The History of Shotokan Karate-Do and the establishment of the International Japan Karate Association (IJKA)

Gichin Funakoshi
(November 10th 1868 – April 26th 1957)

Gichin Funakoshi the founder of Shotokan Kara-te-Do is said to be the "father of modern karate". Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. As a boy, he was trained by two famous martial arts masters of that time. Each trained him in a different Okinawan martial art. From Azato he learned Shuri-te. From Itosu he learned Naha-te. It would be the combining of these two styles that would one day become Kara-te.

Shotokan is called after Funakoshi's nickname, Shoto, which means "waving pines". He got this nickname from the fact that he was a poet and philosopher who would reportedly go for long walks in the forest where he would meditate and write his poetry. Kan means training hall, or house, thus Shotokan referred to the "House of Shoto". This name was coined by Funakoshi's students when they posted a sign above the entrance of the hall at which Funakoshi taught reading "Shoto kan".

Funakoshi was the first Okinawan karate master to introduce karate to the Japanese mainland in 1922. He taught karate at various Japanese universities and became honorary head of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) upon its establishment in 1949, with Masatoshi Nakayama as its Chief Instructor.

Funakoshi passed away in 1957 at the age of 88 after introducing his martial art to Japan. He had reached the rank of 5th Dan, which was the highest grade in karate at that time. After his passing, the JKA was left without a head for some time. The instructors at the various clubs at University level were divided as to the path the JKA should take. Eventually the JKA Alumini nominated Masatoshi Nakayama to Headmaster and Chief Instructor of the JKA.

Masatoshi Nakayama (April 13th 1913 – April 15th 1987)

Masatoshi Nakayama is widely known for having worked to spread Shotokan karate throughout the world. He restructured the Shotokan karate training program to follow both traditional karate and methods developed in modern sports sciences. In 1961 he established kata (patterns) and Kumite (sparring) as tournament disciplines and together with other senior instructors he established the JKA instructor trainee program. Many of the program's graduates were sent throughout the world to form new Shotokan subgroups and increase membership. As Headmaster and Chief Instructor of the JKA, his research and publications dictated the teachings of the JKA at that time. His Best Karate series and books such as Dynamic Karate continue to act as the 'bibles' of Shotokan karate worldwide. Nakayama was the first master in Shotokan history to attain the rank of 9th Dan and the JKA awarded him an honorary 10th Dan when he died.

Tetsuhiko Asai (June 7th, 1935 – August 15th 2006)

With Nakayama's Demise in 1987, the JKA nominated Tetsuhiko Asai (Technical Director of the JKA at the time) as its Chief Instructor. Asai was a prominent Japanese master of Shotokan karate. In 1958, one year after the passing of Funakoshi, Asai graduated from Takushoku University, where he had trained under the direction of Funakoshi and Nakayama.

At Nakayama's recommendation, Asai entered the JKA instructor training program and graduated from the course three years later. Asai won the JKA championship in Kumite in 1961 and in kata in 1963. He was overall JKA champion in 1961, having come first in Kumite and second in kata that year.

Asai was one of the most dynamic fighters to have ever existed. Of Asai, Nakayama once wrote “Tetsuhiko Asai’s ever-changing movements, sometimes resembling a dance performed in the air, leave spectators gaping with admiration. His inimitable talent has its source in training since youth, fostering powerful hips, a flexible body, deep technical skill, excellent reflexes and nerveless courage.”

Reflecting on relations between JKA instructors who had graduated from Takushoku University, Asai said, "We all pretty much get on nowadays, contrary to our official stances and federations. In saying that, some of us don't, but isn't that life? ... I am happy to say that most of the deep rooted rivalry has gone amongst my peers. I think that the passing of Mr. Enoeda, Mr. Kase, Mr. Tabata and Mr. Shoji and so forth has brought many of us back to reality”.
Sadly, Asai passed away on August 15th 2006, after battling cancer. He was 71 years old. His legacy will live on.

The International Japan Karate Association (IJKA)

Following the death of Nakayama in 1987 the JKA experienced unprecedented political troubles and divide. Differences between senior instructors and administrators gave rise to several breakaway groups, with the JKA itself eventually dividing into two factions in 1991; one group led by Asai (Chief Instructor of the JKA at the time) and the other led by the Nobuyuki Nakahara (Chairman of the JKA at the time).

Asai had the support of Instructors like Raizo, Abe and Yahara, while Nakahara had the support of senior Instructors like Ueki, Tanaka, Enoeda, Mori and Ochi. A legal dispute commenced between the two groups about the control of JKA and the matter was before the courts for almost a decade (1991 – 1999).

After several court rulings, the battle over the rights to the JKA was ultimately settled by the Japanese Supreme Court on June 10th 1999, in favour of Nakahara's group. The other group led by Asai responded by forming another organisation which was named the Japan Karate Shotorenmei (JKS).

While the dispute over the rights to the JKA was before the courts Asai formed a new organisation in 1996 called the International Japan Karate Association (IJKA). Asai established the IJKA in order to protect his organisation in the event that it lost the legal battle over the rights to the JKA. Asai became Headmaster and Chief Instructor of the IJKA upon its establishment and he appointed Sadashige kato Shihan (the then Chief Instructor of JKA Europe – “the Asai fraction”) to Chief Instructor of IJKA Europe. Asai continued to act as Headmaster and Chief Instructor of the IJKA Worldwide at that time.

Following the passing of Asai, Kato Shihan (Chief Instructor of IJKA Europe at the time) was asked to take over the mantel of IJKA World Chief Instructor at the 2007 IJKA congress held in Budapest, Hungary, following one year of respect for Asai. Kato Shihan is based in the UK and continues to act as World Chief Instructor of the IJKA.

While still a mainstream Shotokan karate organization, the IJKA also promotes Asai’s unique style of karate. In this respect, in addition to the standard list of 26 Shotokan kata, the IJKA also practices 31 kata developed by Asai - the Asai Ryu kata. The Dai kata (1 through 4) are part of the Kyu grading syllabus and have been introduced prior to the Hein Kata. The Junro kata (1 through 5) are part of the Dan grading syllabus and a student wishing to take a Dan grading is required to perform one Junro kata of choice, in addition to performing one of the 26 standard Shotokan kata of choice.

Although the IJKA practices all the Asai Ryu kata, other than the 4 Dai kata and the 5 Junro kata, there is no requirement for a student to know any of the remaining 22 Asai Ryu kata. The 31 Asai Ryu kata can be viewed at the following link.

Sadashige Kato Shihan, 9th Dan (IJKA World Chief Instructor)

Sadashige Kato Shihan was born on July 22nd 1943 in Kochi, Japan. He attended the world famous Takushoku University in Tokyo and trained under Tsuyama, Kanazawa and Urui. Kanazawa's influence was very strong and he won a place on the JKA Instructors Course. Upon completion of the Instructors Course, Kato Shihan went to teach in Germany and in 1966 he was sent by the JKA to the UK.

Kato Shihan has been resident in England and teaching karate throughout the world for more than 40 years, during which time his loyalty was to the late IJKA World Chief Instructor Asai until his passing in 2006. Kato Shihan is the only person to have been awarded 8th Dan by Asai, a testament to the technical complexity and awesome ability of Kato as a true karate master.

Whilst it was Asai's ability to demonstrate his style, it is Kato Shihan's ability to interpret and teach that has seen the organization grow and gain popularity with the karate instructors who are hungry for knowledge. His unique style of teaching and attention to the historical detail of Shotokan karate make his coaching seminars a must for every serious Shotokan karateka.

IJKA Ireland

Brian Toomey 7th Dan is Chief Instructor of IJKA Ireland. Toomey has been practising karate for over 40 years, having received his first lesson from Tom Abbernetty. As head of the IJKA in Ireland Toomey is constantly organising and attending international seminars and championships which are always open to other karate organisations. He has represented Ireland as competitor, coach and as an International referee and is well respected on the International Karate Circuit. Toomey enjoys nothing more than passing on his knowledge and experience in the dojo.

Toomey’s vision for IJKA Ireland is to foster the true spirit of karate-do and to develop international relations under the guidance of Kato Shihan. “The organisation holds true to this vision by hosting and participating in national and international seminars and tournaments all over the World. It is in this fashion that IJKA Ireland hopes to encourage the growth and development of IJKA karate home and abroad. The organisation has an open door policy and all karateka are welcome to participate in its events”.