A longtime member of the JKA (Japanese Karate Association), Kazuhiro Sawada has been at the forefront of helping to establish Shotokan Karate in Belgium. Like many of the JKA Masters of his generation, he is very technical.
Kazuhiro Sawada was born on 25 February 1952, in Hamamasu, a small village near Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
Sawada began learning Shotokan Karate aged 14. His first instructor was his school teacher Joko Ibata. Sawada had previously learnt some basic techniques from his older brother who practice Goju–Ryu Karate. His mother was not happy about this as she thought it would lead to him becoming a gangster
Joko Ibata was a graduate of Taisho University, where he studied to be a monk. He had been the captain of the university’s Karate team.
Training three times a week, Sawada was promoted to 1st Dan in 1968.
With the encouragement of Ibata, Sawada enrolled at Taisho University in 1971. The University was known for producing Buddhist monks. He studied American Literature.
Sawada joined the university’s Karate club, training under the JKA’s Norihiko Iida and Norimasa Hayakawa.
Training at the club consisted of practising plenty of basic techniques. Also, there was plenty of fitness and competition work. Training sessions lasted 3-4 hours a day, 7 days a week. Also, Iida required his students to learn Kobudo and Jujitsu once a week for 2-4 hours.
Iida started teaching at the club in 1968 after he had graduated from the JKA Instructors Course. He was regarded as one of the best kumite competitors in the world.
In 1972, Sawada met Satoshi Miyazaki for the first time. Miyazaki had been teaching in Belgium since 1967. He had replaced Taiji Kase who was teaching in Belgium at the time. Miyazaki was visiting Japan, looking for an assistant who was a member of Taisho University.
Sawada was part of a Taisho kumite team that won the Team Kumite title at the All Japan University Championships. He would also go on to captain the team which would win another All Japan University Championship and several other titles
In 1973, Satoshi Miyazaki brought a Belgian team to Japan. The Belgian team trained at Taisho University. This marked the beginning of an exchange relationship between Taishou University and Belgium. The Belgian team also participated in a gasshuku held in Nagasaki. Sawada had been sent by Iida to assist Miyazaki.
In 1974, a year before graduating from university, Miyazaki approached Sawada to become his assistant in Belgium. After seeking advice from his teacher, Sawada decided to take up the opportunity.
Sawada graduated from Taisho University in 1975. By this time he had been promoted to 3rd Dan. He enrolled on the JKA Instructors Course.
During his three months on the course, Sawada had the opportunity to learn from Hirokazu Kanazawa. Kanazawa made a very deep impression on him. He also learnt kata from Yoshiharu Osaka and kumite from Masataka Mori.
After only three months Masatoshi Nakayama, the Chief Instructor of the JKA gave Sawada permission to join Miyazaki in Belgium as his assistant. It was believed he would get the necessary experience required to be an instructor. Kanazawa, who was in charge of the JKA’s International Affairs Department, provided him with a reference.
On 20 March 1975, Sawada arrived in Brussels, Belgium, initially for a two-year contract. He remained Miyazaki’s assistant for 10 years. He would sometimes assist Taiji Kase when required.
The 1st IAKF World Championships were held in Los Angeles, United States in 1975. The tournament represented the JKA’s version of the World Championships. Masahiko Tanaka became the first world champion in kumite, and Yoshihara Osaka became the first world champion in kata.
Belgium took part in the World Championships. They were coached by Miyazaki, who was assisted by Sawada. Sawada coached the kata team that consisted of Sergio Gneo, Dirk Heene, and Bruno Lorefice. They finished in second place behind Japan.
Between 1975 and 1978, Miyazaki, assisted by Sawada, did much to increase the popularity of Shotokan Karate in Belgium. In June 1978 they found an old movie theatre which they converted into the Brussels Shotokan Karate-do Center.
After 10 years of assisting Miyazaki in Belgium, Sawada made a decision to return to Japan in December 1984. By this time he had been promoted to 4th, Dan. Shotokan had become well-established in Belgium, and he felt it would be a good time to return to Japan.
Sawada was now married with a son and a daughter. He wanted his children to spend more time in Japan, learning Japanese culture.
On his return to Japan, Sawada worked as a civil servant in Fujiyama. However, he did return to Belgium, on six occasions at the request of Miyazaki to help teach.
In 1985 Miyazaki appointed longtime student Sergio Gneo as his Assistant Chief Instructor for the BAKF(Belgian Amateur Karate Federation).
On 31 May 1993 Satoshi Miyazaki died from stomach cancer. Gneo succeeded him as the new Chief instructor. He became the first non-Japanese Chief instructor of the BAKF.
On 25 August 1993, Sawada returned to Belgium at the request of JKA Belgium, to continue the work of Miyazaki.
Sawada had turned JKA Belgian down twice. He was now working in Japan, and his family were settled in the country. However, after speaking to Norihiko Iida decided to accept the offer.
On his return to Belgium Sawada became Sergio Gneo’s assistant. His wife and children did not join him for another year.
On 21 April 2002, Sawada was promoted to 7th Dan by Motokuni Sugiura, the Chief Instructor of the JKA.
In May 2005, Sawada was invited by Yoshinobu Ohta of JKA England to be a guest instructor on their international course. Other guest instructors included Hideo Tomita and Yoshihara Osaka.
The Brussels Shotokan Karate-do Center was renamed the Brussels Shotokan Karate-do Sawada Academy in March 2007. The dojo was later relocated to the sports complex on the campus of Brussels University.
Apart from teaching his students in Belgium, Sawada is an in-demand instructor. He is frequently invited to teach courses and gasshukus across Europe. He is frequently invited to England, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Morocco to be a guest instructor.
On 14 March 2010, the Steering Committee of JKA France met. They made the decision to appoint Sawada as an Honorary Member of the Steering Committee of JKA France. The appointment was in recognition of his assistance to the association.
In September 2012 Sawada was invited by JKA England, alongside Yasunori Ogura to be a guest instructor on the JKA Autumn Gasshuku.
In November 2012, Sawada organised the Brussels JKA International Training Course. The course was attended by 400 practitioners from 12 countries. Guest instructors were Yoshinobu Ohta, Tatsuya Naka, Sergio Gneo, and Daniel Lamberts.
On 14 May 2022, the JKA Shinhankai promoted Sawada to 8th Dan. On 20 May he was officially informed of his promotion by letter.
Kazuhiro Sawada has been at the forefront of the development of Shotokan Karate in Belgium for many years. He has also been a guest instructor on many gasshukus across Europe, helping to promote Shotokan Karate.
Away from Karate, Sawada enjoys fishing and camping. He also enjoys learning the history of the samurai.