Famous Masters 5th - 19th Centuries
Taishi Bodhidharma (470 - 543 AD)
A fifth-century Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Zen to China, by travelling several thousand miles from western India via the Himalayas. He travelled to the Shaolin (Shorin-ji) Temple in Hunan Province and taught a method (the Ekkin Kyo or Sutra) "by which you can develop your physical strength enough to enable yourselves to attain the essence of the way of Buddha".
Although the tradition that traces its ancestry back to him did not flourish until nearly two hundred years after his death, today millions of Zen Buddhists and students of kung fu claim him as their spiritual father. While others viewed Zen practice as a purification of the mind or a stage on the way to perfect enlightenment, Bodhidharma equated Zen with buddhahood and believed that it had a place in everyday life. Instead of telling his disciples to purify their minds, he pointed them to rock walls, to the movements of tigers and cranes, to a hollow reed floating across the Yangtze. Founder of Shaolin Ch’uan Fa (Kung Fu) and Zen Buddhism.
Wong Chung-Yoh (born 1630?)
Very little is known about Wong Chung-Yoh. He taught a style of martial arts known as XingYi (Hsing-I) and Chi Kung in China in the late 1600s. His school was located in Fuzhou, in the Fukien province of China. His most notable student was Yara of Chatan (a town in Okinawa).
Yara of Chatan (also Chatan Yara, (1668 - 1756))
Chatan Yara is a legendary figure in the Okinawan Martial Arts legacy. At age 12, his uncle took him from Okinawa to Fukien in China in order to learn Chinese Kempo and weaponry from Wong Chung-Yoh. He returned to Okinawa 20 years later, killing a samurai in self-defence. He created the sai and tonfa kata which carry his name.
Chang Kushanku (Kusanku or Kong Su Kung)) (1700s)
Kūsankū was a Chinese martial artist who had a significant influence on all karate-derived martial arts. He learned the art of Ch’uan Fa in China and between 1756 and 1762, he was sent to Okinawa as a Chinese ambassador as part of Okinawa’s tributary relationship with China. He lived in the village of Kumemura (near Naha), which had been home to many Chinese people since the late 1300s.
He is credited with the creation of the "chambered position" of the fist by the side of the body (and hiki-te). From this position, Kusanku taught his students to corkscrew the fist on impact creating more power and a more devastating blow to one's opponent.
He taught Takahara Peichin, who regarded him as one of the most skilful of all the martial artists who had come from China, and Sukagawa.
The Kusanku kata (from which other Kanku kata are derived) was named after him by Sukagawa (see below).
Takahara Peichin (1683 - 1760)
Takahara was born in Akata-Cho in Southern Shuri. He was an Okinawan noble who worked as a surveyor and map maker at Shuri Castle. He was an expert in To-de, the Okinawan version of Ch’uan fa.
The Shuri government made a policy of employing very skilful martial artists to fill routine staff positions in the vicinity of the king, but who acted bodyguards. Takahara may have been one of these bodyguards.
He emphasized ethical principles of the Way, "do" such as "Ijo" (compassion, humility and love), "Fo" (seriousness, devotion and dedication) and "Katsu" (deep understanding and essence of techniques). Takahara attributed a major importance to Kata and its significance. He saw Kata as an efficient instrument to understand and improve fighting techniques.
Takahara regarded martial arts as way of life and some consider him to be the "Father of Okinawan Karate".
His most famous student was "To-de" Sakugawa. It was Takahara who encouraged Sakugawa to train with Kushaku during the latter’s 6 year posting to Kunemura in Okinawa.
Kanga Sakugawa (1733 - 1815)
Sakugawa was a major contributor to the development of To-de and Okinawan Te, into a unified style. In 1750 (aged 12) Sakugawa began training under Takahara and Kusanku.
At Takahara’s request just before he died, Sukugawa took the name "To-de" or "Kara-te" ("Chinese Hand") Sakugawa. and some consider him to be the "First Teacher of Okinawan Karate". He was a junior diplomat, spending time in China, and a bodyguard at Shuri Castle.
He became famous as a teacher and is claimed by many modern systems of Karate-do as a progenitor.
From Sakugawa, we inherit the kata Kanku Dai and Sakugawa no Kon, the dojo style of teaching and the philosophy of the Dojo Kun.
Sakugawa's most significant student was "Bushi" Matsumura, who began training in 1811 at the age of 14 years, when Matsumura was 78. Sakugawa died four years later at the age of 82, more than twice the average lifespan in Okinawa at the time.
"Bushi" Matsumura Sokon (c.1798 - c.1890)
"Bushi" means warrior, which was bestowed upon him by the King Sho Ko of Okinawa, after winning a bullfight, by frightening the bull.
Early in his career, he enrolled on a Samurai program in Japan and emerged with a certificate of absolute mastery in the samurai fighting arts (menkyo kaiden) strongly suggesting he was trained in battlefield wresting as well as the weapon arts of the sword, spear, bayonet, dagger and gunnery.
His wife Yonamine was also extremely proficient in martial art.
When only in his 20s, he became chief of security to the royal family and became commander of the Shuri Castle for 50 years, serving three Okinawan kings throughout that time.
During his travels in China and Japan (c. 1860s), Matsumura studied Shaolin Kung fu and brought back several kata including early forms of tekki, hangetsu and gojushiho. He is credited with creating kata gankaku, using techniques he learnt from a shipwrecked Chinese martial artist in Tomari. Furthermore, his mastery or the bo, sai and ekubo enabled him to create kata for all three weapons.
His methodology was very linear and thus different from the circular moves associated with Chinese methods: this devastating style became known as Shuri-te.
All branches of modern linear karate descend from Matsumura via his protégé, Yasutsune ("Anko") Itosu.
He also became the teacher to Yasatsune ("Anko") Azato and on occasion to Funakoshi Gichin. He died aged 97, almost three times the lifespan in Okinawa at that time.
Masters Itosu, Azato, & Arakaki
Yasutsune Azato (c. 1827 - 1906)
Born c.1827, "Anko" Azato was one of Matsumura's pupils. Azato was the royal advisor and military officer to the King Sho. Azato was also Gichin Funakoshi's first teacher, known for his strict teaching style, especially kata repetition. Although a trained swordsman, his unarmed combat ability was unrivalled, even against an armed opponent. Azato is considered as one of the great masters of tai sabaki (body shifting).
It was Azato who said, "Think of the hands and feet as swords. They can kill with a touch."
Yasutsune Itosu (1830/2 - 1916)
Born c.1830 "Anko" Itosu was the apprentice bodyguard, studying under Matsumura from 16 to 24 years of age. Eventually, Itosu became the king's personal secretary and worked alongside Matsumura for 30 years. Yet another example of a legendary karate master whose duties placed him in the presence of royalty at Shuri Castle.
Itosu's punch was legendary. Stories describe him winning matches with a single blow. He was known for his quick and decisive fighting techniques: even aged 75, he defeated a judoka who was half his age. This destruction of an opponent very quickly was a new development in Shuri-te.
When the Sho Dynasty ended in 1879, Itosu remained in Shuri and began teaching karate in secret to a very select group of students at his house in the middle of the night. The group included Gichin Funakoshi.
However, Itosu's greatest achievement occurred in 1902, when he decided to end karate's secrecy. He began teaching karate at public schools in Shuri. By 1905, he was teaching at colleges. The Heian kata were first taught to junior high school students at this time.
Since it was Itosu who introduced karate into the Okinawan school system, he is responsible for much of the karate that we practice today. He modified Matsumura's Heian Nidan and Naihanchi (tekki) kata, creating the five Heian kata and the three Tekki kata. Itosu is also assumed to have revised Kanku, Bassai, and Gojushiho, creating two versions for each kata. He is also believed to be the creator of Chinte as well as the Rohai kata, from which Meikyo was taken. Even Empi can be traced to Itosu.
Many of Itosu's students went on to become founders of the various karate styles of today, for example Shito-ryu, Shorin-Ryu (Kobayashi) and of course, Shotokan.
He is credited with saying "karate is not a sport, but rather a killing art. It should only be used for self-defence and as a last resort." He died aged 85.
Seisho Aragaki (known as "the Cat", 1840 - 1918)
He was a very prominent To-de teacher and kobudo master. Another employee at Shuri Castle, he was a Chinese interpreter and envoy to China. Much of his learning took place in China as his duties brought him there often. Many of the kata practiced today descend from him such as Niseishi (Nijushiho), Sochin, and Unsu.
His most famous students include Chotoku Kyan and Kanryo Higaonna, the founder of Goju Ryu karate.
Masters Funakoshi, Nakayama, and Kanazawa
What follows is a very brief summary of these karate masters, which does them too little justice. You are encouraged to discover for yourselves the enormous contribution they made to Shotokan karate-do.
Funakoshi, Gichin (1868-1957)
Funakoshi’s teachers were Azato and Itosu. Funakoshi was instrumental in developing karate and having it widely accepted in Japan by the intelligentsia (educated classes, universities and businesses). In this he was helped greatly by Kano, the founder of Judo.
His teaching initially consisted only of extensive makiwara use, kata and bunkai. However, kumite (gohon, ippon, etc) and practicing techniques by themselves (kihon) developed under his watch.
He created the Niju Kun, the twenty precepts, and his emphasis was on the importance of karate as a means of character development and physical education for youth.
Funakoshi, ("Giko") Yositaka (1920-1945)
One of Funakoshi’s three sons, he played a part in the development of karate, including introduction of high kicks and the kata Wankan, Taikyo-kyu and Ten-no-kata. He died at the age of 25.
Nakayama, Masatoshi (1913-1987)
A direct student of Funakoshi Gichin, who officially designated him as his successor.
The driving force in developing the JKA, setting up the organisation in 1955, making rules for competition with scoring methodologies, especially as the inter-university matches were becoming brutal.
However, with regard to tournaments he has said, "some people, for example, have gotten the mistaken notion that competition is everything …This is absolutely wrong…." and that his "JKA training will always be centred around Funakoshi’s principles of kihon, kata, and kumite. Strong basics first; tournament later."
He also created the Instructors’ Course (1956) to ensure that instructors knew how to teach, as well as perform. In order to make karate more scientific and answer the "why" questions being posed mainly by the Americans they were teaching, he included study on anatomy, physiology, kinetics, and hygienics (health promotion).
He also developed the pushing kick and reverse mawashi geri. He was the first Shotokan practitioner to awarded 9th Dan and it is he who, more than any other person, is most directly responsible for the worldwide dissemination of Shotokan karate.
Kanazawa, Hirokazu (1931-2019)
Sensei Kanazawa’s karate career started at Takushoku University (he had studied other martial arts and boxing in his youth). He was a vice captain of the karate dojo there for 4 years, being taught by Funakoshi Gichin and later Nakayama Masatoshi, Nishiyma and Okazaki, among others.
In 1953, he was graded to shodan (after a year of training) by Funakoshi Gichin, Obata, Kamata, Naguchi and Nakayama; a year later he was awarded nidan. In 1956 he and Mikami were two of the only three students on the first Instuctors’ Course devised by Nakayama.
In 1957 he won the first All Japan Kumite competition (with a broken hand) against Tsuyama. In the following year won the kata and jointly won the kumite (against classmate Mikami).
In 1961 he became chief instructor to Hawaii for two years, before returning to Japan.
After his residence in Britain he moved to West Germany and then back to Japan.
In the mid-1970s, Terry O’Neill (very high-ranking British instructor with the KUGB, JKA) said that Sensei Kanazawa was often cited "as the man who has come close to achieving perfect technique". In fact Sensei Kanazawa had always had immense dexterity in his toes and feet: "in Takushoku, I could easily take a person’s cap off with a mawashi geri, keeping the peak between my toes, and then replace the cap with an ushiro mawashi geri – hat off, hat on, just like that". Furthermore, he could reputedly brick break (or board break) selectively from a stack, for example by stacking three bricks and breaking just the top one, or whichever was selected. He was skilled in the use of bo and nunchaku, giving breathtaking performances.
In the 1970s, he left the JKA to form his own organisation Shotokan Karate International, but he didn’t poach from other organisations. His approach was to say "the door is open, but I am not inviting you - come if you want to". His charisma, personality and incredible ability meant that by 2000, he had in excess of one hundred thousand blackbelts and millions of students in more than a hundred countries.
Sensei Kanazawa was one of the most famous, if not the most famous karate-ka in his lifetime, reaching the grade of judan (10th Dan). His legacy is carried on by his three sons.
"The more I know, the more I climb, yet the mountain just gets higher. The more I try, the more I focus, the depth is limitless. There is no end in sight. That is karate, that is my life."
YouTube - Funakoshi, Nakayama, and Kanazawa
Gichin Funakoshi & Yoshitaka Funakoshi
- Funakoshi (A life in pictures - 10 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSvFMq46ags
- Yoshitaka Funakoshi (performing Heian Godan, less than a minute): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrZ0d_59vo8
1955: Funakoshi, Nakayama, Nishiyama, & Kanazawa
- Karate and the Art of Empty had fighting (1 minute 36 secs): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5W8rqz9itEI
- Tribute to Kanazawa (10 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nd5olu8LkUk
- Interview & Demonstration with Terry O’Neill (7 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxcXUmrwUaE
- Kata & Nunchaku Demonstration 1983 (3 minutes 28 seconds): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaVfV2ShPik
- Kumite Demonstrations (3 minutes 27 seconds; 31 seconds):
- Kumite: Kanazawa vs Asai (Nakayama Best Karate Series Books) (1 minute 10 seconds): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9nqWgtZZ0g
Shotokan Karate History Post 1960 - Selected History
|1961||Okazaki arrives in Philadelphia. Nishiyama founds AAKF in Los Angeles.|
|1964||Michael Randall begins Karate training under Vernon Bell (British Karate Federation).|
Mochizuki & Murakami give lessons to the BKF. (Murakami arrived in Paris in 1957 at the request of Henri Plee).
First colour film of Karate in the UK plays in British cinemas (Michael Randall in class).
Senseis Kase, Kanazawa, Enoeda, and Shirai make public demonstrations in the UK.
|1965-68||Sensei Kanazawa resides in the UK.|
|1966||Nakayama publishes Karate-do Shinkyotei, published in abridged form in English as Dynamic Karate.|
Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) formed.
|1972||Senseis Kanazawa, Asano, Kato, Tanaka, Osaka, and Yahara visit the Winchmore Hill dojo on their way back to Japan after the ‘72 World Karate Championship in Paris.|
|1978||Sensei Kanazawa leaves the JKA and sets up SKIF (The SKI was the International arm of the JKA).|
|1980s||Michael Randall sets up England Shotokan Karate Association (ESKA), later Shotokan Karate Association (SKA).|
|1987||Sensei Nakayama dies.|
JKA splits in to two factions, each claiming to be the “official” JKA.
|1990s||JKA dispute settled, with the JKA (Asai faction) having to relinquish the JKA name.|
Michael Randall sets up Shotokan Traditional Karate Organisation (SHOTO).
Abe leaves JKS to form JSKA.
|2000s||Many karate masters pass away: Enoeda (2003), Shoji (2003), Kase (2004), Asai (2006), Nishiyama (2008).|
|2003||Michael Randall awarded MBE by the Queen. KUGB splits from JKA after the death of Enoeda Sensei.|
|2019||Many karate masters pass away: Senseis Kanazawa (10th Dan), Abe (9th Dan), and Stan Schmidt (8th Dan JKA, South Africa).|
|2020||Okazaki Sensei passes away.|
Sensei Michael Randall MBE passes away and is posthumously awarded 10th Dan.
JKA Karate Masters
JKA Karate Masters
This section continues from the historical section by briefly illustrating the careers of the top exponents of JKA Karate both in JKA competition (individual kumite & kata) and their legacies.
The first JKA All Japan Championship competition was held in 1957 and in 1975 they began hosting JKA international competitions (IAKF, Shoto Cup and Gichin Funakoshi Cup, every two years or so).
The World Karate Federation (WKF) began the all-styles World Championships from 1970, which are held biennially. There are also many other competitions.
Senseis Nishiyama, Kase, and Okazaki
Although they were not of the competition generation (apart from officiating), they made a huge contribution to teaching those who were and spreading karate globally.
Senseis Nishiyama (1928-2008) and Okazaki Teruyuki (b. 1931) pioneered karate in the US in Los Angeles and Philadelphia respectively. Both have written master texts (see Further Reading).
Sensei Kase (1929-2004) studied karate under Funakoshi Gichin and his son Giko; then under Hironoshi after Giko died. He was a kamikaze pilot in the closing stages of WW2 and “because he could have died … and is alive, he never has a reason to be sad”. He taught Senseis Enoeda and Shirai and was based in France from 1967. He left the JKA in 1989 to form WSKA and teach his unique karate style (Shotokan Ryu Kase Ha). He also wrote a number of books on karate.
All Japan Grand Champions
Defined as winning the individual Kumite and Kata JKA All Japan competitions in the same year, this feat has been achieved only six times between 1957 and 1987: Senseis Hirokazu Kanazawa (1958), Mikami Takayuki (1959), Shirai (1962), Ochi Hideo (Hideki) (1966), Ueki (1968) and Kagawa Masao (1985).
In 1958, Sensei Mikami (b. 1933) tied with Sensei Kanazawa in 1st place for kumite, after four extensions of time. He won 2nd place kata (1961) and placed many times. He is based in New Orleans.
Sensei Shirai (b. 1937) is a 10th Dan based in Italy and heads his own organisation.
Sensei Ochi (b. 1940) also won the kumite in 1967 and the kata in 1969 and 1976, as well as being placed in kata and kumite. He is based in Germany.
In addition to being an All Japan Grand Champion, Sensei Ueki (b. 1939) also won 1st place in kata 5 times. He is 10th Dan and now head of the JKA.
Sensei Kagawa (b. 1959) also won the kumite in 1989. He is a 10th Dan and heads the JKS.
Sensei Kawawada (b. 1952) was Grand Champion of the 1st Shoto Cup in 1985 and won 1st place in kata in the All Japan competitions of 1986 and 1987. He is with the JKA in Japan.
All Japan Kata Champions
The winner of the first All Japan Karate kata championship was Sensei Shoji (1937-2003), who also won the kata competition again in 1960. The only person to have achieved a perfect “10” score in the history of the championships, he has authored a much sought-after series of karate kata books.
Sensei Osaka (b. 1947) was by far the most successful Kata Champion in this period winning the All Japan Kata Championship 6 times and the first four IAKF championships. He also won the All Japan kumite competition in 1976. Nakayama had said that few have come close to such perfect technique as Osaka. He is based in Japan with the JKA.
Sensei Yahara (b. 1947) won the 1984 All Japan Kata Championship and was placed a further 5 times in this period, behind Osaka. He was also placed four times in kumite. According to Sensei Randall, “he was awesome in kumite, really extraordinarily inventive and daring”. In the 1976 JKA Championship quarter final (and witnessed by Sensei Randall in Japan) Yahara was fighting with Mori (kumite winner in 1978 and 1980), who was considerably taller. Whilst grappling close in with Mori, Yahara jumped up and there was a crack of heads – Mori was knocked out and after much discussion among the judges, Yahara went through, eventually landing 3rd place. He now heads his own association, KWF.
All Japan Individual Kumite Champions
A number of names recur over the 1957-1987 period:
Sensei Mori (1932-2018) won this competition twice. He spent 50 years teaching in New York, as part of Nishiyama’s AAKF (associated with the JKA).
Sensei Asai (1935-2006) won the kata (1963) and kumite (1961). A unique Shotokan style.
Sensei Oishi (b. 1941) won four times and was placed many times. He is a 9th Dan with the JKA.
Sensei Tanaka (b.1941, originally based in Denmark) won the All Japan Championships twice, the IAKF twice and the World Championships in 1973. He was a formidable opponent and authored “Perfecting Kumite”.
Sensei Enoeda (1935-2003) trained under Senseis Nakayama and Kase. He won the 1963 All Japan Karate kumite competition. He headed the KUGB and JKA Europe and was posthumously awarded 9th Dan. His most famous students include Andy Sherry (9th Dan), Terry O’Neill (8th Dan) and Frank Brennan (8th Dan, with numerous outstanding successes in both kata and kumite in the 1980s). Sensei Enoeda has authored a number of books on kumite and kata.
Another highly regarded karate-ka renowned for his outstanding technical ability is Kawasoe (b. 1945), who heads the JKA’s Africa/Asia/Europe division.
Karate Masters’ Early Visits To London
In 1972, Senseis Kanazawa (with his juniors Asano and Kato), plus Senseis Osaka, Yahara and Tanaka visited the Winchmore Hill dojo. This was just after the 1972 World Championships in Paris (see Youtube footage for these masters in action).
Sensei Randall relates both these experiences in the book “The Kanazawa Years”.
Current International Masters
Many of the great pioneers have since passed, but there remain some who travel globally to spread their views on Shotokan: most notably Senseis Kawasoe, Kagawa, and Yahara.
JKA Male Kumite & Kata Competition Winners (1957-1987)
All Japan Championships
|Year||All Championship Number||Kumite||Kata|
|1957||1st||Kanazawa, Hirokazu||Shoji, Hiroshi|
|1958||2nd||Kanazawa, Hirokazu / Mikami, Takayuki||Kanazawa, Hirokazu|
|1959||3rd||Mikami, Takayuki||Mikami, Takayuki|
|1960||4th||Sato, Masaki||Shoji, Hiroshi|
|1961||5th||Asai, Tetesuhiko||Mikami, Tatayuki|
|1962||6th||Shirai, Hiroshi||Shirai, Hiroshi|
|1963||7th||Enoeda, Keinosuke||Asai, Tetesuhiko|
|1965||8th||Kisaka, Katasuya||Ueki, Masaaki|
|1966||9th||Ochi, Hideo||Ochi, Hideo|
|1967||10th||Ochi, Hideo||Ueki, Masaaki|
|1968||11th||Ueki, Masaaki||Ueki Massaki|
|1969||12th||Oishi, Takeshi||Ochi, Hideo|
|1970||13th||Oishi, Takeshi||Takahashi, Yoshimasa|
|1971||14th||Oishi, Takeshi||Ueki, Masaaki|
|1972||15th||Kagawa, Masayoshi||Takahashi, Yoshimasa|
|1973||16th||Oishi, Takeshi||Takahashi, Yoshimasa|
|1974||17th||Tanaka, Masahiko||Ueki, Masaaki|
|1975||18th||Tanaka, Masahiko||Ueki, Masaaki|
|1976||19th||Osaka, Yoshiharu||Ochi, Hideo|
|1978||21st||Mori, Toshihiro||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1979||22nd||Omura, Fujikiyo||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1980||23rd||Mori, Toshihiro||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1981||24th||Tsuchii, Takayuki||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1982||25th||Sakata, Masashi||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1983||26th||Yamamoto, Hideo||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1984||27th||Yamamoto, Hideo||Yahara, Mikio|
|1985||28th||Kagawa, Masao||Kagawa, Masao|
|1986||29th||Ogura, Yasunori||Kawawada, Minoru|
|1987||30th||Yokomichi, Masaaki||Kawawada, Minoru|
|1975||1st IAKF||Tanaka, Masahiko||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1977||2nd IAKF||Tanaka, Masahiko||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1980||3rd IAKF||Mori, Toshihiro||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1983||4th IAKF||Yamamoto, Hideo||Osaka, Yoshiharu|
|1985||1st Shoto Cup||Kawawada, Minoru||Kawawada, Minoru|
|1987||2nd Shoto Cup||Imamura, Tomio||Imura, Takenori|
- JKA's international competitions were as follows:
- From 1975-1983: IAKF (International Amateur Karate Federation) Competitions.
- From 1983-2004: Shoto Cup run every 2 years, which changed its name to Funakoshi Gichin Cup World Karate-Do Championships after 2004.
- Highlighted names: Grand Champion winning both the Kumite & Kata All Japan in the same year. Only achieved 7 times: 6 times as above & Kurihara Kazuaki in 2011. Kawawada managed this feat at the international championships in 1985.
Karate Pioneers France And England
Karate Pioneers - France
Minoru Mochizuki (1907-2003)
Mochizuki was one of the most respected and influential masters of his generation. He founded the influential Yoseikan school of Budo in the 1930s, with its dojo in Shizuoka, Japan.
The style contains elements of aikido, kenjutsu, karate, judo and jujitsu. He trained with the greats of Japanese Budo, Jigaro Kano (judo), Morihei Ueishiba (aikido) and Gichin Funakoshi, eventually achieving 8th Dan judo, 8th Dan iaido, 9th Dan jyu-jitsu, 10th Dan aikido and 5th Dans in kendo, karate and jodo).
Minoru Mochizuki arrived in France in 1951, Between 1951-1953 he traveled around France teaching judo and aikido. It was around this time that he encountered Jim Alcheik.
Jim Alcheik (1931-1962)
Alcheik was a true pioneer of martial arts in Europe, being one of the first Europeans to train in Japan. He was proficient in aikido, kendo, karate and judo. Vernon Bell, the father of British Karate, described him as the greatest martial artist to come out of Europe.
Alcheik’s journey into martial arts began in 1948 when he started learning judo from French pioneer Raymond Sasia, who awarded him his 1st Dan in judo in 1952. Sasia was a member of the French Resistance in WW2 and later became a bodyguard to President de Gaulle.
The turning point in Alcheik’s martial arts training came when he met Minoru Mochizuki (1951-53). In 1954 Mochizuki invited Alcheik (along with fellow Frenchman Claude Urvois) to the Yoseikan dojo in Japan, where they would spend the next two to three years training in various martial arts: judo under Kyuzo Mifune (considered to be one of the greatest ever judokas), aikido under Kisshomaru Ueshiba (the son of founder Morohei Ueshiba), and karate under Masaji Yamaguchi (a direct student of Shitô-ryû founder Kenwa Mabuni). They also studied kendo, jujutsu and iaido.
When Alcheik returned to France in around 1956/1957, he held a 4th Dan in aikido, a 3rd Dan in judo, and 2nd Dans in karate and kendo. Several of Mochizuki’s students including his son Hiroo, Murakami, Mitsuhiro Kondo and Shoji Sugiyama, accompanied Alcheik to France
In 1957 Alcheik opened his first dojo in Paris and founded the French Federation of Aikido and Kendo. The French karate movement began to gather pace through Alcheik’s association with Henri Plée (see below).
Terry Wingrove recalled visiting Alcheik’s dojo in 1960 saying it was one of the toughest places he had ever trained, including dojos in Japan. Karate was taught as a fighting art at the dojo, with many injuries occurring from full contact sparring matches.
In December of 1961 Alcheik helped organise the first World Judo Championships held in Europe. He worked with Dutchman Anton Geesink, who become the first European to win a world title in the open weight class event.
In 1961, Alcheik’s birthplace of Algeria was in a state of civil war. The turmoil led to the formation of paramilitary groups, such as the Organisation Armée Secréte (OAS), who waged a terrorist campaign in France and Algeria. It is thought that Alcheik was recruited by the French government as a counter-terrorist agent and sent to Algeria to fight them.
On 29 January 1962, Alcheik and his men were killed by a parcel bomb. Alcheik was only 31 years old and with his death, Europe lost one of its brightest martial art practitioners.
Henri Plée (1923-2014) the "Father of European Karate"
Henri Plée studied many martial arts with some of the world’s top masters. He held a 10th Dan in karate, a 5th Dan in judo, a 3rd Dan in aikido and a 1st Dan in kendo. He made it his mission to promote martial arts in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He did this through the various books and magazines he published (Judo International, Budo Magazine Europe and Judo Kodokan) and by inviting many renowned masters to conduct courses (Mochizuki, Murakami, Taiji Kase, Mitsusuke Harada, Tsutomo Ohshima, Hiroshi Shirai, Keinosuke Enoeda and Yoshinao Nabu).
Following the end of WW2 in 1945, Plée started practising judo with Mikonosuken Kawaishi in Paris and was graded to 1st Dan in 1949 (the 16th judoka to attain this rank in France). Plée was awarded 2nd Dan in judo by Kawaishi in1952.
In 1953 Plée met martial arts historian Donn Draeger (author of Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts). Draeger, who was living in Japan, sent him a 15 minute film showing Isao Obata and Masatoshi Nakayama performing karate. The following year Plée wrote the first book in karate to be published in Europe. The book, Vaincre Ou Mourir: Karate-do (Vanquish Or Die: Karate-Do) generated interest in the little-known art of karate.
In 1955 Plée founded his dojo in Paris. The Karate Club de France (KCF) which would eventually become Academie Francais des Arts Martiaux (AFAM), taught the four pillars of Japanese martial arts, karate, judo, aikido and kendo. In 1956 Plée was graded to 3rd Dan by the great judo master Ichiro Abe.
Hiroo Mochizuki (Minoru Mochizuki’s son) arrived in France in 1956 to conduct several karate courses, the first ever karate course in Europe being at Plée’s Paris dojo. Vernon Bell, among others, was invited to attend.
Plée had formed an association with Jim Alcheik and together they laid the foundation of what would become the French karate movement: by 1961 there were around 200 students.
Karate had taken hold in Europe by 1967. Plée became the Secretary-General of the European Karate Union and his book Karate-Beginner to Black Belt, was published.
In 1972 Plée was awarded his 8th Dan from Japanese master, Tsuneyoshi Ogura. In 1984 he was awarded his 9th Dan and in 1987 his 10th Dan, both by Ogura.
Plée was awarded the National Order of Merit by French President Jacques Chirac in 2008, in recognition of his martial arts expertise.
Karate Pioneers - England
Hiroo Mochizuki (b 1936)
Hiroo Mochizuki is the son of master Minoro Mochizuki of the Yoseikan school of Budo.
Hiroo began studying aikido, judo, karate and kubodo from an early age at his father’s dojo. Specialising in karate he moved to France in the 1960s, where he was influential in the spread of the art across Europe through the likes of Henri Plée and Vernon Bell.
Tetsuhiko Murakami (1927-1987)
Tetsuhiko Murakami was a karate missionary, teaching karate across Europe and North Africa during the infancy of the art outside of Japan. He was one of the first Japanese instructors to settle in Europe. He studied under Minoru Mochizuku (see above) and Masaji Yamaguchi (a student of Kenwa Mabuni, founder of Shito-ryu) and Shigeru Egami (Shotokai). He began teaching at Plée’s Paris dojo in 1957, sometimes with Elvis Presley in attendance.
Vernon Bell (1922-2004) the "Father of British Karate"
Bell started judo during his time in the Royal Air Force and in 1948 he co-founded the Amateur Judo Association, becoming a full-time Judo coach the following year.
He also started learning jujitsu and was awarded 1st Dan jujitsu by the Anglo Japanese Judo and Jujitsu Society in 1950. Bell was awarded 1st Dan in Judo in 1952; and awarded 2nd Dan in 1955 by judo great Kenshiro Abbe, who also awarded him 3rd Dan in 1958.
Bell became aware of karate and had been in correspondence with Henri Plée. In 1955 Plée sent Bell information on the legendary Minoru Mochizuki, and his son, Hiroo, took the first ever karate course in Europe.
In 1957 Vernon Bell was awarded his 1st Dan in Yoseikan karate from Hiroo Mochizuki and Henri Plée. In 1958, Bell formed the British Karate Federation (BKF), which was affiliated with Plée’s Federation Francaise de Karate and a member of the International Karate Federation. Also in 1958 the BKF opened its first dojo, the British Legion Hall in Upminster.
Bell trained with Murakami at the first European Karate Union meeting in Paris in 1958 and in 1959 Murakami arrived in the UK ushering in a new chapter in the development of British karate. Bell was awarded 2nd Dan by Murakami.
In 1963 Britain took part in the European Karate competition for the first time, alongside France and Belgium.
When Bell found out that the Yoseikan was not the official body of Japanese karate, the BKF instead became members of the JKA, under which Bell was regraded to 1st Dan.
In 1964 Bell and his students (including Eddie Whitcher and Michael Randall), appeared in a film by Pathe Pictorial. The same year, Bell arranged for the JKA to send a delegation to the UK to demonstrate their brand of karate. The demonstrations given by Taiji Kase (6th Dan) Hirokazu Kanazwa (5th Dan), Keinosuke Enoeda (5th Dan) and Hiroshi Shirai (5th Dan) changed the face of British Karate.
London BKF Instructors Before The Formation Of The KUGB
Pauline Laville-Bindra (1945-2011)
Pauline Laville-Bindra (Pauline Fuller) is a true pioneer in the world of karate. She was the first woman in Britain to earn a JKA 1st Dan in karate (from Kanazawa) and went on to train for over forty years, eventually reaching the rank of 8th Dan, thus becoming one of the highest graded female Shotokan practitioners in the world.
Pauline Laville began her martial arts training in judo aged 12, but started karate at the BKF’s Middlesbrough dojo in 1963, under instructors Fred Kidd and Walter Seaton.
In 1963, Laville moved to London and in 1964 she attended Vernon Bell’s dojo at the Horseshoe pub. At first, Bell was reluctant to train her, only relenting due to her persistence and the fact that she was an existing member of the BKF.
In 1965 Laville graded with Sensei Kanazawa and jumped grades from 8th to 6th kyu.
In what became a significant moment in British karate history, Laville, Michael Randall, Eddie Whitcher Chris and Nick Adamou broke away from the BKF and set up the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB), with chief instructors Hirokazu Kanazawa operating from London and Keinosuke Enoeda operating from Liverpool (with Andy Sherry, now 9th Dan, Terry O’Neill, Bob Poynton and others). The KUGB set up its main dojo in Blackfriars.
After Kanazawa left the UK for Germany, Laville developed her karate under Enoeda, and when a 3rd Dan, she took part in a 1973 TV demonstration with him (among others, including Dave Hazard, now 7th Dan and head of his own organisation).
In the early to mid-70s in Britain women were not allowed to compete in karate competitions, so Laville had to travel to a tournament held in New York. Even then, she was only allowed to compete in the male black belt kata event; she came second.
Laville and her family moved to San Francisco between 1980 and 1983 where she was offered a student/teaching opportunity with Richard Kim (author of Weaponless Warriors and then President of the IAKF – Sensei Nishiyama’s organisation,).
On her return to the UK, she and her husband formed International Shotokan Karate (ISK), a founding member of the English Karate Federation (EKF).
She and her husband also founded the successful Blitzsport Corporation, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of martial arts equipment.
Edward Whitcher (1941-1990)
Eddie Whitcher started training at Vernon Bell’s Upminister dojo in 1963 and in 1964 he appeared (along with Michael Randall) in the Pathe Pictorial film. When the JKA toured England (three big demonstrations in London, followed by demonstrations in Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool), Whitcher was among the students selected to help. Whitcher was also one of Sensei Kanazawa’s “Seven Samurai”, along with Michael Randall.
In 1966, Whitcher was awarded his 1st Dan, the first British student to achieve this grade from Kanazawa and the JKA. He also took part in a number of competitions in 1966 and 1967. In 1967 Whitcher earned his 2nd Dan from Sensei Kanazawa and in August he made his way to Japan with Mick Peachey (another of Kanazawa’s Seven Samurai) and John Weenan.
Training in the morning class (10.30-11.30) was very hard: no yame, continual stances up and down the dojo for an hour in swelteringly hot and humid conditions. A letter from Kanazawa arrived in February 1968, requesting Whitcher and Peachey (1st Dan) train in the Senior Instructors’ and Junior Instructors’ Class respectively. They soon realised that they were in neither as there was only one Instructors’ Class: it started at noon, when a curtain was pulled across the dojo for the purposes. On speaking with Master Nakayama, they said there’s no rush, but he pondered and said “Hmm…hmm…you begin TOMORROW!”. The pair were seen as gate-crashers as well as being non-Japanese (who were tested to the limit anyway).
Whitcher trained and sparred with some of the best JKA karate-ka, including Senseis Tanaka, Oishi, Ueki, Lida, Abe and Yahara. In a goodwill tournament in 1971, his team took second place in kumite to the JKA team of Oishi, Tanaka and Mori (whose lip Whitcher split).
Whitcher also had his share of encounters with an instructor by the name of Yano (a 3rd Dan in judo also), known as the “Animal”, because of his dojo antics. In one encounter, Whitcher had his gi sleeve ripped off as he resisted a take down from Yano. He was also bitten by Yano on the wrist and almost knocked out by him, leaving his face blackened and bruised.
His face was still bruised at the time he attempted 3rd Dan, in February 1971. Owing to injuries sustained during the grading he couldn’t train for 3 weeks afterwards. When he re-took the grading in May 1971, his five freestyle opponents were two other 3rd Dan entrants, followed by a 3rd Dan and two 4th Dans. According to Whitcher (in an ESKA magazine interview in 1980), one of the fights “was a good exciting bout, and after a blow-for-blow, kick-for-kick round, there was a clash and I went head first over my opponent, cartwheel fashion. Back on my feet, and ready to continue, my head was ringing: I suddenly realised there was blood pouring everywhere, over my face and gi. My head had hit a nail sticking up out of the floor”. In any case he had stitches, and this time passed the grading.
Whitcher was the 1st Briton and the 2nd European to receive 3rd Dan from Master Nakayama.
On returning to England, Whitcher established the Kenshinkai Shotokan Karate Club in Dagenham, Essex and in 1979, Michael Randall and Eddie Whitcher set up the English Shotokan Karate Association (ESKA) as joint chief instructors.
When asked in an interview in 1989 (Fighting Arts Magazine) what were the most important qualities of a successful karate-ka, his response was "self-control, unassuming attitude in karate as well as in life….act in a dignified manner…not be big-headed…try to abide by the Dojo Kun if you are really serious about it". And that’s how he lived.