Most people don’t understand the central role the hips have to play in Karate. Karate is about the hips first and then the other parts of the body coming into play picking up energy along the way.Masao Kawasoe
The former Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, once said of Masao Kawasoe:
Through his mastery of Karate basics, he has come to reach a level few achieve. His technique inspires all who see it, to strive for the ideals of Shotokan Karate.
A master Karate technician, Masao Kawasoe was born on 13 June 1945, in the region of South Chungchong, Korea. He was the youngest of four children, one girl, and three boys. His father Teiji was of samurai lineage and had been a good splinter in his youth. His mother, Toshiko, had been a good swimmer growing up.
The Kawasoe family was originally from Saga City, Japan. With the militaristic expansion of Japan into the Korean Peninsula, the family, like many other Japanese families, moved to Korea to make their fortune. They became successful farmers.
On 14 August 1945, Japan officially surrendered at the end of World War II. In October 1945, fearing possible Korean reprisals, the Kawasoe family, like many other Japanese families, had to leave their belongings and return to Japan. They returned to Saga City.
Post-war Japan was a difficult place. There were mass unemployment and starvation. Teiji Kawasoe worked hard to support his family. He managed to acquire some cows and beehives. In time he established himself as a successful dairy farmer.
For the most part, Masao Kawasoe enjoyed his childhood. He helped his father on the farm and played with his older siblings. However, tragedy struck on 7 March 1954, when he’s older sister died, after being hit by a delivery van while cycling home from school. She was only 19 years old.
Kawasoe’s first martial art was Judo. He began practising Judo in the 1950s while at school. His uncle was a successful judoka. He took his training seriously, practising three times a week.
In 1957 Kawasoe had the opportunity to see Hirokazu Kanazawa compete against Katsunori Tsuyama in the Kumite Final, at the 1st JKA All Japan Karate Championships. Kawasoe had seen the final on a news broadcast at the cinema. He was so impressed by what he saw that he wanted to give up Judo in favour of Karate. However, he could not find a dojo in Saga City.
Kawasoe eventually had the opportunity to start learning Karate in 1960. A friend invited him to train at the dojo of Katsunori Tsuyama. He was thrilled to be training with Tsuyama, who had seen competing against Kanazawa several years earlier.
Initially, Kawasoe found the training challenging. The training was hard, requiring hundreds of repetitions. However, he loved the training. He would train with Tsuyama almost every day.
In 1963 Kawasoe was graded to 1st Dan by Minoru Miyata of the JKA. This was his first-ever grading.
At the recommendation of Tsuyama, Kawasoe enrolled at Takushoku University. Initially, his family were not pleased. They wanted him to attend the same universities as his older brothers.
At Takushoku, Kawasoe joined the University’s famed Karate club. By this time he had been graded to 2nd Dan by Miyata. Even though he was a JKA black belt, he had to begin as a white belt, as was the way at the Takushoku Karate Club.
Training at the Karate club was tough. The training was three times a day, six days a week. His instructors included Katsuya Kisaka, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, Yoshiki Habu, Satoshi Miyazaki, Hideo Ochi, Shiro Asano. Kawasoe’s training with Katunori Tsuyama proved to be an asset, especially when it came to free-sparring.
Kawasoe was selected to be a member of the University’s Karate Team in his first year. This rarely happened. As a member of the team, he won the All Japan University Championships twice.
In 1967, another JKA legend, Yoshiharu Osaka, enrolled at Takushoku University. He and Kawasoe would become good friends.
Kawasoe graduated from Takushoku University in 1968. He went to work for the family business in Saga City, for around six months. He resumed his training at Tsuyama’s dojo. However, Nakayama requested Tsuyama take up a position teaching Karate at Takushoku University, which he agreed to do.
Kawasoe realised that he wanted to make Karate his life. At the suggestion of Tsuyama, he enrolled on the JKA’s three-year Instructors Training Course. He was the only full-time student in the 1968 intake of students, although there were a number of part-time students. Hirokazu Kanazawa and Hiroshi Shoji.
In 1970 Nakayama awarded Kawasoe his 3rd Dan and a teaching license. It was around this time that Tetsuhiko Asai contacted him at the recommendation of Yukichi Tabata, who had been Asai’s assistant in Taiwan. Asai wanted Kawasoe to be his assistant in Taiwan.
While awaiting a visa to Taiwan, Kawasoe taught at the JKA Hombu. He also taught Karate at the Kitazato Medical school.
January 1971 saw Kawasoe travel to Taiwan. He had a very tough teaching schedule. He taught at various dojos around the island. Every month he would teach at a different dojo. He taught three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening, in unbearable heat. He stayed in Taiwan for around 18 months.
While in Taiwan Kawasoe became extremely sick. It was discovered that he had a liver problem. He came close to dying. He was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. After his release from the hospital, he remained in Taiwan for around a month before returning to Japan.
On his return to Japan, Kawasoe taught at Nakayama’s Hoitsugan dojo. It was during this time that Nakayama approached him to teach in Madagascar.
Kawasoe travelled to Madagascar in January 1974. By this time he was a 4th Dan. Karate was still fairly new in the country. Masafumi Shiomitsu, of Wado-ryu, had introduced Karate to the island around two years earlier.
Kawasoe taught around 3- 4 times a week. His students were mainly the police, the armed forces, and personal bodyguards. He had wanted to teach the wider public, but his hosts dissuaded him from doing so.
During 1974, there was growing political instability in Madagascar. The Japanese Ambassador to the country advised Kawasoe to return to Japan. As luck would have it, Kawasoe received a letter from the JKA asking him to go to the UK. Towards the end of 1974, there was a military coup in Madagascar that saw around 1000 people die.
On 24 September 1974, Kawasoe arrived in the UK to assist Keinosuke Enoeda at the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB).
Kawasoe had a typical Japanese sempai/kohai relationship with Enoeda. He worked for him 7-days a week.
Enoeda gave Kawasoe the responsibility of looking after the KGB clubs in the Midlands (i.e. Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Leicester, etc). This was the first time he had taught students in the west.
Kawasoe would travel to the Midlands every month, spending two weeks visiting dojo is in the area. He also taught at his own dojo in Earls Court, London. This was his first dojo. He would also visit the famous Marshall Street dojo of Enoeda. Some weekends he would teach in other parts of the UK, such as in Scotland.
In 1974 Kawasoe was awarded his 4th Dan by Nakayama.
Kawasoe’s reputation as a teacher was growing. In 1975 Ted Hedlund invited him to teach in Malmö, Sweden. That year he taught at the KUGB Summer Course held at Crystal Palace, London. He was invited to teach in Norway, where he eventually became the Chief Instructor.
1975 also saw Kawasoe made the Chief Instructor for Scotland by the JKA. This had been at the request of Karate Union of Scotland (KUS).
In 1979 Kawasoe appeared in Masatoshi Nakayama’s 11 books series ‘Best Karate‘. He appeared in ‘Book 4: Kumite 2‘ where he can be seen sparring against his good friend Yoshiharu Osaka. He is also seen sparring against Masahiko Tanaka.
In 1982 Kawasoe parted ways with Keinosuke Enoeda. He focused on his teaching responsibilities as the Chief Instructor of Scotland.
On 15 April 1987 the Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, died. His death threw the JKA into a state of turmoil, that lasted for many years.
In 1990 Kawasoe resigned from the KUGB. He established the UK Traditional Karate Federation (UKTKF). The organisation later joined Hidetaka Nishiyama’s International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF).
Together with fellow masters, Hiroshi Shirai and Takeshi Naito, Kawasoe helped establish the World Shotokan Institute (WSI). The WSI was set up as a non-political and non-profit organisation. its aim was to develop and cultivate the technical aspects of Shotokan Karate.
On 17 April 1996, Kawasoe’s father, Teiji, died of bowel cancer. His mother died in her sleep 10 years later on 22 July 2006.
In 2003 Kawasoe resigned from the JKA. He is currently a member of the ITKF Technical Committee.
Yoshiharu Osaka was once asked why he’d won so many titles. He replied:
Because Mr Kawasoe lives in England.
Currently ranked as an 8th Dan, Masao Kawasoe is a supreme technician. His courses are extremely popular, and he continues to teach and conduct courses worldwide.