Shihan Peter Chong 8th Dan - Legend of Kyokushin Karate
by Arijit Chakraborty
Arijit with Peter Chong Shihan , 8th Dan
Shihan Peter Chong 8th Dan is the Chairman of Asia & Middle East Kyokushin Karate, the President of the Singapore Oyama Karate-Do Kyokushinkaikan (SOKK), the President of the Singapore Martial Arts Instructors' Association (SMAIA), and also the Advisor to Singapore Karate-do Federation (SKF). He is one of the top five people in the world who hold the highest ranking of a recognized Karate organization. He is also the International Committee Member and Advisor of International Karate Organisation (IKO).
AC Osu Shihan! Welcome to India, we are all fortunate to have your benign presence and blessings for the Nationals.
PC Osu! Thanks for your welcome. It’s a home coming for me, India is a great country and karate-ka here are really committed.
AC Shihan, can you please share your early years and introduction to karate.
PC As a young boy, I was always bullied by schoolmates due to my small built and I wanted to learn martial arts to protect myself. In around 1955, when I was fourteen years of age, my father started training me with a group of village boys. After a year, the training stopped when my father became a staunch Roman Catholic who did not believe in violence. I had put my heart and soul into the training but soon grew weary of the endless repetitions of performing only the forms or the katas. I read about free sparring in a few karate books available then and was very drawn towards the unknown Japanese art. I was also trained in boxing and judo in school. One day while working at a store in High Street as a salesman, I met a Japanese tourist who asked me what sort of Karate I did, as my hands were already calloused. The tourist told me of a man in Japan called Mas Oyama who had extraordinary power and strength and he then gave me Sosai Oyama's address. After a month, I tracked down Sosai Oyama's book "This Is Karate" and was greatly impressed by the exploits of Mas Oyama. I wrote to Sosai Oyama and was surprised when I received a reply from him saying that I was accepted to train in Japan. At this point, my big problem-how to get there? It was the early 60's and my monthly salary was only about S$200. But still I calculated and saved for the cost of a two-year training stint in Japan.
AC Shihan, when did you first reach Japan, please share the training and other experience at Honbu.
PC It was sometime in 1965, when I packed my bags and set off for Tokyo without my wife and father's knowledge (at that time, my father was in Europe). I was received at Yokohama by a representative from Honbu. When we arrived at Honbu and I was brought up to the 3rd floor office where Sosai Oyama greeted me and his first words were: "Welcome to Tokyo but no woman". At that time, there was no Uchi Deshi dorm (live-in student) so with Honbu's help, I found a small five tatami mat room in an Inn nearby. Shortly after, I started training at Honbu. However, I was completely exhausted after just the Kihon (Basics of Kyokushin Karate training). The first few weeks proved to be quite a torment for me as I encountered language problem. The other Karate-kas mistook my silence, due to my ignorance of the Japanese language, for insolence. They thrashed me soundly every time there was a sparring session. There were many times I asked myself why I wanted to come such a long way here to suffer all these hardships and miss the love of my family. I was not doing well in my life, so wanted to see how far I could go from there! The training at Kyokushinkai Honbu was no easy task. There were two sessions of 2½ hours duration each day, morning and evening except Sunday. The Oyama style stressed the need for very rigorous exercise to build the body to withstand blows. There was also weight-lifting, katas, free sparring, which involved full contact, running to build stamina, and meditation.
AC Any special memory, Shihan, please relate to us.
PC I remember an incident that I experienced in the extremely cold winter. I washed my gi after each training because I could only afford one set. Usually I would soak in the bucket and wash it the next day as I did during the summer time. But to my astonishment, I found out that the bucket with my gi and water was all frozen. This experience made me really learn something different other than Karate. After a week, the snow came but the training never stopped. Running barefooted in the mountains and training under waterfalls was a routine in wintertime.
AC Shihan, you faced severe problems when your father passed away..
PC Yes, it was really difficult. When he expired, I was shocked and stayed at his grave for days for six months, I stayed home to settle the affairs of my father's estate. I could find no consolation and decided to go back to Japan. This time, I stayed for another 1½ years. I put all my efforts in training and after one year, I was awarded Shodan. I was in financial difficulties. I worked in a restaurant, and was recommended to teach English Language on a part-time basis. Sometimes I fought in kickboxing matches for money. I was paid well in his fights and thus ended my financial worries.
AC Shihan, kindly tell us about your karate career.
PC In 1968 I was awarded 3rd Dan and returned to Singapore in early 1969. I opened my first dojo in St. Francis Road in 1969. I trained my students the same way as what I had learnt in Japan. There were also some guys from other martial arts that came and tested me out. Usually they were knocked down by my Jodan Mawashi Geri!! . The most important aspect of my training was mental training other than the physical training. This was to instill the fighting spirit in the students. I also travelled to many countries, holding courses and training camps. In 1971 Gogen Yamaguchi visited Singapore and I looked after him during his stay as he was Sosai Oyama's elder. In early 1972, I returned to Japan for my 4th dan grading. After 3 months, I was awarded 4th dan and appointed by Sosai to be the Chairman & Chief Examiner for Southeast Asia. In the 1984, 3rd World Tournament in Japan, I gave a demonstration of karate.
AC Shihan, please share your current activities.
PC Currently, I run 8 dojos in Singapore. I have my own business to take care of but am still very much concerned for my club. I conduct Senior Belt training once every month. I teach the senior belt classes (brown belt and above) the advance techniques, basic fundamental movements in detail, the understanding of Budo Karate and so on!
AC Shihan, what is your vision for karate and specially for Singapore, your hometown
PC My vision today is to setup a full-time clubhouse, which will consist of a training ground, a gymnasium, a Kyokushin library, and a place for relaxation for members all in one place. I also try to generate more funds for members to go to Japan for further upgradings and tournaments. I hope that more young people will take up martial arts and so that they are able to protect themselves and their loves ones. My Vision is also to promote good healthy lifestyle and racial harmony amongst the different Communities. My goals are:
- Train more with all the students
- Attend as many events as I can
- Continue to improve my karate
- Fulfill the commitments I made to Sosai Mas Oyama many years ago (look after Kyokushin, look after the students)
AC Shihan, how do you find your Indian Branch?
PC Look, we are all students, we all need to train. Our bodies, our mind, our spirit- all rolled into one. Indian karate ka very promising, Branch Chief Prasenjit (WMA’s note- Sensei Prasenjit Saha, veteran karate-ka, 4th Dan IKO, Based out of Salt Lake, Kolkata ) is doing great job. He operates from here, as you know, and practically takes care of the national association of IKO. I am proud of him and his students. But they must still train more, become strong and contribute to society. That’s my hope.
AC Shihan, what would you say to aspiring karatekas and WMA readers who look up to you? Do you have any words of wisdom for them?
PC Listen to your Sensei, focus on your training, do the best YOU can do, never think you are better than anybody else, we are all born equal and it is up to each of us to make the best of it. If you want to be the best in the world, give it ALL you have, you will be the best in the world, but it will cost you…pain, dedication, more pain and even more dedication and some more pain. So to all you youngsters, GET USE TO IT! PAIN IS GOOD AND THERE’S MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM! And for beginners, be careful, your hands do not have the same amount of callus as mine and other “old” guys in this Martial Arts world. It takes years to build up, so train with your head, if not you will destroy your hands for sure. Do push ups on your knuckles, hitting the sandbag, hitting the Makiwara, punching in sand and water for some years and you will get there! Achieve everything in life you want to. Do it with: dignity, respect and humility. Go to the dojo, talk less, train more! Never stop your training, training is your best investment in life and Kyokushin can help you along the way. My best wishes, Osu!
AC Thanks Shihan for your encouragement and deep insights into karate and life. We shall be always grateful to you and we invite you again to our country. Osu!
Arijit Chakraborty the interviewer holds 4th dan in Shotokan Karate and also trained in Aikido & Kyokushin Karate. Apart from authoring numerous technical articles on Karate-do, he has interacted closely and interviewed many of Karate's greatest experts from Japan, from Shotokan, Shito-ryu, Kyokushin kai & other schools. He is a practising Chartered Accountant, based in Kolkata, India.