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Saanich man to receive 10th-degree black belt in karate, a rare honour

He said he wasn’t a strong boy and got beat up frequently at school, and karate helped him develop — but never through fighting. “I hated to fight."
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Masanobu Kikukawa, in his traditional Chinese medicine clinic, will receive the rarely awarded 10th-degree black belt on Sunday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Masanobu Kikukawa’s interest in karate goes back 57 years to Okinawa, Japan where karate is a major part of the ­history.

Kikukawa, who now lives in Saanich, began learning the martial art when he was 10 years old from his neighbour. He has been a devotee ever since.

On Sunday, he will be given his 10th-degree black belt — traditional karate’s highest rank — making him one of a select few in the world with that designation.

“Generally speaking, they are a keeper of a style or the most knowledgeable person in their area,” said friend Greg Turnbull, chief instructor for Seienjuku Karate Canada. “It is so difficult to actually reflect how distinct this is.”

He said there are about 20 to 30 10th-degree black belts in the world, and earning one is an amazing achievement that comes after years of dedication.

Turnbull doesn’t know of any other such traditional belts in B.C. or on Vancouver Island.

Kikukawa, who continues to teach, is thankful for the recognition he is getting. “I’m so happy and honoured to receive this,” he said.

His specialty is Shorinryu, an Okinawan-style karate that Turnbull said is among the oldest types.

Kikukawa said he never dreamed he would come this far in karate.

He said he wasn’t a strong boy and got beat up frequently at school, and karate helped him develop — but never through fighting. “I hated to fight,” Kikukawa said.

He has done many things outside of karate, and is currently a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, which he studied after arriving here. Kikukawa is also licensed in 20-plus other areas of work, including diesel mechanics and underwater welding.

“It’s crazy how much this guy knows,” Turnbull said.

Kikukawa simply said that he has done “a lot” of different jobs through his life.

He and his family left Okinawa for Canada in 1994 when he was 40. “It was my dream to come to Canada,” he said.

His introduction to Canada had come at the 1970 Osaka Expo, where he was put off by the size of the line at the American pavilion. “I just gave up and went to the next pavilion, the Canada pavilion.”

He said he didn’t even know where Canada was at the time, but he fell in love with the country.

Turnbull called Kikukawa “a living encyclopedia of knowledge” who shares what he knows with anyone wanting to train.

He has led seminars around the world, including in Japan, the U.S., Puerto Rico, Chile and India, and directed the Victoria Cup Karate Tournament from 2011 to 2019.

Kikukawa will be presented with the 10th-degree black belt on Jan. 23 at Hasting’s Martial Arts in North Saanich.

jbell@timescolonist.com