Charles Mack

Although his name may not be instantly recognisable, Charles Mack is a true pioneer of martial arts in Britain. A leading exponent and authority on Japanese arts, he holds black belts in Judo, Karate, and Aikido. He was the first British subject to be awarded his 1st Dan in Karate by the Japan Karate Association (JKA), in Japan and was awarded his 5th in Judo at the prestigious Kodokan, the home of Japanese Judo.

Born in Newcastle, Mack’s martial arts journey began as a member of the Budokwai Judo Club based in London, where he had moved to in 1951. The club is one of the oldest Judo clubs outside of Japan and was established in 1918. Being a powerfully built man, he excelled at Judo and by 1953 had been awarded his 1st Dan. In 1956 he was awarded his 3rd Dan and was competing internationally for Great Britain.

In 1956 Mack emigrated to Canada, moving to the city of Vancouver in British Colombia. He still continued to practice and compete in Judo. Between 1956 to 1958 he won the North Western Judo Championship on three occasions.

To improve his Judo Mack decided to move to Japan in June of 1958. He travelled there on a ship named the Hikawa Maru. This was the ship on which Judo founder, Jigaro Kano had died, on 4th May 1938. Initially, Mack intended to stay in Japan for a period of two years to attain his 4th Dan.

At the 2nd World Judo Championships, held in Tokyo in October of 1958, Mack was chosen to represent Great Britain. In preparation for the tournament, he trained at the Kodokan. To supplement his training he also enrolled as a student of the JKA, to study Shotokan Karate at their dojo based in the Yotsuya district of Japan.

Living in Japan provided Mack with an opportunity to immerse himself in the Budo culture of Japan. He extended his stay, eventually staying seven years, exploring and earning black belts in several martial arts. He supported himself financially by teaching English. During this time he met and eventually married his wife Mutsuko.

After four years of studying Shotokan Karate, Mack was awarded his 1st Dan by JKA Chief Instructor Masatoshi Nakayama, on 14 March 1962. This earned him the dual distinction of being the first British subject to awarded a Shotokan Dan grade in Japan and also the first to be awarded a black belt from the JKA. Mack’s grading kata was Bassai Dai.

On 10 September 1965 Mack graded for his 2nd Dan and was successful. His grading was conducted by Nakayama. This time Empi was his chosen kata. In the same year, he was awarded his 5th Dan by the Kodokan. At the time this was the highest grade ever awarded to a British subject in Japan. It was made all the more special due to his certificate being presented to him by Risei Kano, the son of Judo founder Jigaro Kano. He also became a member of the Kenshusei, a special group of students who received training from the top Judo masters at the Kodokan.

In 1965 Mack returned to Britain with his wife and baby son, John. Initially, they settled in Newcastle, to allow Mack to recuperate from a serious knee injury. He sustained the injury on his last day in Japan during a farewell practice session held at the Kodokan.

After recovering from his injuries, Mack and his family relocated to London. He returned to the Budokwai club, where he introduced the new art of Karate, becoming Chief Instructor at the club. He remained the Chief Instructor until he handed the post to Hirokazu Kanazawa so that he could concentrate on running his own club. He did still teach at the Budukwai from time to time.

Mack opened one of the first Karate clubs in London. The London Karate Club was based in Holborn. The club was not affiliated to Vernon Bell’s British Karate Federation (BKF). With the blessing of Nakayama and the JKA, Mack established the International Shotokan Karate Association. By this time his family had increased to include another son and also a daughter.

Mack was not only involved in the teaching of Karate. Alongside Alan Francis and Vernon Bell, the British Karate Control Commission. Mack was also the chairman of the Martial Arts Commission, at one time the governing body of Karate.

In 1975 “Shotokan Karate Free Fighting Techniques” was published. The book was written by Keinosuke Enoeda and Mack. It features pictures of Enoeda, Mack and Hideo Tomita performing various techniques.

Those who trained with Mack remember him as a strong powerful man. His teaching focused on a mixture of basic techniques, kata and free fighting.

Charles Mack’s place in British martial arts history as a true pioneer is assured. He was one of the first Europeans to gain Dan in grades in the Japanese arts of Judo, Karate and Aikido, in Japan. This was at a time when foreigners in Japan were viewed with suspicion and training was hard. His understanding of the arts he studied and also the culture from which they came, made him an outstanding martial artist and an inspiration to his students.

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    • Anonymous on June 13, 2017 at 2:33 pm
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    Back in the mid-70’s, my brother and I attended a few classes of this great man and my goodness, was he good. He was the type of man that should he have got attacked in the street, the perpetrator would have been extremely sorry for the attack in the first instance! At least I learned a few techniques in which I could protect myself and hold my own, something that should be taught in schools today as part of their curriculum, especially girls!

    • Ray Tilling on March 5, 2018 at 5:30 pm
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    I remember Sensei with great fondness he was awesome and had an amazing presence
    , very relaxed too.

    • Anonymous on December 26, 2018 at 3:39 pm
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    I trained under Charles Mack at the London Karate School, had a great time and really learned how to use karate in the free fighting. Had to fight Charles myself on one occasion as he would often pick own a student to have a go with. I remember getting one kick in after that it was like fighting a steam train I just couldn’t stop this powerful man.

    • David Jardine on February 20, 2019 at 12:23 am
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    I trained under Charles Mack in the mid eighties , he was an awesome instructor , very strong , but very fair ,
    To this day , I look back with fond memories , and total respect

    • Paul F on April 5, 2019 at 3:21 pm
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    I remember training under Charles Mack in the late 70’s / early 80’s at his London Dojo, and although he used a cane to walk, on the mat he was unstoppable! One evening he paired us up to spar but there was an odd number of students; he picked me as his “opponent!” Any kicks or punches I tried were just swatted away, then he would take one step forward and punch, one step forward and punch. At the end of the session my forearms were black and blue from blocking him; that was the longest couple of minutes of my life! LOL!

    1. Brilliant story Paul 🙂

        • Paul F on April 5, 2019 at 8:21 pm
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        Another event I clearly remember was arriving at the Dojo one evening to find someone on the mat dressed in a black gi, performing a Kata with a pair of Sai’s. The gi had a dragon or something on the back; I’m sure the wearer thought he was special, the rest of us not-so-much, as we all waited for Sensei to arrive.

        When he walked in he didn’t say anything immediately, just crossed the room and dropped his bag at his usual spot then called out to the kid and calmly told him in front of the rest of the class that if he ever turned up again dressed like that, waving his Sai’s around, he’d be kicked out.

        The kid packed up his stuff and left; I’m not sure if he ever came back – probably not – but if he did, he was dressed appropriately and left the Sai’s at home, respecting the Sensei and Dojo!

          • julia on December 5, 2019 at 6:55 pm
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          is charles mack still the head of british shotokan karate association the shinboku group ?

          im finding it difficult to to find an email address to contact the association can anyone help with a current email address please


    • John Newins on July 14, 2019 at 5:48 pm
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    I Trained under Charles Mack for over 30 years from 1973 and was his first Student he Graded to Black Belt at the Holborn dojo. We trained hard under KUGB rules three nights a week with Thursday night being 2 hours of Sparring fighting all Grades in Club. Not just Karate we would do jujitsu aikido judo so made a interesting lesson. At the Victoria Club we would do a 7 hour jujitsu lesson on Sunday Afternoon. I remember one time I had a back injury but did not want to miss training so I put my weightlifting belt over my Gi. Charlie came over and said Newins that’s not the Correct Black Belt you have on. A great man and great memories from those years. John Newins.

    • andrew kisby on October 2, 2019 at 10:56 am
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    Fantastic to read the memories other people have of this great man. Along with my brother and several others from the Peterborough Shinboku Karate club who completed our Dan grades with the master at West Minster Cathedral Hall .We were in awe of him . An experience never to be forgotten. Nothing was left on the dojo floor just 100 % effort and concentration. An inspirational figure.
    Andy Kisby.

    • RW on February 29, 2020 at 3:18 pm
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    Hello all. I’m trying to get in touch with Charles Mack on behalf of my old instructor, who knew him well. If anybody knows of any useful contact details, please let me know. -RW

    1. Hi RW

      Charles Mack is my Dad’s cousin. We may be able to pass your contact details on to him though my Dad has not had contact with him for a number of years.

        • Anonymous on September 28, 2020 at 7:54 pm
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        Hi tergly,

        I heard from a Senior Instructor at the British Combat Association (via email) that Charles Mack passed away a couple of years ago. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news; happy to put you in touch with the person who told me if it’s of any help.

        Thank you very much for replying – I appreciate it.

        1. Thank you for letting us know. We would appreciate it if you could give us the contact details of the person who told you;

          Thank you again.

        2. Hi Anon

          Charlie Mack is alive and well – my uncle (his cousin) has spoken to him on the phone this morning!

          • Anonymous on January 23, 2021 at 12:53 am
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          Charles Mack has not passed away .I am his daughter in law. Alive and well in his 90’s. Simply not true. We spoke with him last week! Melanie Mack .

            • RW on January 25, 2021 at 2:23 pm

            Hi Melanie – would you be able to email me Charles’ contact information to the email below? My old instructor would still like to get in touch if possible. Thank you!

            {r w hittak er [at] protonmail [dot] com (without the spaces)}

            • Anonymous on March 8, 2021 at 10:37 pm

            Hi Melanie – I’m still trying to get in touch with Charles Mack on behalf of my instructor. Would you be willing to email me his contact details, or pass a message along? -RW

    2. Hi RW

      Were you still interested in contacting Charlie Mack?

        • RW on October 9, 2020 at 2:48 pm
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        Hi tergly. That’s fantastic news – I’m utterly confused now, but delighted to hear this.

        (I’m loathe to put my phone number online, but will follow this comment with my email address and delete it in due course.)

          • RW on October 9, 2020 at 7:21 pm
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          r w hittak er [at] protonmail [dot] com

          (Without the spaces – ta!)

            • Tergly on October 10, 2020 at 9:00 am

            Will pass it on for you

          • Cynthia on January 18, 2022 at 11:22 pm
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          Hi, I’m Charlie Mack’s daughter Cynthia. He is alive and living in London. My email address is

          • Cynthia Mack on January 18, 2022 at 11:35 pm
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          I’m Charlie Mack’s daughter Cynthia. He is still alive and lives in London

        • RW on March 8, 2021 at 10:34 pm
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        Hi Tergly – I’m still trying to find contact details for Charles Mack. Are you able to help at all? -RW

    • Mike O'Leary on May 6, 2020 at 9:21 pm
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    I trained with Sensei Mack from 1973. Only 13. Used to get a bus from Hackney to Holborn. He had a great brown belt that did his warm ups and part of the lessons. Grey hair, can’t remember his name?. Also a dynamic duo also brown belts. Very loose and hard. When they sparred you knew it. Again can’t remember their names?. I ended up at the Toyakwai with the late great Sensei Joe Anderson. I opened clubs, trained for England squad with Billy Shiggins and ended up 5th dan. Thank you to Sensei Mack for opening up a wonderful time of my life. Mike O’Leary.

    • Malcolm Johnson on December 17, 2020 at 8:55 pm
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    Malcolm Johnson
    My Dojo joined The Shotokan Karate Shimboku Association back in the 70’s, We took our 1st & 2nd dan at the London club Sensei graded us. We had a good time in Shimboku. Took many students down to grade from Manchester. Also graded in Sensei’s Tai Kyo ku association. Great man.

    • RW on March 8, 2021 at 10:38 pm
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    Hello all. I’m still trying to get in touch with Charles Mack on behalf of my old instructor, who knew him well. If anybody can help put me in touch, please let me know. -RW

    • Anonymous on April 7, 2021 at 12:16 pm
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    Hi Melanie, delighted to here that Sensei Mack is live and well please send him our very best regards. Shaun and Andy Kisby . We were dan graded by Sensei Mack in the late eighties and early nineties. Eventually running our own club in Peterborough. He used to conduct our dan grades in Peterborough for us and used to really enjoy the apres dinner and a beer in the local pub . Fantastic memories of a great man .

    • cynthiamack on January 18, 2022 at 11:48 pm
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    I’m Charlie Mack’s daughter Cynthia. He is alive and living in London.

    • John We b on December 10, 2022 at 9:08 pm
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    I just read this article, I started my Karate study at the London Karate Club after being a member of the Budok2ai Judo Club. I remember it had just opened and it was an old warehouse, got so many spinters in my feet and the push ups on the hard concrete and.floors. A really great instructor and a very strong man. Now that I am 71 and looking back, I was so lucky to have trained with C Mack and Kanazawa.

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