Everybody who comes to Karate in the beginning thinks they’re learning how to defend themselves and be good at fighting, but I like to teach the moral aspect of it. If I teach this, the technique and spirit of my students join together.Masataka Mori
Known as “hawk eyes” because of his intense stare, Masataka Mori was a well-respected JKA instructor who was a very traditional master, teaching in a changing Karate world. He was a mainstay of Shotokan Karate in the New York area for 50 years. He ran his dojo in a traditional Japanese way, where etiquette was very important.
Masataka Mori was born in a village on the Japanese island of Kyushu, Japan in 1932.
Mori’s first forays into martial arts were at school, where he practised Kendo and Judo.
In the late 1940s life in postwar Japan was bleak after Japan’s WWII surrender. Many people died from starvation as there was very little food available. However, Mori managed to survive the hardships.
Mori enrolled at Takashoku University in 1950 aged 18. He joined the university’s Karate club. The training was extremely tough. He trained alongside the lights of Hirokazu Kanazawa, Yutaka Yaguchi, Gosei Yamaguchi, and Tetsuhiko Asai. His instructors included Masatoshi Nakayama, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Teruyuki Okazaki, and Hiroshi Shoji. He eventually became the team captain.
In his first year at the club, Mori had the opportunity to train several times with Gichin Funakoshi, who still visited the Takashoku Karate club. By this time Funakoshi was in his eighties.
Mori graduated from Takashoku University in 1955. He joined the JKA, becoming an instructor at the JKA Hombu located in an old movie studio in Tokyo.
As an instructor, Mori helped train some of the American servicemen, like Robert Fusaro and Maynard Miner who would come to train at the dojo.
In 1957 Mori married his wife Keiko.
In 1963 Mori was sent to Hawaii to replace Hirokazu Kanazawa as a Chief Instructor of the KAH (Karate Association of Hawaii). He was a 3rd Dan at the time.
Mori had a very different teaching style to Kanazawa. Kanazawa had focused on teaching the basic techniques of Shotokan Karate to his students. He took a more gentle approach to his teaching.
Mori’s teaching style was much stricter. He operated the dojo like a typical Japanese dojo. He built on the previous three years of Kanazawa by focusing on the consolidation of the basic techniques the students had been taught. This required constant drilling of basic techniques.
Kenneth Funakoshi who was a distant cousin of Gichin Funakoshi and one of the most experienced students in the KAH taught Mori English.
On 27 October 1964, the 3rd All-American Karate Tournament was held in Honolulu. Mori was the Chairman of the tournament. Hidetaka Nishiyama was the Chief Judge at the tournament. Yasu Uyehara won the kumite title, with Thomas Morikawa winning the kata event.
On 29 March 1965 a party of JKA instructors consisting of Taiji Kase, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, and Hiroshi Shirai, embarked on a tour to introduce JKA Karate around the world.
On the first leg of the tour, the party of Japanese instructors arrived in Honolulu. They spent a couple of days in Honolulu where they were hosted by Mori and the KAH. They gave a number of courses and demonstrations that were well attended.
1965 also saw the All Japan Collegiate Team visit Hawaii. The team had previously defeated Hidetaka Nishiyama‘s US team in the Goodwill Games. The Japanese Collegiate Team faced a Hawaiian team captained by Kenneth Funakoshi and including George Sasano and Eugene Watanabe. Mori’s Hawaiian team defeated the Japanese visitors by three bouts to two, with Funakoshi winning the deciding bout.
After a five-year stay as Chief Instructor of the KAH, Mori was asked to go to New York, initially for a two-year stay. He was replaced in Hawaii by Tetsuhiko Asai.
In New York Mori took over the dojo of Hiroshi Orito, who started teaching Shotokan Karate in the New York area in 1959. The dojo, which was located in Manhattan’s Upper West side, had become a member of the JKA in 1962.
Mori became the North Atlantic Regional Chief of the JKA. He was known to be an excellent instructor but very strict. He ran the dojo in a traditional Japanese way, with etiquette being very important. He built a loyal following of students. Many of them trained with him for over thirty years.
In 1974 Akihito Isaka was sent to New York by the JKA to assist Mori. He was Mori’s assistant for two years, before returning to Japan.
By the 1970s there were several JKA instructors teaching in the United States. They were affiliated with the AAKF (All-American Karate Federation), which was headed by Hidetaka Nishiyama. The six JKA instructors affiliated with the AAKF were Teruyuki Okazaki, Masataka Mori, Takayuki Mikami, Yutaka Yaguchi, Shojiro Koyama, and Shigeru Takashina.
However by September 1977 tensions between Nishiyama and other Japanese instructors in the AAKF had grown, around how the organisation was being run. A heated meeting was held to try and resolve the problems. However, Okazaki, Yaguchi, Mikami, Kohyama, and Takashina resigned from the AAKF and formed the ISKF (International Shotokan Karate Federation). Mori was the only Japanese instructor to remain with Nishiyama. Both the AAKF and the ISKF were affiliated with the JKA.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Mori frequently travelled around the United States and internationally to teach JKA courses. He also taught Karate at several of New York’s top universities and colleges.
In 1994 the Hokubei Karate-do Shihankai was established. The Japanese Karate Masters Association of North America is an organisation dedicated to promoting and maintaining the principles and philosophy of Japanese martial arts in the United States. Mori was one of 36 founding members. Other members included Fumio Demura, Morio Higaonna, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Takeyuki Kubota, Takayuki Mikami, Yukiyoshi Marutani, Gosei Yamaguchi, and Teruyuki Okazaki, to name a few.
On 15 July 2010 Mori’s book, “Fundamentals of Karate-Do (English and Japanese Edition)” was published. The book was intended as a guide to help with a new student’s first weeks of training.
2018 was a bittersweet year for Mori’s students. The year marked the 50th Anniversary of Mori’s arrival in New York.
On 8 September 2018 Masataka Mori died at his home in New Jersey, surrounded by his family. He was survived by his wife of 61 years Keiko and his two daughters, Mayumi and Sayuri, and his four grandchildren.
On 14 September 2018, a wake was held for Mori. On 15 September his funeral was held in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where he was cremated.
Between 10-14 July 2019 Yasunori Ogura was a guest instructor with Koji Chubachi at the JKA Summer Camp held in Connecticut. This was the 50th Annual SKDI (Shotokan Karate-Do International) Summer Seminar. It was also a memorial camp held in honour of Mori. Mori had established the SKDI which was affiliated with the JKA.
Mori has had a big influence on the Shotokan Karate practised on the East Coast of America. Many of his students trained with him for over 30 years. He instilled within them the importance of learning Karate in a traditional way. Many of the students have gone on to pass Mori’s teachers to a new generation of students.