Soke Akira Sato
Akira Sato started studying karate in 1962 and later become a member at Suzuki Seiko Sensei’s dojo. In 1970, he traveled to Canada to study English and continued to practice karate on his own. As he practiced karate in the grounds of a local Vancouver college, students passing by began to watch with interest. Some approached him and asked if he would be willing to teach them.
After a year of study, he decided to stay in Canada and devoted himself to developing Shito Ryu karate in Canada and internationally. In 2017, he formed his own organization and adopted the name Sato-Ha Shito-Ryu Kokusai Rengo (International Federation) with affiliations in over 25 countries. In Canada the organization is known as Shitoryu Satokai Canada.
An Interview with Soke Yoshiaki Akira Sato
Chief Instructor – Shito-Ryu Satokai
Q When did you come to Canada?
A I came to Canada in May 1970. A friend of mine wanted to go to the States and wondered how to do this. In the meantime, newspaper ads appeared for opportunities to immigrate to Canada as well as other countries such as Paraguay and Argentina. We went to Ginza, where the Canadian Embassy was located, to apply for Canadian immigration. It only took a year and we felt ourselves very lucky to be able to come to Canada.
Q What was you first impression of Canada?
A The airport appeared to be in the countryside. The mountains were beautiful and the flowers and trees were all in color. This was in the middle of May. Imagine this, when coming from Tokyo. All the space, it was like a big park to me. I felt like a dream.
Q Why did you decide to stay?
A I had only intended to stay for two years. When the time came to leave, I had already started a Karate Dojo. The people around me were quite upset when they heard that I might leave. I was a high school social studies teacher by profession and thought that this was what I was destined to do. At that time, there was a lot of enthusiasm in Karate and it became quite popular. With so much support around me for Karate, I decided to dedicate myself full-time.
Q When was you first Karate class in Canada/your first dojo in Vancouver?
A During my second day in Canada, I was training by myself in a Richmond park. Some kids came to talk to me and about twenty people asked me what I was doing. Three or four days later, while I was learning English as a second language at VCC, about 15 students asked me about Karate. Phil Rankin, then Student Council President, was instrumental in getting approval to hold Karate classes. He had signed up 30 students, and we could use the gym and had a budget for equipment. How could I refuse such a great offer?
The Dojo then moved to the VCC Langara campus on 49th Avenue (1971). We had to move out of the Langara Campus because we had too many students. We were practicing outside in all kinds of weather. At the same time, I did a mail-out to all the community centres offering to teach karate. Only two replied, one from Steveston and one from Sunset. Steveston was too far to travel but Sunset was close to home. At Sunset Community Centre, the students were mostly children and we were there for about 10 years. We started classes at 12th and Arbutus, but within 2 years we were asked to leave again.
We moved to the Peretz School on Ash Street, near Oakridge Mall location. We started the Dojo with 50 students (adults) and had classes 5 days a week. We stayed at this location from 1973 until our move to the Home Dojo on November 22, 1998.
Q How, if at all, has karate changed since you first came to Canada?
A My goals changed and I decided that I wanted to pursue karate full-time. The timing was perfect. I had 50 – 60 adult students at every class. Karate was booming. There were only 3 other martial arts clubs in the city. We are older than even Karate BC, which was formed 25 years ago. There were only 320 members and 15 dojos. There are now thousands of members, and who can count the number of dojos?
Q What do you see for the future of Karate?
A Traditional Karate is shrinking and people are looking for new forms of martial arts, such as TaeBo. In the past, we have put too much emphasis on competition. We have begun to neglect tradition, health development, meditation and the spiritual aspects. This is what young people are looking for. We have emphasized winning too much. Karate is not just a sport – it is about a broader range of training. I feel that the idea of winning is inside yourself.
Q You have witnessed the growth of Karate competition in Canada, Vancouver and the world. Have you noticed a significant change over the years? For example, is there more contact in kumite; has the caliber of kata changed?
A I find that, in kata for example, it is more of a performance. The performance is without understanding. In kumite, attitudes toward contact can vary greatly. Take the Europeans for instance, they have more light contact whereas the Americans have heavier contact. In Japan, where there is no contact, and they wear facemasks.
Q Are there any changes that you would like to see implemented in karate at the national and/or international level?
A If you look at the Europeans, for instance, they have the opportunity to compete regularly since the countries are so close. The U.S.A. has the same situation. Canadians, on the other hand, have fewer opportunities to compete. This places our competitors at a disadvantage. The more a person competes, the less nervous they become. The more experience in competing a person receives, the more confident they become. We are very insular in Canada. More competition is needed for those who enjoy sport karate.
Officials with World Level licensing have more exposure and perform better in their roles. The Kata World License is renewable every 2 years. It can sometimes be difficult for officials to maintain this licence since they require significant amounts of time, travel and money to keep.
Q What has karate meant to you?
A Karate is like my wife, my life! When I was attending the University of Tokyo, there was a shrine called “Yasukuni Shinto Temple” next door and I used to visit there. One day, my English professor told me there were many young men resting there who had lost their lives in kamikaze attacks. They really wanted to live and be with their families, but decided to make a sacrifice for their country. He told me we were lucky to have been born later. He told me that I must do something very hard in my life, otherwise these young men would have died for nothing. This was a big driving force for me. I have been very lucky. I have a wonderful family and good people around me. I am not rich but I am very happy.
Q And finally, the most important question to ask a Master; what is the true essence of karate to you?
A As an Instructor, I feel that everyone should have a long and healthy life and maintain strong relationships. This is most important. When you are physically and mentally strong, then you do not get into trouble. Karate is about making one’s mind and body strong so that you learn; peacefulness is the way. When reaching this level, one sees the true beauty in all things.
A true Master loves all living things. He truly loves all of human kind, animals, plants, nature, and. He has a good heart and loving feelings. Every moment counts. Create a peaceful atmosphere.