Profile: Keigo Abe

Technically train to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Train to be a good honest and trustworthy human being. Train to perfect your character. This is the spirit of Karate-Do.

Keigo Abe

One of the most technically gifted Masters to come out of the hotbed of JKA Karate, Keigo Abe described his Karate as “Real-Fight Karate“. His teachings, especially the importance he places on the practising of basic techniques every day, has influenced a number of great karateka, including Mikio Yahara and Masao Kagawa.

Keigo Abe was born on 28 October 1938 in Iyoshi, Ehime Prefecture, Japan. Martial arts were a part of his heritage. There were a number of proficient martial artist in his family tree. His father had practised Kendo and Judo. From a young age, Keigo Abe always knew that he wanted to be involved in the martial arts. Like most boys of the time, he practised Judo and Kendo at school.

Abe started practising Shito-ryu Karate in 1953, aged 15. He was taught at his middle school Karate club by an Okinawan sensei who was from the Toyama lineage of Shito-ryu Karate.

In 1956 Abe enrolled at Nihon University, in Tokyo. He studied engineering. It is thought that around this time he switched from Shito-ryu to Shotokan.

Abe started training at the JKA Hombu, under Chief Instructor Masatoshi Nakayama, in 1958.

On graduating from Nihon University in 1960 with a degree in engineering, Abe enrolled on the JKA Instructors Course. By 1965 he had graduated from the course and had become an instructor at the JKA Hombu.

In 1967 the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” was shot on location in Japan. Nakayama had originally been offered a role in the film. As he couldn’t go he sent Abe in his place. Abe earned $3500 for two weeks work, playing an Iaido practitioner. In a later interview, he said it was one of the best experiences of his life.

Prior to the film role, Abe had very little experience of Iaido. He liked what he had learnt so much, that he decided to study the art more seriously. He was descended from a samurai lineage and was drawn to the Katana (long sword). He has admitted that there was a part of him that wished he had been born in the heyday of the samurai.

Known as a technically skilled fighter Abe competed in the All Japan JKA Karate Championships against a who’s who of JKA legends. At the 5th JKA Championships, he faced Keinosuke Enoeda in a memorable Kumite bout. The bout went to six overtime extensions with Abe losing by decision.

At the 10th JKA All Japan Karate Championships in 1967, Abe finished joint third in the Kumite event with Yukichi Tabata. Hideo Ochi defeated Takeshi Oishi in the final. The following year he and Tabata finished joint third again. This time Ochi lost in the final to Masaaki Ueki.

Abe has always been a well-respected instructor known for his strong basics. Apart from being an instructor at the JKA Hombu, he also taught at a number of universities including Teikyo University. One of his top students at Teikyo was Masao Kagawa.

1979 saw the publication of Masatoshi Nakayama‘s 11-book (“Best Karate” series. Abe featured in three of the books:

  • Book 1: He is shown teaching a class
  • Book 3: He is sparring against his student, Mikio Yahara
  • Book 9: He is featured performing the kata Bassai Sho

In 1985 Abe was appointed the JKA Director of Qualifications.

Masatoshi Nakayama, the Chief Instructor of the JKA, died in 1987. Tokyo businessman, Nobuyuki Nakahara became the Chairman of the JKA. A number of instructors, led by Tetsuhiko Asai, disagreed with the decision. This led to a split in the JKA. What followed was a 10-year legal battle between the Nakahara faction, that included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka and Masahiko Tanaka and the rival Matsuno faction. Led by Asai, the Matsuno faction included Abe, Akihito Isaka, Mikio Yahara, and Masao Kagawa. Abe was named the Technical Director of the Matsuno faction of the JKA.

In 1999 the Japanese High Court ruled in favour of the Nakahara faction of the JKA. The decision lead to a split in the Matsuno faction. Abe resigned from the faction on 31 January 1999. On 10th February he founded the Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA).

Abe’s JSKA practices the JKA style of Shotokan Karate as taught by Nakayama. Abe was a unique Chief Instructor in that he didn’t want to see the JSKA grow into a larger organisation. He didn’t want the politics that went with the growth of an organisation. He also wanted to maintain a high degree of quality among his students. The JSKA has grown into an international organisation with students from many countries. In 2002 a bi-annual world championship was created. The 1st JSKA World Championships took place in Germany.

In the early hours of 22 December 2019, it was announced on social media and the Internet that the 81-year-old Keigo Abe had died peacefully in his sleep. He had been suffering from cancer.

Like most JKA instructors of his generation, Abe was adept at both kata and kumite. A firm believer in the importance of kihon practice, he was one of the most technical masters to come out of the JKA. A calm but disciplined instructor he left a legacy of students who have gone on to be brilliant teachers in their own right.

The video below shows Abe conducting a training session with some future Shotokan greats:

Author: Patrick Donkor

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