Koichi Sugimura

As your body gets weaker you have got two choices: to accept or to change your philosophy of life.

Koichi Sugimura

A pioneer of Shotokan Karate in Switzerland, Koichi Sugimura was an advocate of traditional Karate practice, especially through the teachings of Gichin Funakoshi.

Koichi Sugimura, the youngest of four children, was born in South Korea on 24 March 1940. His father was a well-respected lawyer, who was a prosecutor for the Japanese government. He was in charge of the non-Japanese territories during World War II.

Koichi Sugimura’s brothers, Hideo and Shuzo were 18 and 10 years older than him. He spent most of his time with his sister Mizuko, who he was very close to.

Following Japan’s surrender on 14 August 1945, the Sugimura family like many other Japanese families living in Korea had to return to Japan immediately. This was due to growing anti-Japanese resentment. The Sugimura Family returned to Kyushu, Japan. However, this was a troublesome period for Japan, due to mass unemployment and starvation.

Around the age of 16, Sugimura moved to Tokyo. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by studying law. The admission exams for entry to Keio University were very hard. He spent most of his time practicing for them. It was around this time that he also started practicing Karate in an effort to get stronger. He practiced Shotokan Karate, training under Shinji Michihara.

In 1958 Sugimura successfully passed the admission exams to study Law at Keio University. He did not join the University’s Karate club which was one of the top university clubs in Japan. He continued to train with Michihara. By this time he had been promoted to 1st Dan.

In 1965 Sugimura graduated from Keio University with a degree in Law. He wanted to see more of the world. He had dreams of traveling to Canada, where he wanted to establish a shrimp fishery business. He had intended to travel to Canada by way of Europe. However, he never made it to Canada.

Sugimura arrived in Germany in 1965, initially living in the city of Düsseldorf. He soon moved to Freiburg where he started teaching Karate classes to a small group of students. His reputation as a teacher began to grow. He was soon attracting students from as far away as Switzerland, to his classes.

In 1967 Sugimura made the decision to become a full-time Karate instructor, rather than a lawyer. It was also around this time that he met Christie who would eventually become his first wife.

Sugimura moved to Switzerland in 1967. He lived in several Swiss towns, including Winterthur, Lenzburg, and Basel. It was also around this time that he founded the Swiss Karate Association.

In 1969 Sugimura moved to the Swiss town of Schaffhausen, close to the German border. It was during this time that he founded the Swiss Karatedo Renmei (SKR).

Sugimura had kept close relationships with many of the JKA instructors, who had been sent to Europe to teach. He had formed a good relationship with Hideo Ochi, who was based in Germany. Sugimura became the official JKA representative in Switzerland.

Since its introduction into Europe, Karate was mainly practiced by adults. It was very rare to see children under the age of 15 training in a dojo. Sugimura made the decision to introduce children’s Karate classes into his dojos. This proved to be very popular.

By 2000 Sugimura had been teaching Karate in Switzerland for 33 years. He was given an honorary award by the Swiss Karate Federation to mark his contribution to Shotokan Karate in Switzerland.

A popular instructor, Sugimura was frequently invited as a guest instructor on gasshukus and training camps held around the world.

On 9 January 2015, the Siam Camp 2015 took place at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. It was the 14th Shotokan Karate Gasshuku held in Bangkok. It was organized by Fujikiyo Omura. Sugimura was invited to be a guest instructor, alongside Tatsuya Naka.

Sugimura and Swiss Karatedo Renmei (SKR,) frequently held gasshuku in Switzerland. Hideo Ochi, Yasunori Ogura, and Fujikiyo Omura were frequently invited to be guest instructors. Between 8-11 August 2019, Sugimura hosted his last gasshuku at Bern, Switzerland. As usual Ochi, Ogura, and Omura, were the guest instructors.

On 9 March 2020 Koichi Sugimura died peacefully, following a long illness. He was survived by his wife Corinne. His funeral took place on 24 March, on what would have been his 80th birthday, in Greifensee, Switzerland. A Buddhist ceremony was also held in Japan. In keeping with Buddhist tradition, he was given a new name, ‘The Sensei who taught and spread Karate in Switzerland‘.

At the time of his death, Koichi Sugimura was an 8th Dan. He was awarded the rank by the Swiss Karate Federation. He has been previously awarded his 4th and 5th Dan by Masatoshi Nakayama in 1970 and 1976. He received his 6th Dan from Hiroshi Shoji in 1989. It was graded to 7th Dan in 1999.

Well respected by his peers, Sugimura has done a lot to grow Shotokan Karate in Switzerland. His death left a big hole in the heart of his students and his peers.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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