Elvis and Chito Ryu
Now we all know who the “King of Rock and Roll”; Elvis Presley aka Elvis the Pelvis. That's what we called him when I was growing up. He was “so- so” back then. But when I joined the service and got involved in the martial arts and learned of his accomplishments from my instructor, Melvin Sauer, thus my perspective changed. I loved his Gospel music, but then again maybe I was influenced by his accomplishments under the greatest Grand Master Instructor in Karate, that the world has ever know.
Now, that man is Henry Slomanski and I'm talking about the great things he achieved in his lifetime. The story all begins here. I am speaking now as the last 4th degree Master Instructor under him and his title of “Commissioner of Karate”. There are so many great things he accomplished throughout his life, but I am only referring to his time and place in the martial arts. My information about Elvis comes directly from Henry and Melvin Sauer.
To gain perspective of Elvis' accomplishments one has to understand the history of the instructors who awarded him belts. Make no mistake when I say that Henry was “the very best ever” he was. Yet in order to say that he was the best you have to have creditability. We are speaking about credentials, certificates and documentations along with first hand knowledge from Master Instructors who participated in the same Lame and Kill Matches
As I said, creditability and accomplishments are the keys to anyone's greatness. It is hard to believe that he was training in the martial arts in the late 1940's. It is my understanding that Henry Slomanski was exceptionally proficient in a few areas of karate prior to training in Japan. My Master Instructor, Melvin Sauer, informed me that Henry was a Master in Jujitsu working on combining those skills with Kempo Karate. It was said that he was even studying Judo. This information is generalized as there is no specific written record of instructors, neither times nor places available. Prior training in various martial art forms and the methods of training allowed him to hone his newly developed skills and forge his way into the International Karate Championship in 1953. Needless to say he won, but it is very important to mention because this match began shaping his profound legacy. This historic event along with others all took place in Japan. It is very important to note that HE NEVER LOST A MATCH! This is unheard of. How many can say they have accomplished this feat?
There were a few individuals who were aware of Slomanski and his feats; one of these was Tsuyoshi Chitose. He of course was a Grand Master who later founded his own style”Chito ryu”, circa 1958 to 1960. He did something that was unheard of at that time for a Grand Master; he sought out Henry and encouraged him to become his student. He did this even though Slomanski was already an International Champion. He ultimately agreed to this honorable request from T Chitose.
In order to prepare him for the phenomenal events at the International Lame and Kill Matches, Slomanski had approximately 3 years of training under Chitose's tutelage, from 1953 to 1956, along with Gogen Yamaguchi. This was under the guidance of the International Karatedo Federation of Japan who sanctioned the Lame and Kill Matches. This was under the control of the Emperor. Both Yamaguchi and Chitose were Grand Masters and held the title of “red belt” which had been awarded to them by the Emperor for their expertise. It is important to note that this was a “title” not a “rank”, which is usually associated with a red belt. In this case it represented the #1 and #2 ranking belts in the world under the Japanese Federation. Everything was awarded or sanctioned by the Emperor or Japanese Federation. At this time, neither Chitose nor Yamaguchi had formed their own styles.
It is necessary to emphasize that at this time, the highest rank for belts that could be awarded was a 4th degree Black Belt. It had to conform to the rules under the International Karatedo Federation of Japan. This was not a rank that could be handed down nor inherited. There had been no authority granted to the Masters to award anything higher than a 4th degree. The only way to go higher to a 5th degree was to win at the Lame and Kill Matches.
In anticipation of a vacancy in the Federation Slomanski was being trained by the Grand Masters in a blend of all styles under Kempo Karatedo to participate in the Lame and Kill Matches. The Matches took place in Japan, on August 1, 1956.
What Henry Accomplish in the Matches was something that had never been done before, or since. This was no ordinary contest this was a battle to the end. The last warrior standing would be “Champion”. After the first day pandemonium set in and the Japanese were scrambling to find a worthy opponent who could challenge the talent and ferociousness that Slomanski was able to deliver. A participant and a witness of these events relayed this to me. Slomanski defeated 126 opponents; the worlds very best martial artists. He did this over two days, sustained severe injuries, which included 6 broken ribs. Although the matches were not long, an average of 7 seconds, they were nonetheless deadly. It was easy to be maimed or killed. Participation was not to be taken lightly. The Matches were call “Lame and Kill” for that exact reason. The individual matches were over in seconds and the moves went for vital parts of the body. This is amazing because it was so different from anything that had preceded it. The winner of this match would be the understudy of the two red belts and the 3rd ranking belt in the world. This was a contract between the Federation, the Emperor, and the participant. The participants put their integrity, position, and status on the line along with their knowledge. The conditions were clear, achieve or lose what one has worked so hard to obtain. Another dimension that lingered in the mind was that not only could these precious attributes be lost but so could one's life. This was serious commitment on all the parties involved. The Masters and Emperor who sanctioned and set up the matches anticipated a much different ending. They were confident that a new Asian Grand Master would be crowned champion. When this did not happen and a “Caucasian” won, no matter how qualified Henry was, they had difficulty accepting these results. As disappointed as everyone was that the contract was not honored 100% by all, one stood out by example and stood by Henry; that was Chitose.
Henry earned this contract the hard and honorable way, and although it was awarded begrudgingly he was now the 3rd highest-ranking belt in the world. Now we know when the two Masters, Yamaguchi and Chitose, died who would become the #1 ranking belt in the world. Keep in mind that nobody can inherit it instead of Henry otherwise they had to match and win in order to receive this rank.
As mentioned, Henry and Chitose remained friends and more. Their loyalty to each other was always in tact. This relationship was earned and built upon a strong foundation of loyalty and admiration. Chitose remained steadfast by his student and always honored him for his accomplishments as a student but also as the 3rd highest-ranking belt in the world.
Circa 1958-1960 Chitose was given permission by the Emperor to form his own style of “Chito ryu”. He immediately turned to Henry and awarded him a 6th degree in Chito ryu and made him the 2nd ranking belt in the world under Chito ryu. His authority was unlimited and he could award a 5th degree Shi han under this style.
This explanation is to clarify that Elvis was trained in the "old style" Chito-Ryu. Remember he was trained by Henry's top instructor, Melvin Sauer, who never entertained "easing up" on any part of Karate that he taught. (This would include the Goju-Ryu, as part of his training.) It is important to note that the "traditional, old style" Chito-ryu is derived from Kempo Karate Do and Goju Ryu.
This authority and rank is indisputable because it is in the records of the Federation and in the records of the Chito ryu Federation in Japan. It confirms that everything that took place,did in fact occur as stated since you cannot question the integrity of Chitose; unlike others.
In summation the events that took place in August 1956, which was an overlooked legacy, should be embedded in the minds of all martial artists past and present, and never be forgotten. People in today's martial art world should have a thirst for the knowledge and truth of what took place in martial art history.
Thanks largely in part to Chitose's initial faith in Henry as a skilled martial artist these teaching were able to make their way to Elvis. Henry was quite selective about who he trained in the “old style”, but we can obviously see why such selectivity was needed. It is apparent that Elvis had the gumption to not only make the grade as a 1st degree black belt under him but also become a 2nd degree. There are few who even hold the rights to this claim today. When you look at the history of Henry Slomanski and consider that his teachings remained true to decorum and customs you can see the importance and impressive nature of Elvis' achievements. Who could of known that the “King” would meet the “Commissioner”.
Now I'd like to give you some information on Melvin Sauer,who is shown on a photo within our Photo Gallery, who was my personal Master Instructor and introduced me to Henry Slomanski. He was Henry's top instructor, and the one who was the main instructor that free sparred with Elvis Presley under Henry's direction.
As Melvin's student, I can tell you the type of person he was. He was very quiet man but he was a “killer”. His specialty was using the big toe and the thumb. Both were lethal weapons. In my training with Melvin, if we are using a 100% as an example, 20% of my time was spent in the Martin Army Hospital with major injuries. I am not talking about the 5 times my knuckles were broken and he reset them by stepping on them with the heel of his foot, or the toes or fingers being broken. This all was part of his type of training. Knowing that he was a Master with the use of the thumb and he would say, why do you flinch? Do you believe that little piece of skin is going to protect your eye? Why do you expose your underarm without blocking with your other hand? After being kicked to the underarm with THE BIG TOE, a trip to the hospital, plenty of pills and on we go. Melvin was the type of person who figured you'd learn by experiencing the pain. He was right! And I handed it down to my students the same way. So the type of training that Melvin and Henry were teaching was extreme conditioning and breathing exercise. Protect the vital parts of the body, take whatever comes at you and follow through with what Melvin called the “bread and butter” moves. By the way, you learned from Melvin real fast, that there is no punching in the nose, or knocking the wind out, it's a killing instinct. If you are going to use it, use it. You have to realize that when you are in the military there is no doctor or hospital bills, no missed time from work, the service takes care of all of it. There are also no lawsuits. Melvin treated low ranking belts just like they were dirt under his feet....end of story.
I bring this up to point out that on other websites it is mentioned that Melvin didn't really care for Elvis and Elvis didn't care for him. But in the long run, who cares? Melvin was a Master Instructor and Elvis was a Brown Belt. In the eyes of Melvin, he was nothing, until he made his black belt. Then there was a mutual respect. The reason being that the rank was awarded by Henry for what Elvis did. You have to understand that if Elvis didn't measure up the one in trouble was Melvin for not training him properly. It didn't make any difference if Elvis quit or not, that didn't reflect on Melvin. Like I said, who really cares? Elvis did not choose Henry Slomanski to award him his black belt. Henry took on Elvis as a student as a favor to his former student and Elvis's teacher, Ed Parker. Nobody ever approached Henry and asked to be trained. It just wasn't done. There was a conversation and meeting of the minds with Henry and Ed Parker with mutual respect for each other. His previous training up to a brown belt came into play in making Henry's decision. Elvis was in top physical condition at that time, and confident he would make the grade.
I'm sure that after 6 weeks of intense training, which is a give me when you mention Henry and Melvin's training of an individual for a black belt; he was ready to be tested. There is an awful lot that is left out, if he made it in 6 weeks. Elvis had to be working out with a few of Henry's and Melvin's top students day in and day out to get ready. The day finally arrives. Melvin beat the crap out of Elvis and he comes back for more. Believe me, being one of 6 who was trained by both of them, Elvis doesn't know how lucky he was that Henry called Melvin off. It had to be that way, or there would be no Elvis as we knew him. Elvis passed his test but was extremely tough and grateful. Because now he is a black belt. He is recognized as such by people who know of Henry Slomanski. It is not like so many “give me” belts that are in the world today. It is a Henry Slomanski first-degree black belt and everything that goes with it. At this time, two amazing things happen. Henry took off his Chito ryu pin, that was given to him by Chitose, and handed it to Elvis. You can see it on Elvis's picture. The second remarkable thing, Henry took off his “one and only” tri color belt, it can be seen if you can view the segment with Henry on “To Tell The Truth, 1959”, gave it to Elvis and told him to dye it black. The respect that Henry had for Elvis had to be extraordinary for him to do what he did. Melvin relayed all this to me as he was there.
Now while we we're back in Ft Benning, in 1964. I'm a 2nd degree black belt, along with my very best buddy, Gervis Cherry who is a 1st degree black belt so with both of us having survived being tested by Henry Slomanski and getting our ass kicked to pass our respective tests for our black belts, we are at Melvin's BBQ. He starts talking about Elvis and what took place at the presentation of his black belt and Henry giving Elvis the Chito ryu pin. He said Henry took off his tri color belt, the only one in the world, handed it to Elvis and told him to dye it black. We both looked at Melvin and saw he had watery eyes and had trouble speaking. I looked at Gervis with pain in my heart for Melvin, but didn't say a word. Gervis asked if he was okay. He went inside, composed himself and came back outside. I then asked “are you okay?” He stated he was fine. Now keep in mind, that Gervis is a 1st degree and I am a 2nd degree black belt, he looked at me and said, “How would you feel if I took off my gi wrapped with my belt and gave it to Gervis as my best student?” I stood there with my mouth open. He asked Gervis, “What would you do?” He said, “I'd ask permission from you to give it to John.” He said “That's what I would expect”. Now you know why I felt like I did, when Henry gave his belt to Elvis. Two weeks later we're back at Melvin's house, helping him with his lawn and woofing down hamburgers. Melvin was always breaking 2 x 4's with his elbow, one beer, one 2 x 4........5 beers, 2 2x 4's, anything more than that, an extremely sore elbow. But on this occasion, he handed us both a little jeweler's box. Inside of it was a little Kempo pin, which I show here within the Photo Gallery, which Melvin had made and I had made into a belt buckle, and he explained, “one almost identical to this was given to Henry by Chitose along with five duplicates”. Henry gave these to his Master Instructors. The two I am giving you, is because of your accomplishments. I won't go into a lot of explanation, it deals with Kempo and someday you'll understand. Today, thanks to the internet, it is perfectly clear to me what took place in the early 1950's in Japan, when Henry received his 9th degree Black Belt in Kempo Karate Do from Chitose, and the relationship it has to do with the old traditional style Chito-Ryu
Elvis had the honor of being the first civilian to be awarded a black belt by Henry. He received his lst and 2nd degree black belts from Henry. He held this honor in such high regard he carried his “cards issued by Henry” on his person till the day he died. As Elvis was the first civilian to be issued a lst degree black belt, I understand his pride, as I was the first civilian to be issued a 4th degree instructor's license by Henry. This gave us a common bond. Keep in mind that the person who spent the most time training Elvis for Henry, was the same Master Instructor who taught me, Melvin.
We'll probably never know for sure since there are no records available to tell us how much time was spent in training for Elvis at Ft Campbell, Ky and Graceland, but we know the training was genuine and difficult. Elvis didn't shrink away from this type of training, but relished it. He knew the reward was worth the effort. Although both Gervis and I had opportunities through Henry and Melvin to meet Elvis and workout with him due to Viet Nam and other scheduling, it never occurred. A sad circumstance.
I have been a Master Instructor under Henry since 1965. I started my training in the martial arts over 50 years ago. To my knowledge, I was the last given this rank and the youngest. I started my training in the martial arts in 1963. In the year 2000, as a Shi Han Master Instructor I took the title of Soke with a 10th Degree Red Belt under Mugoi Gijutsu Karate Do Federation. I am the only surviving 4th degree Master Instructor under Henry Slomanski.
I always taught my students the same way I was taught by Henry and Melvin, both in my schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It is important to note, that the ranking system is the same: white, blue, green, brown and black up to the 4th degree. No “q's” in the lower belts. I never awarded a senior grade belt to a female of any age. The highest ranking belt that I ever awarded in the Junior Grade system was a Jr Grade Brown Belt to my wife Judy at the time, later she recieved a Black Belt. I never issued a Senior Grade belt to anyone under 16 years of age. It was difficult to keep Senior Grade men in the dojo because of the severe training. Large numbers of students came, but only a few stayed as senior grade belts.
On October 1, 2011, history was made when I awarded a 1st degree Sr Grade Black Belt to Daneen Whinna. Along with the right to wear a black gi designating her title of "Sensi."
To clarify information on the senior belts , although the blue belts are so much easier than the higher ranking belts, it is extremely difficult for a new student to learn the breathing technique in order to absorb full power blows to the throat and solar plexus area. So as he goes through the requirements of his 1 through 10 moves, over the head throws, falls, walking to the rear, rolls, etc. the mats come up when he is being tested. Conditioning is extremely important, they not only have to learn they have to want to do it right. You can't change the way you are teaching adult men. Otherwise, it wouldn't be traditional, we would be talking about commercialism. You can't change the way you are teaching adults otherwise, it wouldn't be traditional, we would be talking about commercialism. There is a tremendous difference between what is considered the old style of Chito-Ryu and the new commercialized version of Chito-Ryu, which seems to have no limitations on age or the way it is taught. There is no Jr or Sr Grade in the commercialized Chito-Ryu as we know it today.
Of the 7 black belts awarded by me, all do the 1 through 30 moves, from the right and left side. This is how I trained my students going back to 1966; with documentation. I don't think anybody else in the world was doing that back in 1966.
I am naming the new style “Mugoi Gijutsu Karate Do” in honor of the teachings of Henry Slomanski. As founder I have accepted the title of Soke, wear a 10th degree Red Belt, and assume all that is associated with that title, as I am the last surviving Shi Han Master Instructor under Heny and the heir to his legacy. This gives me the authority in awarding appropriate ranks associated with Mugoi Gijutsu Karate Do Federation.
Creditability is the key. You have to be able to prove the merit of how it came to be. There has to be substance in order to inherit or establish a system.
Now we address the identity of the final person on the photo. His name is Lester Whinna, Han Shi of the 8th Degree, Sr Master Instructor. He started training under me in the martial arts when he was approximately 13 years old. He is my only student who went through the Junior Grade System, from white belt to brown belt. It was at this time, his older brother Bill was a senior grade brown belt and later became a black belt, and showed no mercy on his little brother, Lester. When Lester became 16 he got a release form from his parents and started training for his senior belts. Prior to this a person had to be 18 years of age before I would train anyone as a Sr Grade belt. That was the legal age in the state of New Jersey. Since that time he has become my highest ranking belt and my top instructor, in Mugoi Gijutsu Karate Do. Lester stayed true to the same methods that were taught to me in the service by Henry Slomanski and was taught to him by the Masters as taught by the monks 2700 years ago. Nothing has changed except the location. Lester holds this title and position in Mugoi Gijutsu because his integrity and character are above reproach. There is too much commercialism, high- ranking belts that mean nothing, more colors of belts to make more money and “empty” ranks which have no substance in the karate world today. Lester will go down as one of the last that has passed on “traditional” values. Those that have encountered the story of this lineage can have the joy of understanding how he learned it as a young man and all those that have preceded him.
This style Mugoi Gijutsu Karate Do will always recognize traditionalism over commercialism.
IN CONCLUSION, THE COMMON THREAD BETWEEN ELVIS, MELVIN, LESTER AND ME IS: HENRY SLOMANSKI, THE GREATEST KARATE MASTER THAT EVER LIVED!!