Profile: Masao Kagawa

Of course there are heavier kata and there are lighter kata and for my body type the heavier kata are more natural. But it is important to not only do what you are good at. In fact it is more important to practice what you are not good at in order to create balance in your Karate. So practising all the types of kata is most important.

Masao Kagawa

Masao Kagawa is one of the best technicians and competitors to come out of the Japan Karate Association (JKA). A winner of numerous titles, he has developed into one of the best instructors in the world.

Masao Kagawa was born on 8 June 1955 In Osaka, Japan. His older brother Masayoshi was 11 years older than him, and would eventually become like a father to him.

As a youngster Masao Kagawa played a lot of baseball. He had dreams of becoming a professional baseball player.

In 1965, aged only 10 years, Kagawa’s father died. This was followed five years later by the death of his mother. It was his brother Masayoshi who became his guardian.

Masayoshi Kagawa had been practising Karate as a member of the JKA. In 1972 at the 15th All Japan JKA Championships he defeated Yoshiharu Osaka in the kumite final, to become kumite champion. He was 28 years old and this was his final competition.

Masao Kagawa travelled to Tokyo to watch his brother compete at the Budokan, the home of Japanese martial arts. This was the first time he had left Osaka. Seeing his victorious brother made him want to train in Karate. Previously he had asked Masayoshi to teach him. However, he had refused, knowing Masao’s only reason for learning Karate was to win fights.

In 1972 Masao Kagawa started learning Karate from his older brother, who taught for the JKA in Osaka. He realised that he would not make it as an elite baseball player. With his brother as his teacher, training was hard. He suffered several injuries, including a broken nose and broken teeth.

Kagawa enrolled at Teikyo University in 1976 to study Law. He joined the university’s Karate club, which had a long history producing champions, especially for the national team.

Teikyo Karate Club was known for its traditional Karate program. This had been a reason for Kagawa choosing in the university. The Chief Instructor was Keigo Abe, who had been a senior to Kagawa’s older brother. Abe was known for his exceptional Karate technique.

On Graduating with a degree in Law, Kagawa enrolled at Teikyo University in 1980, to do a postgraduate degree.

In 1983 Kagawa enrolled on the JKA Instructors Course. His instructors on the course were Masatoshi Nakayama, the Chief Instructor of the JKA, Tetsuhiko Asai, Masahiko Tanaka, Maasaki Ueki, and Keigo Abe.

At the 26th JKA All Japan Championships held in 1983, Kagawa placed third in the individual kumite. Hideo Yamamoto won the title. Kagawa had started competing around 1974. At university he had competed at the Kanto University Championships for Teikyo University, winning medals.

Kagawa was a phenomenal competitor. He completed in both kata and kumite. He was heavily influenced by Tetsuhiko Asai and Mikio Yahara. He always watched them during training sessions, learning from their relaxed, dynamic techniques. Between 1983 to 1991 he always featured in the top three positions of all competitions he entered. In 1985 Kagawa emulated his older brother, Masayoshi, by winning the individual kumite title at the 28th JKA All Japan Championships. He also won the kata event, becoming Grand Champion. He retired from active, competition around 1991. His major tournament successes include:

  • IAKF World Championships, Team Kata – 1st place (1983)
  • Shoto Cup, Individual Kata – 3rd place (1985, 1990)
  • Shoto Cup, Individual Kumite – 3rd place ( 1985)
  • Shoto Cup, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1988)
  • Shoto Cup, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • Shoto Cup, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1990)
  • World Games, Individual Kata – 1st place 1990)
  • World Games, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • World Games, Team Kumite – 2nd place (1990)
  • JKF All Japan Championships, Individual Kumite – 2nd place (1983)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place (1985, 1990, 1991)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1984)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kata – 3rd place (1989)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1985, 1989, 1990, 1991)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kumite – 2nd place (1984, 1988)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kumite – 3rd place (1985)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Grand Champion – (1985)

In 1987 Masatoshi Nakayama, the Chief Instructor of the JKA, died. Tokyo businessmen, Nobuyuki Nakahara became Chairman of the JKA. Some instructors, led by Tetsuhiko Asai, disagreed with the appointment. The JKA split into two opposing fractions. The Matsuno faction supported Asai and included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Mikio Yahara, and Kagawa. The Nakahara faction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Masahiko Tanaka. Both factions referred to themselves as the JKA. In fact, both factions would conduct their respective classes in the same dojo.

After a ten-year legal battle, the Nakahara faction was awarded the sole use of the JKA name, in 1999, following a Japanese High Court ruling.

Following the ruling, the Matsuno faction left the JKA. The faction soon split into three groups:

  • The Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) led by Tetsuhiko Asai
  • Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
  • The Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Mikio Yahara

Kagawa joined the group led by Asai.

Kagawa became the Chief Instructor of the Teikyo University Karate Club. Using the knowledge he gained from being a top competitor, he began producing the next group of Japanese world beaters. The crop of new talent included Koji Arimoto, Takato Souma, and Takumi Sugino.

With a wealth of experience, Kagawa became a coach in the Japanese National Team. At the 2004 World Championships, held in Monterrey, Mexico, he coached Shinji Nagaki kumite gold, in the -70 kg event.

In 2006, former JKA Chief Instructor, Tetsuhiko Asai, died. Kagawa was eventually asked to lead Asai’s JKS.

Kagawa’s coaching success continued at the 2012 World Championships held in Paris, France. He coached the Japanese Men’s kata team consisting of his proteges Koji Arimoto, Takato Souma, and Takumi Sugino, to gold. In the final they performed the kata Unsu. Their opponents Italy, performed the kata Gankaku.

Kagawa continued his close association with the Japanese National Team, as a coach. He became the Chairman of the National Coach Committee of the Japan Karate Federation.

Kagawa continued his close association with the World Karate Federation (WKF). In 2014 he became Chairman of the Technical Committee of the WKF. He took over from Tsuguo Sakumoto, himself a multiple World Champion.

Kagawa’s aim as Chairman of the WKF Technical Committee was to see Karate become an Olympic sport. He has been at the forefront of pushing this to happen.

On 3 August 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Karate would be one of the new sports making their Olympic debut at the 2020 Games, to be held in Tokyo, Japan. The decision has divided opinion in the Karate world. Some see this as the slippery slope of Karate losing its Budo soul. However, proponents of Karate’s inclusion feel that it may lead to an increased interest in Karate. Kagawa firmly believes that Olympic recognition should not have an impact on traditional Karate.

Kagawa sees Karate as a mentoring tool for young people. In 2013 he was awarded the Mizuno Sports Mentor Award. Apart from being the Chief Instructor at Teikyo University, he is also a board member of the Kanto Area University Student Karate-Do Federation.

Masao Kagawa is one of the best technicians to come out of the JKA. Although people recognise him more as a phenomenal competitor, he is a traditionalist at heart . This can be seen by the bunkai he demonstrates at the numerous seminars and courses he conducts around the world. Now in his 60s he is still a formidable opponent. He is an example to all karateka, that Karate is a lifelong pursuit, and not just a competitive sport for the young.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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