Spotlight: Charles Mack – Northern Grit

Although his name may not be instantly recognizable, 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 traveled 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 studding 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 Kodukan.

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 Kodakan.

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.

Author: Patrick Donkor

2 thoughts on “Spotlight: Charles Mack – Northern Grit

  1. 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!

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