Black Belt Time Machine

by Sensei James Ryan

"Wait a minute, Doc. Ah...are you telling me that you built a time machine...out of a De Lorean?"

Personally, I think that it would be very cool if I could just jump into a scientifically engineered, race car time machine, and instantly transport myself 20 years into the future, just to see how far the Shintani Wado Kai Karate Federation has evolved and grown as an overall organization, wouldn’t you agree?

Well guess what? I did it—sorta.

Back in 1988, I was fortunate enough to be able to earn the rank of Shodan under the extraordinary guidance of Sensei Peter Ruch in my hometown of Fort Erie, Ontario. Interestingly enough however, I was only 15-years old at the time, which I believe honoured me as the youngest black belt ever in the early history of the SWKKF (wouldn’t it be neat if that were still true to this day?).

Like many kids still in high school, I really had no idea where life would take me once I graduated, but it was during my senior year that I disappointingly broke my left leg in seven different spots (compound fracture as well) during a weekend game of tackle foot-ball. Needless to say, that injury forced me away from the sport of karate for quite some time and forever changed my personal involvement as a martial artist.

To make a long story short, after nearly two years of rehabilitation (and constant threat of amputation), I moved away from my hometown immediately after graduating high school in order to pursue a challenging career opportunity in the fitness industry, but unfortunately, there were no affiliated clubs in my new area where I could re-commence my training and involvement with the Wado Kai system. During my adult life, I ended up moving several more times before finally settling back down and raising a family in the Niagara Region. Over the years, I had explored many other styles of martial arts (kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, etc.) but nothing had ever replaced the meaningful values of my initial teachings.

The older I got, the more I realized just how much I missed being a part of the Wado Kai karate family.

Admittedly, it’s a bit strange to come back to a martial arts system like karate after being absent for so long, but without a doubt, I was made to feel completely welcomed as part of the group from the very first day that I returned. The anxiety which had kept me away for all of these years had been for nothing, and I now feel very fortunate to have met my new brothers and sisters. Also, Sensei Neil is an excellent instructor, and I anticipate learning much more from him than the simple art of punching and kicking (which he also happens to be quite excellent at).

Recently, a colleague of mine at Niagara College convinced me that I should consider returning to my old roots, despite my incredibly long absence from the organization, and start-up again under the tutelage of Sensei Neil Prime from the St. Catharines dojo. Understandably however, I was very nervous and self-conscious about returning after spending so many years away from the system, and truthfully, it took me over a year before I finally made the decision to give it a try. I was embarrassed and somewhat ashamed of my extended (and rather abrupt) departure, and I was worried about how I might be received by the organization after such a long lay-off. After all, 20 years was a long time to be away.

Upon my return, I decided that I would be more than willing to start all over again as a white belt, but it was explained to me that I had earned my rank, albeit a long time ago, and that would not be changed under any circumstances. Despite not being able to re-member much of the terminology or the katas (I’m slowly getting there), I was surprised by my own ability to pick up where I essentially left off in terms of the physical aspects—minus the high kicks of course. Very little it seemed had been altered or compromised from my initial teachings. I was very pleased to see that certain key fundamentals had not been changed at all. The integrity, honour and traditions of the system that I grew up with, had all remained completely intact from where I remember them being over 20 years ago. To me, that was very impressive.

With that being said however, there were certainly other major changes within the organization that were immediately apparent. For starters, Sensei Masaru Shintani is no longer with us (I am thankful for having had the opportunity to meet him in person when I was younger), and the organization is now headed up by a Senate committee, which is the governing body for the Shintani Wado Kai Karate Federation. Sensei Denis Labbé was named as Sensei Shintani’s successor and new President of the SWKKF, and he now heads the Shintani Wado Kai Karate Federation, assisted by the other Senate members; Sensei Lawrence Blakemore, Sensei Peter Ruch, Sensei Bruce Perkins, Sensei Willie Lebrun, Sensei Danny McCoy, Sensei Rick Leveille, Sensei Ron Mattie—Chief Instructor and Team Coach, Sensei Brad Cosby, and Sensei Jim Atkinson.

I was also quite surprised (in a good way) to find out that we now have a National Team, and a few weeks ago, prior to the Shintani National Tournament held at Brock University, which celebrated 60 years of Sensei Shintani’s teachings, I had the pleasure of meeting and training alongside the Team at the St. Catharines dojo. I was also amazed by how widespread the organization has become with clubs now located throughout most of the Provinces and Territories (including a very strong presence in Alberta), the United States, and Mexico. "Viva el karate!"

And lastly, one of the biggest and best surprises had been the development and implementation of Shindo, which has become a reflection of all that is Shintani Wado Kai Karate in its entirety. The hope and desire of the SWKKF is that every student within the organization will study Shindo in some capacity. After having had the opportunity to learn a few of the Shindo basics through an introductory lesson provided by Senate member, Sensei Brad Cosby, I can honestly say that I look forward to learning even more about these techniques in the upcoming years.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what this organization will look like in another 20 years. And yes, I plan on sticking around this time

to find out. No need for an actual time machine.

Now where did I leave that darn flux capacitor?

Note: It has been a great pleasure for the St.Catharines club to have the presence of Sensei James since his "return" to his Wado roots. Sensei James is also a credited sportswriter, is very well known for his martial arts blog and interviews with some of today's top athletes. You can read more about Sensei James at

Sensei Neil Prime.