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Breaking News: Teruyuki Okazaki has passed away

The picture shows Teruyuki Okazaki the 10th dan holder in Shotokan karate.

Another sad news hits the global karate community: Teruyuki Okazaki passed on April 21st 2020. According to the official announcement by the International Shotokan Karate Federation, which founder he was, Okazaki Shihan passed away due to an infection with the Coronavirus. The karate world mourns with all ISKF members. Our thoughts are now with his family, relatives, and friends.

Teruyuki Okazaki became 88 years old. The age of 88 is considered sacred in Japan. Because the Chinese characters for 88 look very much like the character of rice (see the Japanese tradition of “beiju“).

Short Biographical Spotlights of Teruyuki Okazaki

Teruyuki Okazaki belonged to a special group of Shotokan karate masters. Born on 22 June 1931 in Nogata, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan he had the chance to train at Takushoku University under the guidance of Masatoshi Nakayama and sometimes also under Gichin Funakoshi. He himself taught after greaduating from Takushoku University at the JKA honbu Dojo and several universities in Tokyo.

The picture shows Gichin, Funakoshi, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Teruyuki Okazaki.
Gichin Funakoshi, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Teruyuki Okazaki (right)

In 1961, Teruyuki Okazaki moved to the United States to become an oversees Shotokan karate instructor. He became a world wide known and was mainly based at the east cost of the USA. In 1977, he formed together with other Shotokan masters the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) and split away from the All-American Karate Federation (AAKF) led by Hidetaka Nishiyama.

Together with Hirokazu Kanazawa, Hiroshi Shirai, and Masaaki Ueki, Teruyuki Okazaki became the only living 10th dan in Shotokan karate. He received this accolade in 2007.

For a full and detailed biography of Teruyuki Okazaki please visit findingkarate.com.

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Mikio Yahara: His Way of Traditional Karate

The picture shows Mikio Yahara aka the Leopard.

The life and practice of 10th Dan, Mikio Yahara, is an inspirational story worth knowing for any serious karateka. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Jeff Christian

Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic practitioners of Shotokan Karate to come out of the Japan Karate Association. Early on, Masatoshi Nakayama described him as the best fighter of his generation. To this day, traditional Karate is his passion, a former JKA Grand Champion. As a result, he is first and foremost a martial artist, a practitioner of traditional karate obsessed with returning Karate back to its budo roots. Yahara has a no-nonsense approach to his Karate.

Early Life of Mikio Yahara

Yahara was born on 4 April 1947 in the fishing village Namikata-Machi, Ehime Prefecture. He was the fourth son of a prominent family with samurai roots on his father’s side. His mother’s family were descended from pirates.

Growing up, he was a boisterous child who loved to fight. Therefore, at an early age, he became interested in Karate as his older brother practiced it. In an effort to calm him down, his brother taught him Karate, from the age of seven.

A few years later in 1954 Yahara went to junior school. However, he had a heart attack and was diagnosed with a heart condition. As a result, doctors thought he would not live past the age of twenty.

Almost ten years later, while a high school student, Yahara joined the school’s Judo club in 1963, refusing to be limited by his condition. Even in his youth he displayed what would come to be known as his characteristic strong will. He wanted to get stronger, which he did. Eventually, he reached the rank of second Dan in Judo.

How Mikio Yahara Discovered Karate

While excelling in Judo, Yahara joined a local Karate club affiliated with the Japan Karate Association. His teacher was Yagi Sensei, an instructor who came from the JKA Honbu in Tokyo. As with his earlier life in Judo, Yahara advanced quickly in karate. By 1964 he had been promoted to first dan. It was not long before he soon dreamed of becoming an instructor.

At that time, JKA instructors were normally selected from the best university graduates. Knowing this and wanting to be near the JKA Honbu, Yahara enrolled at Kokushikan University, Tokyo, in 1966. He soon joined the university’s Karate club.

By this time, his childhood condition was no longer an issue, and he had grown into a strong young man. Yahara’s instructor at the club was Kenji Yano. Training sessions were hard, and in some cases frightening. Many students left the club. Yahara was one of the few students to remain.

Through his dedication, Yahara became one of the best Karateka at the club. For example, he practised at the JKA Hombu, which helped develop his approach to traditional Karate. He sometimes practised at the Karate clubs at Komazawa, Nodai, and Nihon Taiku Daigaku universities. But, his seniors at the Kokushikan University Club soon avoided him due to his toughness.

From Student to Instructor

By 1971 Yahara had graduated from Kokushikan University and joined the JKA Instructors Course. Masatoshi Nakayama, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and Hideo Ochi were his main instructors on the course, while Kenji Yano was his Sempai (Senior).

As previously stated, Yano had been Yahara’s instructor at University. Nicknamed the “Destroyer,” Yano took sadistic pleasure in intimidating and beating up students. Moreover, he looked for ways to hurt his opponent during sparring sessions, especially grades below him.

As his kohai (junior), Yahara usually faced the worst of Yano’s aggressiveness. But he frequently had to go to hospital because of injuries he sustained. However, his pride would not let him quit. He would attend the next training session even though he was injured. In time he earned Yano’s respect for never backing down. By his own admission, he hated Yano. However, he respected is aggressiveness and strength.

During this time, another instructor who had a profound influence on Yahara was Keigo Abe. Abe was known for his exceptional technical ability.

Yahara tried to model himself on Abe’s technique and Yano’s spirit. Even from these early days of his training, Budo was at the forefront of his training, even in kata. For him, kata based in traditional karate was not for competition or grading but for making his kumite stronger.

Life of Competition

In 1972 Yahara’s international competitive career began in Paris, France. Two years later he graduated from the Instructors Course and started actively competing and teaching.

Subsequently, Yahara taught at the JKA Honbu. He had achieved his goal of becoming a JKA Instructor. But, he also taught at several dojo is on the outskirts of Tokyo. Teaching at these dojos sometimes meant he was involved in “dojo-yaburi,” dojo challenges between different Karate styles.

At the JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Yahara was a phenomenal competitor in both kata and kumite. He always featured in the top three positions in each event. During these years from 1975 to 1984, he faced some of the top competitors of the time, that included Masahiko Tanaka, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Toshihiro Mori.

In 1984 Yahara became JKA Grand Champion. He won the kata event defeating Masao Kagawa in the final. He came third in the kumite event won by Hideo Yamamoto.

Yahara also competed in three IAKF World Championships. At the 1977 Championships held in Tokyo, Japan, he finished second behind Yoshiharu Osaka in the kata event. At the 1980 Championships held in Bremen, Germany, he lost to Osaka in the final. He faced Osaka again in the final of the 4th IAKF Championships, losing to him.

Mikio Yahara: From Competitor to Teacher

In 1984 Yahara retired from competing. As a kumite competitor he was known for his dynamic and innovative techniques. He was a fan favourite and had many memorable matches. As a kata competitor his main kata was Unsu. He always performed the kata as if he was in a life or death situation. His major tournament successes include:

  • IAKF World Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1977, 1980, 1983)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Grand Champion (1984)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place (1984)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 2nd place (1975, 1998)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 3rd place (1976, 1979, 1982, 1984)

Yahara featured in Masatoshi Nakayama’s Best Karate series published in 1979. He appeared in the following books:

In 1987 the Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, died. His death led to rival factions vying for control over the JKA. The Nakahara Faction was led by businessman Nobuyuki Nakahara. This faction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Masahiko Tanaka. The rival Matsuno faction was led by Tetsuhiko Asai, and included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Yahara, and Masao Kagawa. What followed was a 10-year legal battle between the two factions.

Mikio Yahara’s Personal Life

By the 1990’s Yahara had established a personal security company. As a part of his business he had many run-ins with the Yakuza. He had to regularly move house to avoid being killed. These encounters made in value the importance of the Budo approach to traditional Karate. The core principle of Ikken Hisatsu, “one killing blow” became a fundamental part of his training.

Over time the Yakuza came to have a healthy respect for Yahara. There is a famous story in Japan of Yahara fighting 34 Yakuza members, who had targeted him and his company. He survived the encounter.

From JKA to KWF

In 1999 the Nakahara Faction of the JKA won the legal battle between them and the Matsuno Faction. A Japanese High Court ruling awarded them the sole rights to the JKA name.

Following the court ruling, the Asai Faction left the JKA. The Faction split to form the following groups:

  • Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) led by Tatsuhiko Asai
  • Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
  • Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Yahara

Eventually, the KWF was established in April 2000. ” Karatenomichi” means “the way of Karate.” Yahara had not been happy with the direction Karate was taking. He wanted Karate to be more Budo-orientated. His teachings were based on the principle of “Ichigeki Hissatsu” – “one strike.” Much emphasis was placed on perfecting basic techniques through repetition. He was not against Sport Karate. However, his criticism is that everyone moves in the same way to win a point. Sport Karate lacks variety or uniqueness in fighters.

In 2006 Yahara was promoted to 8th Dan, aged 59. During his grading he broke three ribs of an opponent with a single punch.

The last several years has seen Yahara build the KWF into one of the biggest Shotokan associations in the world. Apart from running his business, he travels the world giving training courses and seminars in traditional karate. Away from Karate he practices Iaido. He is a fan of classical music, especially that of Russian composer, Tchaikovsky. Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic fighters to come out of the JKA. His unique fighting style made him a fan favourite. However, it is his exploration of Budo Karate that has made him one of the most important Karate Masters today.

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Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke: A personal Obituary

The year 2019 ended with a tragic event for the global Shotokan community: the passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa. The Karate world mourns since then. In this personal obituary Prof. Dr. Wolf Herbert reminisces the extraordinary life and personality of Soke Kanazawa.

On December the 8th 2019 Kanazawa Hirokazu passed away “peacefully”, according to the official announcement. I had the honor and pleasure to translate his autobiography into German. For this edition I conducted an interview with Soke. I talked with him about death and dying. He stated:

“If one engages in downright normal training and has a downright normal lifestyle, the opportunities of development will also be downright normal. If, however, one trains in the way of going beyond, of transcending one’s natural powers, this in my opinion means to be present with deadly seriousness in everything, even the smallest kind of things!

To exaggerate a bit, you do everything as though it were a matter of life and death. To be involved with deadly seriousness, indeed as if it were a matter of life and death, is, I think, the true and final meaning of bushido (the ethical code of the warrior). If one does everything as though one’s life depended on it, there will be nothing to look back on with regret. When the time to die comes, one can die with utter peace of mind. I think the manner of dying is a barometer of how one has lead his life. This also constitutes the way of the warrior (bushido).”

Kanazawa Hirokazu

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke: Life of a Warrior

Kanazawa-soke undoubtedly has lived and departed this life like a warrior. Kanazawa Hirokazu was born in 1931 in the Northeast of Japan, in the prefecture Iwate at a rough seashore with rocky cliffs and pine groves. He was the sixth child and had an older sister, four older and two younger brothers. The extended family, the fishery and trading company of his father and the care of his mother were the social context in which he absorbed consideration, cooperation and mutual benevolence as manners and a way to treat people. “Harmony” should later become one of the central pillars of his Karate philosophy.

Besides playing in nature and on the beach, Hirokazu practiced sumo, judo, rugby and boxing in his youth. His body was thus aptly prepared when aged 18, he seriously started with Karate in the Karate department of the Takushoku University. After graduation he and Mikami Takayuki became the first graduates of the instructor course of the the JKA (Japan Karate Association). 1957 he won the first JKA All Japan Championship. Subsequently, he twice repeated this triumph. 1960 he was sent to Hawaii as a JKA Karate instructor. His unprecedented journey into the world had begun.

The picture shows Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert at the 35th SKIF All Japan Championship/Tokyo.
Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert at the 35th SKIF All Japan Championship/Tokyo in 2015.

A Global Instructor

Presumably no other Japanese Karate teacher has traveled as much and often around the globe as Kanazawa Hirokazu. Most of the instructors who were delegated to foreign countries by the JKA settled down and built up their national organizations. Soke stayed for a while in England and Germany, but he was the JKA International Section Chief and was often on the road. Particularly after the foundation of his own organization (1978) he was virtually permanently visiting different countries all over the world. This made him one of the best known Karateka on the globe.

The break-up with the JKA was neither initiated by Soke nor wanted.  In the end it can be seen as a blessing in disguise, since it gave him the chance to develop and promulgate his very own Karate-do unencumbered. He placed the “International” (jap. kokusai) in the name of his organization (Shotokan Karate-do International Federation SKIF) intentionally on top in the Japanese version (Kokusai Shôtôkan Karatedo renmei). This was to demonstrate that Karate-dô has become a global movement and cultural world heritage.

Technical Brilliance and Charisma

Soke’s reputation was not solely based on his internationalism, but his extraordinary abilities, his technical brilliance and in particular his personality, charisma and charm. What also distinguished him was his capability to stage perfect and breathtaking demonstrations in Kumite and Kata on the spot at big events or clinics. Notable was not only his technical refinement and engaged and warm-hearted teaching style, but that he and his Karate-do was there for everyone.  That really meant no distinction in regard to sex, age, race, nationality, religious affiliation, social or economic status etc.

Before Soke went to Hawaii he stated in an interview, that he wanted to help to develop and promote Karate in its three aspects: physical education, martial art and competitive sports. This also illustrates his broad approach to Karate-do: it is meant for everybody, young and old, hobbyist and top athlete, even for those with special needs.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke Studied other Styles of Karate

The width of his horizon was also obvious in his openness and lifelong willingness to learn from other Karate-styles and martial arts.  He included old Kata (e.g. Koryu Gankaku, Niju hachi ho), which enrich the spectrum of movements beyond orthodox Shotokan, into his syllabus.  He was also known for his masterly command of the weapons staff (bo) and nunchaku. He integrated them into his tutoring. Soke also cherished lifelong friendships and exchanges with teachers of other styles and also from the JKA.

Karate and Health

In one of his English publications Kanazawa-soke proposed an intriguing perspective. He postulates that Karate historically evolved as a hygienic program to boost physical fitness and was only later used as a means of self-defense:

“Without going into the history of Karate I would like to explain a facet which is usually overlooked. Karate history starts some four thousand years ago as a series of movements for health. Later it was discovered that these could be applied for fighting. In the last few years it has been developed into a sport. All other combative sports started their life as fighting techniques. Therefore, Karate is the only one which started from natural movements to promote health.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa

Breathing and Ki

There originates one of the characteristics of Soke’s Karate-do: how he emphasized the importance of correct breathing. Via breathing the circulation of ki (chin. Qi, “universal energy”) is regulated. He also deemed the mental and physical concentration on the center of the body in the lower abdomen (seika tanden) as essential. There ki can be accumulated and from there ki can also be transmitted elsewhere. Ki is a central concept in Chinese cosmology and medicine. It is often translated as “inner energy” or “vital force”.

In the West, energy is primarily seen as something physical and as a quantum. Ki is also a kind of quality (qualia) and linked to consciousness. It has material and immaterial aspects. In the human body ki is mobilized by willpower. If one concentrates ki will flow into the object being focussed on. If you thrust a punch with a sharp intention ki will surge and shoot into the fist and beyond. Soke was able to split the very board that was indicated to him in a stack of boards without breaking the rest. His explanation was that he could consciously control and direct his ki. Although not many will ever reach this level, the regulation of ki was a central element of his Karate. And the positive health effects of Karate are based on it.

Ki and Taijiquan

According to the Chinese view, health means an unblocked and balanced flow of ki. From time immemorial diverse methods have been developed in order to gain an unobstructed flow of ki: meditation, visualization, breathing techniques, therapeutic interventions (acupuncture, massages, moxibustion a.o.) and physical exercises (e.g. Quigong).

Soke has practiced Taijiquan all his life and understood the respective concepts very profoundly. A crucial  goal of Taijiquan is to equilibrate and balance the ki-flow. This brings about harmony and well-being, worded slightly dramatically, a feeling of being at one with the universe. This was exactly what Soke was aiming at. I know that from numerous conversations and interviews with him. It has become a guiding principle for my personal Karate practice. Soke’s Karate-do was rooted in and based on Chinese philosophy and physiological conceptions, which made it one of a kind for me.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke and his Spirit of Karate-do

To me Soke and his Karate-do had a spiritual dimension, though it was totally unassuming. If you tuned your antennae into this direction you had ample reception. If you were not interested you were not bothered. Soke always understood Karate as moving Zen. His ideal was to reach an egoless state of all-encompassing alertness and inner calm. To point this out, he used terms from Zen-Buddhism and the art of sword fighting which was influenced by it, such as mushin (no mind) or muga (non-self).

If one witnessed Soke, one had the impression that time and again he embodied these states of mind. He had an aura which enveloped everybody with peace and serenity. Again, I fear I sound dramatic, but being in his mere presence filled me with happiness. I have never noticed any negative emotions like anger or irritation. Many will remember his infinite patience when he signed books, t-shirts and the like with his mountain Fuji-emblem after training courses – sometimes in hour-long sessions.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke was Here for Everyone

By no way I want to give the impression that I had any kind of “special” relationship to Soke. Everybody had his/her special connection to him and shared unique experiences with him. Soke did not show particular preferences. He was here for everyone: the veteran black belt as well as for the beginner and the children. I met Kanazawa-soke on many scattered, but pivotal occasions. His view of Karate and the world had an indelible impact on me. In this sense he was and is a constant mentor and guiding star for me. Let me therefore add some personal footnotes and anecdotes.

Some Personal Anecdotes about Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke

Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!”

At one of his many sojourns in the 1980’s in my home town Bregenz in the West of Austria we talked about the winter. He was amazed, when he heard that in this cold alpine region a haramaki (“bellyband”, a kind of woollen kidney belt) was not customary.  In Japan, haramaki are well-liked by workers, who toil in the open or artisans in chilly workshops. Soke commented: “If the stomach (hara) is kept warm, the whole body will get warm!” For a martial artist like Soke hara of course had a much broader meaning. It is the pivot of every technique and the locus of ki-concentration. “Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!” one could venture to say.

The picture shows Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert in Bregenz, Austria. Wolf is translats the explanations of Hirokazu Kanazawa fo the audience.
Sôke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert in Bregenz, Austria. Wolf translates the explanations of Hirokazu Kanazawa in 1984.

Anyway, I had two haramaki sent from Japan, which I still wear, particularly during winter in the unheated Dojo. I owe the discovery of the haramaki to Soke. Everytime I put one on I think of him and his teachings concerning the hara and seika tanden! As a sidenote, haramaki which were seen as hopelessly old-fashioned and proletarian now enjoy a renaissance in Japan as a fashion item and protection against the cold.

The Right Diet

As a young athlete I was very health conscious. Therefore I wanted to know from Soke what he deemed to be a wholesome and balanced diet. The gist of what he said was:

“I am traveling a lot and I am confronted with a lot of different national cuisines. Most of the time I am treated by the host, thus I can not refuse the dishes coming to the table. It is like that: while I eat the dishes, I inwardly tell myself, ‘This is good for my body, it supplies me with subtle energy and makes me strong!’ Then every food is well absorbed and purposefully utilized. With this positive attitude even fast food can be ingested with salubrious results. Generally speaking, it is best to consume local products and whatever is seasonal.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa

This again revealed to me that for Soke it was mind over matter, the spirit which reigns the body! As an aside: with regard to beverages, Soke in Austria professed a marked fondness of Pilsener.

He also had seriously considered to quit

Since there was a hiatus in my Karate practice I had the chutzpah to ask Soke if he had ever thought to desist from doing Karate. Without hesitation he replied that there were several critical periods in his life in which he had seriously considered to quit. However, every time he retreated to contemplate the possibility, inevitably some Kata sequences appeared before his mind’s eye. He saw himself performing e.g. Kankû dai and indubitably he knew with every fibre of his being that this was his “destiny”, his mission and his life task. Soke has always paid close attention to “imagery training”. Lately it seems to come into vogue. For Soke it obviously had positive effects. He pursued his path unperturbed by ups and downs.

The Little Gestures Matter

When I started with training again after my break from Karate I went to the Honbu dojo in Tokyo for instruction several times on Wednesdays. On this day Soke taught in person and all the instructors who were not abroad also assembled. While greeting formally, I moved the wrong foot into the closed V stance. Soke pointed out my “misstep” in his benevolent way. For a second I was irritated and thought, “why insist on such a trifle!” In a sudden intuition I understood the message. It was exactly these little gestures which should manifest the intent behind them.

The alert Mind

Soke was a keen observer. I had participated in the national championships (Kata Individual Masters II 50-59 yrs.) for the umpteenth time. Soke was already rather fragile at the time. After the championship there was a party in the evening with a stand-up buffet and drinks. The SKIF All-Japan Championship is a yearly event with over more than 600 participants. It is split up into school years for children and age classes for the adults. There are also several disciplines and the competition lasts for two whole days.

On the evening in question Soke went back home early due to his frail condition. All the party guests formed a lane and made a deep bow when Soke passed by. He walked with his cane and when he came close to me he stopped, looked at me, smiled and said: “Today you won a medal. Congratulations!” I was moved. Among all the bustle of the contest he did not miss to notice this – or, very likely, anything else for that matter.

He Cared about People

Soke cared deeply for people and had an extraordinary memory for them. In the 1980’s (my most active time in Karate) the first thing he invariably asked me when we met, was, if Fujinaga Yasuyuki (1944-1995) was doing well. I found that very considerate and acted as a messenger between the two. Fujinaga-sensei headed a JKA-Dojo in Vienna, where I was allowed to train twice a week. When Kanazawa-sôke was still in the JKA, Fujinaga-sensei had studied under him in Japan for an extended period. Even after Fujinaga-sensei’s demise, he repeatedly told me how sorry he felt about his passing on in the prime of his life. Soke knew well, how much I had adored and appreciated Fujinaga-sensei.

When he Visited Austria

In 1982, the first SKI-organisation in Austria was established. I had become one of its first members and was in the managing committee until the end of the 1980’s. I also ran a SKI-Dojo in Vienna. We intentionally put the name of the founder first in the name of the federation: Kanazawa Shotokan Kokusai Karate-do Österreich (KSKKÖ). Thanks to the selfless commitment and efforts of the pedagogue Rosemarie Osirnigg, Soke came to Vorarlberg/West Austria on a yearly basis to hold training courses lasting a couple of days. We also shot videos, which were meant to become instructional material. They show Soke at the height of his powers. The then national trainer Norio Kawasoe (1951-2013) can also be seen demonstrating his excellent techniques.  The videos are now sold and distributed by VP-Masberg.

I frequently served as an interpreter for Soke. This offered me superb insights into his didactic ingenuity and systematic approach to Karate. At the beginning of the 1990’s the KSKKÖ was dissolved due to various disputes. The majority of its members joined the organization of Hidetaka Nishiyama. Although invited, I did not follow suit. Barely anything  connected me with Nishiyama-sensei and everything that was Karate to me connected me with Soke. I stayed loyal to him, but due to their rampant political narrow-mindedness, I stayed away from Karate organizations for a long time.

His Encouragement

It was almost two decades later when I visited and met Soke again in the Honbu-dojo. There was an instant rapport and bond. It was as if no time had passed since our last meeting. He could recall amazing details of the moments we had spent together. Soke encouraged me to open a Dojo for him in Tokushima. There was no SKI-Dojo at the time on the island Shikoku, where Tokushima is located and where I teach at university. Without this encouragement, I would never have been as presumptuous as to teach Karate to the Japanese.

When I was in my twenties I learned some Taijiquan from Soke. I recollected this and began to take lessons again. Now Yang-style Taijiquan is part of my daily exercises. When I related that to Soke he was overjoyed: “Taijiquan and Karate are like Yin and Yang, soft and hard, fluid and rapid, circular and straight! They are complementary and synergetic. It is good to practice both. Especially when one grows old it is commendable to move to the softer side. It is not about muscular strength anymore, but the cultivation of the ki that should become central. Carry on!”

A Personality and Karate Master Full of Dignity

Soke said this at a time, when he was no longer able to practice himself. Now I have to address something that filled me with outright admiration: his dignity in being able to let go of everything! Soke loved to ski and even had a licence as an instructor from a skiing school in Davos. When he was in his late-seventies he had an accident while skiing in Northern Italy. He broke several vertebrae and required an extended period of rehabilitation. But he returned to the Dojo nevertheless. However, his physical condition deteriorated thereafter.

A Beautiful Mind and Spirit

When he got into his eighties an illness broke out, which was medicinally subdued until his passing on: Parkinson. This incomparable grand master of the martial arts, who could control every single cell of his body had to watch how he lost command over it. And here again Soke’s spiritual greatness revealed itself: no struggle, no bitterness, no lament. He endured his advancing frailty with stoic composure. Without clinging to anything, he just let things go. To be able to observe the process of ageing and the way of the world with such calmness and non-attachment will forever be etched into my memory as an ideal. It was daoist unity with the cosmos personified.

The Light of the Buddha

Sôke once remarked, that with getting older he became convinced, that he was protected by some higher power. December the 8th is Bodhi-day, the day on which the awakening of the historic Buddha Shakyamuni is commemorated and celebrated. It is the last day and climax of an eight-day-long intensive period of meditation (rôhatsu) in Zen monasteries. Kanazawa Hirokazu crossed to the other shore in the light of the Buddha. He ist now united with the higher powers and as a guardian and protector of Karate-dô, his lifework will continue to have effects and radiate forever. Eternal thanks, Sôke! Ossu

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Masao Kagawa: The Competitor and Teacher

The picture shows Masao Kagawa. In the 1990´s he bet students during training with a Kendo Shinai.

Masao Kagawa belongs to the most prominent Shotokan karate instructors of today. Two things made this prominence possible: Firstly, his media presents. A myriad of explanatory videos on YouTube and Facebook have introduced him to a global audience. Secondly, he is without exaggeration one of the best technicians and competitors of his generation, who came out of the Japan Karate Association (JKA). As winner of numerous titles and graduate of the JKA instructors course he has developed into one of the best instructors in the world. By Patrick Donkor, Dr. Christian Tribowski, and Dr. Jeff Christian

In addition, he is also one of the most influential personalities in the karate world. Executing influence in the realm of traditional karate and sports karate. He bridges this gap by being head of the Japan Karate Shoto-Renmai and as Chair of the technical committee of the WKF.

Early Life of Masao Kagawa

Masao Kagawa was born June 8, 1955 in Osaka, Japan. His older brother, Masayoshi, was eleven years older and would eventually become like a father to him. In 1965 at only 10 years old, Kagawa’s father died. Five years later, his mother passed away as well. It was then that his brother Masayoshi who became his guardian and his role model for starting karate.

Masayoshi Kagawa teaching kihon in Osaka.

Years later in 1972, Masao Kagawa traveled to Tokyo to watch his brother compete at the Budokan, the home of Japanese martial arts. This was the first time he had left Osaka. While his brother practiced karate and took part in competitions, he preferred to play baseball instead. This preference changed, however, when he saw his brother became victorious in the Budokan.

The tournament held in the Budokan was nothing but the 15th All Japan JKA Championships. In the final kumite bout his brother fought against nobody less than Yoshiharu Osaka, one of the best technician Shotokan karate has ever produced. The victory of his brother made him want to train karate. So, he gave up his pursuit of a baseball career and started to learn Shotokan.

Beginnings in Karate Training

His brother became the first teacher of Masao Kagawa. Masayoshi taught in the JKA branch in Osaka and his training could become very tough. This hardness took a toll on Masao Kagawa. During the years, his brother trained him he suffered several injuries, including a broken nose and broken teeth.

But he was dedicated to become an excellent karateka. Therefore, he enrolled at Teikyo University in 1976 to study Law. In the first place, however, he enrolled at Teikyo University because it Karate Club had a reputation for its traditional Karate program. It also had a long history producing champions, especially for the national team. The Chief Instructor was Keigo Abe, who had been a senior to Kagawa’s older brother. Abe had gained fame as an exceptional karate technique.

Joining the JKA Instructors Program and Becoming Champion

After graduating with a degree in Law, Kagawa stayed at Teikyo University in 1980 to pursuit a postgraduate degree. Three years later in 1983, he, however, decided to become a professional karate teacher and enrolled on the JKA Instructors Course. As a result he received training from Masatoshi Nakayama,  Tetsuhiko AsaiMasahiko Tanaka, Masaaki Ueki, and Keigo Abe.

Masao Kagawa in the JKA instructors program

Kagawa had started competing around 1974. At university he competed at the Kanto University Championships for Teikyo University and won several medals. But his excellence came to light in his professional career because of the influenced of Tetsuhiko Asai and Mikio Yahara. He always watched them during training sessions, learning from their relaxed, dynamic techniques. Between 1983 to 1991 he always featured in the top three positions of all competitions he entered. In 1985 Kagawa emulated his older brother, Masayoshi, by winning the individual kumite title at the 28th JKA All Japan Championships. He also won the kata event, becoming Grand Champion. He retired from active competition around 1991 eventually.

Major Tournament Successes of Masao Kagawa

His major tournament successes include:

  • IAKF World Championships, Team Kata – 1st place (1983)
  • Shoto Cup, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • World Games, Individual Kata – 1st place 1990)
  • World Games, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place (1985, 1990, 1991)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1985, 1989, 1990, 1991)
  • Grand Champion of the JKA All Japan Championships – (1985)
Masao Kagawa during the JKA All Japan Championships 1985 against Ogura Sensei

Masao Kagawa´s Separation From the JKA

After Masatoshi Nakayama´s Death in 1987 the Tokyo businessmen, Nobuyuki Nakahara became Chairman of the JKA. As a result some instructors, led by Tetsuhiko Asai, disagreed with the appointment. The JKA split into two opposing fractions. One was the Matsuno and the other the Nakahara fraction. The Matsuno supported Asai and included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Mikio Yahara, and Kagawa. Nakahara fraction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Masahiko Tanaka. Both fractions referred to themselves as the JKA.

The picture shows Masao Kagawa.
Masao Kagawa

This dispute about the true heirs of the Nakayama JKA caused a ten-year legal battle. The Nakahara fraction received the right of the sole use of the JKA name in 1999, following a Japanese High Court ruling. As a result, the Matsuno fraction left the JKA and soon split into three groups:

  • The Japan Karate Shoto-Renmai (JKS) led by Tetsuhiko Asai
  • Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
  • The Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Mikio Yahara

Kagawa joined the group led by Asai.

In 2006 former JKA Chief Instructor, Tetsuhiko Asai, died. Kagawa was eventually asked lead Asai’s JKS. Under his guidance the organization has grown into one of the biggest and most influential.

Successes as Coach

Beside his engagement with the JKA Kagawa also became the Chief Instructor of the Teikyo University Karate Club. Using the knowledge, he gained from being a top competitor, he began producing the next group of Japanese world beaters. The crop of new talent included Koji Arimoto, Takato Souma, and Takumi Sugino.

With a wealth of experience, he became a coach in the Japanese National Team. At the 2004 World Championships, held in Monterrey, Mexico, he coached Shinji Nagaki kumite gold, in the 70 kg event.

Kagawa’s coaching success continued at the 2012 World Championships held in Paris, France. He coached the Japanese Men’s kata team to gold medals consisting of his proteges Koji Arimoto, Takato Souma, and Takumi Sugino. In the final they performed the kata Unsu.

Watch the full performance of the Japanese Team.

Masao Kagawa´s Relationship to the JKF and WKF

Masao Kagawa continued his close association with the Japanese National Team as a coach. Consequently he became the Chairman of the National Coach Committee of the Japan Karate Federation. In this capacity he also developed a close association with the World Karate Federation (WKF). In 2014 he became Chairman of the Technical Committee of the WKF. He took over from Tsuguo Sakumoto.

Kagawa’s aim as Chairman of the WKF Technical Committee was to see Karate become an Olympic sport. Consequently he has been at the forefront of pushing this to happen. On August 3, 2016 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Karate would be one of the new sports making their Olympic debut at the 2020 Games to be held in Tokyo, Japan. This has divided opinion in the karate world.

As a result, some see this as a slippery slope, a sign that karate is losing its budo soul. However, proponents of karate’s inclusion feel that it may lead to an increase interest in karate. To clarify, Kagawa firmly believes that Olympic recognition should not have an impact on traditional Karate.

Masao Kagawa: A Competitor and Teacher

In general, he sees Karate as a mentoring tool for young people. His educational engagement was awarded with an Mizuno Sports Mentor Award in 2013. Apart from being the Chief Instructor at Teikyo University, he is also a board member of the Kanto Area University Student Karate-Do Federation.

Their cannot be any doubt that Masao Kagawa is one of the best technicians to come out of the JKA. Although people recognize him more as a phenomenal competitor, he is a traditionalist at heart. This can be seen by the bunkai he demonstrates at the numerous seminars and courses he conducts around the world.

Above all he is an example to all karateka that karate is a lifelong pursuit and not just a competitive sport for the young. Now in his 60´s he is still a formidable opponent. Due to his highly influential position we can be sure that he will guide and govern the development of karate in general and Shotokan in particular for at least another decade. This will give him a place between grand master of Shotokan.


Further Reading: Masao Kagawa autobiography can be found here.

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Breaking News: Keigo Abe passed away

Today, the message reached us that another pioneer and ambassador of Shotokan karate has passed away. According to the source Shihan Abe died at 6.45am this morning peacefully in his sleep.

Unfortunately, we do not have further information about the exact circumstances. We inquired at the JSKA HQ in Tokyo via email. However, the email was blocked. Therefore, we do not have an official confirmation. The source, who confirmed his passing, referred to family members with whom they were in contact. If you can provide further details please get in touch with us through email: theshotokantimes@gmail.com

With Keigo Abe passed another pioneer and ambassador of Shotokan. Born in October 1938 Shihan Abe started karate by age 15. He trained directly under Masatoshi Nakayama and received an excellent education in the JKA instructors program. After graduating the program in 1965 he became an important figure in the JKA Headquarters’ instructors group. He was appointed Director of Qualifications and became later Technical Director of the JKA.

In the turmoil of the 1990´s, in which internal conflicts dominated the JKA, he retired from his position and formed the Japan Shotokan Karate Association in 1999. Keigo Abe hold the rank of the 9 Dan. He passed with age 81.

The karate world mourns about the loss of Keigo Abe. Our deepest sympathies are now with his family and the bereaved. Our condolences also go to the JSKA community worldwide.

His successor will be Mitsuru Nagaki. The JSKA announced it on January 20, 2020.

“In accordance with the wishes of Abe Sensei, Mr. Mitsuru Nagaki will take over as the chief instructor of the JSKA. It will be officially approved by the JSKA Shihankai Board during the 10th Karate World Championship in October 2020 In Lubeck, Germany.”

Oss!

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Condolence Board for Hirokazu Kanazawa

Sadly Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa passed away on December 8, 2019. According to the official announcement of the SKIF it happened “peacefully”. On this pages we would like to offer you a condolence board for Hirokazu Kanazawa, a place to mourn, so that everybody can pay their last respect to Soke Kanazawa as well as to express their sympathies for his family and relatives. Please, write your condolences, your prayers, and wishes in the comment section. We will leave this page unchanged and will send a link to the family of Hirokazu Kanazawa.

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Hirokazu Kanazawa has passed away – An Overview

Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa passed away on December 8, 2019. And the karate world mourns.

For everybody, who wants to express their sympathies, we have set up a condolence board.

The facebook page of the SKIF-GB facebook page reported first about Soke Kanazawa´s passing. However, rumors spread that the announcement could have been a hoax very fast. While the post disappeared a few hours later, we received information from a high ranking source within the inner circle of the SKIF. The source confirmed that the information about the passing of Soke Kanazawa is true.

Official Confirmation of the Passing of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa

Around 1 pm central European time, the board of the SKIF published an official statement about the passing of Soke Kanazawa. The document states that he passed away peacefully.

It also states that he passed away at the “blessed ripe old” age of 88 years old. This refers to the Japanese tradition of “beiju“. Because the Chinese character of 88 looks similar to the character for rice. Rice, on the other hand, is considered to be a happy and sacred food in East Asia. That is why the age 88 is considered sacred.

Official statement by the SKIF Global Headquarter about the death of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa.
Official statement by the SKIF Global Headquarter about the death of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa.

Further, the announcement by the SKIF asked to abstain from attending the funeral. It will take part in the inner circle of the Kanazawa family. An official farewell takes place at the next SKIF international seminar in Tokyo in 2020.

The Karate World Mourns

A wave of condolences have been expressed by the karate world about the passing of Soke Kanazawa in the last days. Several thousand karate commented on facebook and other social media how deeply shocked and shattered they were. Many more sent blessings and best wishes to the family of Hirokazu Kanazawa.

The sympathies go thereby far beyond the community of Shotokan karateka. Also practitioners from other styles of karate expressed their mourning and grief. For instance, the Kyokushinkai channel The Martial Way published a R.I.P. post about the passing of Soke Kanazawa. Such acts display the tremendous respect Hirokazu Kanazawa enjoyed in the karate world.

The Shotokan Times also expressed its condolences by sending an email to Kancho Nobuaki Kanazawa, Shuseki Shihan Manabu Murakami, and the SKIF HQ. Thomas Prediger, Chair of the advisory board of The Shotokan Times, commented: “He was a living legend. Soke Kanazawa will be dearly missed. His guidance and character are invaluable. However, his legacy will continue in Shotokan. Because a worldwide community of students will now carry his torch.”

Dr. Christian Tribowski, Managing director and chief editor of The Shotokan Times, stated: “I had the chance to meet Soke Kanazawa last year during the 40th anniversary festivities of SKIF in Tokyo. His health had deteriorated already. But I did not imagine to see him for the last time. His death has left a huge void in the karate world. He was Mr. Shotokan, a splendid and charismatic personalty. Generations after generations have learnt from him the true meaning of karate do.”

Deteriorated Health of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa

In January 2009, Kanazawa suffered a skiing accident. Trough a badly fall he crushed three vertebra. Although already in his 70´s he recovered and taught Shotokan until 2012. Then he retired and spend most of his time in Japan.

Beside the skiing accident rumors spread that Soke Kanazawa also suffered two strokes in the last decade. Last year on the 40th anniversary of SKIF in Tokyo, he had difficulties to walk and could barely speak. Yet, he was the charismatic karate master who had a room filling presents.

The Legend Hirokazu Kanazawa

Soke Kanazawa was an outstanding Karate master. Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski concluded in a recent portrait about him in The Shotokan Times:

“Hirokazu Kanazawa is considered one of the most skillful karate masters of all time. A great technician and an excellent instructor, he has built up a loyal and dedicated following of students. A gentle and sincere man, he has been able to convey the concepts of karate to many generations of students. As prolific author, he has also had many instructional books and videos produced. It could be argued that many people would not have started karate if they had not seen demonstrations from this very talented master. In any case, he is a true legend of Shotokan karate.”

Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

Like no other, Hirokazu Kanazawa coined Shotokan karate in the 20´s century. He studied directly under Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama. His technical elegance as well as his philosophy made him an unprecedented karate master. After leaving the JKA he founded the Shotokan Karate International Federation in the late 1970´s, which chief instructor and later soke he became.

Hirokazu Kanazawa About Life and Death

Soke Kanazawa´s karate do was highly influenced by Zen Buddhism. In an interview he stated about life and death:

” My philosophy is that I try always to be true to myself and to others … I can say that I fear nothing – not even death, and this I do not say in a big-headed or conceited way. My meaning is that I always try my best in everything I do, so I will be satisfied when I do die – I think the reason that people fear death is because they want to do and accomplish so many other things that are still undone . . . they always want to do more. Also, I truly believe that life continues after physical death – all life continues … life is a circle “.

AJJIF GLOBAL ALL JAPAN JU-JITSU INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION WORLD JU-JITSU GOVERNING BODY

Oss!

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Footage: Mikio Yahara 10th Dan Exam

Mikio Yahara 10th dan examination published.

Yesterday, it was reported that Mikio Yahara past the physical exam for 10th Dan. While most commentators found the awarding of the rank of a 10th Dan to Yahara sensei plausible. Many doubted that he had to take a physical exam.

The Shotokan Times found new evidence in the internet that shows Mikio Yahara in front of a committee performing an unprecedented Tekki Nidan.

The Leopard

The publisher of the video claims that it shows the Dan examination of Mikio Yahara. In the background one can see that the examination took place at the KWF World Conference. The KWF hold this conference from November 7 to 10, 2019 in Tokyo.

Further videos have appeared in the internet. All videos show an excellent performance of Mikio Yahara. His 73 do not hold him back to be still a very dynamic and fast karateka with a strong focus on budo. Due to his agility he got the nickname “Leopard” during his competitive career. Whether the exam consisted of more exercises than just Tekki Nidan is unknown to that point. We will report about further information.

Mikio Yahara Joins 10th Dan Club

Mikio Yahara has joined now a very exclusive club of 10th Dan holders. Beside him Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Hiroshi Shirai, and, also since this year, Ueki Masaaki had been awarded the rank of 10th Dan. However, according to our information has Mikio Yahara been the only awardee so far who went through a physical exam. This might set new expectations for the awarding of higher Dan ranks in the future. Because committees lent higher Dan rank for outstanding achievements and service to associations and karate in general in the past. Thus, Mikio Yahara has perhaps set a new mark.

Congratulations to Mikio Yahara, oss!

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Masatoshi Nakayama: The CEO of Shotokan Karate

Masatoshi Nakayama was a unique personality in many regards. However, no person has done more to expand Shotokan karate around the the World than him. As a long time student and anointed successor of Gichin Funakoshi he carried along the legacy of the grandmaster. As foundeer and chief instructor of the Japan Karate Association (JKA), Masatoshi Nakayama oversaw the expansion of Shotokan Karate. It has been growing from an art practiced only in Japan to an art practiced all over the global by a diverse range of people. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

Masatoshi Nakayama: Early Years

Masatoshi Nakayama was born in 1913 in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, in the southwest of Japan. Until today, Yamaguchi and the Japanese southwest has been bearing powerful figures in Japanese politics and economy. Shinzo Abe, Japans present prime minister, was born into a powerful political family, which originated from Yamaguchi Prefecture. Thus, it is no wonder that Nakayama´s social pedigree was upper-class. He came from a family descended from the Sanada samurai and steeped in the martial tradition. His grandfather and father were accomplished Kendo instructors.

Being from a medical family, Nakayama they expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he loved Chinese culture and secretly took and passed an entrance exam for Takushoku University, the premier university for those wanting a career in the foreign service. As a result he entered Takushoku University in 1932.

The picture shows Masatoshi Nakayama (Source: JKA).
Masatoshi Nakayama (Source: JKA)

First Encounter With Shotokan Karate

In a twist of fate Nakayama mis-read the timetable for attending a kendo class and instead found himself in a Karate class. Karate was still a fairly new martial art in Japan. However, Masatoshi Nakayama was intrigued and stayed to watch the class. He thought since having a background in kendo and Judo he would find karate easy. So, he decided to come back and try the next lesson. In that lesson he came to realize just how difficult karate really was. He began his training under Master Gichin Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka. Evetually, it became a lifelong love affair with karate.

Travel to China, Experience with Kung Fu, and the Time After World War II

During his university studies, Masatoshi Nakayama traveled to China as an exchange student. There he advanced his studies in Chinese language and history. While in China he continued his karate practice and even taught a few classes. In addition, he came into contact with Kung Fu training under several masters. His main teacher was Sifu Pai, with whom he studied a Northern Kung Fu style. Northern style Kung Fu is characterised by having long stances, deep punches and high flashy kicks. Under Sifu Pai, Nakayama learnt taisoku uke (pressing block with sole of foot) and reverse roundhouse/hook kick (ura mawashi geri). Both of these techniques were eventually incorporated into the Shotokan syllabus with the permission of Gichin Funakoshi.

Masatoshi Nakayama together with senior students of Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating Shotokan Karate.

During World War II,  Masatoshi Nakayama remained in China working as a translator. In 1946, he returned back to a Japan devastated by the war. He tried to get in contact with some of Funakoshi’s senior students. However, many of them had been killed during the war. Moreover, Master Funakoshi’s son, Yoshitaka, had also died from tuberculosis. However, Nakayama showed first management and leadership skills. In 1947 he managed to gather senior students, who survived the war. They resumed their training under the watchful eye of Master Funakoshi.

Masatoshi Nakayama and US Soldiers

In 1948, Nakayama and other senior students of Funakoshi gave a karate demonstration to personnel stationed at the U.S. Air Force Base at Tachikawa. The participantes received it well. As a result, he traveled around Japan giving demonstrations and teaching karate to the Americans for the next couple of months.

With the permission of Master Funakoshi, Nakayama and some of the other senior students formed the Nihon Karate Kyokai – Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949. Master Fuankoshi was named as Chief Instructor with Nakayama as Chief Technical Adviser.

Nakayama demonstrating self-defense.

In 1951, the US Air Force sent Air Force personnel from the Strategic Air Command (SAC) to learn various Japanese martial arts. Karate belonged to them. This encounter became an important learning experience for Nakayama. The Americans asked a lot of questions and wanted to know the theoretical background for performing techniques in a particular way.

In an interview given to Black Belt Magazine (November 1982), Nakayama said:

It immediately became apparent to me and to Master Funakoshi that if we were going to teach the Americans, we would have to provide a theoretical basis for our art.”

So under Master Funakoshi’s instruction Nakayama began an intensive study of kinetics, physiology and anatomy. The idea was to provide a scientific grounding to karate and the body dynamics it incorporated.

Masatoshi Nakayama with US officials
Masatoshi Nakayama with US officials

The Formation of the JKA by Masatoshi Nakayama

After the War, Nakayama also began to working on the establishment of a Shotokan associations. Together with the senior students he gathered after the War he formed the Japan Karate Association. The official formation of the organization took place in 1948. Among his peers were Shotokan enthusiast and later high-level instructors like Teruyuki Okazaki and Hidetaka Nishiyama. However, Gichin Funakoshi played no decisive role in the formation of the organization. Instead, he became chief instructor and oversaw the karate education. Nakayama, however, took the responsibility for the management.

Masatoshi Nakayama proved at this time to be a skillful manager and visionary. For him it became clear that only a formalized and structured association had the power to spread Shotokan karate. His education at Takushoku University had a huge influence on this judgement. Trained to become an oversees public servant he understood the necessity of good organization and governance. In 1955, the members of the JKA elected Masatoshi Nakayama head of JKA.

Establishment of the Instructors Program

In 1956, Nakayama formulated the JKA’s Instructor Program with the help of Teruyuki Okazaki. The program followed the design of an intensive one year karate course. Among the first graduates of the course were Takayuki Mikami and Hirokazu Kanazawa. Apart from the intensive karate practice, students received a theoretical grounding in karate. They also learnt kinetics, physiology and anatomy. In addition, the course required them to learn key principles of other fighting systems. Many of the graduates of the program traveled around the globe later. Their aim was to expand the JKA’s brand of Shotokan.

The picture shows Masatoshi Nakayama with Teruyuki Okazaki.
Masatoshi Nakayama with Teruyuki Okazaki

Development of Competitions

Nakayama believed if Karate did not incorporate some form of competitive element, like Judo or Kendo, then people would lose interest in karate. With the permission of Master Funakoshi, Nakayama started looking at ways of adding a competitive element into Karate. He explored many avenues, including having competitors wear a form of light amour, similar to Kendo practitioners. However, this still resulted injuries.

Eventually, after much deliberation Nakayama decided on a set of rules for competing. He believed that competitions should not be about winning, thus keeping the ethos of Master Funakoshi’s principles. Moreover, he believed that competition should be another part of one’s training, helping to build one’s character.

Some months after Master Funakoshi’s death in 1957, the first ever JKA All Japan Karate Championship took place at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Hirokazu Kanazawa won the kumite titlle and in kata Shoji Hiroshi succeeded. The event proved such a success that it takes place annually.

Masatoshi Nakayama Developed the Foundation of Karate Teaching

Today’s karate education has been highly coined by Masatoshi Nakayama. From the 1950´s onward, he developed a the modern method of teaching karate. His deep and wide knowledge of physiology and kinetics as well as didactic and methods of education helped him to set up a general scientific trainings system. As a result, every aspect of Karate like physical and mental development, self-defense sports etc. can be taught within this system.

In 1965 he published “Karatedo Shinkyotei (A New Method For Teaching Karate-do)”. In English it is published as “Dynamic Karate”. This work by Nakayama details much of the knowledge he gained from his studies in kinetics, physiology and anatomy. It is his opus magnum and a must-read book for any serious martial artist. It gives scientific explanations on how certain techniques work and illuminates the physic behind the Shotokan.

Masatoshi Nakayama explaining Hangtsu.

Masatoshi Nakayama and his Students

Nakayama guided the JKA through its difficult early days. Through his hard work the JKA made it into one of the biggest and most respected Shotokan associations in the world. Many of the students trained by Nakayama describe him as a tough but fair teacher. Some of his most able students heave become famous masters in their own right. Some of Nakayama’s most notable students, many who can be seen in his “Best Karate Series”, include:

Masatoshi Nakayama with JKA Instructors
Masatoshi Nakayama with JKA Instructors

He Kept Teaching Despite a Horrible Accident

In 1971, Nakayama an accomplished ski instructor, was caught in an avalanche, which almost cost him his life. At first doctors thought he would die, later changing their prognosis to him never ever being able to walk. However, Nakayama made a full recovery and resumed his active schedule traveling around the world and conducting various courses and seminars in karate.

Masatoshi Nakayama: First 9th Dan

Master Nakayama became the first living master to be awarded 9th Dan. He continued to travel around the world giving courses and seminars to members of the JKA associations he helped create, until his death in 1987 aged 74. After his death JKA awarded him posthumously the rank of 10th Dan.

Following his death, internal politics saw many of the top instructors breaking from the JKA to form their own associations. This shows how well respected Nakayama was, that these conflicts did not happen until his death.

It can be argued that no one has done more to promote the growth of Shotokan karate around the world than Masatoshi Nakayama. As a true institutional entrepreneur he developed the structures of modern Shotokan karate, expended its influence far beyond Japanese boarders, and educated a myriad of excellent and successful instructors. He create a system, which can be learnt by each and everyone. As theorist and intellectual he published several groundbreaking books which led to deeper insights into Shotokan. Like no other he had a vision what Shotokan could be and how it could change the life of people. He kept the organization together although he surrounded by strong hotheads, who all wanted their own stake. Masatoshi Nakayama was the CEO of Shotokan, who steered the art into the water of success. His legacy will always be one of excellence.

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Shigeru Takashina: His Shotokan Life and Legacy

Shigeru Takashina belongs to the Shotokan karate pioneers in the USA. He has coined the American Shotokan community for decades. In this portrait we commemorate his life and legacy. By Patrick Donkor

“If I make will, I can kill you, but it is not my character…. My main goal now is to educate people in more than just show karate but in the cultural karate, the real cultural benefits [of karate].”

Shigeru Takashina, 9th Dan, JKA (1943 – 2013)

Shigeru Takashina was a true stalwart of the Japan Karate Association (JKA). A graduate of the famed JKA Instructors Course, he was one of the first crop of instructors to teach Shotokan Karate outside of Japan for the JKA. He helped established Shotokan Karate on the East Coast of the United States, particularly in the South Florida area.

Early Life of Shigeru Takashima

Takashina was born on 28 September 1943 in Hiroshima, Japan. He and his family survived the atomic bomb dropped on the city, by America on 6 August 1945. His family lived on the outskirts of Hiroshima, so escaped most of the deadly damage caused by the bomb. It should be noted that another JKA legend, Hiroshi Shirai, survived the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, three days later.

In 1959, Takashina came into contact with Karate, while at high school in Fukuyama. He trained at a dojo in the city as Karate was not yet offered at his school.

Takashina enrolled at Ryukoku University in 1962. Ryukoku was a private institution that had originally been founded as a school for Buddhist monks in the city of Kyoto. Once at the University, Takashina promptly joined the university’s Karate club where his instructor was a Sensei Kawakami.

Shigeru Takashina
Shigeru Takashina

Kumite was in Takashina’s blood from the beginning. As a member of the Ryukoku Karate team, Takashina participated in several All Japan Collegiate Karate Championships. The championships were open to all styles of Karate and mainly involved kumite.

Takashina graduated from Ryukoku University in 1966, with a Diploma in Business Administration. Above all, this would serve him well in the future as he established Karate in the South East of the United States and the Caribbean.

How he Became an JKA Instructor

Just as Takashina graduated, Masatoshi Nakayama, the Chief Instructor of the JKA, was looking for talented karateka to become members of the JKA. Therefore, on a visit to Kyoto, he sought out the best karateka in the area to enroll on the grueling Instructors Course at the JKA Headquarters in Tokyo.

Takashina knew where his destiny lay. Thus, he moved to Tokyo, enrolling on the JKA Instructors Course, in 1966. Two years later he graduated from the course, being the only student to graduate from the course that year. As a result, he became an instructor at the JKA Hombu dojo.

Shigeru Takashina the Competitor

The fire for competitive kumite still burned within Takashina’s blood. He entered the 13th JKA All Japan Karate Championships in 1970, finishing third in the kata event behind Toru Yamaguchi and the winner Yoshimasa Takahashi (3-time winner and 3-time runner-up of the event).

Later that year, the 1st Karate World Championships took place in Tokyo, Japan. The event ran from 10 October to 13 October and was the first truly international tournament. As a result, there were participants from over 20 countries competing. In the team kumite event Japan was allowed to enter several teams. Takashina captained the Japanese “E” team. In a successful tournament for Japan, they made a clean sweep of the team event. Japan’s “E” team won the title, with the “C” team second and the “B” team third.

Shigeru Takashina and Masatoshi Nakayama
Shigeru Takashina and Masatoshi Nakayama

Being Deployed Abroad

Like previous graduates of the Instructors Course, Takashina was sent abroad to teach when a position became available. In 1972, at the suggestion of Nakayama, he moved to the United States. Therefore, he settled in the South Florida area, becoming the youngest JKA instructor in the US. Other notable US-based instructors for the JKA at the time were Hidetaka Nishiyama, Teruyuki Okazaki, Masataka Mori, Takayuki Mikami and Yutaka Yaguchi. They all held Takashina’s competitive prowess and business acumen in high regard.

Takashina, then a 5th Dan, established his main dojo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Knowing that universities were a hotbed for up and coming karateka, he consequently convinced the University of Miami to start a Karate club on campus. This eventually led to him becoming an instructor at the University in Karate.

Budo Karate Meant Kumite for Shigeru Takashina

Takashina’s passion for competitive kumite became a benchmark of his dojo, and his students.

Most sensei believe and tell students that winning or losing is not important…. Sensei Takashina’s philosophy was winning was everything

Jose Ferrand, 7th Dan JKA

Most sensei believe and tell students that winning or losing is not important…. Sensei Takashina’s philosophy was winning was everything”, remembers Jose Ferrand, 7th Dan JKA, and Chief Instructor of the Miami Shotokan Karate Club, as well as one of Takashina’s top competitors.

After a gentle scolding for competing in a WKF event without his permission, Ferrand came to learn that Takashina’s heart was in the JKA and traditional shobu ippon kumite. “He used to say that we need to make sure Budo karate stays untouched and not to confuse karate as a sport”.

Shigeru Takashina doing Kizami-Tsuki
Shigeru Takashina doing Kizami-Tsuki

Growth in Students and in Business

By 1974 the University of Miami Karate Club had established itself on campus as one of the most popular clubs. Therefore, that year Takashina and the club gave a riveting Shotokan demonstration witnessed by two hundred spectators, at the university’s student union. The demonstration consisted of performing basic techniques, free sparring, board breaking, and defending against a knife-wielding attacker. The event was so successful that it drew the attention of reporters form the Miami Hurricane, the University of Miami’s student newspaper. As a result, it led to more students wanting to join the club.

By 1975 Takashina was seeing the fruits of his business plan begin to take root. He established the South Atlantic Karate Association (SAKA), as a Florida corporation. SAKA would later serve as the South Eastern Region of the ISKF, and then under the JKA/WF America, both of which he was an original Founding Member.

As news of Takashina’s success grew, Masatoshi Nakayama and members of the Japanese National Karate Team consequently arrived in South Florida in November 1976, from the JKA Headquarters to give several lectures and demonstrations. The cost of the visit was sponsored by the University of Miami and the lectures and demonstrations were co-hosted by the University and Takashina’s SAKA. The Japanese National Team included Masaaki Ueki (the current JKA Chief Instructor), who had become the JKA Grand Champion in 1967 and 1970, and Masahiko Tanaka, the then current ISKA World Champion. The demonstrations comprised of kata, defensive and offense techniques, and kumite. Also present were Teruyuki Okazaki, Chief Instructor of the East Coast, Yutaka Yaguchi, Chief Instructor of the Western US.

When Karate Politics Came In

Politics began to fragment JKA Karate in America, as it would eventually do  in Japan. Hidetaka Nishiyama had been the head of the JKA in the United States. However, there was some disgruntlement in his All-American Karate Federation (AAKF), the Federation of which he was Chief Instructor. Wanting more of a “federation” structure, rather than the traditional “top down” approach, the former which was more “American“, a group of instructors lead by Teruyuki Okazaki split from the AAKF. They formed the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) in September of 1977. The other instructors who left with Okazaki were Yutaka Yaguchi, Takayuki Mikami, Shojiro Koyama, and Takashina.

Shigeru Takashina doing Kata
Shigeru Takashina doing Kata

The University of Miami as Foundation of Shigeru Takashina´s Success in the US

The university’s wildly successful Karate Club led to a growing interest by students to have some form of accredited course in Karate. Therefore, the Physical Education department of the University started researching the possibility of introducing two accredited courses, one in Karate and the other in Women’s Self-Defense. By 1978 the University introduced two Karate courses, both course of which were taught by Takashina. So, students taking the courses had the option of joining the University of Miami’s Karate Club.

Takashina, with his very sizeable University student contingent, became the regular US National Team Coach for International Competition. At the 1979 Championships his team won second place in the team kumite event. The club also had successes at individual level. Moreover, in 1983 L. Muso-Ris won first place in the woman’s kata event. And in addition, in 1989 Samer Atassi won first place in the men’s kumite event.

Shigeru Takashina´s Own Dojo

By 1996 Takashina had been promoted to 7th Dan and began making plans to purchase his own dojo in Coral Springs (north of Fort Lauderdale). It was from this location that he taught students who sought him out. In addition it also served as the permanent headquarters for SAKA. Certainly his success was also possible due because he wa a master at marketing and branding. When asked what sign he wanted on his building, he said simply “Shotokan Karate Center“, rather than “South Atlantic Karate Center” or some other name.

Sigeru Takashina with his Students
Sigeru Takashina with his Students

“He knew exactly what he was doing, and that was to become a visual magnet for people seeking Shotokan instruction. Every other school with a sign that said ‘Karate’ was likely Tae Kwon Do”

Takashina senior student, Tom Leeman, 5th Dan JKA.

Teaching Globally and Spreading Shotokan Karate

By this point in his career, Takashina was highly sought after nationally and internationally to conduct seminars. As a result,he was invited by Hideo Ochi to teach in Germany at a gasshuku, in the South Western town of Frankenthal in 2002. Ochi reciprocated by being a frequent guest at training camps organized by Takashina in Florida.

From his Coral Springs dojo, Takashina went about expanding his already robust region, including clubs throughout Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, as well as the Caribbean, including the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Therefore, he is universally credited with establishing JKA Shotokan Karate throughout Central America, such as in Costa Rica and Panama, as well as his support of the development of clubs in Mexico.

When Karate Politics Came In Again

By April 2007, tensions between fractions within the JKA Headquaters in Japan, caused the many Japanese US-based instructors led by Teruyuki Okazaki to decide that the ISKF should leave the JKA, to follow its own path. Although Takashina had always tried to stay out of JKA politics, he felt that the infighting portrayed the JKA in a bad light and did not follow the teachings of the Dojo Kun. However, after further contemplation, Takayuki Mikami, Shojiro Koyama and Takashina, three of the five founding members of the ISKF, decided it was in Karate’s best interests both in the United States and as an international example to others, to remain with the JKA. They issued a joint declaration to members of their respective associations advising of the separation from the ISKF and reaffirmed their strong ties with the JKA.

In a personal letter sent by Takashina to Okazaki, he stated that even though the JKA were not perfect. However, the organization that molded his generation of karateka, continued to offer the best vehicle for promoting Karate around the world and to remain as the “keeper of Japan’s highest tradition”. By June 2007, the ISKF officially split from the JKA.

Shigeru Takashina with students, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Teruyuki Okazaki

Later Years and Legacy of Shigeru Takashina

From 2007 to 2013, Takashina maintained his very busy travel schedule, teaching at camps across his region and around the world. He also continued his very strong alliance with his peers back in Japan, including notable instructors such as Kenji Yano.

Takashina’s health began to deteriorate and he ultimately died from cancer on 3 September 2013, just shy of his 70th birthday. Thus, he was survived by his wife, Masako, and daughter, Fumi, both of whom live on Florida. Following his death, he was posthumously promoted to 9th Dan by the JKA.

Shigeru Takashina: A Life Devoted to Teach Shotokan Karate

Shigeru Takashina devoted his life to the teaching and promoting of JKA-Style Shotokan Karate. The youngest member of the first wave of JKA instructors to reside in the United States, as a result, it is testament to his character and teaching that his students continue to revere him. His students, under the leadership of his hand-picked successor, Carol See Tai, 6th Dan, JKA, have taken over his Coral Springs dojo. The dojo has been reincorporated as a non-profit institution, and re-branded as “Coral Springs JKA” in honour of Takashina’s city of choice where he placed his dojo, as well as his continued dedication to the JKA. Today, his picture remains conspicuously hanging at shomen.

In his students’ minds, his ultimate legacy remains to be written. “To me, he was the essence of Karate. It left a large void in my life with his passing”, recounts Takashina senior student Dr. Seif Elbualy, 5th Dan, JKA. “While the instructors that we have access to today from JKA Honbu dojo are phenomenal, there was only one Shigeru Takashina, and his loss can be felt“.

Teaching Shotokan Karate to the World

Later in life, Takashina devoted himself to spreading his philosophy of JKA Karate to the world. According to Takashina:

“The future of karate belongs to the beginner; an expert’s mind is full of limitations. But a beginner’s mind is open to all possibilities. In all things have a beginner’s mind. To build a future for Karate you need new young enthusiastic people to carry on where we will leave off.

In his honor and in commemoration of his passing, Coral Springs JKA host an annual Takashina Memorial Camp. The 2nd Annual Takashina Memorial Camp will be held on September 26-29, 2019 in Coral Springs and the neighboring beach-side community of Delray Beach, Florida with guest instructor, 5-time All Japan Kumite Champion, Keisuke Nemoto, 6th Dan, JKA Honbu Instructor.

Budo Spirit and Legacy of Shigeru Takashina

Sensei Takashina was the embodiment of modern Bushido throughout his entire life, both on the dojo floor, in the competition ring, and even towards the end of his life”, said Carol See Tai, his successor and Chief Instructor of Coral Springs JKA. “We honor him by bringing in one of today’s most revered Japanese kumite champions, whose family has also come to Takashina’s dojo after his death to pay their respects when visiting South Florida”.

She continues, “Besides his toughness as a great instructor, Master Shigeru Takashina had this other intuitive side where could tell what was going on in your head. He just knew what you were thinking or how you were feeling with that he spoke so much in so few words, words of wisdom with a lot of support and inspiration. Thus, he was like a father figure to me and many of his students. He was beloved.

Today, the Coral Springs JKA dojo remains somewhat of a shrine to Takashina, as a living legacy of his efforts to develop JKA Shotokan Karate in the US. Aside from the many students who continue to train at his former dojo, other karateka who visit South Florida throughout the United States and the world make it a point to also train at the dojo during their short visit, in a gesture of honor and respect to one of the last great Japanese Karate Masters.

Thanks to University of Miami and the Coral Springs JKA for providing much of the background information on Sensei Takashina.