Suzuki Choji, a Japanese karate master to the core, is considered the founder of numerous karate branches in Vietnam thanks to a very special event in his life.
Hue, the capital of the central province of Thua Thien-Hue and the former capital of the Nguyen Dynasty hundreds of years ago, was the first city in Vietnam to receive the master.
For this reason Hue is also considered the birthplace of ‘Vietnamized’ karate branches, or disciplines.
Master Choji was a captain serving on a Japanese warship during the Second World War. He was taken to Hue in 1944 after his ship crashed and he was rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat.
He decided to stay in Vietnam after the war ended in 1945 and taught karate to his loyal Vietnamese disciples.
During his time in Hue, Choji stayed in a house now located at 8 Nguyen Chi Thanh Street (formerly Vo Tanh Street).
This address is now the founding school of Suzucho Karatedo Vietnam – a ‘Vietnamized’ branch of karate.
Master Choji was born in 1919 in the northern Japanese prefecture of Miyagi and passed away in 1995 in his home town of Kasagami in Japan, aged 76.
During his time in Vietnam, the karate master joined the Viet Minh Front, the forerunner of the Vietnamese Communist Party, under the Vietnamese name of Phan Van Phuc.
He was assigned to take over a factory producing health tools at Cho Chua (Pagoda Market) in the central province of Quang Ngai.
He married his Vietnamese wife Nguyen Thi Minh Le and returned to Hue, at 8 Vo Tanh Street to teach both karate and judo.
After his martial arts schools in Hue and Da Nang became successful, he left Hue for Saigon, the former name of Ho Chi Minh City, in 1972 to establish another martial arts school and worked as a director of the Kiyo Hotel in Khanh Hoi, District 4.
Today, karate master Le Van Thanh, a disciple of Choji, is serving as the head master of the Suzucho Karatedo Vietnam branch at the same address of 8 Nguyen Chi Thanh.
The portrait of Japanese karate master Suzuki Choji, tthe founder of numerous karate branches in Vietnam
As a way of honoring the contribution of the Japanese master in Vietnam, local authorities in Hue have agreed to provide funds to upgrade the house at a cost of around VND3 billion (US$133,000).
A portrait of karate master Choji and his Vietnamese wife was solemnly hung in the school recently.
Four disciples of Choji are Vietnamese masters Ngo Dong, Nguyen Van Dung, Truong Dinh Hung, and Truong Dan, who have taught Suzucho Karatedo Vietnam across the country, in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Russia, Poland, and Laos.
From the ‘original’ karate taught by master Choji, his Vietnamese disciples have developed it into different ‘Vietnamized’ disciplines based on the Japanese martial art.
Master Ngo Dong set up a branch named “Cuong nhu karate,” which means “hard and soft karate.”
Ngo Dong is also a lecturer at the Hue University of Sciences and once served as the rector of Quang-Da University, which is now known as the University of Da Nang.
He earned a PhD in entomology from the University of Florida in the U.S.
Such was Ngo Dong’s stature that Gainesville County in Florida has honored the contribution of the master and scientist by selecting a “Mr. Ngo Dong Day” on August 12, 1994.
More recently, masters of the traditional martial arts and branches of Karate Vietnam have been collecting objects such as uniforms, weapons, and books regarding the morals and rites of martial arts in order to establish a martial arts museum in Hue.