Part of the first generation of Karate practitioners in South Africa, Ken Wittstock is considered one of the founding fathers of South African Karate.
Kenneth Lawrence Wittstock was born on 21 August 1941, in Johannesburg, South Africa, to parents Alfred and Eliza Wittstock. He was the youngest of six children, having three brothers and two sisters.
By the mid-1960s, Wittstock had left school. He found a job as a trainee diamond cutter. This was at a time when South Africa was one of the leading producers of diamonds.
Wittstock was interested in learning martial arts. One of his work colleagues was a judoka. However, he suggested that Wittstock learn Karate. He suggested that he contact Stan Schmidt who had started to explore the new martial art of Karate.
In 1961, at the age of 20, Wittstock began learning Karate. He was part of a small training group that included Stan Schmidt, Norman Robinson, and Eddie Dorey. They mainly used books as a basis for their daily training.
In 1963 Schmidt traveled to Japan for a three-month stay. The newly married Schmidt had the opportunity to train under Masatoshi Nakayama, the Chief Instructor of the JKA. Schmidt returned to South Africa as a 3rd kyu under Nakayama. He was given the authority to start a JKA Association in South Africa. This was the formation of the SA JKA Karate Association.
The JKA’s Taiji Kase arrived in South Africa in April 1964. Primarily located in Durban, he spent the next three months teaching Karate. Wittstock, alongside Schmidt and other students, trained with him up to three times a day.
In 1965 the JKA sent four of its top instructors around the world to introduce their version of Sotokan Karate. The last leg of the tour was in South Africa. Taiji Kase returned to the country alongside Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, and Hiroshi Shirai.
Each of the JKA instructors taught in different parts of the country during their six-month stay. Kase taught in Durban; Kanazawa in Pretoria; Shirai in Cape Town; and Enoeda in Johannesburg.
Enoeda taught at Stan Schmidt’s dojo. Wittstock, like many of the other students, trained with Enoeda every day. At the end of the six-month teaching stint, a grading was held. Wittstock received a Dan promotion.
In 1965 Wittstock began teaching at several dojos in the Johannesburg area.
On 16 March 1967, Wittstock’s father, Alfred, died.
Wittstock traveled to Japan in 1968. He had the opportunity to train at the JKA Hombu. One of the instructors he met was Hideo Ochi.
On his return from Japan Wittstock moved from Johannesburg to Randfontein. He started a dojo, with six students, in the garage of his new home.
Between 21-22 April 1972, the 2nd WUKO World Karate Championships was held in Paris, France. Wittstock was selected to represent South Africa as a Springbok. In the Individual Kumite event, he finished in fifth place. He lost to the eventual champion, Luis Tasuke Watanabe of Brazil.
For his Karate achievements, Wittstock was awarded the 1972 South African Sports Merit Award.
In 1973 Wittstock returned to Tokyo alongside Stan Schmidt, Norman Robinson, Robert Ferrier, Eddie Dorey, and Dave Friend. They trained at the JKA Hombu.
During the training at the JKA Hombu, Wittstock broke several ribs during a hard training session. This did not prevent him from training or competing at the JKA Championships.
Wittstock competed in the 16th JKA All-Japan Championships in 1973. The tournament was held at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. Wittstock became the first Westerner to win a medal in the tournament. He finished in third place in the Individual Kumite event.
A day after the JKA All-Japan Championships, the JKA Internationals were held at the Nippon Budokan, in front of a crowd of 15,000. The tournament commemorated the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Karate into Japan by Gichin Funakoshi. There were 1000 competitors from 29 countries.
Japan dominated all the events. Wittstock was the only non-Japanese competitor to reach the semifinals of the Individual Kumite event. He shocked the crowd by defeating Yoshiharu Osaka in overtime in their bout. He was defeated by Akihito Isaka, who lost to Takeshi Oishi in the final.
A South African team consisting of Robert Ferrier, Ken Wittstock, Stan Schmidt, Eddie Dorey, and Norman Robinson, made it to the Team Kumite semifinals. They were defeated by Italy 3-2. In the battle for third place, they defeated the United States.
In 1975 Wittstock decided to give up his job as a diamond cutter to become a full-time Karate instructor.
By 1989 Wittstock had established a successful dojo.
On 8 August 1995, Wittstock’s, mother, Eliza, died.
Wittstock received his 8th Dan promotion in Japan in 1999.
In 2013, Wittstock received a special award for 50 years of service to SA JKA. Three years later he was appointed a member of the JKA Shihankai.
On 20 March 2020, Ken Wittstock died at his home in Gauteng, South Africa, aged 78. He had been bedridden for a long time and he died from diabetes and heart failure. He was survived by his partner of 29 years, Rencia Krause, and his four children.
A memorial service was held for Wittstock on 26 March 2020. It was only attended by close family members.
Ken Wittstock is a legend and a pioneer of Shotokan Karate in South Africa. As a competitor and instructor, he has been at the forefront of Shotokan Karate in the country. He has also had the opportunity to train with many of the JKA’s top instructors, including Taiji Kase, Keinosuke Enoeda, Hideo Ochi, Masahiko Tanaka, and Toru Yamaguchi.