HISTORY OF SHOTOKAN
Important figures in the founding and history of Shotokan
Founder of Shotokan
Gichin Funakoshi is widely considered as the father of modern day karate. He was born in 1868 in Okinawa. As a boy he studied karate under two masters, Master Itosu and Master Azato. In those days a master only took on a few students and the practice of the martial arts was still kept secret. When Funakoshi grew up he became a school teacher, training in karate all the while with both masters.
It was during this time, Okinawan karate emerged from its seclusion to become a legally sanctioned martial art. Funakoshi, knowing the huge benefits of the study of karate, introduced karate into the Okinawan public school system. In 1922, the Japanese Ministry of Education held a martial arts demonstration in Tokyo and Funakoshi was asked to introduce Okinawan karate to Japan. Funakoshi never returned to Okinawa. His demonstration made a powerful impression on the Japanese public; Funakoshi was soon besieged with requests to further demonstrate and teach his art.
Eventually Funakoshi had enough students to open the first karate dojo in Japan. The dojo was called 'Shotokan' ('Kan' means 'building', 'Shoto' means 'pine waves', which was Funakoshi's pen name). In 1955, Funakoshi established the Japan Karate Association. Funakoshi served as chief instructor of the JKA until his death in 1957. Since then, Shotokan students have continued his spirit and teachings.
*Images and article used with kind permission from Traditional Shotokan Karate-Do Federation Australia (TSKFA)
The long journey to Australia
The great Master Gichin Funakoshi said, ‘When you look at life think in terms of karate. But remember that karate is not only karate – it is life!’
Takahashi Shihan, our Chief Instructor, has lived his life guided by these teachings of the Masters Funakoshi and Nakayama. Karate is his life, and always will be. As we reflect back on 46 years of sharing the teachings of the Grand Masters of karateka in Australia, we cannot help but be impressed as to Shihan’s tenacity, perseverance, dedication and strength of character.
At the age of 18 Takahashi Shihan was attending Komazawa University in Tokyo, when a friend invited him to attend karate class with him. In his 3rd Year of University he decided to dedicate his life to karate training – he trained diligently and hard, loving the discipline and structure. Once he graduated, he did not hesitate to enter the JKA Instructor School and also was asked to teach Physical Education at Komazawa University. He agreed, provided he could merge teaching with his karate commitments.
In 1972, Shihan had a desire to teach karate abroad, as with most of the young graduates of JKA Instructor School, spreading the Shotokan teachings. Shihan Nakayama told Shihan that an instructor was needed in Australia. Shihan tells the story of how he was given a one way ticket to Australia, packed up his young family and moved to Sydney for a year, then to Brisbane. The first and biggest barrier was naturally that neither he, or his wife, could speak English, but they managed through hard work and commitment to make JKA work in Australia.
Back in 1972 “Way of the Dragon” with Bruce Lee, along with “Crush” and ‘King Boxer” and other martial arts movies were popular making many Australians believe they could imitate their movie heroes with a few karate lessons. Shihan says this has changed completely today because Australian karate practitioners understand now that the three fundamentals (basic movements, kata and kumite) as well as the spirit obtained through the hard training are really important.
In the early days Takahashi Shihan was building the reputation of JKA karate through entering himself and students into martial arts competitions and displays thus gaining new students via their achievements. Shihan and his family lived full time in Brisbane for 2 years before having to move back to Japan due to personal commitments.
Although Takahashi Shihan was living in Japan again, he wished to maintain his commitment to Australia. He gave up his vacation time from his work at Komazawa University, to come to Australia for 2 extended visits each year to conduct training and grading seminars in all the dojos – this commitment was to continue without fail for over 40 years. Shihan worked very hard on the training floor, and at building a ‘karate family’ amongst the members. The ‘karate family’ was born of the friendships made between karateka who have studied under Shihan’s guidance, who, regardless of vocation, cultural background, geographical distance, or financial status, are welcomed and accepted, through a mutual love of karate, and his teachings.
In 2003 Takahashi Shihan’s commitment was acknowledged by the Australian Government when he was awarded an OAM (Order of Australia Medal) by our then Prime Minister, John Howard, for services to Sport and Culture. This was indeed a proud moment for Shihan, his wife and family and of course the Association.
As the years rolled on the Association grew both in the number of Dojos throughout the country and the number of members. Every year the Nationals are hosted in a state in an effort to enable members from all over the Country to come along to participate in training for three days and culminate in competition. It was indeed a ‘badge of honour’ for a participant to be able to boast that they had survived the 12 hours of training over three days, especially when Shihan’s favourite saying ‘One More Time!’ was repeated over and over again.
Of note was one particular seminar in Melbourne some 20 years ago where at least 1,000 kicks and punches each were rendered during the morning sessions. This was hard training taught by the best – by someone who had done it all himself, and who said in an interview in 1990 ‘Recently, more people have started karate after watching a karate competition, since there are now more opportunities to watch tournaments. They begin the training because they want to win a competition. In that case they have to train very hard, depending on the size of the competition. You have to train more than others and you have to think about karate all the time — by that I mean how to improve your techniques, study the psychology of opponents and learn to control your own thoughts. It is polite manners to train hard before you fight an opponent.” Also “Train hard and often. If you decide to train for karate, it is important to continue training. It is easy to slack off.”
Takahashi Shihan has always lived by the Dojo Kun both on and off the Dojo floor, and remained humble in the face of his many successes. The 1988 and 2006 World Cups hosted by Australia were acclaimed astounding successes by all who attended. Every step of the organization of these events was either instigated or approved by Takahashi Shihan in an effort to allow all competitors, officials and visitors to have a memorable time in Australia.
2009 saw the birth of TSKFA – this was a huge change for everyone in the Association, but particularly for Takahashi Shihan. No longer was he under the umbrella of JKA, but the Chief Instructor of our Association in his own right, and able to have the freedom of making significant decisions as to the future of the ‘Takahashi Brand’ of Karate in Australia – for this is what it is. You can count on one hand the Senior Instructors who would have learnt in the early days from another Instructor or style of karate. Everyone else has been taught since day one by the ‘Takahashi’ method, training and grading under Shihan and in turn his Dojo Instructor’s tutelage, being nurtured to be the ‘best that you can be.’
Another change came about in 2011, when TSKF joined the International Shotokan Karate-do Federation. The ISKF had a very similar experience to our Association when breaking away from JKA. Under the leadership at the time of Okazaki Shihan Snr, the ISKF promoted the same traditional Shotokan brand of Karate, with teachings that directly descended from the Masters Funakoshi and Nakayama, that TSKF was already following. Takahashi Shihan was welcomed with open arms into this Association and for several years was invited to the annual Masters Camp in Philadelphia to be a special guest Instructor, as well as travelling to Lebanon to conduct training seminars there on behalf of ISKF. Many ISKF attendees were deeply thrilled to have the opportunity to train under the legendary Takahashi Shihan, although many had underestimated the stamina required to complete his sessions. They also were very vocal in reiterating that TSKFA was most fortunate to have a Chief Instructor who came to their Dojos twice yearly, every year, without fail, for over 45 years – an achievement that we believe is unparalleled in any other style of karate anywhere in the world.
Of great significance in 2016, the TSKFA members attending the Masters Camp were very pleased and proud to witness Takahashi Shihan being awarded his 9th Dan Black Belt Certificate by Okazaki Shihan. An honour earned through many years of hard training, inspired teaching and by increasing the knowledge of traditional karate throughout the world.
The achievements of the TSKFA National Teams at the ISKF World Cup in 2012 in Cebu, Philippines and in 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa were exceptional, and in his own quiet and humble way we feel sure that Takahashi Shihan was as proud as any parent of their offspring’s achievements. The excitement and sense of achievement was palpable in the venues, and everyone who came on those two tours, whether supporters or competitors, could not wipe the smiles off their faces for quite some time.
Over many years Shihan has fostered the relationship between our Australian Association and the students of the Aoyama Gakiun University through exchange students, some for a year at a time, and also through visiting students in the lead up to our Nationals week. We, in turn, have been invited to attend the University Annual Gasshuku with several individuals attending regularly, and large groups every third year. These tours are facilitated and organized by Takahashi Shihan with every effort made for our group to enjoy some fantastic Japanese hospitality and culture.
2018 once again brings change to our Association with Shihan appointing Assistant Instructors in former Aoyama Gakuin students Takechiyo Nemoto Sensei and Ryozo Hirata Sensei to undertake the rigours of the Australian Dojo tours twice annually. Takahashi Shihan will remain as the Chief Instructor with a firm hand on the wheel that drives TSKF Australia. We thank him and his family for 46 years of sacrificing vacation and family time to share his wealth of knowledge with the members of TSKF Australia. Shihan has gone above and beyond the call of duty that was given to him back at the time of his graduation from Instructor School. We acknowledge the support from Mrs Takahashi (Mamma-San), who has been our friend and helper for all of those years. We look forward to enjoying hers, and Shihan’s company, on many more trips to National Championships, World Cups and Aoyama Gasshuku.
In an interview for Blitz Magazine many years ago, when asked about plans for retirement, Shihan answered “There is no such thing as retirement in martial arts. If you decide to pursue Martial Arts, you wear the dogi until you die!“