Shindo Jinen Ryu
by Howard High
“Tote” or “China Hand”
“Karate” or “Empty Hand”
While the roles of Chojun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni and Gichin Funakoshi
in the development of modern karate are a matter of public knowledge, the
work of one of the most important karate pioneers, Yasuhiro Konishi, remains
little known and even less appreciated. All who knew him personally speak
of his modesty and sincerity. Perhaps it was these characterstics that kept
him, by choice, in the background and away from the limelight while he
worked energetically to promote the alien art of karate in a Japan seized with
nationalistic fervour and that viewed anything not indigenous to the nation,
including martial arts, as distinctly inferior. We are indebted to the U.S.
branch of the Japan Ryobukai and Sensei Kiyoshi Yamazaki for the following.
Shindo Jinen Ryu was founded by Yasuhiro Konishi, who was born in 1893
in Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan. Konishi Sensei began his training in martial arts
at age 6 in Muso Ryu Jujitsu. When he entered the equivalent of a western
high school, he began training in Takeuchi Ryu jujitsu. This particular jujitsu
style is known for its strong kicks and punches, very similar to karate.
At age 13, while practicing jujitsu, Konishi Sensei began studying kendo
as well. In 1915, he commenced studies at Keio University in Tokyo. While
average tenure at university is four years, Konishi Sensei remained at Keio
University for eight years because of his love for kendo and jujitsu. He was
Keio University’s kendo team captain, and continued coaching the university’s
kendo club after his graduation.
Konishi Sensei’s first exposure to Te (which later developed into karate) was through a fellow classmate at Keio
University, Tsuneshige Arakaki of Okinawa. Konishi Sensei found the techniques of Te (as referred to by Arakaki) very
similar to those of Takeuchi Ryu jujitsu. Though Arakaki was in no way a master of Te, Konishi Sensei found the system
to be very intriguing. After graduating from the University, he became a salary man. However, he was not completely
satisfied with his occupation. With encouragement from his wife, he left his job and opened his own martial arts center in
1923 and called it the Ryobu-Kan (The House of Martial Arts Excellence), teaching mainly kendo and jujitsu.
In September, 1924, Hironori Ohtsuka, the founder of the Wado-Ryu style of karate, and Gichin Funakoshi, the founder
of Shotokan karate, came to the kendo training hall at Keio University. They approached Konishi Sensei with a letter of
introduction from Professor Kasuya of Keio University. Funakoshi asked if it would be possible to use the training hall
to practice Ryukyu Kempo To-te jutsu. During this era, it was unheard of for one martial arts school to allow a martial
arts teacher from another system to teach in their dojo. Such a request would be considered a “challenge” to the dojo.
Konishi Sensei, however, was a visionary in the sense that he saw value in cross-training; he remembered the kata
demonstrated during his university days by Arakaki, and he agreed to Funakoshi Sensei’s request.
With Konishi Sensei’s help, Funakoshi established a To-te practice club at Keio University (the first university karate
club in Japan). Konishi Sensei, Funakoshi Sensei, and Ohtsuka Sensei were the principal instructors. Konishi Sensei
continued to instruct a curriculum consisting of kendo, jujitsu, and western boxing at the Ryobu-Kan.
Karate-jutsu was born when Funakoshi Sensei added karate to this mix. As yet, no names were applied to the emerging styles.
Groups that practiced a pure form of jujitsu did not think highly of karate, and challenged Funakoshi Sensei. However,
under Japanese budo, one does not initially challenge the master of a particular school or style; a challenge is first issued
to the senior student. If the challenger defeats the senior student, then he can challenge the Master. If the challenger
defeats the master, he can take the dojo sign as a trophy—a very embarrassing situation for the defeated dojo, and one
never experienced by Ryobu-Kan. All challengers of karate were defeated by Konishi Sensei and Ohtsuka Sensei, as
Funakoshi’s senior students.
After a challenge had been met, Funakoshi Sensei would explain karate-jutsu, and highlight the mental and spiritual
benefits of the style. Many listeners understood and agreed to the point that they switched styles to study karate
During this time, there was an ongoing philosophical debate among martial artists as to the definition of budo. Some
believed budo required the death of the opponent; others, that budo meant supporting or educating the opponent in the
proper ways. Funakoshi always taught budo as technique and education. Konishi Sensei especially believed Bu bun ryo
do, translated as: “For karate to be perfect, it cannot be just technique, but also education.” As technique disciplines the
body, education should discipline the mind. Thus Konishi Sensei believed that Budo involves educating the opponent.
Over time, three major changes occurred in Funakoshi’s original karate teachings. First, because karate was introduced
to the Japanese physical education program at the elementary school level, Funakoshi Sensei assigned Japanese names
to replace the Okinawan names of the various kata, making karate easier to learn.
The second change was the addition of ippon kumite to karate training. At first, karate training was primarily the
practice of kata. Konishi Sensei contended that training in kata alone was not sufficient to develop the whole person.
Other forms of Do, such as kendo and Judo, had training methods that included application of techniques with partners.
Konishi Sensei and Ohtsuka Sensei added ippon kumite to the training regimen.
The third major change occurred in the kanji (Chinese characters) of “karate.” The original kanji used to write “karate”
meant “Chinese hand,” indicating the source of the techniques. In 1929, teachers and students in the Keio University’s
Karate Research Group discussed the translation of the kanji for karate, and agreed to change the kanji of “karate” to
mean “Empty Hand”. They contend that this new kanji was a better representation of what karate had developed into.
This change was adopted over the protests of many Okinawans, but remains the accepted translation to this day.
Karate gradually became more popular and many masters from Okinawa began to visit Japan. Because of Konishi
Sensei’s open-mindedness, many well-known budoka visited Ryobu-Kan during this era, exchanging techniques.
Among them were: Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-Ryu Karate), Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu Karate), and Choki
Motobu. These three masters influenced Konishi Sensei in various ways and made definitive contributions to Konishi
Sensei’s emerging style.
Konishi Sensei considered Choki Motobu to be a martial arts genius and made every effort to train with him. Motobu
Sensei’s specialty was the Naifanchin kata. As a teacher, he knew many kata, but would only teach them when his
student had mastered Naifanchin. Through training in this kata he became famous for scooping his opponent’s leg.
Although physically a big man, Motobu Sensei was very light on his feet, which may be the reason why he was so
successful in challenging other martial artists to kumite. His teaching to Konishi Sensei emphasized footwork and the
use of Ki. Motobu Sensei didn’t speak Japanese very well, and relied on friends to translate for him when he taught.
He was not wealthy and had difficulty supporting himself during his visits to Japan. Konishi Sensei organized the Choki
Motobu Support Society and arranged for seminars and training sessions at which Motobu Sensei was able to collect
fees. Konishi Sensei accompanied Motobu Sensei to many training sessions in order to assist him in explaining the
concepts and techniques of karate.
Chojun Miyagi by all accounts did not talk very much. He was famous for his big hands and his teisho uchi (palm strike),
and was noted for grabbing and pulling very strongly. Though Konishi Sensei did not train with Miyagi Sensei as much as
with other karate masters, Miyagi Sensei did impact Konishi Sensei’s knowledge of karate by presenting Konishi Sensei
with an original manuscript, An Outline of Karate-Do, dated March 23, 1934. This document has only recently been
translated into English and is now available world-wide. (See History of Karate by Morio Higaonna)
Konishi Sensei trained extensively with Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu. Mabuni Sensei resided at Konishi
Sensei’s house for about ten months from 1927-28. They became very close friends. Mabuni Sensei was celebrated for
the wide number of kata which he knew and performed with great elegance and calm. Konishi Sensei developed the kata
Seiryu in collaboration with Mabuni Sensei.
The Formal Acceptance of Karate in Japan
The Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai, the Japanese governing body for budo, was politically very strong and set the standards
for ranking individual martial artists and signed all certificates of membership. Konishi Sensei was already a member
through kendo and jujitsu; he felt that karate would be effective in the education of the Japanese people, and so he
applied to the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai for recognition of karate. Through 1934, however, the government continued to
award titles in jujitsu and judo, but not in karate.
Finally, in 1935, the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai recognized karate as a member and awarded kyoshi (“Master Instructor”)
rankings to Konishi Sensei, Miyagi Sensei, and Ueshima Sannosuke (the founder of Kushin Ryu). The Dai Nippon Butoku-
Kai also insisted that all budo have style names, and Konishi Sensei encouraged the prominent karate instructors of that
time to name their individual styles. Because of his diligent efforts to advance karate in Japan, as well as his high level
of skill in karate, Konishi Sensei was assigned in 1938 as the chairman of the screening committee of the Dai Nippon
Butoku-Kai that reviewed all licensing applications in karate jutsu.
The Naming of Shindo Jinen Ryu
Konishi believed that if you walk a morally correct path in this life, then you are naturally following the divine way. If you
train in karate in a natural way and master your body, you will expand your knowledge and experience, and establish a
solid foundation for naturally living a morally correct life. And so his style, on the recommendation of Morihei Ueshiba (the
founder of Aikido), came to be Shindo Jinen-Ryu Karate-Jutsu (“godly, natural style, complete empty-handed way”).
Miyagi Sensei named his style Goju-Ryu, as it blended hard and soft techniques. Mabuni Sensei studied under both
Yasutsune Itosu and Kanryo Higashionna (Okinawan masters of To-te), and named his style Shito-Ryu, combining the
first kanji from each of their names. For Hironishi Ohtsuka, the study of budo places one in harmony (“wa”) with the
universe; his style became known as Wado-Ryu. Ueshima Sensei based Kushin-Ryu (“Sky-Heart”) on the idea of the
universe and person as center and in harmony. And students convinced Funakoshi Sensei to name his style Shotokan:
Shoto, meaning “Pine Waves”, was Funakoshi’s pen name.
The Influence of Morihei Ueshiba
Konishi Sensei and his wife also studied under Morihei Ueshiba, who was still teaching Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu at that
time. Konishi Sensei considered Ueshiba Sensei to be the best martial artist he had ever known. Konishi Sensei carried
this opinion throughout his lifetime. Having already trained in karate for a number of years, Konishi Sensei demonstrated
the kata Heian Nidan (which he learned from Funakoshi Sensei) to Ueshiba Sensei. However, Ueshiba Sensei remarked
that Konishi Sensei should drop such nonsense for such techniques are ineffective. This comment came as a blow,
since Konishi Sensei believed in karate and that held Ueshiba Sensei’s opinions in the highest regard. Konishi Sensei felt
that karate still had much value and that he had the responsibility to develop it. Thus, he requested that he be allowed
to continue training in karate, intending to develop the techniques so that it would be acceptable to the great teacher.
After many months of research and training, Konishi Sensei developed a kata called Tai Sabaki (Body Movement). He
based this kata on karate, but incorporated principles found in the teachings of Ueshiba Sensei. Though the new kata
did not contain any complex movements, it consisted of a chain of actions, with no pause after each action. After the
demonstration of this kata by Konishi Sensei, Ueshiba Sensei remarked that, “The demonstration you did just now
was satisfactory to me, and that kata is worth mastering.” Later, Konishi Sensei developed two other kata based on
the principles of Tai Sabaki. The three kata became known as Tai Sabaki Shodan, Tai Sabaki Nidan, and Tai Sabaki
In about 1935, Konishi Sensei developed another kata, Seiryu. During this period, Konishi Sensei, Ueshiba Sensei,
Mabuni Sensei, and Ohtsuka Sensei were training together almost daily. At this time, the Japanese government was
controlled by top officers of the Imperial Army. Konishi Sensei was asked by the commanding general of the Japanese
Army to develop women’s self-defense techniques. His first step in fulfilling the Army’s request was to ask Mabuni Sensei
to help him develop standardized training methods, to help the students remember the techniques.
Together, they developed a karate kata that incorporated the essence of both their styles. As they worked to finalize the
kata, they shared it with Ueshiba Sensei, who approved some sections, but advised certain changes. Ueshiba Sensei
strongly felt that the kata should be modified based on the gender of the practitioner, because of the need to protect very
different sensitive areas. Also a woman’s training was normally executed from a natural (higher) stance. Another factor
which greatly influenced the kata was the female position in Japanese society. At the time, a woman’s life was defined
by cultural customs, though both sexes wore kimono and used geta. All these factors were considered in the process
of developing the kata.
As a result of the collaboration between three great masters, the Seiryu kata, contained the essence of both aikido and
jujitsu, going with the force instead of directly opposing an opponent’s attack. Ryu means willow in English, and just like
a willow will bend with the wind, so should the martial artist practicing this kata. The term also implies great strength, for
the willow does not break under the force of the wind. The kanji for this kata may also be pronounced aoyagi.
WWII and After
When World War II started, many karateka left to fight for their country, and further development of karate as art was
stymied. In 1945, with the return of the country’s male population, karate and budo were developed and introduced into
the public education system. Karate had thus become a way of life in Japan. While Funakoshi Sensei concentrated his
teaching efforts in Japanese schools, Konishi Sensei was more often found in a business, teaching employees. While
both arenas may seem unusual to the Western mind accustomed to football and rising medical/worker’s compensation
insurance, their efforts were highly respected and very practically arranged, since it prevented open competition between them.
Japan Karate-do Ryobu-kai Today
After the death of Konishi Sensei in 1983, authority for the organization was passed to his son, Yasuhiro (Takehiro)
Konishi, 10th Dan. Takehiro Konishi changed his name to Yasuhiro Konishi after his father’s death. He was born on May
25, 1931, in Tokyo, Japan. He graduated from Keio University in March 1955. He oversees the operations of all the Japan
Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai schools in Japan, and continues to guide the policies and philosophy of Shindo Jinen Ryu. The
international growth of the organization is entrusted to the current International Director, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, 7th Dan,
based in Anaheim, California.
The Dojo Kun
by Harry Cook
reprinted by kind permission of Fighting Arts International magazine.
One feature of training in a karate dojo in Japan which is not often met in the West is the practice of reciting the kun
or code of ethics at the end of a training session. G. W. Nicol, in his book Moving Zen: Karate as a Way to Gentleness,
refers to this practice and its place in Japanese karate-do:
“The Oath was always chanted with strength, never mumbled in insincerity. Just as movements would become
automatic and reflexes conditioned, the simple truths of the oath would also penetrate the mind of the participant.”
The form of the dojo kun can vary from style to style or dojo to dojo, but in general the sentiments and basic ideas
involved agree in most respects. My own experience centers on the kun used in Higaonna Sensei’s Goju-ryu and
Kanazawa Sensei’s Shotokan dojos in Tokyo, where the five precepts were identical but not presented in the same order;
this is also the dojo kun used by the Japan Karate Association.
In normal practice this would be chanted after a short period of meditation (Mokuso) at the end of a class. The usual
procedure is for the senior student in the class to say one line which is them repeated by the whole class until the
sequence is complete.
- Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto.
Work to perfect your character.
- Makoto no michi o mamoru koto.
Have fidelity in seeking a true way.
- Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto.
Cultivate a spirit of endeavor and perseverance.
- Reigi o omonjiru koto.
Always act with good manners.
- Kekki no yu o imashimeru koto.
Refrain from violent and uncontrolled behavior.
In these five precepts, we have the essence of a teaching that enables karate to be seen as something
more than simply a method of random mayhem or a modern competitive sport. This is the morality which is
needed to balance the physical in training. It is the foundation of what in Buddhism is called “right action”
(Samma-kammanta); ignoring the beliefs and ideas encapsulated in the dojo kun will in the long run have a
negative effect both on the individual martial artist and on the evolution of karate as a whole.
It is worthwhile looking at the precepts individually:
1.) Work to perfect your character.
It is instructive to note that this ideal is given priority-not strength, speed, technical skill or fighting ability, but perfection
of the student’s character. This is what Master Gichin Funakoshi continuously stresses in his writings; he recounts a
story in which he acted as an arbitrator between two contending villages. By keeping his head and acting in a controlled
and rational manner Funakoshi proposed a compromise acceptable to both sides and so violence was avoided. This he
regarded as proof that karate training had improved his character and so enabled him to find a peaceful solution.
2.) Have fidelity in seeking a true way.
The stress here is that the “way” should be “true” i.e. should not be a method of self indulgence or weakness. There are
many individuals teaching martial arts who claim high grades, skills etc. without any justification, for either commercial
reasons or to boost their egos. Here in the Northeast of the country (England) we have a sixteen year old boy who claims
a third dan in Shotokan karate and a world championship title.
When I spoke to this poor self-deluded child, it seemed obvious to me that he had almost started to believe his own
lies; it was easier to create a fantasy than to train hard and one day actually realize his dreams if he had the skill and
determination. This is not only a problem found in self-deluded teenagers; there are many individuals I know training
in karate who are still very bitter about being involved with a self-graded master of Okinawan Karate/Zen monk who
indulged his fantasies not so many years ago. This same individual now peddles his myths under the heading of Chinese
Yoga; the real tragedy is that he had a high degree of natural talent that could have been developed honestly; he could
have realized his dream. Ultimately, those who do not have fidelity in seeking a true way become the victims of their
3.) Cultivate a spirit of endeavor and perseverance.
Traditionally a martial art or way was never taught or practiced simply as a form of amusement or as a diversion from
the more serious aspects of life, and so patience was needed if the student was to eventually learn all the aspects of the
art correctly. The seemingly endless repetition of basic techniques, is not a block to learning, as some modern thinkers
seem to think, but it is also true that such training may not be too amusing. Lack of perseverance simply means that all
progress will come to a dead stop. As the master swordsman Banzo told his student Yagyu Matajuro, “a man in such a
hurry, as you are, to get results seldom learns quickly.”
4.) Always act with good manners.
In a sense this repeats and stresses the first precept. By acting with good manners we will not inflame an already
bad situation and may in fact avoid unnecessary violence. However, this must not be construed as weakness. Gichin
Funakoshi refers to an incident in which he unintentionally kicked an escaped convict who then ended up in a community
cesspool. Helping the local police to arrest the man, he tells us,
“I felt a deep sense of pity for him, until the officers told me he was an escaped convict with a long police record, and
that he had been convicted of theft, robbery, and rape. Then my sense of pity vanished.”
Obviously, acting with good manners should be a reciprocal process, and here we see the influence of the teachings
of Confucious on the development of the martial arts who wrote:
“You repay an injury with directness, but you repay a good turn with a good turn.”
5.) Refrain from violent and uncontrolled behavior
This seems to be the ultimate paradox of karate, but here we have the essence of the morality of the martial arts. Force
may be used if the end is morally correct - such as self-defense or protection of the innocent. In this way the actions of the
Shaolin monks in developing fighting methods to protect their temple or struggle with bandits was a morally acceptable
act. In the same light, protecting yourself against a thug who has initiated the violence is not a reprehensible act. Mas
Oyama, the great master of Kyokushinkai Karate tells us of an incident in his life when he was forced to kill to protect
“But one injury I inflicted almost caused me to give up karate forever. Once I was attacked by a knife-carrying gangster
and struck him with a ryutoken (dragonhead fist) on the upper lip. He died, leaving behind a wife and child. I was guilty of
nothing criminal since I had only defended myself, but I was deeply grieved that karate, which I had never wanted to use
to anyone’s harm, had led to death. I had nightmares of remorse over the fate of the dead man’s family. Finally,
announcing that I was through with karate, I went to a farm in the Kanto District where I worked with five times the
strength and enthusiasm of an ordinary laborer to earn money to help the dead man’s wife and child.”
The dojo kun points the way to the ultimate aim of training, which is mastery of the self. Ultimately, technique as
such is of no importance, as it is the individual’s spirit which is being developed and disciplined. By seriously following
the techniques inherent in these apparently simple precepts, the trainee can begin to make progress in the Way of the
About the Author: Harry Cook is a martial arts instructor, historian and columnist. His work has appeared in Fighting
Arts magazine, Shotokan Karate magazing, Traditional Martial Arts and more recently in Dragon Times. He is the author
of the landmark book Shotokan Karate - A Precise History.
The Life Story of Karate Master Gogen Yamaguchi
by Graham Noble
Some readers may have seen a movie which came out a few years ago (1976), entitled “Way of the Sword.” It was only
a short film, a supporting feature, but it was about the traditional Japanese budo. Various martial arts were shown such
as aikido, kendo, and kusarigama but the most intriguing part was the short section on karate, because this featured
Gogen Yamaguchi, the headmaster of the Japan Karate-do Goju-kai (Goju Association).
Gogen Yamaguchi was shown sitting in front of a crystal ball. He performed various mudras (mystic hand movements)
in the direction of the crystal ball, while doing special breathing exercises. He beat on a drum to summon up the spirits.
According to the narration, Yamaguchi uses the crystal ball to communicate with the spirits of fighters past and future.
They give him their secrets.
Yamaguchi was also shown doing Tensho kata, a slow, breathing form of the Goju style--I was unfamiliar with the Goju
style at this time, and I thought the breathing method looked forced and unnatural--and then two young instructors from
the Goju-kai did an exhibition of free style sparring. This looked good, fast, continuous, and with a sharp staccato-type
of power. In fact, it was nice to watch--exciting and varied. The fighting was carried out at a little closer distance than,
say, in the JKA or Wado-ryu, and the two karatemen stuck to basic fast and strong attacks, with both hand and foot. The
blocking was sharp and performed with the open hand. No doubt these two had sparred many times, and it was only a
demonstration but still quite impressive.
It was difficult to know what to make of this glimpse of Master Yamaguchi, but he did have “charisma.” He always
wears traditional Japanese dress. And, although he wears his hair long, this does not make him look up to date, but more
like some Yamabushi (mountain warrior) from days gone by, transported incongruously to the Tokyo suburbs. I knew that
he was a sort of semi-legendary karate master, a practitioner of yoga and a priest of the Shinto religion. In person I had
heard he was generous and helpful.
Peter Urban, in his book “Karate Dojo” tells a story about how Yamaguchi had killed a tiger bare-handed (throttling
it to death), but this seemed hard to take. All-in-all I didn’t know much about this particular karate master, and so I was
pleased to obtain some time later, a copy of Gogen Yamaguchi’s autobiographical book Karate: Goju-ryu by the Cat.
“The Cat” is Yamaguchi’s nickname. There are several reasons given for this, such as his long hair, which resembles a
lion’s mane, his movements which resemble those of a cat, or his use of the cat stance in sparring. Yamaguchi himself
explained it to interviewer Rolland Gaillac, of the French magazine “Karate” (April 1977 edition), in the following words:
“Even today, young man, if you were to face me in combat, I would be able to determine in a second the strength of
your Ki. Immediately I would know if you were a good opponent. It is this quality, and no other, which has given me the
name of The Cat.”
In “Karate: Goju-ryu by the Cat,” Yamaguchi tells his life story. It seems that he has been a mixture of karate expert,
man of action, and mystic. In the late 1930s and early 1940s he had been a Government administrator in Manchuria. After
World War ll ended he had served time as a prisoner of war in a Russian labour camp. When he finally returned home he
had been deeply upset by the state of post-war Japan, and it was only after he had received a “divine revelation” that
his life was given fresh direction.
Since Yamaguchi’s autobiography is not generally available, I have tried to retell his story, and the following owes a lot
to the information contained in his book.
1909 was the year of Gogen Yamaguchi’s birth, Kyushu in Japan the place. He was one of ten children. He writes that
his father sold miscellaneous goods, and later opened up a private school, so it seems as if there was no recent tradition
of martial arts in the family. However, from an early age Yamaguchi was fascinated by judo, kendo, and the other martial arts.
In his second year of primary school, he began learning Jigen-ryu Kenjutsu (a famous school of Japanese fencing).
Later he met a Mr. Maruta, a carpenter from Okinawa, who taught him the basics of karate. Young Yamaguchi practiced
fencing during the day, and karate at night. His only interest was in getting stronger and stronger, and he was well pleased
with the results of his karate training: “I found my physical condition entirely changed after a few years of karate training.
My legs and loins became stronger and my muscles and bones were greatly developed. Above all, I found myself ready
to defend and counterattack at any instant.”
After finishing school, he went on to Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, which in the 20’s and 30’s was more or less a
college for training administrators for Japan’s “conquered territories.” Evidently, Yamaguchi had previously been expelled
from Kansai University because of “roughness.”
In Kyoto, he began teaching karate in his spare time and later, in 1930, (age 21) opened a karate club at Ritsumeikan
University. Judging from his book, trouble seemed to follow Yamaguchi around in those days. He and his karate group
had various physical confrontations with other martial artists, and gangs of toughs. When “leftist” groups started causing
trouble at the University, Yamaguchi and his friends drove them off the Campus. “I was rough and thoughtless,” he
remembers of these times.
In 1928 Chojun Miyagi had visited Japan to teach his style of karate, the Goju style. (He had taught in the Judo Club of
Kyoto University). He came back to teach in Japan on other occasions, and in 1931, Gogen Yamaguchi was introduced
to him. In his autobiography, Yamaguchi puts these words into Chojun Miyagi’s mouth: Ô”Mister Yamaguchi, you are well
qualified to be the successor of Goju school karate. I have nothing more to teach you.” Thereby, we are led to believe,
Yamaguchi was designated as Miyagi’s successor in Goju ryu.
Whether Miyagi ever said this is something we can hardly prove or disprove. However, it irritates some of the Goju
men on Okinawa to hear Yamaguchi described as Chojun Miyagi’s karate successor, since Miyagi was never in Japan for
periods of longer than two or three months. By far the larger part of his teaching was carried out in his native Okinawa.
In view of this it may be doubted whether Yamaguchi ever learned the whole of the Goju system from Miyagi; and it may
well be, as some say, that he picked up the complete range of Goju kata later from students of Miyagi such as Meitoku Yagi.
When Yamaguchi first began teaching karate, his training was regarded as pretty wild. Some of the other schools
thought it was like “street fighting,” and according to his son, Gosei Yamaguchi, he (Gogen) more or less “invented
his own way of working out”(see notes) Gogen Yamaguchi also claims the credit for inventing karate free-sparring, so
maybe this has something to do with it. The senior karate masters of the time emphasised kata training and were not very
enthusiastic about free-style kumite. But anyway, whatever his early methods, it is a fact that the development of Goju in
Japan was the work of this man, Gogen Yamaguchi.
When Yamaguchi realised his position as the senior Japanese student of Goju-ryu, he began to take the responsibility
seriously. When he could, he would go up to Mount Kuruma for austere training. He became acquainted with a group of
Shintoists who were engaged in spiritual training, and was able to learn several things from them. He began to fast. He
sat up in meditation through the night, and stood under a waterfall in sanchin stance to try and unify his mind and body.
“I was surprised to learn,” he writes, “that this (ascetic training) greatly influenced my karate. I found I was able to move
without thinking in a natural and mysterious way while I practiced. Moreover, I attained a perception and could quickly
see things before they occurred. I could anticipate what was going to happen.”
The 1930s were an ominous time for the whole world. In the East, Japan was on an expansionist course which
was to lead to Pearl Harbour, and World War II. In 1931, the Manchurian Incident occurred. Following this, Japan
seized Manchuria and in 1932 established the Republic of Manchu-kuo, actually a slave state of Japan. Concerning
the Manchurian Incident, Yamaguchi writes only that Kanto (Kwantung) troops destroyed anti-Japanese troops led by General Cho Gaku-ryo.
Actually, the Manchurian Incident occurred when Japanese troops of the Kwantung Army faked an attack upon
themselves, and used this as a pretext to seize Manchuria. The plan was the brainchild Col. Kanji Ishihara (1889-1949) a
“military genius” who spent two years planning the strategy to its last detail.
Ishihara, a follower of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, was an idealist who foresaw harmonious unification of Asia
(Japan, Manchuria and China), under the spiritual leadership of Japan. His idea was to make Manchuria “a paradise.”
Gogen Yamaguchi was a friend and devoted follower of General Ishihara and shared his ideals. “We wanted to make
Manchuria the Heavenly Land, where Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians and Koreans could live together in peace and
prosperity. This idea was created by General Kanji Ishihara. He had my friend since I became a student and I supported
his viewpoint together with about 200 disciples. (2)
In the event, Ishihara’s views were overridden Manchuria was oppressed and ruthlessly exploited. For the native
population, Manchu-kuo was anything but a heavenly land.
In 1938, Gogen Yamaguchi was asked by General Ishihara to go to Manchu-kuo to take up Governmental duties.
Being a patriot (with a capital P) he went, and served there until 1945. In his book Yamaguchi is not very specific about
what his duties entailed, but he comes over as something like a mixture of administrator, trouble-shooter, spymaster and
undercover agent. Throughout his time Manchuria he continued to train in karate, which just as well, since it pulled him
out of tight scrapes several times.
Once, he was patrolling, by himself, the around the bridge over the Nonjan river Since the bridge was of great strategic
importance, it was a prime target for “Communist Spies.” So Yamaguchi would disguise himself as a Manchurian and
keep a look-out for suspicious characters. One evening he came across two men acting strangely, and when he began
to ask them questions, they must have decided to take him out of there. One of the men went for a gun but Yamaguchi
kicked it out of his hand and then dropped him with a punch. The other took out a knife, but with a shuto (sword-hand)
strike, Yamaguchi disarmed him. Another time, three guerillas attempted to capture him, but he knocked them all down
and took them prisoner.
These were commonplace tight scrapes for Gogen Yamaguchi, but twice in Manchuria (he says) he was forced to exert himself to the utmost.
The first occasion was when he had a fight with one Ryu Kaku Rei (Japanese pronunciation), a master of Chinese
boxing. Yamaguchi had heard of Ryu Kaku Rei from one of his agents and, out of curiosity, went to look him up. But he
probably wasn’t expecting much. In 1940 Yamaguchi had led a group of martial artists, titled “The East Asia Martial Arts
Mission” to give exhibitions in Japan. Included in the group were some experts in Chinese boxing, but they didn’t impress
Yamaguchi. When he took them to Ritsumeikan University to watch the karate training, he suggested that they join in,
but they wanted nothing to do with it.
Anyway, Yamaguchi introduced himself to Ryu, and the two men cordially agreed to a contest. Ryu Kaku Rei had
developed his own style of ch’uan “Dragon Style.” He was aged about 67 (compared to Yamaguchi who would have
been in his early 30s) and looked thin and weedy. But Yamaguchi found out that Ryu could fight, because the best he
(Yamaguchi) got was a draw. Yamaguchi’s account of the fight is somewhat melodramatic--he calls it a draw because the
fight ends in a double knockdown--but obviously the older man impressed him and pushed him to his limit.
In May 1945, shortly before the end of the war, reports came in that a big attack was planned by Communists on the
town where Yamaguchi was posted. The Japanese command dismissed the reports, but Yamaguchi waited nervously.
Finally, “one thousand Communist bandits” launched their attack, and a pitched battle ensued. Yamaguchi gives an
exciting account in his book:
“l looked at Mr. Suzuki. ‘Well, it’s still uncertain’ I said. Just then we heard the sound of guns and battle cries near the
castle gate ‘Here they come! Take everyone upstairs. I’ll defend down here.’”
“My men followed my order as I took two revolvers and hid myself downstairs. I heard cries everywhere as many
bandits invaded the city and attacked in full force, killing many of the inhabitants. Citizens were running and bullets were
flying everywhere as the city was thrown into utter confusion.”
“Bandits on horses stopped in front of our office. I took cover as I fired my revolvers through the window, until both
guns were empty. Twenty bandits with guns and Chinese swords rushed our defence. Five or six bandits broke the door
down with the butts of their guns and rushed into the room.”
“With my guns empty, I resorted to Goju school of karate for my defence. I adjusted myself with breathing and was
ready to fight.”
“The room was dark and the bandits could not use their guns freely without possible injury to each other. I had trained
myself to see in this amount of light and knew I would be able to withstand the onslaught of four or five people at a time.
Under such a situation, I had to dispatch the enemy, one by one.”
“I avoided the first bandit who tried to strike me with his gun, and turning quickly to the right, struck him between the
thighs with a roundhouse kick. He cried and fell to the ground. Another fired his gun at me from behind, but he missed.
My elbow found the pit of his stomach with great force. A bloody Chinese sword slashed at me as I struck, with my
right fist, the man who was wielding this sword. The fighting was confused but the narrow room was to my advantage.
They rushed at me in the close quarters, which made it easy for me to fight them. When they drew near, I knocked them
out using nukite (finger strikes), hijiate (elbows), shuto (sword hand) and seiken (fists), against the guns, I used tobi-geri
(jumping kicks) and yoko-geri (side kick). I was able to fight more freely than in practice because I did not have any regard
for my opponent’s welfare.”
“Some of the bandits started up the stairs but were shot by my men who were protecting the women and children.”
“I attacked the bandits, aiming at their eyes or between their thighs, moving quickly as I fought. Fighting hard, I hoped
we could last until help arrived.”
“Soon there were cries at the front door and the bandits started to scatter. It appeared that they had been ordered to retreat.”
“My men came down the stairs, asking if I was injured. Luckily, only my left arm had been injured by the slash of a
dagger. I went upstairs to obtain a better view and observed the bandits fallen back with stolen weapons, gun powder
and supplies. It was now 7 o’clock in the morning.”
“. . . When I discovered the bandits had gone, I suddenly lost all my strength and had to sit down. I had fought with
them, hand to hand, for forty minutes.”(3)
“In 1945, even though Russia’s war with Japan didn’t last three weeks, great numbers of Japanese war prisoners were
raked in for urgent construction projects in Siberia and central Asia”. (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago).
At the end of the war, Russian troops moved into Manchuria. Thousands of Japanese were taken prisoner, Gogen
Yamaguchi being one. After spending several months in a prisoner of war camp, he was moved to a labour camp in
Mongolia where he spent two years, and there can be no doubt about it: it was grim
Solzhenitsyn and others have told us all about life in the Russian labour camps and the regime Yamaguchi mentions
is familiar--the interminable roll calls, the terrible rations, and the reduction of rations if work norms were not filled, the
“Prayer at Dawn”, etc. etc. Thousands of Japanese died in these camps. (4)
In 1947, Gogen Yamaguchi was released from captivity and repatriated. On November 18th, 1947, he saw the coastline
of his beloved Japan, and by December, he was back in Tokyo. He was profoundly shocked by the state of post-war
Japan, and not so much by the physical destruction, as by what he saw as its drastic spiritual decline. It was too much for
him to bear. Accordingly, he wrote his will, and at midnight on January 12th, 1948, walked to the Togo shrine at Harajuku.
Because he had made up his mind. He was going to commit harakiri (ritual suicide by disembowelment).
Reaching the shrine, Yamaguchi sat beside a quiet pond with his dagger laid before him, and offered a prayer. He fell
into a deep introspection, and then, like a bolt from the blue he experienced “a divine revelation” that changed his life.
“. . . In the course of time I lost all feeling and had a sense of walking amidst the clouds, floating in the sky with no
existence of my own. Such feelings are beyond my ability to describe. All past troubles were forgotten and I felt as if my
soul was floating in a world of glory and peace.”
“Then I found myself stretched out face down on the floor. How long I had been there I didn’t know. Coming to my
senses I found everything appeared to be shining brightly as if the whole world was living in happiness. Never will I forget
my mental state at that moment.”
When Yamaguchi had this mystical experience a realization crystallized in his mind: that to commit suicide would be
a waste of his life, and besides, that he had responsibilities, to his family and to Japan. He realised that his mission in
life was to teach and spread the martial arts, to teach the youth of Japan, (as one writer put it) “the flavour of combat
- or simply of life.” Accordingly, in 1948 he opened his first dojo, and in May 1950 established the All Japan Karate-do Goju-kai.
Another effect of his divine revelation was to turn Yamaguchi’s mind once more to religion and mysticism (5) (I would
guess that it was from this time, too, that he began to grow his hair long). He visited the Reverend Tadaki Yoshimura, the
Chief Reverend of the Shin-shu sect of Shinto, and before long became a master of Shinto himself. He also studied yoga
under Tengai Noda, “Japan’s Highest Authority” on the art.
In due course, Yamaguchi formulated his own system of “Goju Shinto,” a combination of Goju style karate, yoga and
shinto, with some zen included too. We should note, however, that this is more a personal thing with Gogen Yamaguchi,
and the yoga and shinto aspect does not affect the vast majority of Goju kai practitioners; they practice their karate just
as other karatemen do.
As we mentioned at the start of this chapter, Yamaguchi seems fully versed in shinto rituals and practices, and can
communicate with the spirits (kami). He uses the crystal ball for this, and also for predicting earthquakes and similar
things. He is familiar too with the various yogas (hatha yoga, raja yoga and kundalini yoga), and bases his understanding
of the human body on yoga physiology, and its seven chakras (psychic centers). In his book he outlines the “eight
pillars of yoga,” and devotes eighteen pages to a demonstration (by a yoga expert named Per Wynter) of yoga asanas
(postures). In all, the subject of Yoga occupies 35 pages of Karate: Goju-ryu by the Cat., so obviously Yamaguchi deems
it of major importance.
Why? Well, for a start yoga uses breathing techniques and so does Goju karate. Then, yoga can help in gaining mental-
spiritual-physical balance. Yamaguchi explained this in an interview with Steve Bellamy, of Fighting Arts International.
“If one’s body, internally or externally, is out of balance, there is a limit to how far one can go, and this is where yoga
can help. Yoga shows the way to adjust the body to a more natural and balanced state. If we use yoga to make a good
foundation then there are no limits to physical and mental achievement.”
Later, he goes on:
“. . . By following the yoga diet, the very cells of the body change and the seven vital points of the body called
“chakras” are awakened. Once one becomes aware of these vital points other changes occur, finally leading to the
state of “Bodhisattva” which could be called the ultimate consciousness. I have tried to control my diaphragm--which is
incidentally the true centre of the life force--so as to return to a natural state of structural balance, which has given me
the key to true breathing techniques opening my mind to cosmic inspiration.”
When he used to teach at his “Karate-do College,” (1970s), Master Yamaguchi would take a weekly yoga class on
a Monday afternoon. The class would consist of the yoga postures, and meditation, and it would end in a ritual which
went like this. (Description by James Genovese an American karateman who trained at the college. See “Official Karate,” August 1978).
“The students would form a semi-circle round Yamaguchi and his wife, everyone facing the dojo altar. All lights except
one were turned off. Everyone bowed three times to the altar, then Yamaguchi clapped his hands three times, to wake
up the spirits. He uttered an incantation while sprinkling salt on the students (salt is purifying), and then waved a sort of
wand (a wooden stick with white zigzag paper strips) over them.”
“Next, all the students bowed low while Mr. & Mrs. Yamaguchi chanted from the Hanya Sutra. A period of silence
ensued, then suddenly Yamaguchi emitted a long howl that increased in pitch and loudness, then faded away slowly. This
“eerie howl” was then repeated and, followed by a period of silence. That ended the class.”
The Nippon Goju kai (Japan Goju Association) teaches an orthodox Goju style, but there are certain differences vis-a-
vis the Okinawan Goju. These are differences of emphasis rather than anything else the same kata are used but there are
occasional minor variations in stances, for example. The Goju kai is a somewhat “lighter’” style, too, and does no make
extensive use of the chashi, chishi and other supplementary conditioning equipment. Also, like other Japanese karate
styles Goju kai makes more use of kicks, and has placed more emphasis on free style sparring as a training method. As
we noted earlier, the free sparring is a bit closer than in some other Japanese styles. Instructors like to see students use
Goju techniques, such as the distinctive open hand blocks, and keep the techniques flowing. Another feature is the high
use of groin kicks, the kick is made with the instep and in sparring it is directed to the inside thigh.
In the early 1970s Gogen Yamaguchi founded his “Japan Karate-do College,” located in Tokyo’s Suginami suburb. (His
previous dojo at Nippori was destroyed by fire).
It is a 3-story ferro-concrete construction, which Yamaguchi had built onto his house. The ground floor contains a
karate dojo; the first floor, a yoga-shinto centre; and the second floor a dormitory containing about a dozen beds
This is Gogen Yamaguchi’s Goju kai HQ, although classes in other styles are also taught, to give students of the college
a well-rounded karate education. Gogen Yamaguchi himself no longer teaches, (he is 73 years old at time of writing);
instruction is mainly in the hands of his son, Goshi.
Yamaguchi has two other sons; Gosei, who has taught Goju kai in San Francisco since the sixties, and Gosen, who
occasionally trains at the Karate-do College. According to an article by Brian Waites in “Fighting Arts” magazine, (6)
recently the Goju kai has begun to stress tournament work much more. In previous years they were not overly concerned
with this aspect and consequently did not have a great deal of success in open tournaments.
Just a few words about Yamaguchi’s daughter, Gokyoku, (formerly Wakako). She too teaches at the Karate-do College,
and is Japan’s premier woman in karate kata. She prefers kihon and kata because she realizes that women are at a
definite disadvantage in kumite--men are just physically stronger. But Gokyoku Yamaguchi is an excellent technician and
apart from that she is very good looking, intelligent, charming and very feminine. She is a fine calligrapher and recently
married her calligraphy teacher.
- In an article on Gosei Yamaguchi which appeared in a now defunct American magazine, Self Defence World
- Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy by David Bergamini (Heinmann, London, 1971) contains information on Kanji Ishihara,
The Manchurian Incident and Japan’s cruel administration of Manchu-kuo. For Ishihara see pp. 380-383 and page 1090.
Bergamini notes that Ishihara wrote a book on the righteous course for the Japanese nation. Entitled The Ultimate World
War (Sekai Saishu Senso) it was in manuscript form and almost complete. In the manuscript Ishihara saw the harmonious
unification of Japan, Manchuria and China (brought about by force, no doubt). After this unification of Asia there would
follow, perhaps within a period of 30 years, a “total war” between the yellows (Asians) and the whites (the West). Kanji
Ishihara believed that Japan could give moral leadership to Asia and that this total war “would end inevitably in the
annihilation of the West.” (Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy, p. 382).
- “Prayer at Dawn”: Prisoners in labour camps were left outside overnight in sub zero temperatures to die of exposure.
IncidentalIy, Alexander Solzhenitsyn mentions an example of this in 1928, in the early years of Communist rule in Russia
(The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 2), so, evidently, it was a tried and trusted method of terrorising prisoners.
- In his book Yamaguchi mentions methods of exorcising spirits, etc.
- Fighting Arts International, Vol. 3, No. 2
Discussion: Legendary Battles with Wild Cats
There is a well known story that, when in Manchuria, Gogen Yamaguchi fought and killed a tiger bare handed. The tale
appears in Peter Urban’s book Karate Dojo. Urban had studied karate in Japan in the fifties with Master Yamaguchi.
Urban states that when Yamaguchi was in Manchuria he was captured by the Chinese, who tried to break him by
solitary confinement, near starvation and torture. They failed. Hitting on another idea, the Chinese obtained a tiger and
didn’t feed it for three days. Then they put Yamaguchi in the animal’s cage, expecting him to be torn limb from limb.
But instead, Yamaguchi kicked the tiger in the nose and struck it in the head with his elbow before diving onto its back.
He got the big cat into a stranglehold and, at the same time, “let out an intense, shattering scream, right into the ear of
the animal.” The tiger was strangled to death .
Naturally, some people doubt that this ever happened, and trying to look further into it only deepens the confusion. For
one thing. Urban’s details are shaky. He says that Gogen Yamaguchi was arrested in Manchuria by “the hostile Chinese
Government,” but at that time there was no Chinese Government in Manchuria (Manchukuo) it was a Republic controlled
by the Japanese. Yamaguchi in his autobiography, makes no mention of being captured by the Chinese, of being tortured
(by Chinese or Russians), or of fighting a tiger.
American karateman, James Genovese, who trained at the Goju-kai headquarters in the seventies, says that Yamaguchi
denies the story (see Official Karate, August 1978). Yet, to confuse the matter still more in his interview with Roland
Gaillac in the French magazine Karate (April 1977) Yamaguchi is quoted as saying: “In Manchuria one day I went away
into the mountains and had a fight with a tiger. with bare hands. It was a terrible experience. I repeated this experience
later, before witnesses. (“J’ai renouvele cette experience par la suite. devant temoins.”)
The idea of fighting and killing a tiger is not a unique one in the martial arts. George Mattson in The Way of Karate
repeats a story he had been told in Okinawa about an incident in China of a man-eating tiger being killed by a venerable
Chinese master of karate (or kung-fu). It is an unbelievable tale in which the tiger had jumped the old master from behind,
whereupon the master seized its forelegs and threw it over his back onto the ground with a sort of “flying mare.” Master
Kanbun Uechi Sr. the founder of the Uechi-ryu karate style, purportedly saw both the Chinese master and the dead tiger
which had left an inch deep impression in the ground where it had landed.
They say that Chan Heung, the founder of the Choy Li Fut style of Kung-fu, killed a tiger, bare handed, when he was
60 years old. The skin of the tiger used to hang on the wall of his school.
Just recently a troupe of martial artists from Mainland China visited Great Britain (March 1981). One of the team was
Chao Chi-shu from Hunan Province, whose occupation was listed as “peasant”. Chao demonstrated various stunts of
ying chi kung or “hardening the body by harnessing the vital energy” but, more interesting, is the fact that he too was
described as a man who had fought and killed a tiger with his bare hands. This had happened when Chao was only 17
years old. According to one report he knocked the big cat out with “a right hook,” while another said he had wrestled
with the tiger and strangled it. Speaking about this on the video “Wu Shu. The Chinese Masters” Chao said that the tiger
had attacked him while he was working in the fields. A struggle ensued which lasted half an hour before Chao was able to kill the animal.
Chao was in good shape for his age (48) but he did not look particularly strong or powerful. I could not imagine him
as man who could outfight a tiger and I wondered just who was the source for that story--Chao himself? Well, could a
karateman, or any unarmed man, fight and kill a tiger?
Against a fully-grown tiger, it seems hard to believe. As most people know it is difficult enough to control a large dog,
or a house cat weighing only a few pounds, and an Indian (“Bengal”) tiger is 9-10 feet long from head to tail and weighs
about 400 Ibs. The Manchurian, or Siberian, tiger can grow up to 12 feet and is proportionately heavier, around 500 Ibs.
So even if Yamaguchi, who weighed only about 130 Ibs., fought a small tiger (say 230 Ibs?), he would still be considerably outweighed.
In his huge book on Strongmen and athletes (The Super Athletes), David Willoughby, a world authority on feats of
physical power, includes a chapter on “Man vs. Wild Animals.” He is very sceptical about the possibility of an unarmed
man overcoming a big cat. It is not only a question of physical power but of the animal’s teeth and claws which are,
effectively, like knives. Also, “if anything will fight to its last breath it is a cat.”
Willoughby quotes several examples, such as Frank Merrill, a strongman who was a screen ‘Tarzan’ in the silent era.
Merrill worked with wild animals and thought that possibly a man could strangle a leopard (weighing, say 120 Ibs.),
providing he got behind the animal and kept out of the way of its claws. However, he thought that a lion or tiger was
beyond the ability of any man to overcome, except perhaps armed with a knife or other weapon. (In the Roman Games,
there were trained men, called Bestarii, who fought wild animals in the arena. They did fight tigers,
generally using spears).
Dave Willoughby does mention a case of an American goldminer back in the 1890s killing a female cougar, unarmed.
After a desperate struggle, and close to exhaustion, this man managed to bite into the cougar’s throat and right through
its jugular vein. “This is the only apparently authentic instance I have come across,” writes Willoughby,” in which one of
the big cats was killed solely with a man’s own natural weapons.”
An interesting news item appeared a couple of years ago (1980):
Jakarta, Indonesia -- Two kung-fu experts fought a battle to the death with a male tiger in Northern Sumatra according
to Agence France-presse. The victims, Sunarmin, 62, and Amarlak, 58, experts in Silak, an Indonesian style of kung-fu,
were attacked by the tiger while harvesting in the jungle. According to the villagers, the two men were able to kill the cat
before dying from severe loss of blood caused by deep lacerations received during the battle. Presumably the two men
were armed with weapons of some sort.
Back in 1893, in San Francisco, the famous strongman, Eugen Sandow (5’ 8”, 185 Ibs.), had a public match with a
circus lion. The lion’s mouth was muzzled and mittens were placed over its paws. Quite what happened at the “bout”
is obscure. Sandow’s account, in his book Strength and “How to Obtain It” is ludicrous, and an American journalist,
Alexander Woolcott, wrote an alternative and very unflattering account in 1929, nearly 40 years after the event.
According to Woolcott, the lion was an old “timid and toothless vegetarian” who came in and lay down. The crowd
charged the box office and demanded their money back. (Both versions of the Sandow vs. Lion fight are reprinted in Leo
Gaudreau’s excellent “Anvils, Horseshoes and Cannons: The History of Strongmen.”)
To round off this whole question of karate masters vs. tigers, it might be worthwhile looking at another, more recent,
“man vs. wild animal” promotion. The following is from The Daily Telegraph, January 5th, 1977:
FIGHT WITH TIGER DEGRADING-- The World Wildlife Fund urged President Duvalier of Haiti to ban a fight between
a Japanese karate expert and a Bengal tiger, planned to take place in Port Au Prince in the next few weeks. It said in a
cable to the President:
“We consider this is a degrading spectacle, not least because the tiger is representative of hundreds of animals
threatened with extinction through human action.”
Reading this, you can’t help thinking that somebody had got things upside down. Because, if fights like this ever
became commonplace, one species definitely would be threatened with extinction--karate masters!
Mamoru Yamamoto, age 38, headmaster of the Yoshukai school, was the karate expert. He planned to fight the
tiger, not bare-handed, but with a staff, and it was planned to transmit the match to American closed-circuit viewers.
Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on how you look it at - the fight was called off. As one more additional point,
Don Atyeo (Blood and Guts: Violence in Sport p. 120) writes that the “Wild Bengal Tiger” was actually a broken-down circus reject.
To get back to Gogen Yamaguchi: For all we know, he may have fought and killed a tiger back in the 1930s. If anybody
was going to beat a tiger I suppose one way to do it would be to stun the animal before trying to strangle it from behind - although
a tiger has a very thick neck. Since nobody has attempted to strangle a tiger under scientific conditions the
possibility of succeeding in such a feat can’t be established one way or another. But it seems a little hard to take!
Master Funakoshi’s KARATE
by Graham Noble
Some Thoughts on Yoshitaka There is a certain romance about Master Funakoshi’s third son, Yoshitaka (or Giko). The
stories of his training, his early death, and the excellence of his technique evident from old photographs, continue to
exert their fascination. He is a favorite subject of mine, but trying to dig up details of his life is frustrating; for a variety of
historical reasons he remains a neglected figure. The stories are that he began karate training as a child. Obviously he
must have learned the art from his father, yet he somehow developed his own instinctive way of performing techniques;
“dynamic” is the word that springs to mind. Photographs of past karate experts usually appear old fashioned, yet
Yoshitaka’s techniques look surprisingly modern. The development of his karate must have been given added impetus
when his father passed on the major part of his teaching responsibilities in the 1930s.
I have previously written that it was Yoshitaka Funakoshi who developed modern Shotokan but now I don’t think
that is strictly correct. It is true, for example, that his stances were much deeper than his father’s, but to judge from
early photographs there was a movement towards deeper stances a little before Yoshitaka. And the theory of Yoshitaka
as the true originator of modern Shotokan does not explain the postwar development of the style by people such as
Masatoshi Nakayama, Isao Obata, and Hidetaka Nishiyama who had never studied with him. Nevertheless, he was the
most important figure in the style’s development in the prewar years. Gichin Funakoshi’s karate was the starting point
but its “Shotokan-ness” needed to be brought out and strengthened. If we compare Yoshitaka’s technique with Gichin’s,
certain differences are immediately apparent --Yoshitaka’s stances were much deeper and more rooted, and his whole
body applied more in defense than attack. He used kicks in a much more vigorous way, and the delivery of attacks looks stronger.
All these elements are part of modern day Shotokan but other parts of Yoshitaka’s karate are no longer practiced. For
example his favorite stance of fudodachi (unmoveable stance) and his ‘Tenno-kata’ are rarely seen nowadays. Tenno-
kata, Ji-no-kata, and Jin-no-kata, representing Heaven (Ten), Earth (Ji) and Man (Jin). I have never seen Ji-no-kata or Jin-
no-kata and am not sure whether the series was ever completed. Shigeru Egami told Mitsusuke Harada that Yoshitaka
had also created a “Shoto” kata. Unfortunately Egami did not learn this kata fully and it may now be lost.
Harada sensei related a story he had been told by his seniors. Yoshitaka was sucked into an argument with some
judoka who were the worse for drink. They set on him but their mode of attack--reaching for a collar hold to apply their
throwing technique--made them open targets for Yoshitaka’s powerful kicks and punches. Within a short time he had
knocked the judoka down. This event gave him great confidence in his technique. Yoshitaka taught at the Shotokan dojo
till 1944 or ‘45. By 1945 he was seriously ill and much of the teaching at that time was carried out by Genshin Hironishi.
Occasionally, in the last couple of years or so, Yoshitaka would recover and take a class. During a class Yoshitaka would
instruct and supervise, not actually joining the training very much. Sometimes, at the end of the session, he would get
a sempai (senior) up to spar. The sempai would attack, with Yoshitaka defending and using his open hands to cuff or
push the opponent back. I get the impression that he would “play” with the attacker. Even so, some of these open
hand cuffs hurt and Shigeru Egami recalled his soreness after these sessions. A few modern experts such as Mitsuke
Harada and Taiji Kase look back to Yoshitaka as a great karate expert. However, although his methods worked their way
through Shotokan, he seems to have had few real students. I asked Harada sensei who could be considered students
of Yoshitaka. He thought there was Egami, Okuyuma, maybe Hironishi in the war period and then he began to run out of
names. This is one reason why Yoshitaka has been neglected in the study of karate history. How good was he? This is
something that cannot be answered, not only for Yoshitaka but for all the old karate masters.
Karate is not a competitive sport like boxing, where we have fighters’ full records, and, more often than not, films of
their best-known bouts. There are no films of the old time karate experts, often no photographs, and written material
is usually scanty or biased. For Yoshitaka we have the testimony of a few of his followers (often at second hand), and
it is interesting, for example, to hear from Mitsusuke Harada that in kumite, “No one could block Yoshitaka’s punch.”
As for the photographs, they are always excellent: his form looks attractive and strong and his stances as solid as a
rock. There is just one fly in the ointment, dating back to a 1970s article by American writer Andy Adams on Gichin
Funakoshi. Adams spoke to several contemporaries and students of Funakoshi, including Mas Oyama (the world
leader and founder of Kyokushin-kai Karate) who trained at the Shotokan in the late 1930s. During a general criticism of
Funakoshi’s karate, Oyama said: “Yoshitaka took 10 of his best kumite men to Osaka and fought with Goju men there.
All lost. Even Funakoshi’s son was beaten in his match with Chil Soo. Everybody saw all the great Funakoshi men lose.
After that Funakoshi’s son became a real karate fighter. Very strong. I like.” Several writers have latched on to these few
sentences, speculating that it was this event--supposing it did happen the way Oyama described it--which precipitated
the development of Yoshitaka’s “new” form of karate. I am not sure about that at all, and there may be a problem with
dates. By his own account Oyama began training at the Shotokan around 1938. Yet photographs dated 1936 and 1937
showed that Yoshitaka’s technique was fully formed by that time. The story also suggests that Goju karateka were more
advanced in jiyu-kumite, which contrasts with something Mitsusuke Harada told me.
In his recollections of the kokan-geiko of the early post-war years, Harada sensei said that initially Goju-ryu students
had difficulty with the Shotokan karateka’s longer attacks and greater familiarity with jiyu-kumite. Of course, the story
fascinated me too and over the years I asked many karateka if they knew of it. Some of these karateka were fairly senior
Shotokan people, but (with one exception) no one could supply any information at all, and I began to doubt whether the
contest ever happened. I suppose the Shotokan group might have tried to sweep it under the carpet, but I never got the
impression that anyone was holding anything back.
The exception was Richard Kim, who replied to my inquiry with the version of the story he had heard: “Regarding your
inquiry on Oyama’s account of a match between Funakoshi’s son and the Goju people. The story involves Nei-chu So,
the highest ranking Goju-kai sensei under Yamaguchi. There is no verification of the story--it depends on whose version
you trust. “Nei-chu So in his match with Giko Funakoshi grabbed Giko and threw him hard against the wall. So, at that
time, was one of the most powerful men in Japan and used his physical strength to win his matches. The Funakoshi
people claim it was against the rules and walked out.” I don’t know if Oyama actually witnessed the contest but his
teacher in Goju-ryu was this very Nei-chu So. There is a photo of So in the early editions of Oyama’s “What is Karate” and
he does look a muscular, powerful man, so the story is plausible. The tale must have been circulating in the Goju world,
where it was heard by Oyama and Richard Kim. I give it here for what it’s worth. No doubt there was a Shotokan version
of events; if anyone has heard it please write to me at this magazine.
The War Years and Special Training Throughout the 1930s Japan was geared up as a wartime economy. Manchuria was
annexed in 1932, the war with China began in 1936, and then in 1941 came Pearl Harbor and the entry into “The Great
Pacific War”. Many karateka were posted overseas, and the turnover of young students was heavy. Funakoshi recalled:
“I would often hear a young man say, as he knelt before me: “Sensei, I have been drafted and I’m off to serve my country
and my Emperor.” Every day I would hear my students report to me in this fashion. They had been strenuously practicing
karate day after day in preparation for hand-to-hand encounters with an unmet enemy, and they believed they were
ready. . . Of course, many students died in battle, so many, alas, that I lost count of them. I felt my heart would break
as I received report after report telling me of the deaths of so many promising young men. Then I would stand alone in
the silent dojo and offer a prayer to the soul of the deceased, recalling the days when he had practiced his karate so
diligently. I once asked Mitsusuke Harada who had been the karate instructors at certain university clubs during the war.
He replied that because of the constant coming and going to the front it was impossible to say. How did karate change
during the war? Well, the art has little relevance to modern warfare but it seems that the whole atmosphere of the times
led to greater seriousness in training.
Taiji Kase, who trained at the Shotokan in the last year or so of the war, remembered that emphasis was placed on
strong basics and intense practice of kumite (especially jiyu-ippon) with much physical contact. Kase, a person not given
to exaggeration, described it as “very hard”. Tatsuo Suzuki told me that the well rounded pre-war training gave way to
practice on “fighting”, and he stressed “fighting” rather than sparring (jiyu-kumlte). I had heard stories (without details)
of Yoshitaka Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami teaching special troops during the war. I asked Harada sensei about this and
he told me what he had heard.
The institution concerned was the Nakano School, a training school for military espionage analogous to our MI5.
Trainees were on a one year course covering undercover work, guerrilla warfare and so on. Unarmed combat was also
included and the original teacher for this was Morihei Uyeshiba (of Aikido). Uyeshiba himself was good but when the
students tried to apply the techniques they couldn’t make them work under real conditions. In a way, Aikido had too
much “technique” for the limited one year of training. The military leaders decided to look at karate as an alternative, and
they observed the different styles, such as Goju, Wado, and Shotokan.
Goju-ryu, with its heavy stress on sanchin training, did not seem to have the practical application necessary, at least
in its initial stages, and Wado-ryu technique seemed too “light”. However, the Shotokan style as demonstrated by
Yoshitaka looked impressive, and he was asked to teach at the Nakano School. Unfortunately, he was too ill and it was
Shigeru Egami who did the actual teaching. Egami concentrated on two techniques: choku-zuki (straight punch) and
mae-geri (front kick), and when he began teaching a class he would pick out participants and tell them to attack him as
hard as they could. In this way he was able to prove the validity of his technique. Injuries were frequent. Kicks were often
delivered to the shins - and this was while wearing boots.
After the war Harada sensei met someone who had trained in these classes under Egami. He recalled one time when
he had hardly been able to walk for a week because of such shin kicks. But injuries were no excuse for missing training.
If someone was wearing bandages, they had to be removed. If a bad injury occurred, then no doctors could be called for
during training. A hard rule, but no doctors would be present on the battle front. All in all, however, this “Nakano-ryu” was
successful in achieving its objectives. The military was pleased with the results and Yoshitaka and Egami gained prestige
from it. Something similar was recounted by Wado-ryu karateka Takatoshi Nishizono in a chapter he contributed to the
1977 book “Karate-do”. (Sozo Co. Translation courtesy Ian McLaren and N. Karasawa). Nishizono began karate training
when he entered Tokyo University in 1941. He became so wrapped up in karate that in fact he neglected his studies and
his academic performance was poor. But after graduation he managed to get a job with the North China Transportation
Company in Peking; a boring, routine job as he recalled.
In early 1945 however, he was summoned by head office and asked to take on a role as karate instructor to a Special
Army Squadron in Taigen. Nishizono felt he was not really up to this but after he was told it was his duty he agreed:
“When I arrived at the special squadron I was introduced to the young Commanding Officer and the other officers. I
was made aware of the aim and organization of the squadron but was ordered to keep it secret for security reasons.
“Taigen was the HQ of the 1st Army Group, North China, but our squadron consisted of only 250 volunteers, all of
whom had distinguished themselves in battle. We usually wore normal military uniform with the Cherry Blossom badge,
but when we began operations we changed into normal Chinese wear and we acted like ninja, carrying no weapons.
We were an intelligence and guerrilla unit named “Sakura Squadron” We trained in horse riding, martial arts disguise
technique and physical exercise. We never trained with swords or guns; it was required that the Sakura Squadron be able
to defeat the opponent with bare hands, and this was why karate was selected.
“I began instruction immediately, on the first day. I was led to a building to be used as the dojo and found the whole
squadron lined up, all stripped to the waist. They had superb physiques and sharp eyes. The commanding officer gave
a briefing which included the words: “Our training must be real, just like a battle! So it may be that some of you will be killed!””
“That briefing was very effective in impressing the soldiers. Even though they were brave men, some said afterwards
that it had made them feel uneasy.”
“You cannot teach 200 men sufficient karate to defeat an enemy in one month if you rely on the normal methods of
training. I made an instant decision and, selecting two soldiers who looked strong, ordered them to attack me using any
technique they wished. They had no experience of karate so I was able to beat them easily; my kicking technique was
enough. But they were very brave and continued to attack. But despite the briefing by the commanding officer I did not
have the heart to attack the kintekki (testicles). I refrained from using that technique and using only sokuto I knocked
them to the floor. After this the soldiers respected my ability and it was much easier for me to teach them.”
“My method of training was a simple one. For punching (tsuki) I demanded that they strike to the enemy’s face, and for
kicking, that they attack the kintekki. For defense we used jodan-uke and gedan-barai. I trained them every day repeating
these basic techniques many times. As training progressed the soldiers’ stances became stronger. Then we moved on
to hon-kumite--serious kumite.”
“There was no stopping in our kumite and naturally some arguments arose during this practice. Also, as I could not
easily oversee over 200 men I learned that when I was near they would go full force, but when my back was turned they
took it easy. I knew that they were tired after their battlefield experiences and at first I pretended not to notice. However,
my task was to train them to combat readiness in a month, so eventually I had to be hard with them. If I found anyone
being idle I pulled them out and and fought them till they could no longer stand.”
“They had all practiced judo, kendo and tsuken-jutsu (bayonet fighting) and were able to pick up karate technique
quickly. After training we would take a bath. Some of the soldiers had powerful physiques and I was somewhat ashamed
of my own small body.”
“That month passed so quickly. All the soldiers trained hard and performed well. On the final day we said our farewells,
the officers expressed their gratitude to me, and we had a party. Then I left Taigen and returned to Peking where life
continued in the same way as before.”
“I never found out what happened to the Sakura Squadron. I heard stories that they had been sent south on a mission
and that all had been killed. The men who wore that Cherry Blossom badge were all from Northern Japan; they were so
naive and kind. Now it all seems like a dream.”
The Post-War Years The Shotokan dojo was destroyed in a bombing raid in the spring of 1945. When Japan surrendered
in August of that year Funakoshi left for Oite in Kyushu where his wife was living. (She had been evacuated there during
the battle of Okinawa.) Life was hard during those early post-war years and Funakoshi sensei’s involvement with karate
ceased for the time being. However, in 1947 his wife died and he moved back to Tokyo. As his train stopped at each
station on the way there were former students waiting to meet him and offer their condolences. He was moved to
tears. Many fine karate students had been lost in the war, and such was the chaos afterwards that for a couple of years
Masatomo Takagi (Secretary of the JKA) was not even aware of what had become of Master Funakoshi. Eventually Takagi
discovered that he was still alive and recovering from illness. It had been almost 19 years since he had seen Funakoshi
and when he introduced himself the old master failed to recognize him.
“I once knew someone called Takagi, a long time ago” he said. When Takagi exclaimed “It’s me, sensei!” Funakoshi
took his hand in surprise. It took a few years for the karate world to pick itself up and by then its development was in the
hands of a younger generation. Gichin Funakoshi was the rallying point for Shotokan karateka but by this time he was
over 80 years old and did not take an active role. But he still retained his love of the art and taught when he could. He
taught on a limited basis at Waseda, Keio, and maybe at times at other universities. His class at Waseda was held on a
Saturday, but attendance was poor. Things had moved on and few of the young trainees wanted to learn from an eighty-
year-old teacher who was interested only in kata--especially when they wanted to practice kumite. At one point Tsutomu
Ohshima, the club captain, had to tell trainees that, unless they attended Funakoshi sensei’s classes they would not be
allowed to take their gradings. So they turned up, albeit grudgingly. All credit to Ohshima for taking this action because
those classes were the bright spot in Master Funakoshi’s week.
After the war many budoka saw their arts as fulfilling a need in installing values in the Japanese people. In 1954 a major
demonstration of Budo took place in Tokyo. It featured demonstrations by greats such as Mifune (Judo), Nakayama
(Kendo), and Gichin Funakoshi, who was then 86 years old. His demonstration was loudly applauded and when he was
invited onto the dais he received a standing ovation.
By the time Funakoshi died in 1957, things were moving in the Japanese karate world. Immediately after the war the
Shotokan group was dispersed and it was not till the late 1940s that the seniors began to organize. Even then it was a
faltering start. In his interesting interview in this magazine (F.A.I. No. 51) Hidetaka Nishiyama recalled that many of the
seniors had forgotten their kata and often had to get together to pool their knowledge. But, through the efforts of people
such as Genshin Hironishi the various Shotokan groups were brought together and in 1949 or ‘50 the Japan Karate
Association was founded.
As an aside, I don’t know whether Hironishi was actually involved with the JKA, but he did form the Shotokai together
with Shigeru Egami. (Hironishi became President, with Egami taking sole responsibility for the technical develop-ment.)
Hironishi was one of Funakoshi’s favorite students, and he had taught at the old Shotokan dojo in the later war years. In
the Sino-Japanese war which began in 1937 he saw action on the Chinese front. He was officer material but because
of his socialist views had to serve in the ranks. Nevertheless, through strength of character he became a sergeant in the
Army. When he returned to Japan in 1943 he was asked to teach at the Shotokan.
Anyway, in 1949 the JKA was formed. In this original JKA Isao Obata was Chairman, Kichinosuke Saigo President,
Masatomo Takagi administrator, and Masatoshi Nakayama chief instructor. Master Funakoshi had the figurehead role
of Honorary Chief Instructor. With so many different groups involved friction was probably inevitable. Each university
group had its own slightly different form of “Shotokan” and problems could arise, for example, at gradings if seniors
from another university were on the panel. There was an interesting article in the American magazine “Black Belt” a few
years ago (“A New Day in Karate”, Oct. 1965 issue) which shed some light on the problems of the early JKA. The article
concentrated on the rivalry between the various University Old Boy clubs and their different approaches to karate. Many
of the top positions in the JKA were held by Takushoku university men such as Nakayama, Takagi and Nishiyama. Unlike,
for example, Obata and Saigo, who were well off and believed karate teaching should be on an amateur (unpaid) basis,
the Takushoku karateka were paid a salary and had a more commercial approach
Anyway, whatever the exact reasons, the Hosei and Waseda groups left in the early 1950s, and in 1953 or ‘54 Obata
and the Keio group left too. What remained was still strong, however, and formed the basis for what we now know as
the JKA. In having a more business-like approach the men involved in this group--Masatoshi Nakayama, Hidetaka
Nishiyama, Teryuki Okazaki, Kimio Ito--were more forward looking than their contemporaries, and it is their system which
is now the major form of Shotokan. They set up a training course for instructors in 1956, the first three trainees being
Kanazawa, Mikami and Takura. Takura I know nothing about but Hirokazu Kanazawa and Takayuki Mikami were regarded as outstanding young karateka.
Between them they shared the first three of the JKA’s All Japan Championships. That first Championship, won by
Kanazawa, was held in 1957 and was, in its way, epoch making. I’m not exactly sure if this was the first karate tournament
but it is usually held to mark the beginning of modern sport karate. In many cases this has become an end in itself but
the JKA has always been able to keep it in balance with the other elements of kihon and kata to preserve a well rounded karate.
The JKA is one of several Shotokan bodies, and we could say that none of them practice karate in exactly the way
Funakoshi did, that is the way he demonstrated in “Karate-do Kyohan’s” first edition. That is to be expected, of course;
times have changed and the art has moved on. But, for example, Masatoshi Nakayama, the late J.K.A. chief instructor,
was a student of Funakoshi sensei from 1932 to 1937, so his karate was obviously based on Funakoshi’s teaching. The
changes we can see in the modern JKA are natural developments which occurred with time and the influx of a younger
generation of instructors. Even so, today’s kata are more or less the same as those shown in the second (1958) edition of
“Kyohan”. By that time the Shotokan form was well established, and all who practice that form today look back to Gichin
Funakoshi as their founding father.
Master Funakoshi’s Precepts Gichin Funakoshi left us twenty precepts. In doing this he was probably more aware of
the precedent of Ankoh Itosu (who in a note set down his “10 teachings”) and of various kenjutsu masters who put down
the principles of their teaching in this fashion. Funakoshi’s maxims are very similar in tone to some of these kenjutsu
writings (Donn Draeger gives examples in his “Modern BuJutsu and Budo”, pages 103/4 and 109/10). Some writers have
tried to point out the spiritual nature of Funakoshi’s precepts, but I don’t think they are profound in that sense. Funakoshi
did believe in the “Do” of karate, but more in the sense described by the Zen priest Takuan (1573-1646): “The law of
the Buddha well observed, is identical with the law of mundane existenceÉ The Way (Do) is practical only.” “Master
Funakoshi wasn’t one to give metaphysical explanations for everything,” recalled Tsutomu Ohshima. “He was very
practical and was influenced by the teachings of Confucius who never talked about great mysteries or spiritual issues.
Funakoshi, like Confucius, was more interested in the realistic world of people, ideas and events.” So the precepts cover
not only Funakoshi’s wider view of karate--its underlying social and moral basis--but also advise on technical principles,
on principles of self-defense, and on how to integrate karate into daily life. Thus, they are well rounded and complete--
and moreover, they give us an insight into Funakoshi sensei’s philosophy of karate.