A great thinker on the essence of Karate and how it should be taught, Motokuni Sugiura dedicated his life to Karate. As an instructor, he focused on developing strong basics. As the second Chief Instructor of the JKA he oversaw a turbulent period in their history.
Motokuni Sugiura was born in Aichi, Japan, on 4 October 1924.
In April 1942 Sugiura enrolled at Koa Junior College (now known as Asia University), a private university in Tokyo. He joined the university’s Shotokan Karate club, training under Yoshiaki Hayashi.
Sugiura began training under Gichin Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka in 1943. In March of the following year, he was promoted to 1st Dan, at the same examination where Taiji Kase was promoted to 3rd Dan.
In September 1944 Sugiura graduated from university. With Japan embroiled in World War II, he joined the Tsuchiura Navy Flying Corps. He served for almost a year before being released in August 1945, at the end of the war
In November 1946 Sugiura began working at the Nihon Keizai Vocational School.
Following the resumption of martial arts practice in Japan in 1949, Sugiura started training under Masatoshi Nakayama, who with some of Gichin Funakoshi’s other students was trying to resume the practice of Shotokan Karate.
In 1951 Sugiura was promoted to 2nd Dan in front of a grading panel that included Funakoshi and Nakayama. He received a further promotion in November 1953 to 3rd Dan.
Wanting to focus on his Karate, Sugiura gave up his job at the Nihon Keizai Vocational School in December 1955. In April of the following year, he began working full-time at the JKA Guidance Division. He managed the instructors at the Hombu.
Apart from his duties as a manager at the JKA Hombu, Sugiura also taught several Karate classes. He taught at the JKA Hombu. He also taught at several university Karate clubs, including Kogakuin University, Nihon University, The Agriculture and Veterinary School, Taisho University, Tokyo Keizai University, and Hitobubashi University.
On 26 April 1957, Gichin Funakoshi, the man who had helped popularise Karate in Japan, died.
1957 saw the JKA officially recognised by the Japanese government as an organisation for Karate.
Sugiura was promoted to 4th Dan by Nakayama in November 1957.
On 10 April 1958, Sugiura was appointed a director of the JKA. Among his many duties, he was a tournament referee. He also helped to set up the rules used in JKA tournaments.
On 14 May 1958, Sugiura received his license as a Physical Education Instructor from the Ministry of Education. He started working part-time as a physical education teacher and lecturer at Asia University.
Sugiura was promoted to 5th Dan in March 1961 by Nakayama. In December of that year, he edited the textbook “Basics of Karate-do“.
April 1963 saw Sugiura promoted to 6th Dan. In May, he created the six-volume English language film called, “Karate Seminar“. The film was intended for an international market.
On 10 July 1963, Sugiura resigned as a director of the JKA. In April of the following year, he became a full-time Physical Education Karate Instructor at Asia University. He was promoted to assistant professor in the General Education Department.
Sugiura was promoted to 7th Dan in April 1968.
In August 1970 Sugiura began making a series of films on the katas of Shotokan karate. The films were intended for an overseas audience.
Sugiura began serving as the President of the Koganei City Karatedo Federation in 1973. He also served as the Koganei Physical Education Association Officer until 1978.
In April 1975 Sugiura was appointed the head of the Japan Martial Arts Society. In August he was invited to the IAKF (International Amateur Karate Federation) General Meeting held in Los Angeles and Hawaii. He also attended the 7th IAKF Championships.
Sugiura began writing a monthly column in “Monthly Karate-do” in 1975.
In April 1976 Sugiura was promoted to the post of Professor of General Education at Asia University. On 21 June of that year, he was also promoted to 8th Dan.
Between July to October 1976, Sugiura accompanied the Asia University Alumni Association on a number of trips to see how Karate was being taught around the world.
Between July to August 1976, Sugiura visited Indonesia with the alumni Association. They visited dojos in Jakarta, Surabaya, and Yogyakarta. Between 15 September to 5 October, he visited several universities in the United States to see how Karate was being taught.
In 1977 Sugiura began working on a thesis called, “A System of Karate-do“. In the thesis, he explored the essence of true Karate. The thesis was completed in 1979.
On 1 June 1986, Tokyo businessman Nobuyuki Nakahara became the eighth chairman of the JKA.
On 15 April 1987, the Chief instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, died, aged 74.
Always looking to advance the teaching of Karate, Sugiura drafted the supplementary guidelines for “Teaching Materials for Karate-do as Physical Education” in 1989.
Sugiura retired from his teaching post at Asia University in March 1990.
Around three years after the death of Masatoshi Nakayama, internal divisions within the JKA led to two opposing factions being formed and using the JKA name. The Matsuno faction was led by Tetsuhiko Asai. They were opposed to Nobuyuki Nakahara being the JKA Chairman. This faction also included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Mikio Yahara, and Masao Kagawa.
On 1 April 1991 Sugiura was appointed the Chief Instructor of the JKA Nakahara faction by Nobuyuki Nakahara.
Sugiura was promoted to 9th Dan by the JKA in April 1992.
On 29 October 1998, after an almost 10-year legal battle, a Tokyo High Court ruled in favour of the JKA Nakahara faction. On 10 June 1999, the Japan Supreme Court awarded the Nakahara faction with the sole rights to the JKA name.
The JKA purchased land in downtown Tokyo in December 2000. Construction began on the new headquarters for the Association.
In May 2001, an inauguration ceremony was held for the JKA Hombu. Sugiura and Nakahara were in attendance alongside representatives from the Japanese government and various Karate organisations.
Between 7-8 July 2007, the 50th JKA All-Japan Prime Minister Cup was held. Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former Japanese Prime Minister, awarded Sugiura with the rank of 10th Dan. This was for his contributions to JKA Karate.
Sugiura retired as a JKA Chief Instructor in October 2009, due to ill health. He was aged 85. He was succeeded by Masaaki Ueki in 2010.
Motokuni Sugiura died on 10 August 2015. He was 90 years old.
Sugiura’s name may not be as widely known as other JKA instructors. He did a lot for the development and promotion of Karate around the world. He was very knowledgeable about Karate and was frequently consulted by Masatoshi Nakayama. His focus on strong basics has helped make JKA practitioners some of the best Karate technicians in the world.