Suenori Tominaga (1941-2016)

If karate is a way of life, then Shihan Suenori Tominaga lived it to the fullest. Tominaga Sensei was our teacher for over 45 years. His charisma inspired legions of dedicated karate-ka and his charm raised the dojo roof with laughter. He is remembered by his students; by his organization, Jinbukai Canada; and by martial artists across the world.

Tominaga Sensei traces his lineage back to the founder of modern karate himself, Grand Master Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi’s student, Sensei Minoru Miyata, became one of a select few in the history of karate to receive a 9th degree black belt, and he in turn instructed Tominaga. After Miyata passed away, Tominaga continued training with Sensei Osamu Yamada and eventually acquired the title of shihan—“master instructor.” Thanks to Tominaga Sensei’s teachings, UTKC is what it is today—a paragon of karate knowledge, high-training standards and lasting friendships.

Those Crucial College Years

Tominaga Sensei in his twenties, back when he actually had "hair to pull."
It’s never too late to start training and Tominaga Sensei began when he enrolled in the University of Fukuoka in Kyushu, Japan, over five decades ago. He was a slow learner. It’s difficult to imagine how hard he worked to win accolades in kata and kumite at the All-Japan Championships. That’s why he would often tell us: “When I was your age, I worked at night, went to class during the day, practiced karate in the morning, and still had time for a girlfriend!”

Tominaga Sensei immigrated to Canada after receiving his shodan (1st degree black belt).

Tominaga Sensei also trained in Judo, Sumo wrestling, and Iaido, the art of drawing and cutting with the Japanese sword.

UTKC Circa 1970

Tominaga Sensei getting mad air while performing enpi at an exhibition in Toronto.
The year was 1969 when Tominaga began practicing under Sensei Masami Tsuruoka at a dojo near Yonge and Bloor. Tsuruoka Sensei had already established the first university karate club in Canada in 1963—the University of Toronto Karate Club (that’s us!) and he was ready to pass on the torch. Soon, Tominaga Sensei began teaching at UTKC alongside his fellow karate-ka from Japan, Ono Sensei and Ogawa Sensei. History was made in 1970, when Tominaga Sensei became UTKC’s sole instructor.

Under Tominaga Sensei’s guidance, we’ve grown from a dozen dedicated students to nearly 200 active members and alumni. UTKC is now known for providing top-notch training in Shotokan karate and for using authentic, traditional techniques. Many of Tominaga Sensei’s students went on to compete successfully in provincial, national and international tournaments Some of them continue to teach at our club today.

Tominaga Sensei was also known for his uncanny ability to target pressure points (take our word for it—it was painful).

The Karate World

Tominaga Sensei was the founder of Jinbukai Canada, a not-for-profit karate organization.
Tominaga Sensei headed national initiatives that put Shotokan karate on the map.

UTKC is the flagship dojo of Jinbukai Canada, a not-for-profit organization created by Tominaga Sensei himself. This makes us an important part of the karate community in Canada and abroad.

Alongside core members of the Tsuruoka Club, Tominaga Sensei also organized major karate tournaments, such as the Canadian Nationals. In 1972, they formed Karate Ontario to regulate the practice of karate at the provincial level. The Technical Committee, formed in 1991, was made up of representatives from each of the five major styles of karate: Goju Ryu, Shito Ryu, Chito Ryu, Wado Ryu, and Shotokan. You guessed it—Tominaga Sensei represented Shotokan.

Coaching duties included the Ontario Provincial Team in 1985 and the National Team in 1987, which made it as far as the Pan American Karate Championships. Tominaga Sensei also taught kata clinics in Canada and managed karate tournaments and seminars across the world.

Whether he was training kids, university students, or professional athletes, Tominaga Sensei offered a unique style of positive reinforcement that made his students believe he would one day buy a wig. You’d know it was coming if you forgot to turn on your heel during basics or if you punched with tense shoulders. He’d shout your name from across the dojo and raise his legendary shinai over your head. His next few words would almost always be the same: “I have no hair left to pull!”

You’re Not Punching Tofu!

Tominaga Sensei was known for combining militaristic discipline with humorous charm.
Tominaga Sensei was a believer in life-long learning. He kept himself in a state-of-training when he travelled the world. Whether he was exploring underwater craters off the coast of South America or browsing deep fried scorpions in Shanghai, Tominaga Sensei was always looking for ways to improve his own teaching.

Sure, if our punches were weak, he’d say, “you’re not punching tofu!” But he’s also said a good block takes 10 years to master, and a good punch takes 50. Only a life dedicated to learning can achieve these lofty goals, which is why Tominaga Sensei kept an open mind as he grew older.

Outside of karate, Tominaga Sensei loved fishing and being outdoors, often played the board game Go and spent his retirement years travelling the world with his wife.

He is loved by friends, family, and fellow karate-ka who attest to his open mind and generosity.

We think of him when we sweep the dojo floor. We think of him when we block and strike. We think of him when we spar. His is a legacy that we know we must carry on. And as long as we’re punching tofu, we will carry it.

When it comes to lifelong contributions to karate, Tominaga Sensei deserves an A+!

Tominaga Sensei's Profile

Name:

Suenori Tominaga

Rank:

8th Degree Black Belt, conferred by National Karate Assocation

Member since:

1969

Occupation:

Retired (formerly a machinist)

Achievements:

Head Instructor at UTKC for 46 years

Former Chair of Jinbukai Canada

Former Chair of Karate Ontario Technical Committee

Advisor to Karate Ontario Refereeing Committee

Member of NKA Technical Committee

1992: Voted by his peers as the winner of the Ross Rumbell President’s award for his lifetime contribution to the development of karate in Canada.

2001: Inducted into the Karate Ontario’s Builder’s Hall of Fame for his contributions to karate in Ontario (2001).

2013: Awarded the Syl Apps Award for volunteerism in Ontario. The award goes to leaders who contributed significantly to their sport within the province, and it is presented by the Sport Alliance in partnership with the Province of Ontario and the Ministry of Health.

Fun fact: Sensei Tominaga never missed a single Karate Ontario tournament in over 30 years. He believes this qualified him for the final award.

Hobbies:

Fishing

Camping

Travelling

Nature

Tai chi

Go

Sudoku

Reading

Nintendo DS

Quotes:

"Have to have good basics."

"You have to come on time, man!"

"You’re Not Punching Tofu!"

"This is not tai chi man, it's karate!"

"You have to come on time, man!"

"Something like that."

"Get down!"

"Have to turn on the heel!"

"I wish I brought a wig so I'd have something to pull out!"

"If you can knock 'em down, you can change the belt colour. (when kyu belts and paired with black belts during drills)"