But when you talk of Karate and Karate-do, there is a great difference. Sport Karate is essentially competition and tournament Karate. Karate-do is ‘the way of Karate‘; the side of the art which takes in all the spiritual aspects and philosophical meaning.Chris Rowen
A man of many hats, Chris Rowen is the epitome of a martial artist, who follows the true way of Karate-Do. Apart from being a man of Budo, he is a Shinto Priest as well as a healer. As a Goju-ryu instructor, his technical knowledge is second to none.
Chris Rowen was born on 9 February 1954 in Manchester, England.
As a child, Rowen attended a Catholic boarding school run by monks. He was an athletic child, excelling at athletics, football, and boxing.
Rowen’s first encounter with martial arts came through Ray Booth. Under Booth, he practised Aka Ryu Jujitsu.
Rowen was soon attracted to other martial arts. He studied Escrima under René Latosa and Jay Dobrin. Under Bob Lawrence, he studied Fudoshin. He was introduced to Karate through his training in Kempo Karate. He loved the training but felt that something was missing. He knew he would have to go to Japan to find the missing element.
By 1977 Rowen has been training in the martial arts for a number of years. That year he made his first visit to Japan. He wanted to explore his Karate in a deeper way. He had become interested in the history and mental aspects of martial arts.
In October 1979 Rowen made a longer visit to Japan. He had heard that Goju-ryu master, Gogen Yamaguchi excepted foreign students. Rowen wrote Yamaguchi a letter, asking if he would accept him as a student. Yamaguchi invited him to Japan for a six-week stay, where he had the opportunity to live with a Japanese family.
In Yamaguchi, Rowen had found the teacher and style he would be looking for. He trained at Yamaguchi’s traditional dojo, located in Tokyo. At the dojo much emphasis was placed on etiquette.
Although Rowen did meet Yamaguchi, his access to him was limited. He was mainly trained by Gogen Yamaguchi’s son Goshi, who was the Chief Instructor at the Tokyo dojo. Goshi Yamaguchi spoke excellent English.
During his lessons with Goshi Yamaguchi, Rowen had to forget everything he had ever learnt, and start as a complete beginner. Much importance was placed on learning basic techniques well.
On days when he was not training, Rowen visited many of the shrines and temples in Tokyo. This gave a spiritual aspect to his six-week stay. On his return to England, he knew he had to go back to Japan. He started saving all the money he could, for a return visit
Gogen Yamaguchi had told Rowen that if he was serious about learning Goju-ryu Karate, he would have to consider moving to Japan. Rowen knew he had an opportunity to train with a living legend.
In 1980 Rowen moved to Japan. He had given up his home and his job as a hospital worker.
It comes as no surprise to learn that training in Japan was hard. Rowen trained three sessions a day, six days a week. Initially, he struggled with the Tokyo heat and the Japanese diet.
Like his previous visit, Rowen’s main instructor was Goshi Yamaguchi. However, this time he had more access to Gogen Yamaguchi. He soon became a mentor to Rowen. They had the opportunity to have many long talks. At the dojo his sempai was Tino Ceberano.
Within a year of being in Japan, Rowen had been awarded his 1st Dan. Because of his dedication to his training, his fees were soon waived. He had become much more fluent in the Japanese language. He was also given the responsibility of teaching children’s classes at the dojo.
As a member of Gogen Yamaguchi’s dojo, Rowen had a chance to train with Masters from Japan, China, and Mongolia, who gave demonstrations, showcasing their various martial arts. He was impressed by the way Yamaguchi would open his dojo to martial artists of other disciplines.
At the suggestion of Yamaguchi, Rowen went to study Kobudo from Okinawan master, Etsuke Akimine. A highly respected Kobudo master, Akimine was the head of the Ryu Kyu Kobudo Ken Kyu Kai. Also Yamaguchi suggested that Rowen learn Shinto from a priest called Ide Donno.
During his stay in Japan, Rowen attended several receptions, where he met many prominent people. At one reception he met Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister. He also met Princess Anne of Great Britain. He found her to be very knowledgeable of the British Karate scene.
After 18 months in Japan, Rowen was told that he would be attempting to grade for 2nd Dan. In what was a gruelling test, he was the only westerner going for the grade.
Rowen successfully passed the grading. Yamaguchi singled him out after the grading and described him as being an example of what true devotion and dedication to training was about. This was the first time Rowen had ever received Rowen had ever received a compliment from Yamaguchi.
Rowan continued his dedication to his training. Shortly before returning to the UK in 1983, he attempted and passed his 3rd Dan grading under Yamaguchi. He was one of the few Westerners to grade and successfully pass at the home of Goju-ryu Karate.
When it was time for Rowen to return home, a big party was held in his honour. During his stay in Japan, he had made many lifelong friends. Gogen Yamaguchi presented him with a poem he had written in calligraphy.
In 1983 Rowen return to England. He had received a teaching license from Gogen Yamaguchi. He was now a qualified Goju-ryu instructor. Like his mentor, Yamaguchi, Rowen was also a Shinto priest. He was also qualified in acupuncture, shiatsu, and zen meditation.
On his return to the UK Rowen faced a culture shock, especially around the intensity in teaching. After more than two years in Japan, he had to get used to the British way of doing things.
Rowen settled in London and started teaching at a small club at Hackney town hall, where he taught traditional Goju-ryu Karate. He opened his first proper dojo at the Pineapple Studios, located in Covent Garden, Central London. Due to the expensive of rent, the dojo moved to Old Street for a while. The dojo finally relocated to Curtain Street, near Liverpool Street.
Rowen’s dojo, now renamed the Bunbukan Dojo, became the focal point for anyone wanting to learn traditional Goju-ryu Karate. In the spirit of Gogen Yamaguchi’s Tokyo dojo, the BunBukan Dojo was open to anyone wishing to train, regardless of style.
Through the 1990s Rowen was involved with the English Karate Council (EKC).
In 1997 Rowen was awarded his Master Teacher’s License. In 2007 he was promoted to 7th Dan.
Rowen is currently the Chief Instructor of the Bunbukan Institute of Classical Japanese Budo Culture, which has branches in England, Mauritius, France, Germany, Wales, and the. He continues to teach at his dojo, and also travels around the world conducting seminars and courses.
Chris Rowen found his true path under the guidance of Gogen Yamaguchi. He is a quiet, humble man, who shuns being in the public eye. For him, his true calling is to pass on his knowledge to anyone who is willing to learn.