29 years ago I walked into a Dojo on Albert street in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada. It was a nice, but older club that had a worn floor and was not very fancy. It could use a new paint job as the wood panelling that covered the walls of the entry way was stained dark with exposure to moist air. The Dojo had a strange feel to it, a weird smell....Like Hard work. I was just a kid at the time but I remember hearing the shouts and the chorus of movement, sounds that were not exactly foreign to me, as I had trained in Karate for a year and a half previously, but they were more focused and intense than the club I had just come from. I had to see the group training before I would join. I had learned my lesson from a previous Dojo.
I made my way up to the front desk and enquired about lessons, the administrator told me to have a seat and watch a class, and what I saw had me hooked from day one. The class was filled with soaked students. Gis dripping wet, and faces red with exertion. They were led by an instructor not much taller than me at the time, he was pushing the class and counting in Japanese. He was also doing what the class was doing. Unlike my previous instructor, who was part Japanese, this instructor was not pacing up and down the floor as the club was dancing to his commands. This instructor was in the fray with his students and outdoing all of them. The basics that they were doing were plain and easy to follow, but he looked like he was in a fight for his life. That... and he was Not Asian! The instructor was a small Irish Canadian man that had brown and red hair and lots of it. He was so intense and packed so much spirit into his five foot four frame that I could not take my eyes off him. I was hooked!
After many years of training with Dingman Sensei the only things I can say for sure about the man is that he has an undying passion for Karate and is probably one of the best instructors that I have ever trained under. He has a big heart and is very outspoken about his love for Karate and the training his instructors passed on to him. He loves all his students equally and he would do anything for them, including moving out of organizations he feels is not serving his students well. He is open and honest if you ask the right questions, and loathes politics and has had his fill of it.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing Dingman Sensei twice now, once when we were all in the ISKF , many years ago, and a second time recently. The only thing that has changed is his focus on training. Before he was very much into running a organization and was involved in the politics of this organization. Now, he just wants to train and bring his students the JKA style of Karate and work with others to promote this. No longer looking to head an organisation, he would rather run his dojos and let others worry about the politics.
As you will see, Dingman Sensei has a great respect for his Instructor, Yutaka Yaguchi, and feels that his respect and love for his instructor will always push him to train harder. One of the only times I saw Dingman Sensei lose the smile in his eyes was the day he had to choose between staying with his instructor or doing what he knew was best for his students and leaving the organization that Yaguchi Sensei was a member of. It broke his heart, but he left the ISKF in favour of what he felt was best for his students. This is the kind of dedication that Dingman Sensei has to his students, and one of the reasons we, his students, all love and admire him. –James James 08
(James James) Sensei, before we start I would like to thank you for taking your time to do this interview, I know you are a very busy person these days!
(Phillip Dingman) I am always busy! (laugh).
(JJ) What got you interested in doing Karate?
(PD) My brother in law was doing Karate and invited me down to try a class out. (Originally Dingman Sensei wanted to train in Judo, but he found out his brother in law was doing Karate and went to a class with him)
(JJ) Could you please tell us a little about your start in Karate?
(PD) I Started with Jerry Marr in Winnipeg at the Army Navy. I fell in love with Karate right there!
(JJ) What was the training like?
(PD) It was pretty basic, which was good. We stuck to the three Ks, Kata Kumite and Kihon. In those days the head instructor was Jerry Mar and he was a purple belt. That meant that we were very basic. He got his information from Sensei Fazaro in Minnisota, and the Masters when he travelled to train.
I would like to say a great thank you to Mr. Mar for getting me started in JKA style. In the early days, as soon as you were al bit senior, like 6th kyu, you had to teach to help the instructor out. I advanced pretty quickly and soon was teaching along with Sensei Mar. Back then it was basics and little explaining. Hard work and lots of reps! More spirit than technique!
(JJ) You are one of the earliest practitioners of karate in Canada, beginning in the 1960s. Since that time karate has changed and developed a great deal. What kind of developments have you personally witnessed?
(PD) The technical level has increased greatly, mostly because of the interaction of the Canadian students and instructors with the Masters out of Japan and the States In the beginning it was one person travelling and training then trying to bring back as much as they could, but being human they could only remember and bring back so much. Once I went to the ISKF, I decided to have 4 visits yearly from the instructors. This greatly expanded our knowledge of the JKA system. It was a great honour that I had a chance to train under a Master of the calibre of High level sensei’s for all those years.
(JJ) Would you care to share any memories you have from your competing days?
(PD) In the early days we did not have the control, sometimes we would make some pretty hard contact. But we survived it and went on to improve our techniques. One of the greatest memories was being in LA in 1975 to compete in the Pan am tournament. It was amazing to see the level of people in North America and especially the Masters from Japan to compete in that tournament.
The one thing that will always stick out in my mind is the fight that Tanaka and Oishi had to fight for the finals. It was like watching a high-level chess game, because the strategy used by both of them was quit different. It truly was a great lesson, just watching them spar! I made a lot of notes and from just watching them, I learned a great deal about the difference in human beings and how they progress from basic training to the high level of training. People are different, bodies and mind, and I learned all of this just by watching the great Masters Tanaka and Oishi!
(JJ) How do you think modern competition is different now?
(PD) Modern competition is not as strong as back then. It is not like it was when we first saw the Masters; they were like Samurai, Do or Die! Now it is much more like sport. The old ways were...the techniques should work on the street very efficiently if you need it. Now the techniques tend to be flashy and for points only, most would not work on the street necessarily. Nice speed, no Kime!
(JJ) You are known to have brought the ISKF to the parries and western Canada, what exactly did you do to bring them here.
(PD) Hard question! The biggest thing was to bring in a Master quarterly. Before this it was not a habit for them to travel to Winnipeg. We studied mainly with Yaguchi Sensei. As everyone knows, Yaguchi Sensei is known as the top Kumite instructor to exist in Modern times. We studied under this great master for many years. As a result many Kumite champions came from Manitoba. And also Kata Champions, most notibly Tammy Heibert, who is one of the top Female Karateka in the world. This was also made possible by her training in Japan for two and a half years with other masters at the JKA.
We also gained access to other great Masters. Koyama Sensei, Takashina Sensei and of course notable world Champion Tanaka Sensei all travelled to Winnipeg and helped us bring up the level of training and the level of technique here.
(Dingman Sensei was known to have one of the best training camps in Canada. His students would travel to an island and train with the masters in a beautiful summer camp. Each year a master would come out and train on the island with them. He used to say that he would bring his students to the camp and trap them on an island to push as much Karate into them as he could. Three to four training classes a day all lead by masters or under their supervision)
(JJ) Now I know that you also have other students that have won various championships, what were they and when.
(PD) They are all champions! But, I have had many students win championships. Nivishia Shipshurn was the 1994 Shotocup Kata champion, Tammy Heibert was the second place Shotocup ladies champion and she took the national championship many times. Between her (his daughter) and Brian Dingman (his son) they won the national title many times.
(JJ) You also have one of the few Canadian Students to graduate from the instructor-training program in Japan correct?
(PD) Yes, at the beginning, when I formed the ISKF Manitoba, one of my goals was to have one of my students graduate from the JKA instructor training program. I always had this dream and Walter Crofford, one of my students, went to Japan and graduated from the JKA course. I was very happy.
(JJ) What were your experiences training with Sensei Yaguchi?
(PD) The most important training, for me, was when Yaguchi Sensei came to Winnipeg and would spar with me. This was a big honour and also when I got to learn a lot from Sensei. One of the things that I had to learn was shifting! Yaguchi Sensei had a great inside front kick, almost a inside round house kick, that would land on the inside of your thigh, just below the groin. He would catch you pretty much whenever he wanted to; if you did not shift it was just that much easier for him. I learned to shift quickly, after a few kicks there you move fast!
It was an honor to train with a Master of his level, someone that was that proficient as a Kumite Instructor. I learned much, but he could always fool you with his vast knowledge of Kumite! The outcome of this training was that I could take the experiences and transfer them to my students, by them watching me get "a lesson" They would learn. And I could take those lessons and teach them myself, then explain the finer points I had learned as well.
(JJ) So, you have stated your main instructor was Yaguchi Sensei, who we will get to. What other masters have you trained under?
(PD) I have had the honour of training under Nakayama Sensei, Mikami Sensei, Koyama Sensei, Ueki Sensei, Takashina Sensei, Tanaka Sensei, Mori Sensei (one of my favorite Camps in Quebec was with Mori Sensei) and Okazaki Sensei. As well, I have trained and met with many of the other talented instructors from the JKA, to many to name, but all were great and I learned something new from all of them.
(JJ) What was your experience training with Nakayama Sensei?
(PD) The first training I had with Nakayama sensei was in 1975. I trained with him at the Hombu dojo in Japan. Nakayama Sensei came to Manitoba Twice. Once when I was a student with Jerry Mar and also I hosted a visit with Nakayama Sensei and Koyama Sensei in my Dojo. Both great masters!
One of the most interesting classes I had with Nakayama Sensei was in Denver Co. at Yaguchi Senseis camp. Their was a technique we could not seem to grasp, Age Uke, very simple technique, but Nakayama Sensei was not happy with our understanding. Nakayama Sensei undid his Gi and took off the left side of the top to show us his body during the techninique. His body looked like a 30 year olds, it was amazing. What Karate can do for the human being! This is one reason I will continue to train hard all through my life.
During that camp a gentleman was taking pictures for a book that would be put together about Nakayama Sensei. I was so interested in watching Nakayama and what he was doing in this class that I did not realize the pictures were being taken. So, you get to see many pictures of Nakayama, and the back of my head in his book.
(Note: the book is Conversations with a master by, Randall Hassell)
(JJ) You spent a great deal of time with Nakayama Sensei when he came to Canada what was Master Nakayama like in person?
(PD) Well, first off I have to say something about my experience meeting him. In Japan you are not really allowed to approach the instructor, it is part of the culture I did not understand at first. Well, all those people that participated in the class received a certificate, except me! As I did not understand that you should not just walk up to the chief instructor and ask him directly about this, I walked right up to Nakayama Sensei in the dojo to ask about this. I found out this was NOT the right thing to do by the look on Nakayama Sensei’s face! But as a good host and being in Canada, He was very friendly and easy to approach.
I had Nakayama Sensei in my home with Koyama Sensei. We had a beautiful dinner and talked about Karate a great deal. I travelled all over Canada with him, he wanted to see the lakes and other points of interest. It was a great contrast from the training in the dojo. I ended up travelling through Canada and the states with him.
(Note: Dingman Sensei was supposed to drive for Nakayama Sensei on his trip back to Canada and the states. But unfortunately Nakayama Sensei never returned to Canada, he passed away just before he was to make his return)
(JJ) Having trained with the ISKF and the JKA for many years, who of your peers would you say most inspired you and why?
(PD) Well, Yaguchi sensei is not my peer, but he was one of my biggest influences. He is the embodiment of what a real Samurai is to me, inside and outside the dojo. One of my seniors from the states that helped me a great deal was Frank Smith. He did not know me at all, but he took me aside and helped me out with information and instruction on how to interact with the masters and also on Kumite. He was one of the best Kumite people in North America back then.
Also one of the American Masters, Robert Fasaro, whom I trained with many times influenced my training a great deal. Fasaro Sensei had amazing demonstrations that he put on at tournaments! Greer Golden is one of my sempai. He had been through the instructor training program that Nishyama Sensei gave. He passed on a lot of information and instruction about Karate and life, I would like to thank him for the many times we met at camp and enjoyed each others camaraderie, company and talks.
(Dingman Sensei explained that he would travel to camps and be their by himself for several days with out knowing a soal outside of Yaguchi Sensei. but he was speaking so quick I missed some of the names)
(JJ) In Winnipeg their are only three people that are seen as Pioneers in Winnipeg Karate , Tug Wilson, Jerry Mar and Yourself. Do you have contact with them or did you ever associate with them in Karate?
(PD) Jerry Mar was my first instructor and brought me into Karate. I credit him and thank him for an early introduction to the JKA style. Tug Wilson and I are great friends and we get together and have chats about Karate and the old days once and a while. Of course he was Shito ryu and we were JKA, we had many bouts of friendly competition, they were rough but still they were in good nature.
Being a smaller practitioner in the tournaments it was a great experience fighting guys that were six feet and over! Sometimes the judges would not give me points, which I felt I had earned. Probably my fault. One time I was sparring with a good friend of mine from Shito ryu, John. I moved in quickly and punched Jodan, their was no reaction from the refs, So I felt maybe it was not strong enough! So, after we started back again, just as the ref said "hajime" I drove in hard with lots of speed and power and knocked my friends teeth backwards! Which meant I was both very sorry and disqualified! Back then there were great rivalries and great frindships.
(JJ) What are your thoughts on Makiwara training?
(PD) I feel that all students from Shodan up, including myself, should maintain a good makiwara training regime! It is the way to feel your techniques; the whole body must be in it! It brings into play the practice of "mushin" (no mind), which is one of the more important aspects as you come up in rank.
You have immediate feed back. If you lose your concentration, you know about it right away when you skin your knuckles or turn your wrist! I also used the makiwara when I was getting ready for my 3rd Dan. I would start off with kicking and build up to 1600 kicks each leg as I got closer to testing. Of course this kind of training you have to start off smaller and build up to it. I did Makiwara the same way, start off small and build up!
Because of the lack of opportunity to train with the Masters, I devised ways to try to improve my techniques. When I was preparing for my 4th Dan, I started off doing lower reps of Sanbon tsuki. This lead to 5000 each day, but it took along time to build up to it, so I started this progression 6 months before the test. Maybe not everyone can do these thing, but if you are going to test for a higher level, you are going to do one rep of many techniques for the test and that is what you are judged on. Because not all of us can have perfect looking Techniques, we can still develop Kime from training in this format.
(JJ) Who would you say has inspired you most both technically and philosophically?
(PD) Yaguchi Sensei! (Note: Sensei often tells stories about other instructors and how they have great things to offer, but his experience with Yaguchi Sensei was the greatest influence on his training....again, he was speaking very quickly after saying Yaguchi Senseis name, and paused...he caught me off guard with his very quick response after that)
(JJ) Who inspires you now?
(PD) It never changes. The inspiration comes from Yaguchi sensei, it will be there for the rest of my life.
(JJ) Have you ever been to Japan for Karate?
(PD) Yes, in 1977 and 1982 and competed in the world tournament.
(JJ) Do you feel a student needs to travel to Japan to understand Karate or to be good at Karate?
(PD) No, we have many great Sensei in North America that are reachable. Canadians as instructors have developed better ideas and training based on working with the Masters. We have many great Karate instructors thought Canada, what we need is to get together as a group and to be able to train together once a year.
Each instructor has great ideas of their own. Because we are all individuals, we understand things differently and we should share. The technical level in Canada is very very good now.
(JJ) You experienced the JKA at a very politically volatile time. Can you please tell us a little about this political issues, and how this affected you and your karate?
(PD) Basically, what happened after Nakayama sensei passed away, (the split) was a very great personal disappointment to me. But because of my interactions with Tanaka Sensei when he visited Canada, I would not event think of leaving the JKA! It is sad to see the division in the JKA style because it is the greatest technical style in the world! It will still take people outside of Japan a while to catch up technically. Politically it is a different subject that I don’t want to get into!
My advice for all the senior instructors in North America, don’t get your students involved in Politics, continue to do the great job of instructing and keep the politics off the dojo floor and out of the club.
(JJ) What do you see as being the biggest issues in Canadian Karate and what makes them so impossible to overcome?
(PD) The biggest issue for Canadian Karate is the sheer size of the country! The reality is that we need to develop strong provincial organizations. They may exist separately and bring in different Masters, but in the whole scheme of things we do need to get together once or twice a year, instructors, and share ideas about training, Training only and not politics.
Each province in Canada is larger than many European countries! In Manitoba we always wanted to have one Master come to visit, so we could immerse ourselves in the real techniques of the JKA. It is so sad that as instructors we have to delve into politics. It is sad because our main function should be training ourselves to bring forward better technical and spiritual levels in ourselves, so we can pass that on to our students and future generations. Politics is a distraction I no longer want in my training.
(JJ) Now we know Canada has its own areas and each demographic is different. Do you think a centrally located and run organization can work in Canada? Especially with the East Vs West Vs Quebec mentality of Canadians?
(PD) Of course not! Why? Because each province is uniquely Canadian in its own identity. Quebec has its own Identity as does Manitoba, BC and all the other provinces. We are all Canadian but we all have our own identity with in our own province. The biggest effort should be put into bringing all provinces up to the same technical level. Some of the provinces have not been able to afford to bring in high level Masters to their dojos, or send someone to Japan to improve the over all technique of their area.
One area does not think like the other! We are all so very different, that is the great part about Canada. Now, as instructors it would be invaluable for us all to get together to share ideas and friendship and make the organization stronger. But not be centralized, this would be a determent to the provincial identity of each group. The umbrella group of the JKA of Canada is a good start and a great direction to go in.
(JJ) Technically, as an instructor, what do you stress most frequently in your classes?
(PD) Basically I stick to lots of Basic training, kicking-punching-blocking. Kata is also a big part of my training. At a lower level, kumite (especially free style) is not something I teach a lot or advocate. At a higher level, Kata and Kumite are very important and at Nidan or Sandan that interaction of individuals is very important. But, before that Basics and Kata.
(JJ) What do you think is the central key to being a great instructor and what tips do you have for fellow instructors?
(PD) Another hard one! As an Instructor, new or long-term instructors, training has to be each day! Set aside time, especially for Kata! The way to receive the information from Kata, which is necessary, is to take your Kata and do it 5-10-15 or more times, not full speed! Their is a lot of information in the katas, this is the only way you can bring it out into your body and mind.
I would recommend that you start your training with the five Heian Katas, Tekki Shodan and when you train , for example, Brown belt to shodan level that Tekki should be the main foundation of the training. My opinion is that Tekki lies between the basic Kata and Advanced Kata to learn how to really make power. Unlike the other Katas were you tend to feel powerful, the Tekki Katas have a restriction of movement and you must work to create real power. Tekki is the basic formation of your power, before you move to far into advanced Kata. Work hard on Tekki and you will learn a lot about power! Then you can teach real power and not false power.
(JJ) How much emphasis do you place on Kata bunkai, and what benefits do you think bunkai study provides.
(PD) Application training is important, but more so for 4th and 5th Dan and up. Because the interaction with people attacking from different directions, give you a better kinaesthetic sense, and it gives you better understanding than just fighting. But I don’t recommend it for lower level students.
(JJ) What is Sensei Dingmans favorite Kata, and why?
(PD) Empi is my favorite Kata. I am a smaller person and the movements are more contusive to my mental and physical attributes. What I do when I train is I have a trilogy of Kata for training. With Empi as the centrepiece, I train in Jion and Bassai Dai, because Bassai Dai is sort of a mix for me of Fast and slow moves. It balances my Empi.
(JJ) Sensei you are a 6th Dan black belt and tested and passed as a JKA member, how much importance do you feel rank has?
(PD) After fourth Dan, Rank signifies that you have trained an promoted JKA style Karate for many years.As for my rank, I am actually comfortable were I am.
Physically, at my age, I am not going to improve any farther. But my mind has to take over now and get stronger. Rank at this point is fairly political, unfortunately. Rank and politics tend to get linked and confused. That is why I am not interested in getting involved in politics. I sometimes have to be involved politically, but I tray not to imprint my ideas, but my students ideas for what they need for the further growth in the JKA style for Manitoba.
(JJ) At what level should someone be able to test others? And to what level?
(PD) It all depends on the situation of the area or country! Because some areas can not always bring in someone to test the member. Nidan and Sandan students may help test junior rank. But, this is not a great level to be involved in testing because you are still exploring more about your mind and body! For students testing 3rd kyu and up, I feel a 6th Dan should be doing the testing. Ideally, a 6th Dan and up should be doing all testing, but that is not often a option.
(JJ) Sensei how old are you now and how often do you train?
(PD) I was born Aug. 27 1941, I am 66 and I train each day that I teach. And I have my own ritual that I do on my own. So, every day…. except Sunday! This is a time of rest mentally and physically, and spiritually.
(JJ) Having travelled, and witnessed Karate in many places?
(PD) I been to Mexico, Japan, All over Canada and the US.
(JJ) What do you think is the strongest and weakest parts about Karate in North America?
(PD) Weakest points, Hmmm....Basically, we spend far to much time on Kumite and not enough on Kata. To me Kata is very old and they have been embedded with many technical ideas. But, it does not come out of them easy. You must train each day to find the answers. As an individual, what you will find out will be different from what others will find. This is why we should get together to share as instructors what we have found.
Strength....Spirit and hard work. Thirst for knowledge!
(JJ) What is your opinion about the current state of the Karate world, where people seem more interested in their political power, than in their karate?
(PD) It is true that there is to much emphasis on who is going to be in charge of things. Funakoshi sensei and Nakayama Sensei gave us the direction that we should follow, and that is…just train.
(JJ) Sensei, what do you think can be done to get more people into Karate?
(PD) I think the most important thing is to work with the grass roots programs. You can reach the family groups and bring them into Karate, like a community centre. People are looking for self-defence more and more today, they are also gravitating in the wrong directions. We need to show them true self defence and not just fighting. Instructors need to work hard on themselves and show they care about their students as well, but too often we are seeing students go to flashy clubs that teach flashy and exciting things, and they leave martial arts when they don’t get the basics down or get hurt at a fight in school. This is not good. We need to focus on the beginners at the grass roots and get the message out.
(JJ) If we did get into the Olympics, do you think that’d be a good thing?
(PD) It will have its good parts and its not so good parts. If we can keep the technical levels up and not move to training one simple technique to score points that is good. But today we see too many clubs teaching sport Karate, one punch or one kick and lots of sport ideas, that is not good. Kata today is getting more flashy, Speed with no Kime! This makes them look flashy but they are not beautiful, no real power! We have to stay with the three basic training elements: Kata, Kumite and Kihon. Even at 5th and 6th degree black belt we must study this. Maybe one of these will be emphasized more at this level, but we will continue to train in all three.
Because we are now the link between the past and future, it is our duty to hold the technical level that we were taught for the future generations and to educate the young instructors on the way of training. We, as Canadians have studied a long time, we have seen what sport has already done to Karate. It is important to remember the true purpose and training. The benefits would be mostly in exposure and training opportunity, but only if they are done correctly.
(JJ) We all know that Karate has changed drastically from the time of Funakoshi Sensei, Nakayama Sensei and the generation after Nakayama Sensei, and it has also changed during your generation. What do you see as being some of the changes that you would like to see for the next generation?
(PD) Basically I want to see us hold on to the ideals of Funakoshi sensei, and to keep the technical expertise that Nakayama sensei brought to Karate.
(JJ) If you could give one piece of advice to any Shotokan Karateka reading this interview, what would it be?
(PD) Please study the history of Karate, Link Funakoshi sensei to the future Masters that we have, in the USA and Japan. And go forward as instructors knowing that you are keeping the direction of the people that have brought this wonderful martial art to us.
(JJ) Sensei, I'm done with my questions. Is there anything additional you would like to say to the readers?
(PD) I would like to say something to Yaguchi Sensei….Ossu! Thank you very much for the instruction and the ideas that you imbued in me of the Karate Do, hopefully I can uphold all of the things that came to me from your masterful teaching and your friendship. Thank you, your faithful student Phillip Dingman.
(JJ) Sensei, thank you for your time and wisdom. I truly appreciate your time and patience.