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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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Hiromi Hishiki – Women of Shotokan

Hiromi Hishiki is an extraordinary Karateka in many respects. She started her training under Masatoshi Nakayama and Tetsuhik Asai. The unprecedented spirit of this time coined her whole later life. Hiromi Hishiki belongs to the pioneer women, who dared to brake through cultural norms and customs.

While Japanese society excepted from her to get married with age 24 and not make a career she chose a different path. She became a successful business women and radio operator. With that attitude she is among the women who paved the way for future female karatekas.

Today, she runs her own dojo in Yokohama. Fighting spirit, equality, values, constant learning, and the will to create a better future for others have guide her actions since then. Let yourself become inspired by Hiromi Hishiki´s portrait and interview in our Women of Shotokan series.

Portrait: Hiromi Hishiki

  • Age: 60s
  • Karate since: 1967
  • Origin and residence: Hokkaido, Japan
  • Rank: 6th Dan
  • Dojo: “Hirokukai”( Hero Karate club), under the direct control of headquarters of Japan Karate Association (JKA) and “Karate lessons for women”, “karate Girls Dojo”, “Karate Kids in English” classes at Yomiuri Culture Center Yokohama, Japan

Additional information:

  • JKA Instructor B
  • 1978: 1st place Kata Women the 16th All Hokkaido Karatedo Championship
  • 2005: 1st place Kata Women (over 55yrs.) the 5th All Japan Jukurensha Karatedo Championship
  • 2006: 1st place Kata Women (over 55yrs.) the 6th All Japan Jukurensha Karatedo Championship
  • 2007: 1st place Kata & Kumite Women (over 55 yrs.) the 7th All Japan Jukurensha Karatedo Championship
  • Master’s thesis: “Dojo establishment by female Karate instructors in their local area and the development of their activities”
  • Member of Karatedo Specialist Subcommittee of Japanese Academy of Budo
  • Oral presentations at:
  • “A study of the founding of dojos by female karate instructors and their teaching activities” at the 1st (2013) International Budo Conference
  • “Karate, English and Children’s General Education: A Collaborative Venture” at the 2nd (2017) one of Japanese Academy of Budo.

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Hiromi Hishiki: When I was a high school student, I saw an article titled “Karate girls in New York” along with four pictures. It showed a Shotokan Karatedo Dojo in New York. It took me all by surprise that American girls learned Japanese Karatedo. I had never known or had been interested in Karate before. Fortunately, a JKA branch was found in my town and I started to train.

Hiromi Hishiki during a foto session for a motorcycle company.
Hiromi Hishiki during a foto session for a motorcycle company.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Hiromi Hishiki: I like the dynamic, exuberant, and gorgeous techniques of Shotokan Karate. But I also like the passionate, dedicated and perspective JKA headquarters instructors, Sempai (senior colleague), friends, and my students, who are all my fortunate and favorite factors.

Especially, Master Asai Tetsuhiko had taught Women classes of JKA headquarters, Ebisu, Tokyo on Tuesdays and Fridays in the 1970- 80’s. He gave us valuable opportunities, such as special women training camps in Tokyo, Chiba, Philippines, Taiwan, Hawaii and karate demonstrations.

In 1974, he organized the 1st All Japan Female Joint Training Camp for the period of 6 days from August 3rd until 8th at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, Tokyo. It consisted of 34 participants and scheduled for 15 hours from 6 am. until 9 pm. In those days, female Karate practitioners were still rare. Therefore, Master Asai aimed to teach correct skills to women. He sought to develop female abilities, female instructors, athletes for Kata competitions.

Despite his noble thought, I could no think of anything except putting up with severe training. Now, approx. 45 years passed, more than one third of participants have become active karate instructors. To mention only two: Kikuchi Takako-Sensei, Ooki Rumiko-Sensei. Without Master Asai’s perspective and passionate guidance, I would not have become a Karate instructor despite of my 20-year-break.

Hiromi Hishiki
Hiromi Hishikis QSL Card for Amateur Radio Operators

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

Hiromi Hishiki: It is very regrettable to say that there no female specialist instructors locker room exist in the headquarters Dojo. They have to use the same locker room like general female members including white belts. On the contrary, male instructors have their own locker rooms independently since the early days. The Karate specialist instructor intern training program was made in 1956. This opened the door for female Karateka. Since then there is no female instructors locker room.

Until today, 13 females graduated from the 2 years course since 1960’s. At present, three of them teach as headquarters instructors. Two of them are world Kumite champions. Even the top ranked female instructors are treated unfairly even for a locker room. Being a JKA conference member, I had proposed reform measures for women including this matter. I am still looking forward to find a new female instructor’s room in our 4th stories wide dojo. Will it take forever?

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

Hiromi Hishiki: My greatest experience was that grand master Nakayama Masatoshi had the chance to explain Karatedo to His Majesty King Juan Carlos I and Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain during there visit in Japan in 1980. I had an honorable opportunity to perform Kata “Unsu“ in the garden of the State Guest House Akasaka Palace at that event. In addition, eight other JKA supreme headquarters instructors demonstrated passionately the ultimate synthesis of various Kumite and fighting techniques boasted by Great Master Nakayama. Among them were Master Abe Keigo, Master Tanaka Masahiko, Master Osaka Yoshiharu.

  • Hiromi Hishiki
  • Hiromi Hishiki

My worst experience is that I sometimes suffered injuries, after restarting Karate training since my 50s. My consciousness kept vividly the speed and strength of all movements when I had learned in my 20s. Yet, the rusty body caused my knee to lock. Thanks to my physiotherapy my knee was recovered enough so that I could join our generation’s championship and obtain my 6th Dan. But the ruptures of the gastrocnemius of my leg and biceps brachii of my dominant arm were made in succession last year. It’s such a pity! I am awaiting Doctor’s permission to continue my Karate training.

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from? How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Hiromi Hishiki: When the training became challenging in my youth, I devoted myself to tough training. I did each Kata and technique 100 times in order to clear my mind without any precise motivation. Karate taught me the limit of my physically and mentally endurance.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has Shotokan Karate helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life?

Hiromi Hishiki: Karate delivered me great happiness twice in my life. First time it happened in the 1970s. There was an unreasonable Japanese custom that women should got marriage before 24 years. Society expected from or forced female workers to resign office at that age, which irritated me very much. As I wanted to be stronger, I dedicated myself to Karate training after working in the office every day. Ironically Karate Dojo’s were a typical place of patriarchal society. Nevertheless, I was enchanted by the principles of Shotokan Karatedo, the aura of the karate by the headquarter instructors and my peers.

Second, in 2000, I abruptly went to hospital due to overwork after established my company a half year earlier. Soon after, my respective Sempai suddenly called me to return to the Women’s classes of JKA headquarters for the first time since 1981. I had quit Karate back then in order to balance a full time job and caring a baby, while my husband stayed overseas on business. So, without her offer, I would be neither an instructor nor would I have earned a master’s degree on Karatedo.

Has Shotokan Karate has confronted you with difficult situations in your life?

Hiromi Hishiki: I faced great difficulty in my life after I established my own Dojo for several years. As I have my business career in trading transactions over many decades and a 1st class radio operator, I was confident in dealing with any task. However, I realized that the Karate world differs from the one of business and Radio.

  • Hiromi Hishiki

When I started my Dojo

Hiromi Hishiki: Soon after the registration of my own Dojo to headquarters, I appreciated a high ranked instructor who kindly promised me to support kyu grading tests twice a year in my Dojo. After that, however, all fees and kyu registrations got transmitted to the headquarter and his account without delay. Shortly after, he asked me to use his Dojo’s black belts as instructors in my Dojo regularly. It was impossible that other people were not allowed to teach Karate. Because I had exchanged the contract with the commercial based culture center as an instructor in advance.

Another day, he got offended because I named my own Dojo by myself and not the same as his Dojo. I wondered if an inexperienced female instructor is supposed to meet the high ranked instructor’s desire once she asked his assistance. His way might be the chivalrous spirit. He declared that he stopped his support to my Dojo as he had never seen such a rude woman like me. In fact, there are many female Karate instructors who are willing to work under male instructor as his docile assistant permanently.

Disproportionate Number of Female Instructors

I think, it is natural that I should manage my Dojo independently as well as other male instructors do. In the case beyond my ability, I wish to ask other’s help in part. That does not mean to integrate my Dojo into other ones. My research in 2012 has shown, that there has been a significantly disproportionate number of female instructors compared to males. Of the 925 group and branch representatives only 21 are female.

In the world of amateur radio, many female radio operators organized the international YL (Young Lady) meetings voluntarily and spontaneously in various countries since 1991. I also organized the 2nd International meeting with two ladies in Osaka. Some female hams from Europe and the Americas were so powerful to built up a radio shack and antennas by themselves for DX-peditions even in the Arctic, Antarctic or isolated island in Oceans. They show us what women can do!

The picture shows Hiromi Hishiki in 2018, when she received the JKA diligent award “Seirei-sho”. The award was established in 1957. Since then only 5th female recipient received it.
In 2018, Hiromi Hishiki received the JKA diligent award “Seirei-sho”. The award was established in 1957. Since then only 5th female recipient received it.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Hiromi Hishiki: In the 1970s, the JKA headquarter and Dojo surrounded a solemn atmosphere. In addition, there were lots of instructors, trainees and students who all were full of spirit and acted with strict manners. Every training, we had to be prepared to concentrate our minds completely. All headquarter instructors had their individual training ways, which were splendid and marvelous. Not only the women’s classes, but also we were looking forward joining various instructors’ trainings every day.

After training, we, girls, gathered in a coffee shop and reported how we overcame or survived during tense training respectively. Nowadays, many instructors are very tender and friendly in training and in Dojo. That might be in accordance with the changes of our society in Japan, as “enthusiastic teaching is getting outdated”. In 2013, the training by Master Masataka Mori in the New York Dojo impressed me a lot. That clearly reminded me of the training I had experienced in my youth.

Now, two favorable points had been changed. One is that women can take part in Kumite, something I had not experienced in the 1970s. Another is that children and elder people can enjoy Karate training and games, too.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

Hiromi Hishiki: My short term is to improve Kyu-holder students to Black belts, and to lead present black belts to 2nd or 3rd Dan. So far, about 30 girls and women earned their black belt. For children, I help them to become selected representative members of All Japan elementary and Junior high school Championships.

Being inclusive and make children thrive

Hiromi Hishiki: On the other hand, my kids students recite Dojokun of Supreme Master Funakoshi Gichin both in Japanese and English. Five rules in Japanese are still difficult among kids. I would like to study more how to instruct children to acquire the principles of Karatedo: proper manners, attitudes, respect to others along with techniques, as well as the strictness of Japanese Budo.

Dojokun in Japanese and English by Hiromi Hishiki´s Students

My main purpose to teach Karate is to expand Shotokan Karate’s fan base and introduce the nurturing of a sublime spirit and humility with proper Karate skills to many female and children. Fortunately, my Dojo accepts anybody from beginner to experienced and also those who come from another Karate school. You can take one-day trial Karate lesson in my “Karate lessons for Women” and “Karate girls Dojo” on Saturdays and “Karate Kids in English” classes on Wednesday at Yomiuru Culture Center Yokohama.

Teaching in person and through the internet

Luckily I am happy to have had the opportunity to teach Karate to many women and children from the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Colombia, Denmark, Sri Lanka, etc. I welcome you to our Karate classes during your trip in Japan!

For the girls and children from remote places, I would like to offer Karate lessons on Internet soon – this is my dream.

For my long-term goal, as a 6th Dan I am eligible to take the test of A rank instructor. I would like to challenge myself to obtain this, continue my study of Shotokan karate and promotion of Shotokan to others.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Hiromi Hishiki: Nowadays, there are lots of young and talented girls who accomplish numerous championships. However, almost all of them face to many difficulties to continue their Karate training because of school, college, work, marriage, family-care, etc. As a result, they quit Karate, which is great loss for the karate world.

Hiromi Hishiki teaching in her Dojo
Hiromi Hishiki teaching in her Dojo

Now, I feel the need for a support system with facilities to help female practitioners who proceed their goals to become champions, instructors, high ranked Dan holders and so on. First, women find out their problems precisely, and they gather, seek for the settlement and take actions. Then, it is sure that Shotokan Karate will be very promising!

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Hiromi Hishiki: Of course. It is my great pleasure to recommend Shotokan Karate to my female friends. I would like to see other women become more courageous, focused and developed in many aspects of their lives. I believe that Shotokan Karate can help accomplish this, as well as their goals, in and out of the dojo by making them stronger and confident and, then can contribute to society.

At the end, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Christian Tribowski who gave me a chance to be here, although I had not gorgeous Karate career like other female Karatekas.