Bobby Lowe

The ABC of Karate is the basis of kihon. And a lot in the technique depends on kihon. If you know the ABC, you can write words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and then books.

Bobby Lowe

Known as the ‘Instructor’s Instructor‘, Bobby Lowe was Mas Oyama’s oldest and most senior student. He was Oyama’s first uchi-deshi (live-in student). He opened the first Kyokushin school outside of Japan.

Edward ‘Bobby’ Lowe was born on 23 August 1929 in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father was a Kung Fu teacher, who taught Sil Lum Pai. This would become his first martial art.

As a teenager, Lowe studied various martial arts. At the Nuuanu Hongwanji Boys Club, he studied Judo and Jujitsu under Seishiro Okazaki. He also had the opportunity to be taught by judokas, Kaiman Kudo and Tetsuro Higami.

Lowe’s training was not just limited to Kung Fu and Judo. He studied Yoshinkai Aikido under Yukio Noguchi and T. Makiyama. He also studied Kosho-ryu Kempo under the legendary Matayoshi ‘James’ Mitose. Lowe was one of the few students to be ever awarded a black belt by Mitose.

By 1952 Lowe was a well-rounded martial artist. He held a 4th Dan in Judo; a 2nd Dan in Kempo; and the 1st Dan in Yoshinkai Aikido. He was also a well-respected welterweight boxer.

In 1952 Mas Oyama gave his first Karate demonstration in Hawaii. He was on a world tour to demonstrate his form of Karate, Oyama Karate Jutsu. He had not created Kyokushin Karate at the time.

Lowe and his father attended a demonstration given by Oyama. They were highly impressed by his strength, power, and technique. Lowe’s father suggested he should train with him.

At the insistence of his father, Lowe approached Oyama after the demonstration. After a discussion, Oyama invited Lowe to train with him during his remaining time in Hawaii.

Oyama returned to Hawaii six months after his original visit. This time he stayed for a three month period. He and Lowe resumed their training.

By the end of 1952, Lowe had travelled in Tokyo, Japan. He started training with Oyama on a daily basis, becoming his first uchi-deshi (live-in student). This type of training would form the basis of Oyama’s “Young Lions” uchi-deshi program where students would live and train with him for 1000 days.

Oyama had a small dojo, located behind Rikkyo University. There were several training sessions a day. In the morning Oyama and Lowe practised kata and Goshin Jitsu (self-defence). In the evening they practised kihon (basics) and kumite at the dojo with other students. Sparring was brutal. There were no time limits or restrictions. Groin strikes and punches to the face were permitted. The student dropout rate was around 90%.

In 1953 Oyama promoted Lowe to 1st Dan, in his style of Oyama Karate Jutsu. The following year Lowe’s book, “Mas Oyama’s Karate as Practised in Japan” was published. The book features photographs of Oyama and Lowe demonstrating various techniques.

By 1957 Lowe had been promoted to 4th Dan by Oyama. He had also returned to Hawaii, where he opened Oyama’s first branch school outside of Japan. Lowe would frequently return to Japan to train with Oyama.

Oyama started the construction of a new purpose-built dojo in 1963. The number of students training with him had increased. The new dojo in Tokyo would act as his Hombu. The following year Oyama officially founded the style of Kyokushin Karate. He also established the International Karate Organisation (IKO).

In 1965 Lowe was promoted to 5th Dan by Oyama. His Hawaii dojo was now the first non-Japanese dojo teaching Kyokushin Karate. He started holding tournaments in the United States to promote Kyokushin.

Through the 1970s the popularity in Kyokushin Karate grew in Japan and the rest of the world. This was in part due to strong fighting performances by the likes of Hatsuo Royama, Tadashi Nakamura, Hideyuki Ashihara, and Sonny Chiba.

Lowe was promoted to 7th Dan by Oyama on 25 December 1976.

On 4 April 1977, Lowe sponsored the 1st Hawaii All-Stars versus Japan Kyokushin Tournament. The event was held at the Neal Blaisdell Centre in Honolulu, in front of a crowd of 6000 spectators. The 8-man Japanese team was coached by Oyama and featured the likes of Sonny Chiba. The Hawaiian team was coached by Lowe and featured a collection of top fighters from Hawaii. A very strong Japanese team won six fights and drew two. This proved to be a great showcase of Kyokushin Karate.

By 1978 Lowe has started teaching Karate to various police departments and law enforcement agencies in Honolulu, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City.

Lowe was promoted to 8th Dan by Oyama on 25 October 1984. The following year his book “The ‘Young Lions’ of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Karate Headquarters” was published.

By 1989 Kyokushin Karate had become one of the major styles of Karate. This was in part due to the hard training and tough competitions that are a feature of the style. However, Oyama felt that training for competitions and tournaments was being emphasised more than the self-defence aspects of Kyokushin. He approached Lowe to start teaching more Goshin Jitsu.

With a renewed emphasis on the self-defence aspects of Kyokushin, Lowe produced a video in 1994 called “Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Karate Self-Defence Techniques“.

Lowe’s great friend and mentor, Mas Oyama, died on 26 April 1994. Shokei Matsui was named his successor at the IKO. However, politics within the organisation led to several splits.

Matsui established that IKO International Committee (IKO IC) to supervise the many international areas of the Kyokushin world. Matsui appointed Lowe as the Chairman of the committee.

In addition to the video Lowe produced in 1994, he published “Kyokushin Karate: Self-defence Techniques“, in 1999.

On 17 September 2005, the Japanese Cultural Centre of Hawaii recognised Lowe for his contributions to Karate. He and fellow recipient, James Miyagi were presented with their awards at the Celebration of Lifetime Achievement dinner, held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Edward ‘Bobby’ Lowe died peacefully in his sleep on 14 September 2011, at Queens Hospital Honolulu, Hawaii. He was survived by his wife Betty, daughter Barbara, and son Michael.

On 6 November 2011, Lowe was posthumously awarded the rank of 10th Dan by the IKO–1. This was at a memorial service held at the 10th World Tournament.

Bobby Lowe can be rightly thought of as a legend and pioneer of Kyokushin Karate. He formed a close relationship with Mas Oyama, becoming his first uchi-deshi. From its inception in 1964, Lowe helped promote Kyokushin around the world, through courses, seminars, books, videos. His teachings provided a link to the Budo/self-defence aspects of Kyokushin Karate.

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