William “Crando” Saito is the 16th Grandmaster of Igaryu Ninjutsu and founder of the Shinbukan Martial Arts Academy in Australia. Saito Soke embodies the true Spirit of Martial Arts. His nature is humble and jovial which is indicative of one who has unburdened himself from ego to embrace true inner strength and peace. His passion for Martial Arts is easily discernible as he presides over the sparring bouts of his dear students with excitement and enthusiasm.
As of writing this, William “Crando” Saito is 77 years old and possesses an illustrious Martial Arts career. He has trained with legends in the field of Martial Arts such as Gogen Yamaguchi and has accomplished amazing Martial Arts feats, amassing a collection of accolades and ranks. The ranks and titles that Saito Soke currently holds are:
- 16th Soke of Igaryu Ninjutsu (inherited from Heishichiro Okuse)
- 10th Dan Soke of Goju-Ryu Karate-Do
- 7th Dan in Shinto Ryu Iai Batto Jutsu
- 6th Dan in Isshinryu Aiki-Jujutsu
- 8th Dan Hanshi in Tameshigiri Iaido
- 8th Dan Hanshi in Sports Chanbara
- Ajari (abbott) of Koyasan Shingo Shu
Saito Soke has studied Martial Arts with some of the most prominent masters, such as:
- Seiko Fujita (14th Soke of Koga Ryu Ninjutsu)
- Heishichiro Okuse (15th Soke of Igaryu Ninjutsu)
- Gogen Yamaguchi (Goju Kai)
- Shuji Tasaki (Goju Ryu Seiwa Kai)
- Gonnohye Yamamoto (Goju Ryu IKO)
- Akio Takahashi (Goju Ryu Kenwa Kai)
- Takeshi Mochizuki (Shinto Ryu Iai Batto Jutsu and Isshinryu Aiki-Jujutsu)
- Tetsundo Tanabe (Tameshigiri Iaido, Goshindo and Sports Chanbara)
Saito Soke’s Introduction to Martial Arts
William Saito, born in 1945 and hails from Asakusa, Japan. This rough Tokyo suburb was occupied by the Yakuza (Japanese gangsters) who often perpetrated crime and violence. Self-defence was an essential skill to possess in such a dangerous environment. To this end, Saito Soke began his Martial Arts training at the tender age of 8. He was led into the world of Martial Arts by Mr. Seiko Fujita, the 14th Grandmaster of Iga and Koga Ninjutsu. Mr Fujita concluded that the young William Saito was well suited to the art of Ninjutsu as, according to Mr Fujita’s assessment, William possessed exceptional perception, awareness, and a keen inner vision known as senri gan noryoku.
It was not long after becoming a student of Ninjutsu that Saito witnessed a kama (sickle) kata demonstration by the Goju-Ryu Karate Master, Gogen Yamaguchi. Mr Yamaguchi, who skilfully wielded the kama, impressed the young William Saito who became very interested in Goju Karate. This interest led Saito Soke to begin his training in 1960 with Mr. Yamaguchi, when Saito Soke was 15 years old.
Former generations of the Saito family had acted as executioners for the Daimyo (feudal lords) and upheld a tradition of excellence in Swordsmanship. William’s father, Kanji Saito, was a high-ranking army officer who passed away in American custody. Kanji Saito was a skilled Martial Artist who was trained by some of Japan’s greatest masters.
Saito Soke’s Ninjutsu lineage began in the mountainous provinces of Iga and Koga. Both Iga and Koga Ninjutsu originated from monastic and scholarly practices of mountain warriors known as Yamabushi, who founded a monastery in the early 12th century AD at a remote location in the rugged mountains, south of modern-day Tokyo. The town and monastery of Iga was founded by Lord Inega Hattori. Lord Hattori’s 7th descendant was Yasunaga Hanzo Hattori, the founder of Igaryu Ninjutsu. Yasunaga Hanzo Hattori served two Shogunates, namely the Ashikaga followed by the Tokugawa. He became the 1st Head of the Tokugawa Ninja and led the Shogun’s intelligence unit and elite fighting force. Yasunaga was succeeded by his son, Masanar Hanzo Hattori as the 2nd Grandmaster of Igaryu Ninjutsu. The 3rd Grandmaster was Masatsugu Hanzo Hattori and each successor adopted the name Hanzo Hattori until the beginning of the peaceful Meiji period. At this significant juncture, Mr. Seiko Fujita took up the reigns as the 14th Grandmaster of Igaryu Ninjutsu.
Mr Fujita passed on the traditions and leadership of Iga and Koga Ninjutsu to Mr Heischichiro Okuse who became the 15th Grandmaster. Saito Soke is the 16th Grandmaster of Igaryu Ninjutsu.
Through intensive and sincere training, Saito Soke, acquired the knowledge and disciplines of Iga and Koga Ninjutsu.
Saito Soke began his Ninjutsu training with the study of philosophy and strategy under the guidance of Mr. Fujita. He was thereafter taught the art and skills of Ninjutsu in Mr Fujita’s dojo in Asakusa as soon as he acquired a fundamental understanding of Ninjutsu’s underpinning philosophical and strategic tenets.
There was much to learn in the art of Ninjutsu. Training comprised of armed and hand-to-hand combat. Saito Soke recalls the practice of moving meditation to unify and harmonise the body and mind. He also learned to enhance his senses so that he could operate in total darkness. He fondly remembers having to locate opponents in a darkened environment where light would gradually be dimmed at each lesson.
Saito Soke entered a special student-mentor arrangement known as uchi deshi with, the then Grandmaster, Mr. Okuse. For a month at a time, Saito would live and train at Iga. This occurred 4 times a year where Saito would cook meals and clean for Mr. Okuse.
Mr. Gogen Yamaguchi demanded maximum effort from his students during training. Saito Soke, being no stranger to hard work, recalls that the training was rigorous and highly repetitive. He would execute the techniques taught to him many times over. The aim of this type of training was to build strength, determination, and perseverance.
Students would apply the skills learnt during fierce sparring (kumite) where injuries were a commonplace. If the student were to receive an injury inflicting blow, the student would recognise their opponent’s skill and the fact that their own defence was insufficient.
Saito Soke had earned a Black belt at the age of 18. Goju Black belts were required to pressure test their skills regularly and Saito Soke was not exempt from such a test. Shihan Tazaki had tasked him to face off against a local Yakuza member, a challenge in which Saito had triumphed. Saito Soke chuckles as he relates that the Yakuza were ideal candidates for students of the Goju school to test their skills as they were experienced at combat and if the police were summoned, the Goju students would not be in trouble for fighting gangsters. Saito Soke vividly remembers an event where Shihan Tazaki defeated 5 Yakuza members by himself by the Sumida River. It was the Yakuza Kumite that propelled Saito Soke’s fighting prowess and forged him into a battle-hardy warrior.
Kickboxing competitions became popular in Japan in the 1960s. These competitions featured many prominent Muay Thai practitioners. Saito Soke began competition fighting in kickboxing at the age of 22. The boxing gloves diminished the power of the Karate straight punch which was effective in bare knuckle kumite. This resulted in Saito losing his first 2 bouts. Saito soon realised that to be successful at kickboxing, he had to utilise close range punching combinations to succeed. With this in his arsenal, Saito fought more than 80 times in the ring and won all these fights. These competition bouts took place in many locations, including Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, South Africa, and Europe. Saito Soke found Muay Thai practitioners to be powerful kickers who lacked the diversity of kicks used in Karate. It was during his bouts with Muay Thai fighters that Saito learnt the value of landing round-house kicks (mawashi-geri) with the shin. This was in contrast to his prior learnings to use the ball of the foot as the impact point for this type of kick.
Saito Soke’s advice for those wanting to take up fighting professionally is to begin with a traditional Martial Art like Karate which teaches a wide variety of techniques. Upon becoming proficient in these techniques, these can be adapted for fighting in the ring.
During his childhood, Saito Soke began a lifetime study of Shingon Mikkyo, or tantric Buddhism. This esoteric tradition teaches methods of utilising the body’s energy flows.
Outside of the Dojo
Outside of the dojo, Saito Soke was expected to excel in academic studies and sports, especially middle to long distance running. He was selected as the 3rd runner in the 800-meter relay in the high school championships held in Tokyo Olympic Stadium. Saito fondly recalls that his team was placed 1st in this event.
Harrison Saito is son to Saito Soke and, as of writing this, currently holds a Shodan (1st Dan) Black Belt. He trains and instructs at the Honbu Dojo (Headquarters) in Lane Cove, Sydney.
Martial Arts Instructor and Immigration to Australia
William Saito is proud to have worked for Mr Yamaguchi as an interpreter and Secretary. As Goju-Ryu Karate became increasingly popular, Mr Yamaguchi sent Saito overseas to instruct in the art. Saito Soke travelled the world teaching Goju Karate during the decades of 1960 and 1970. Initially he was sent to New York and Taiwan, but also later taught in Sweden, England, Mauritius, Gaum, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and South Africa. Saito Soke was extremely impressed with the athleticism of the black South African’s who demonstrated strong effort, determination, and toughness.
In 1978 Mr Ceberano asked Saito, who had helped him with his training in Japan, to help him instruct at his Dojo in Melbourne. Saito Soke, later moved to Sydney as he was not accustomed to the Melbourne weather. In Sydney, Saito helped others who had trained in Japan such as Mr. Paul Starling, before setting up his own dojos. Saito Soke is the only student of Gogen Yamaguchi that is teaching outside of Japan.
Saito Soke values the core traditions of Goju-Ryu Karate but has expanded the syllabus to include techniques and kata that was valuable to his own Martial Arts development. Goju Ryu is a close combat style that traditionally does not include much kicking. Saito Soke has placed a greater emphasis on kicking to allow his students to handle a diverse range of opponents. Saito Soke’s students train to deal with all styles of fighting. He believes that training traditional Karate alone will limit one’s ability to deal with fighters from other fighting systems. He has therefore introduced several short-range and evasion techniques such as hooks, shin kicks and weaving. From experience, Saito Soke believes that long-range fighting is essential for street fighting. As an instructor, his aim is to impart short and long-range fighting methods to prepare his students for self-defence and sporting contexts.
To defend against knife attacks, Saito Soke teaches his Karate students Jūjutsu techniques and grappling manoeuvres. He also favours the natural chaining of a combination of techniques (renzoku waza) instead of the traditional one-point (ippon) contest. He believes that fighting must be of a continuous and demanding nature to simulate real-world conditions.
Saito Soke has also introduced Chinese animal forms into his Karate syllabus which he learnt while living in a Zen Buddhist temple. Mastering the animal forms enables the student to understand the wide range of human movement, footwork and lines of attack and defence as well as the psychology of the natural world. He has witnessed many a time where a practitioner that does not think like a crane when performing the Hakutsuru Crane kata, performs the techniques in a clumsy manner.
Saito Soke’s aim as a Martial Arts instructor is to help his student conquer 2 weaknesses which is fear and laziness. He wants to instil courage and perseverance in his students and believes that overcoming laziness and fear is the character-building backbone of Martial Arts.
Saito Soke believes that Martial Arts work best at creating better people when strict discipline is maintained. It is for this reason that he follows the Japanese way to run his dojos. Saito Soke firmly believes that dojo discipline translates to self-discipline which instils confidence in his students and gives them a sense of responsibility. He expects his students to overcome laziness through intense training and he helps his students conquer fear through full-contact and demanding sparring sessions.
Saito Soke trains in a traditional manner to become less egotistical and to develop a sense of personal harmony.
His vision is to create strong fighters and nurture good people who will be valuable contributors to their community. He believes that his students must be of sound character and maintain good health to uplift their communities.
Saito Soke holds strong to his belief that Martial Arts can empower people from all walks of life. He has witnessed quick tempers mellow and gentle tempers gain energy through Martial Arts. He emphasises that repetition leads to proficiency and thus helps one to achieve in whatever they set out to do. His teachings are not solely based on Martial Arts achievement but also on being able to deal with difficulties faced in life. His philosophy is that through regular and intensive training, when one becomes astute at pushing past the limits of their body and mind, one is able to apply themselves to emerge stronger from any challenging situation.
Ascendency to Grandmaster of Igaryu Ninjutsu
In 1991, Mr Okuse assembled all his most senior students and ordered them to compete against each other in a series of contests which comprised of:
- Hanbo – 3-inch staff
- Bo – 6-inch staff
- Yari - spear
- Jutte - 2-pronged weapon similar to the Sai
- Kenjutsu - wooden swords
- Taijutsu - unarmed combat
- Shuriken - throwing star
- Taihen jutsu - evading attacks unarmed from an unsheathed and live sword
This request for competition came completely unannounced and Saito Soke remembers the feeling of uneasiness.
Mr Okuse declared that all fights had to continue until the loser was completely defenceless and, in the case of Taijutsu, until one of the fighters was yielded unconscious.
The competition was fierce with many students incurring severe injuries during the Taihen jutsu. Saito Soke demonstrated immense skill and determination during the contest. He defeated all the other students in each fighting discipline.
On the day that followed, Mr. Okuse announced his retirement as Grandmaster and named Mr. William Saito the 16th Grandmaster of Iga and Koga Ninjutsu with the warrior name of Crando. Mr. Okuse thereafter imparted the Isshi Soden which are secret and unwritten teachings to Saito.
This signified a major milestone in Japanese cultural history where the Grandmaster of the oldest school of Ninjutsu now lives outside of Japan.
A Constant Learner of Martial Arts and Life
After more than 60 years of Martial Arts, Saito Soke is still learning and growing. He has matured in his nature and is more able to accept any situation with a clear view, and thus, with less fear. He feels that he has developed a particular type of sensitivity which has enabled him to be more aware of what his opponent is feeling instead of fixating on his own fears and pain. His approach to fighting has changed. Where he would always push himself harder against an opponent, he now finds that through acceptance and a calm attitude, he is able to create openings in his opponent’s defences organically.
Saito Soke indicates that at the core of his teachings is Budo, the lifetime pursuit of personal development. He postulates that the trinity within Budo is called Shin-Gi-Tai (Mind-Technique-Body) and that when all 3 are exercised, developed, and cultivated, a powerful and wholistic benefit ensues. Saito Soke sees Budo and Shin-Gi-Tai as the reason and heart of Martial Arts. To Saito Soke, the Dojo is a place to prepare for the outside world where the student trains for life, recognising that life is struggle and that applying one’s total effort to master oneself is the way to peace.
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