One of the highest-ranked non-Japanese JKF (Japan Karate Federation) Gojukai, Leo Lipinski was known for his exceptional kumite. Never afraid to express his views, he was a firm believer in hard work over talent.
Leo Lipinski was born on 7 August 1946, in Durban, South Africa.
In 1959 Lipinski enrolled at the prestigious Durban High School, which was a boy’s secondary school.
Durban was a port town on the coast of South Africa. This meant that the young Lipinski was exposed to various martial arts from visiting sailors from countries like China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. He picked up bits and pieces of technique from the sailors he met.
In 1962 Lipinski began training in Judo and Shotokan Karate.
Lipinski graduated from Durban High School in 1963. Around this time he started learning Shukokai Karate after he and a friend were attacked by six men.
In 1965 Lipinski enrolled at Cape Town University. He had the opportunity to learn Kyokushin Karate at the University.
Lipinski graduated from Cape Town University in 1966 with a degree in Economics. Back in Durban, he opened a dojo. This dojo would eventually become one of the first dojos to teach non-whites martial arts in apartheid South Africa.
In 1967 Lipinski travelled to Hong Kong. He stayed for around a month and had the opportunity to learn Goju-Ryu Karate. He also travelled to Kobe, Japan for a couple of months. He trained with Shukokai founder, Chojiro Tani, and his student, Shigeru Kimura.
Lipinski was promoted to 2nd Dan by Tani in 1968. Tani invited him to stay in Kobe for six months to help him write his book. He decided to focus on learning Goju-Ryu, so declined Tani’s offer.
After his stay in Kobe, Lipinski travelled to Tokyo, where he visited the dojo of Gogen Yamaguchi with a letter of recommendation from the instructor of the Hong Kong dojo he had trained at.
Lipinski became a student of Gogan Yamaguchi. He mainly trained with Goshi Yamaguchi, who was the youngest of Gogen Yamaguchi’s sons. During this time he met Shuji Tasaki, who was a senior student of Yamaguchi, and one of the best Goju-Ryu practitioners of his generation.
Already possessing strong Karate basics, Lipinski was promoted to 2nd Dan by Gogen Yamaguchi, after three months. He still continued practising Shukokai Karate.
While in Tokyo, Lipinkski also visited the Okinawan Goju-Ryu dojo of Morio Higaonna. He trained at Higaonna’s Yoyogi Dojo three times a week for about a month. He also trained privately with Shotokan’s Shigeru Egami
On his return to South Africa, Lipinski formally resigned from the Shukokai Karatedo Organisation.
Apart from Karate, Lipinski also began practising Tai Chi, from a man named Chung Ta Chen. Tai chi would become a part of his daily practice.
In 1969 Lipinski was appointed the Branch Representative for the All Japan Karatedo Gojukai in South Africa.
1970 was another big year for Lipinski. He graduated from Natal University with a degree in Commerce. He was promoted to 3rd Dan in Japan by Gogen Yamaguchi. He was also appointed the Chief Instructor for the All Japan Karatedo Gojukai in South Africa.
In April 1970 the Japan Karate-do College was opened. The college offered Karate lessons from the Chief instructors of the major Japanese Karate schools, with the exception of Shotokan.
The instructors at the college were, Hironori Ohtsuka of Wado-Ryu; Manzo Iwata of Shito-Ryu; Hirayasu Tamae of Rembukan; Goshi Yamaguchi of Goju-Ryu; and Motokasu Inoue of Ryukyu Kobudo. Gogen Yamaguchi was the President of the college and only taught yoga.
In November 1973 Lipinski travelled to Japan. In front of a grading panel, consisting of Gogen Yamaguchi, his sons, Gosen and Goshi, and Shuji Tasaki, Lipinski was promoted to 4th, Dan. While in Japan he trained at the Yamaguchi dojo and also at the Seiwakai dojo of Shuji Tasaki.
Lipinski returned to Japan the following year with a group of students. They trained at the Japan Karate-do College, and also a dojo of Shuji Tasaki.
Tasaki’s classes were very tough, with very few foreigners training, compared to the Japan Karate-do College. The training emphasis was on hard sparring, with techniques, such as groin kicks being permitted.
In 1976 Lipinski was promoted to 5th Dan by Gogen Yamaguchi.
Lipinski left South Africa for California in 1976. By this time had built the All Japan Karatedo Gojukai South Africa to around 2500 members.
While in the United States Lipinski studied and worked. He set up a Karate club where he taught Goju–Ryu. While in America he also took up boxing, training at the Muhammad Ali Boxing Gym in Santa Monica.
In 1983 Lipinski earned a degree from the University of California. He became a certified acupuncturist.
Lipinski made another visit to Japan in 1983 to train. During this visit, he met a young Chris Rowan, who would become one of the top Goju-Ryu practitioners in the UK.
After eight years of studying and working in the United States, Lipinski relocated to England in 1984. He opened his first Karate club in Hendon, eventually moving the club to Finchley.
In 1984 Lipinski was appointed one of three Chief Instructors of the IGKA (International Karatedo Gojukai Association) in the UK.
After training with Gogen Yamaguchi for over 20 years, Lipinski resigned from the IGKA. He had become disillusioned with the sports-orientated approach taken under the leadership of Goshi Yamaguchi, who had taken over from his father.
Lipinski joined Shuji Tasaki’s Goju-Ryu Karate-do Seiwa Kai Great Britain Association. Tasaki had left Yamaguchi Gojukai in the early 1970s.
Tasaki promoted Lipinski to 6th Dan in 1987.
On 20 May 1989, Gogen Yamaguchi died aged 80, in Tokyo.
Lipinski was promoted to 7th Dan by Tasaki in 1993. He was also promoted to 6th Dan by the JKF Gojukai. That year he became an active member of the JKF Gojukai Examining Panel.
By 1997 Lipinski was responsible for over 3000 students in South Africa, the United States, and Europe.
In 1998 Lipinski organised the JKF Gojukai Europe Organisation. He also became a member of the EKGB (English Karate Governing Body) Management Board.
Lipinski was promoted to 7th Dan by the JKF Gojukai in 1999.
In October 1999, Lipinski resigned from the EKGB. He became a member of the ETKB (English, Traditional Karate Body) Management Board. The other members of the ETKB Management Board with Steve Arneil of Kyokushin, Walter Seaton of Wado-Ryu, and Andy Sherry of Shotokan.
The ETKB was established as a governing body to remove the politics that plagued English Karate. It was based on the structure of the JKF (Japan Karate Federation).
In May 2005 Lipinski was appointed to the Board of Directors of the JKF Gojukai in Japan. He was one of the first foreigners appointed to the position. In June of that year, he was promoted to 8th Dan by Shuji Tasaki.
In July 2011 Lipinski was appointed as one of two Vice Presidents of the Gojuryu Karatedo Seiwakai Japan.
On 1 January 2018, Leo Lipinski died in London following a long illness.
Between 27-28 January 2018, a Goju-Ryu Karate Seminar was held in Lipinski’s honour. The seminar was held at the Royal British Legion in Okendon, Essex. It was taught by his students, Rob Langworthy and Kinsley Johnson.
Lipinski was at the forefront of introducing Japanese Goju-Ryu into several countries around the world. He was very clear in his view that Karate is not a sport and should not be practised as such.
However, Lipinski was pragmatic enough to know that Sport Karate is necessary to attract younger students. He believed that they should be introduced to the Budo aspects of Karate. He firmly believed that kihon and kata should be practised with kumite in mind.