo and Bujutsu with his school classmates. His father and a cousin were teaching him techniques for street defense rather than for friendly school horseplay. Little by little his predilection for karate carried him to request Tadeyoshi Sakamoto (one of his adult cousins) to increase his training schedule since he wanted to train daily.

To prove the interest of the young Sakamoto, his cousin put him to the task of executing 5,000 kicks and 5,000 punches daily for a period of six months as a prerequisite to teach him the fundamental techniques of kata. At the beginning, Tadeyoshi only taught him some kata of the Funakoshi Gichin’s school (Shotokan), but at the suggestion of his mother, he began to practice Goju-Ryu (she always felt predilection by the Goju-Ryu from the era that she knew Yamaguchi Gogen –The Cat – in Manchukuo). In addition, he began the study of Kendo and Judo (Sandan at 18 years of age) with some relatives. Moreover, he was also a formal Sumo practitioner.

The first karate kata that he learned was Naifanchin, and then came Sanchin, Tensho, and finally Gojuyonpo (Gojushiho). With these four katas in his martial arts skill base he decided to travel to the Dominican Republic, with a group of Japanese, selected by the authorities of that country to fulfill a bilateral help agreement signed by the Japanese and the Dominican governments.

As a result of this decision, Tameyoshi boarded the ship “Africa Marú” in 1957, and a few weeks later arrived on Dominican lands, making his residence in the community “La Vigía” of Dajabón province. Among the arrivals were several experts in Bujutsu and war veterans that were seeking better horizons for themselves. One of them was Nishio Junishi, a thin man with a calm face.

That man, years later, was known by the nickname of “El Brujo” (the wizard), in the city of Constanza, Dominican Republic. He earned the title “El Brujo” for his extraordinary physical force and his knowledge of Kiai Jutsu. Junishi was Sakamoto’s sister’s father-in-law and because of that, Sakamoto sensei earned Junishi’s confidence and became his disciple.

Step by step Sakamoto learned all the Goju-Ryu katas thanks to several experts of the Japanese community who traveled with him and for the following few years. After 1960’s, he practiced mainly from books and films, especially those rare of Miyagi Takashi’s and Gogen –The Cat – Yamaguchi’s, (from Yamaguchi’s school Sakamoto learned Seipai, Kururunfa, Sesan and Suparinpei).

Circa 1963, Sakamoto sensei had developed a personal karate system that included techniques from Judo, Yawara, Kobudo, Kumiai Jutsu, Sumo, Ch’üan-fa and, of course Okinawa and Japanese Goju-Ryu. On August 26th of 1963 he designated his school as Shirenkan (wrought and proven in our house). In about 1966, Sakamoto sensei had moved to the city of Santo Domingo and opened a school of budo with only 7 students. Then he opened another exclusively to teach Judo, and in 1968, in the San Francisco de Asis College.

Near the end of 1971 the first Dominican Goju-Ryu black belt was presented by Sakamoto sensei (Generoso Montero). In August 1971 Sakamoto sensei established a school in the city of San Francisco de Macoris. In February 1972 Sakamoto opened another school in the city of Santiago with a select group of students. In December of 1974 Sakamoto sensei established a rank grading system suggested by the son of the founder of the Shito Ryu karate system, sensei Kenwa Mabuni (Kenei Mabuni who was visiting the Dominican Republic at the time).

During the years that followed Sakamoto sensei was busy travelling within the Dominican Republic and the United States of America where his students had schools. As a result of his work in the martial arts and because he was the teacher of Dr José Dicarlo, Sakamoto sensei was recognized in 1989 by the USA Goju Association (USAGA) and Kyoshi and Hachidan in Karate-Do and Kobudo.

During the same year (1989) the Shirenkan dojo initiated contacts to be affiliated with the International Okinawa Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Federation – IOGKF- in order that sensei Higaonna Morio would give special instruction to Sakamoto’s most advanced students (and Sakamoto could return to Japan leaving his students ‘in good hands’).

In February 1990, Sakamoto sensei was nominated as Honorary President and Chief Instructor for the Dominican IOGKF (Takayoshi Alvarez as technical director and vice-branch chief). After that, on October 6th of 1990 Sakamoto sensei travelled to Japan to fulfil work commitments. In 1997 the Dominican Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Association recognized Sakamoto sensei as Hanshi, Judan and the “Father of Goju-Ryu Karate-Do in the Dominican Republic”. Students from Spain, Japan, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Canada, United States, Mexico, Venezuela and Dominican Republic nominated him for this honorary rank and title.

From March of 1997 until December of 1998, Sakamoto sensei “closed his door” ending his teaching of martial arts to the public. In 1999, he moved to the city of Okayama and there he reopened the way to his teachings just a little bit and made official the Shirenkan Kokusai Kyokai the name of his style (Okinawa Seito Karate-Do Shirenkan Goju-Ryu), and the group established by his adoptive son Takayoshi, the Okinawa Koshiki Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Shirenkan (OKGKS).