The beginnings of Shotokai and Shotokan : A brief overview.

By Master Mitsusuke HARADA

The study of history, even when it is not concerned with world events but more closely with our own family history or that of the group we belong to, has always been a fascinating subject, for it reinforces our sense of belonging to a tradition, a lineage. But unfortunately it is frequently, if not always, fairly difficult to ascertain the truth of the information we gather in these matters. Past events are not always recorded faithfully at the time they occur, and later memories tend to be clouded by emotions, passions, and sometimes mere forgetfulness. But to minimise the risk of distorting facts we should at least do our best to gather as much data as possible from living witnesses whenever that is still feasible. Cross-references are always a great help in determining the truth of a matter. Our topic being the history of karate as it developed in Japan before and after the war, I feel it is most important we should set some details straight, and this even more so as I keep reading so-called informed historical studies and articles which convey ideas and theories which I know to be at best misinformed. A recent trip to Japan where I met some of my seniors who still happen to be alive, allowed me to confirm the information I propose to put down in writing.

Thus, as some of you will know already, when Funakoshi Gichin, or O’Sensei as we called him eventually, first came to Japan in 1922 he first taught a group of pupils who came to be known as the Karate Kenkyu Kai, or ‘Karate Study Circle’.

Among this circle of people some, like Mr Shimoda Takeshi, later went on to teach in universities where the activity developed. But it seems that when it came to establishing a system of standard recognition or grading, each university established its own way of assessing capabilities. In any case, I know that seven of these first pupils had got their own 1st Dan in 1924, but unfortunately all my attempts to find under which heading these grades had been granted failed, as none of the persons I contacted (for instance Mr Mizukami, one of our seniors at university and a contemporary to Mr Okuyama), kept any trace of these early distinctions.

However, in 1934, Mr Shimoda suddenly died of pneumonia, and several universities then requested that O’Sensei’s son, Yoshitaka, should take over as leading instructor, which he at first refused as his job kept him quite busy. But eventually he relented and accepted the position. Still, you must understand that at the time, as they did not have any specific dojos of their own, all the groups rented ordinary houses which they used for practising, with the logical consequence that the owners would frequently complain about the disturbance they created. So, father and son soon agreed on the need to build a dojo for karate practice, and this was why the group finally formed the organisation which could supervise the whole operation and run things afterwards. Thus in 1936 THE GREAT JAPAN KARATE-DO SHOTOKAI was created. In this organisation Funakoshi Gichin was given the title of Chairman while Yoshitaka received that of Vice-Chairman.

Subsequently, this organisation duly collected the necessary funds and in 1938 the dojo was eventually built, while the official inauguration occurred one year later, in January 1939, on which occasion the place was then given the name: THE GREAT JAPAN KARATE-DO SHOTOKAN.

After this, of course, many rules were established within the organisation, including a system of grading up to 5th Dan as the top rank to be considered. With Yoshitaka in charge several creations appeared in the practice, such as Ten-no-kata, the Taikyoku katas as well as the Bo kata, Matsukase. Yet it appears that no one at the time did receive a 5th Dan, the highest to be awarded then being 4th Dan, while for those who practised at the universities 3rd Dan was the maximum, which is understandable as people’s university careers, because of the normal duration of studies, was bound to be relatively short. It was indeed very hard to continue practising once you joined the world of work as you would then have very little free time for practice, and Yoshitaka met great difficulties trying to find individuals who were willing and capable to help.

Meanwhile, it is true that among the people practising then the word SHOTOKAI was very seldom mentioned and everyone would use the expression SHOTOKAN DOJO when speaking about their group. But unfortunately everything came to an end in April 1945 when the said Shotokan Dojo was destroyed in an air-raid, putting an end to all activities. You may already know from my Reminiscences what happened then as far as I was concerned, but to all intents and purposes most pupils thought that all was finished.

Eventually, in 1946 at Waseda, many students having come back from active service wanted to practise karate again. We all know that there had been a ban on all martial arts activities imposed by the Americans, but at Waseda, Professor Ohama who was director of the karate section, and originally came from Okinawa, being a very close friend of O’Sensei’s he tried to get everything going again.

So, Mr Hironishi and Mr Kamata (Watanabe) got together and after a certain number of negotiations the university authorities eventually recognised karate as part of the Athletic Union. Naturally, other universities followed suit: Keio, Chuo, Sen Shiu, and this mostly around 1946 / 1947. Yet, we must keep in mind that at the time the Ministry of Education did not recognise karate, but since these universities were private they could do very much what they wanted.

Among the universities Takushoku had an additional difficulty as it could not very well survive under that name which meant Colonial University, a concept, needless to say, that was not very much appreciated in this post-war period and was despised by many as redolent of colonial expansionism. So it had to change its name to Koryo. In any case, as far as karate was concerned they started later but remained very active and organised their own system of grading too.

Still, it had already occurred to many that there was a need for some form of overall control, and already in 1948 the university of Waseda had taken the initiative by trying to organise a Student Karate Federation uniting mostly Shotokan and Wado-Ryu karateka, but it did not work. Yet later, on 27th May 1949, the JAPAN KARATE ASSOCIATION was created with an invitation for Wado-Ryu to join in a sort of karate Union, a confederation system we can easily understand in these days of European Union. Unfortunately for karate Wado-Ryu refused to join and the Shotokan group found itself alone in what was no longer much of a union. This indeed explains why later on the JKA came to be associated with the one Shotokan group only.

Anyway, such as it was, its president was ex-Marques Saigo (like all Japanese nobility he lost his title after the war), while Funakoshi Gichin acted as Supreme Technical Adviser, and the ‘old boys’ joined the board as Directors. A bi-annual system of grading was then put into place with sessions in the Spring and in the Autumn (for example Ohshima gained his 3rd Dan from the JKA). But still, during all this time Funakoshi kept the JAPAN KARATE-DO SHOTOKAI to which he was greatly attached, and brought into use regularly.

For instance, we can say that at the time the JKA concerned mostly the university groups, and since some of O’Sensei’s pupils taught privately it was not easy for them to join as universities tended to be rather exclusive. So, whenever they requested grading from O’Sensei he would still act as Chairman of the JAPAN KARATE-DO SHOTOKAI, and proof of this can indeed be found in my own 5th Dan diploma which he signed under this heading in the late fifties (and photos of this document have already been published in my previous books).

Indeed, one such private group, the Tokyo Express Railway Company wanted a dojo of their own. A former student of Chuo University, Mr Kobayashi was then working for this company, so he asked Mr Takagi Jotaro (originally from Chuo too) to help, and this was how the TOKYU DOJO was created, with Funakoshi as Shihan, while Shigeru Egami became assistant instructor. But when later O’Sensei died Egami became the chief instructor with various persons acting as assistant instructors. Unfortunately, because their various jobs kept them rather busy, they were always changing, which was, and still is, always a difficult situation in terms of practice for it does not help to preserve continuity.

This was how one of the assistants who eventually came up, and this at a time when Egami, to all intents and purposes, stopped practising after his operations in the late fifties, was Aoki who managed to get some influence in the group and later oriented the practice towards what came to be known as Sogo Budo (and then later as Shintaido). But this evolution gained little credit as gradually membership to the dojo declined to the point when in 1968 the company decided to close it down altogether.

Still, to come back to O’Sensei, his death, as you probably already know, was a source of problems when arose the question of the organisation of his funeral. O’Sensei had indeed kept the SHOTOKAI and the JKA as separate entities all this time, and the JKA leaders felt they wanted to organise the funeral, but O’Sensei’s eldest son Yoshihide (then Chairman of the SHOTOKAI), refused, which is why the SHOTOKAIremained in charge of the proceedings, consequently provoking the displeasure and reactions we know about.

Yet, by this time (1957) the Tokyu Dojo had become very big, and at one point even reached the impressive total of one thousand members. They too used the SHOTOKAI name and requested grading from Egami under the heading of NIHON KARATE-DO SHOTOKAI (the ‘Great’ had by then been dropped from the original appellation). Parallel to this, old boys from Chuo University, having moved back home or to other areas after finishing their studies, had started opening dojos across the country, and these people who had great respect for Egami expressed the desire to create an association. This is eventually why in 1958 the NIHON KARATE-DO SHOTOKAI came into being as a karate association with Yoshihide as Chairman.

By then karate was expanding abroad, and I was already in Brazil where I had created, with O’Sensei’s permission, BRAZIL KARATE-DO SHOTOKAN, using the term that we had retained from our university days. But on another hand, the members of the JKA, wanting to express their independence, decided to make NIHON KARATE KYOKAI a separate karate entity, with subsidiary branches in Europe and elsewhere, refusing to mix with anyone from the other groups. Incidentally, it seems to me that this particularly confusing context was at the source of the conflict which opposed Ohshima to Nishiyama in the United States.

Still, meanwhile, SHOTOKAI itself had developed somewhat and Hironishi had become its Chairman while its Chief Technical Adviser was Egami. Then it was when I was in Brussels in the early sixties that Egami told me that we now officially belonged to the NIHON KARATE-DO SHOTOKAI, which explains why later, in 1966, my own group in Britain was registered asKARATE-DO SHOTOKAI -UK.

If you don’t mind, I would like at this point to explain a little what I consider to be this heritage of ours and the tradition to which we belong, as well as the real object of the Shotokai:

The real ‘Shotokan revolution’, if I may say so, came with Yoshitaka. It was a question of ethics and philosophy as much as a new technical approach, all quite different from those of his father who thought more in terms of physical education while he was definitely looking for the more martial side of the art. In this search Yoshitaka’s personal partners were Egami and Okuyama who practised with him on a daily basis for quite some time – a point which I confirmed again with the latter on a recent visit to Japan where we had the opportunity to talk and exchange views on our approach. I later practised with both these seniors, and so I think that I can fairly claim that my work is in line with that of Yoshitaka whom I had met before the war as a young pupil at the Shotokan dojo.

O’Sensei believed in and trusted his son (and as we know, was very much affected by his death), and so there is certainly no betrayal of the father in this approach.

In the same way, it is with this idea of fidelity in mind that some seniors decided later to re-create the Shotokan Dojo as it was before the war, with SHOTOKAI as the controlling body. So, in January 1976, the new dojo bearing the name of SHOTOKAN was indeed opened in Tokyo with Egami as its first director and Mr Takagi Jotaro as second. Mr Takagi used to be captain of the karate group at Chuo University in 1947 and incidentally was one of Yoshitaka’s last pupils, so he too knows very well what he is talking about when he refers to Yoshitaka’s practice and its quality. In this respect we are not in any way imagining things, and some arguments I have recently read in a magazine comparing current karate champions to these old masters are simply pointless speculations.

However, Egami believed, as much as Mr Takagi still does, that the way they were following was the real thing; but unfortunately partly because of some of the episodes I mentioned earlier, it is true that the Shotokai name now covers several different realities which is confusing for a lot of people. The Sogo Budo evolution may have had its reasons and ideas, but there is one thing for sure, it was not Yoshitaka’s karate. That it evolved into Shintaido is their inalienable right, but this again has nothing to do with Shotokan karate.

In the same way, when Egami visited Europe the General Secretary of the organisation, Mr Miyamoto, did the demonstrations, and most people then somewhat logically assumed that the karate he was showing was Egami’s. Far from it, for this person was still under the influence of the Sogo Budo evolution and he was later sacked by the Shotokai in Japan for this reason. He is now doing something entirely different altogether.

Many people have indeed in the course of time tried to exploit Egami’s name and reputation to the point that now some even claim to have created Egami Ryu Karate to safeguard what they call his true way – people who, incidentally, never really practised with him as they came far too late for that. This is sheer nonsense and an insult to Egami who never wanted any such school of his own but was very proud of the lineage I have mentioned. To him such a creation would have meant the betrayal of O’Sensei when in fact his only wish was to remain faithful to his teacher and partners.

Unfortunately such is the way of the world, and it is always easy to talk about people’s intentions when they are no longer there to deny them, and that goes for all of us. But at least we can try, while it is still possible, to ask those who knew directly the persons involved to get as close to the truth of the matter as possible. After this we only have our sincerity to vouch for us, and I tend to think that in karate the best way to give any value to our words is to continue practising with as much sincerity as we are capable of. This is what my senior Okuyama, now 83, is still doing, and what I strive to do too: pursuing the Way

Last of all, and in relation to the SHOTOKAI group there is another confusion I would like to clear up : it is that of its relation to competition. Indeed, I read in a recently published article that the SHOTOKAI had experimented with competition in the days when Tsutomu Ohshima was at Waseda University, and this is completely wrong.

First of all, as we have already seen, the SHOTOKAI name was never associated with the universities in general and Waseda in particular, and never has Ohshima belonged to SHOTOKAI then or now. Yet, it is true that he was part of what one could call the early experiments in competition.

The first instance occurred in fact in November 1951, and it was on the occasion of a university display organised by the University Federation which involved mostly Shotokan groups. Each university was to do its own demonstrations, and everyone was of course always looking for something that could be a little different. Ohshima then thought about arranging Kumite and Jiyu-kumite displays using the same system as in fencing bouts, with four judges and one referee to decide on points being scored. It turned out to be a success and the audience was definitely interested. However, on that occasion, Mr Nakayama came to me and told me off in no uncertain way after the event, expressing his strong displeasure at what we had done.

Some time later, as we were to have with the students from Keio university one of the ‘exchange practices’ we sometimes organised, Ohshima thought we could try the same thing again but that instead of letting our respective old boys do the refereeing he would ask a third party to fill that position and suggested Nakayama who was from Takushoku (The other referees were eventually Mr Nishiyama and Mr Arai). Needless to say I told him he wouldn’t meet much enthusiasm in that quarter but he pursued the idea and I came in for quite a shock when I found that Mr Nakayama accepted the offer most willingly. There is no accounting for mood changes!

It is true that some people keep confusing SHOTOKAI and SHOTOKAN, and I hope I have made their relative histories and positions clear in this article, but these ‘experiments in competition’, for it is indeed what they amounted to, were purely individual initiatives at the university level and never involved the SHOTOKAI as a group. It is no mystery that I am not in favour of competition, but this is of course a point on which everyone is entitled to choose for themselves. But as far as I am concerned, competition in karate (and this contrary to other physical activities) goes against technical improvement and research to become a mere show bearing no relation to the reality and truth we are looking for.