Sensei Des Paroz: Karate with a twist

Written by Mike Clarke

From establishing a dojo at his boarding school just to ensure he had someone to train with, to living in Japan and writing a book with his master, Sensei Des Paroz has led an interesting life as a result of his passion for karate. Mike Clarke caught up with the 5th Dan instructor and gained an insight into the little-known karate system of Shorinjiryu

Des Paroz

Born in Hong Kong, where his father worked for the government, Des Paroz moved back to Australia with his family when he was a young boy and settled in Gunnedah, NSW. There he attended primary school and completed the first few years of high school before going to boarding school in Brisbane. Bullied as a kid, and having little self-confidence, he joined a friend who was already training in karate at the local PCYC (Police and Community Youth Club). The club’s sensei, Doug Hawkins, had recently returned from Japan and, together with Sensei Phil Hinshelwood, had established the dojo. Although Hawkins had a background in Kyokushin karate and jujutsu, he travelled to Japan to study at the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan dojo of Hanshi Masayuki Hisataka. A few months after he started training, Paroz moved to Brisbane to enrol in boarding school, taking with him a phone number for another instructor, Phil Hooper. With little chance of being able to get to Hooper’s dojo, Paroz set about working with him to establish a dojo at his new school. “So, there I was,” says Paroz, “a 9th Kyu, organising my first dojo!”

Like so many martial artists, Paroz ‘chose’ Shorinjiryu karate almost by default and with some luck, in his opinion. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he would learn later that Shorinjiryu was almost exclusive to the Brisbane region and the north-western area of rural NSW. “I think we all like to believe we practise the style that is ‘best’ for us,” he says, “but the reality is, most people work with what is closest!”

Over the ensuing years, Paroz had a succession of instructors, and he admits it was a battle to keep the dojo open at times. With the school terms dictating the dojo’s operating times, training was a stop-start affair for several years. There was also a sense of isolation from the main group of Shorinjiryu students training in other dojos; still, Paroz and his fellow students persevered and by the time he finished high school, he’d been graded to 3rd Kyu.

After high school, Paroz studied economics at the University of Queensland, and throughout that time ran a small dojo in the nearby suburb of St Lucia. His fascination with “all things Japanese”, especially karate’s history and its underlying philosophy, never left him; and at a time when his friends were looking to head off to London for some overseas adventure, Paroz had his eyes set firmly to the north — towards Japan. Taking extra subjects, including Japanese language study, Paroz finally fulfilled his dream of travelling to Japan in 1991. “I arrived in Tokyo as a Shodan [1st Dan] in October 1991 and was very fortunate to have had an internship lined up with a major corporation,” he recalls. “This provided me with a pay cheque and also reasonably affordable accommodation, two things that are vital in Tokyo.”

The day after his arrival, Paroz made his way to the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan hombu (headquarters) dojo. Armed with letters of introduction from the joint chief instructors for Shorinjiryu in Australia, Phil Hooper and Scott Brown, Paroz arrived at the dojo feeling a mix of trepidation and excitement. Having previously met Hanshi Hisataka during his visits to Australia, Paroz received a warm welcome and for the next two years he trained at the dojo for three hours a day, four times a week. The weekday training finished at 10pm, but Paroz generally stayed at the dojo longer to assist Hisataka Sensei with paperwork, after which the two would often eat a late dinner together. This arrangement often saw Paroz making a mad dash for the last train home at around 11.45pm!

Hisataka Sensei later invited Paroz to co-write a manuscript for a book he wanted to publish. This involved researching, writing, reviewing, and many extra training sessions, which were mostly done at weekends. It was intense, and Paroz looks back on it as a time when he learned a lot. After he left Japan in 1993, a small amount of additional material was added to the manuscript, and the book was published in 1994 under the title Essential Shorinjiryu Karatedo. The added pressure of writing a manuscript aside, life in Japan was always busy, and whenever he wasn’t working on the book, training at the dojo, attending training camps or going to tournaments, Paroz spent time exploring Tokyo and surrounding areas. Through this he was able to attend various budo festivals and generally enjoy his life at a more relaxed pace away from the dojo. It’s a time he looks back on as being full of great experiences.
Early on in his time in Japan, Paroz made contact with Canadian instructor Patrick McCarthy (now based in Queensland), then a resident in the country who had written a book called Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate. McCarthy Sensei was living in Fujisawa and he invited Paroz to visit him at his home. There Paroz got to know him, his wife Yuriko-san and his two young children. As well as visiting the McCarthys, Paroz travelled to various budo festivals and tournaments, and through McCarthy, met many famous senior martial artists. Paroz recalls that, on occasion, he trained with him too.

On a separate occasion, and in the company of Masayuki Hisataka Sensei, Paroz was introduced to Minoru Mochizuki Sensei, founder of Yoseikan Budo. Mochizuki Sensei held 10th Dan in several martial arts, including judo and aikido, having been a direct student of these arts’ respective founders, Jigoro Kano Sensei and O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba. More importantly, from a Shorinjiryu point of view, Mochizuki Sensei had studied karate with the style’s founder, Kori Hisataka Sensei, when the two men were stationed in Manchuria, China, during the Second World War. Today, Yoseikan Budo practitioners continue to study a kata called Happoken which, Mochizuki Sensei told Paroz, Kori Hisataka Sensei had created for him. Interestingly, Shorinjiryu no longer practises this kata, although there is a similar kata still practised, called Happiken.

From my own research, I know Shorinjiryu has many elements of other martial arts within it, and wonder if Paroz thinks of it as a school of karate or a school of bujutsu. He tells me that the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan school, founded by Kori Hisataka Sensei (1907–1988), is largely based on the Okinawan karate that he learned from his principle teachers, Chotoku Kyan Sensei (1870–1945) and kobudo pioneer Sanda Kanagusuku Sensei (1841–1926). This was fused together with influences from other notable Okinawan karateka and his own training in Japan, Taiwan and China. As a child, Kori Hisataka Sensei was a classmate of Shoshin Nagamine Sensei, the founder of Matsubayashi-ryu karate, but had spent a significant amount of time growing up in Kyushu, where he learned jujutsu. Hisataka Sensei also attained Yondan (4th Dan) in judo after just one year of study at the famous Kodokan.

Travelling widely and studying local martial arts in various parts of Asia and Eurasia, and ‘exchanging techniques’ with local practitioners, gave the young Hisataka Sensei a keen insight into the fighting arts. As previously mentioned, during WW2 he trained extensively with Minoru Mochizuki Sensei of Yoseikan Budo. Paroz has no doubt that Mochizuki Sensei’s aikijutsu has influenced some of the techniques in Shorinjiryu.

Primarily, however, Shorinjiryu remains an art based on the impact techniques of Okinawan karate and has at its core a variety of kata. Paroz believes true karate has throwing, restraint and strangulation techniques to supplement the striking techniques, even though the impact strikes are the core. So Shorinjiryu, as far as Paroz is concerned, is definitely a school of karate, which itself is a form of bujutsu. He goes on to explain, “In Shorinjiryu Koshinkai karatedo there are 11 empty-hand kata and six weapons kata as part of the formal syllabus of the Australian association; although, they practise several other kata to supplement their training up to Godan (5th Dan).”

Australia’s present joint chief instructor, Jim Griffin Sensei, has said the ‘less is more’ philosophy is important in ensuring individuals can develop and progress; and Paroz believes this philosophy is very much in sync with that of the founder, who originally only taught five empty-hand kata. There were three practised by Kyu-level students (below Black-belt rank): Naihanchin, Sanchin and Nijushiho; and Chinto and Kusanku kata were reserved for Yudansha (Black-belts). There were a further three weaponry kata also. Later, Bassai and Seisan kata were re-introduced while Masayuki Hisataka Sensei created Happiken and Sankakutobi, based on his father’s teachings.

Kata lie at the heart of the Shorinjiryu Koshinkai syllabus as it is the group’s belief that kata teach fundamental principles of movement, as well as defensive applications for a variety of common self-protection situations. Although kata should start from the premise of a functional application, Paroz believes students should continue to develop their speed, power, timing, balance and breath control. “Kata,” says Paroz, “is also a form of self-expression, and the study of a single kata can take many, many years. I personally feel that after more than 25 years of practice, I am only starting to get a grip on our basic kata Naihanchin.”

Shorinjiryu also uses two-person drills to work on rhythm, timing, and distancing. I want to get Paroz’s thoughts on these drills — how many there are, for example — and do they progress in levels of difficulty? He tells me that Hisataka Sensei believes that kata is the heart of karate, but that it has limitations when it comes to those aspects previously mentioned – rhythm, timing, distancing, etc. So Hisataka Sensei introduced the practice of yakusoku kumite (agreement sparring), as the movement would be known, so that students could focus on these other aspects.

This practice is used because Hisataka Sensei believes it to be the best way to practise techniques and yet provide safety for the student.
Paroz is not really sure how many drills there are in the overall Shorinjiryu system, as it seems Hisataka Sensei would ‘create’ drills to suit the students he was teaching at the time. He would choose techniques he thought suited the individual’s strength and body type. Today, there are well in excess of 50 formal yakusoku kumite drills practised within the various schools of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan. In the Shorinjiryu Koshinkai School, there are about 14 empty-handed and several weapons-based yakusoku kumite in their core syllabus. The basic drills are essentially punch-kick-strike sequences with characteristic angular footwork, but some of the more advanced drills incorporate locks, holds and takedowns, while others incorporate the use of weapons.

An unusual — at least in karate — use of a vertical fist when punching is a kind of trademark of Shorinjiryu. Although I was introduced to this method of punching back in the mid-1970s while a student of Tani-ha Shito-ryu (Shukokai), I wonder why this punch has become the ‘standard’ method in Shorinjiryu?  “The vertical fist (tate-ken) was an innovation of Master Chotoku Kyan, who found it to be a superior technique, especially when punching upwards,” Paroz explains. “Bearing in mind Master Kyan was less than five feet tall, this was meaningful for him. Nowadays, many of us are taller than Master Kyan, but this technique has carried forth as a trademark of Shorinjiryu. We find that the alignment of the punching arm is stronger when punching with a vertical fist. The elbow is pointed downwards rather than sideways, and is well aligned to take the shock of impact and thus deliver maximum impact. Although this is our primary punch, we also use the horizontal (corkscrew) fist (yoko-ken), especially for quick, close-in punches, along with the reverse fist (gyaku-ken), hammer fist (kentsui) and back-fist (ura-ken).”

Shorinjiryu is not as well known in Australia as many other karate schools, but this has not hindered it from becoming well organised, both nationally and internationally. Like most schools of karate, Shorinjiryu as a style has devolved into many independent schools. When the founder retired from day-to-day teaching in 1974, Masayuki Hisataka Sensei left America, where he had lived for some years, and returned to Japan. At that time the single, worldwide organisation split into a number of different schools. These days, due to further fragmentation within the various groups, there are many independent schools of Shorinjiryu around the world. Hisataka Sensei has built up a sizable organisation, with large branches in places such as Canada, the former USSR, Europe, and Africa. He places great emphasis on the koshiki (heavy contact) competitive system that uses the ‘Supersafe’ Anzen Bogu (protective clothing) he developed, and he has made many innovations in techniques and methods to support the koshiki system. Accordingly, the Shorinjiryu karate he teaches today has evolved in line with his innovations. Watanabe Sensei, who remained in America, has quietly continued to practise the karate passed on to him by his teacher, the founder of Shorinjiryu, Kori Hisataka Sensei. He has a small organisation built around his dojo in Baltimore and another dojo on New York’s Long Island.

Apart from these two senior teachers of the style, there are many other semi-independent schools of Shorinjiryu around the world, particularly in Canada, Europe, the US, and of course, Australia. To give a sense of ‘family’ to this group, one of these schools’ chief instructors, Myron Lubitsch Sensei, set up an umbrella organisation in the 1980s with the aim to provide an opportunity for each school to continue to have control over its own syllabus, while creating a forum to share information and knowledge. To that end, Lubitsch Sensei formed the Shorinjiryu Shinzen Kyokai and every year hosts a large tournament in New York City. This year will be the 25th anniversary of the tournament, and it will draw an estimated 300-plus Shorinjiryu students from many different schools, along with teams from the US, Canada, Algeria, Central America, India, Europe and Australia.

Here in Australia, Paroz runs a small dojo, Kengokan, in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill. He doesn’t teach children as he believes they require a different kind of training and focus than adults. Kengokan members are mostly professionals from a variety of industries who work together to explore the various combat methods of Shorinjiryu. Paroz explains it is a relatively relaxed and informal dojo, but a training environment he is proud of. His students are making great progress, he says, adding that he continues to learn from, and with, them during every training session. “Our dojo is part of the Australian Shorinjiryu Karatedo Association, the original organisation set up by Laurence (Lori) Vanniekirk Sensei in the late 1970s. We were a part of the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo organisation under Hisataka Sensei, but then became independent in 1994. In 2007 we affiliated with Watanabe Sensei’s group and became a part of the Shorinjiryu Kenyukai Watanabe-ha World Federation.”

The Australian Shorinjiryu Karatedo Association’s ties with Watanabe Sensei didn’t last long, however, and the two groups parted company earlier this year after less than four years. Becoming an independent group again, a new school was formed under the banner of Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo. The name, Koshinkai, refers to the old and the new, and reflects the old and new styles of Shorinjiryu learned from Hisataka Sensei, Watanabe Sensei, Vanniekirk Sensei, and others. The joint chief instructors of this new group are Sensei’s Jim Griffin and Max Estens, while Paroz fulfils the twin roles of president of the association and its technical advisor. With eight dojos across NSW, Queensland and Victoria, all of which are a part of the Shorinjiryu Shinzen Kyokai, this makes the group the largest Shorinjiryu organisation in Australia. Friendly relations have been maintained with the other branches of Shorinjiryu, based on the understanding that although groups might be organisationally separate, they continue to follow a similar path. Having had the opportunity to study closely with two sensei who are not only the most senior students of the founder still practising, but are also two of the world’s finest exponents of the art (Hisataka and Watanabe), it would be stupid to allow politics to get in the way of training.

On a personal level, Paroz intends to continue exploring the principles and fighting strategies of Shorinjiryu. His final comment during our conversation is typical of someone who’s in martial arts for the long haul: “I think I’m finally getting to a point where I have working theories on the meanings of most of our basic kata, and this is an area I will continue to explore.”


Get more training tips, learn the latest techniques or join the debate on Facebook!

Picture credit: Kevin Withnall