Profile: Shokei Matsui

First, get strong. Then trust yourself and train hard. Do not forget the value of the kihon. Always be willing and willing to move forward. And to make Karate a part of one’s life, whether in joyful or sad times.

Shokei Matsui

Considered by some to be a “Kyokushin Karate genius“, Shokei Matsui was the youngest man to become Kyokushin World Champion. A tough competitor, he won 50 out of 56 fights. He is also one of the few people to have completed the gruelling 100-man Kumite Challenge, unique to Kyokushin Karate.

Akiyoshi Matsui was born on 15 January 1963 in Chiba, Japan. Of Korean heritage, he was named Moon Jang-gyu. Growing up he was an active child, being involved in gymnastics, swimming, and Kendo.

When Matsui was 13 years old he joined the Kita Nagare-Yama dojo in Chiba, where he started learning Kyokushin Karate. In time, he joined Mas Oyama’s Hombu dojo in Tokyo.

In 1979 Matsui took part in his first tournament. At the Northern Japan Regional Championships, he finished in fifth place. The following year he took part in the 1st Chiba State Championships. He finished in second place.

Matsui took part in his first All Japan Open Karate Championships in 1980, aged only 17. Fighting opponents much older than him, he made it to the semifinals. He finished in fourth place. This was a big surprise to many, who had never heard of him. This put him on the world map at a young age.

At the 13th and 14th All Japan Open Karate Championships, he improved his fourth-place finish, to finish third in both Championships. In 1983 at the 15th All Japan Open Karate Championships, he fractured three ribs and finished in eighth place.

Injuries continued to plague Matsui in 1984. During supplemental training, he injured his spine. He had to stop training for around six months. He missed that year’s All Japan Open Karate Championships. However, he took part in his first World Championships. At the 3rd World International Tournament, he finished in third place, behind Makoto Nakamura and Keiji Sanpei. The following year he won his first senior tournament at the Kyokushin National Open.

On 18 April 1986 Matsui was given the opportunity to attempt the 100-man Kumite Challenge. The challenge was devised by Kyokushin Karate founder, Mas Oyama. The challenge is an extreme test of physical and mental endurance. Many have attempted the challenge, but at the time Matsui was only the ninth man to complete the challenge. He was ranked 4th Dan.

Later in 1986 Matsui won his second Kyokushin National Open title. He became the first man to win the tournament twice in a row.

In 1987, at the 4th World International Tournament held in Tokyo between 6-8 November, Matsui became the youngest man, at 21 years old, to become world champion. He faced Andy Hug of Switzerland in the final.

Matsui retired from active competition in 1987, still only 21 years. Some believed he retired too soon. There is no telling how many titles he could have won. He became a coach to the Japanese National Team.

In May 1992 Matsui opened his own dojo in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. He was named a Branch Chief.

On 26 April 1994 Mas Oyama died. He had named Matsui as his successor in a verbal will when he was close to his death. The will was witnessed by Yoshiaki Umeda, Akira Kurosawa, Yasuto Onishi, Hitoshi Yonetsu, and Itsuo Yonetsu. It had been clear for a while that Matsui would succeed Oyama as leader of the International Karate Organisation (IKO), as he was young and could potentially run the Organisation for many years. On succeeding Oyama, Matsui changed the ideogram of his first name from Akiyoshi to Shokei.

Shokei Matsui’s appointment as the leader of the IKO led to a backlash by some. Oyama’s family disputed the veracity of the will. They felt the verbal will was not binding. They brought a lawsuit disputing the will. It should be noted that the family’s dispute was not with Matsui, but rather with the legitimacy of the will.

On 31 March 1995 Judge Atsushi Watanabe of the Tokyo Court of Family Affairs ruled that Oyama’s verbal will was invalid as it had not been signed by him, only by the witnesses. On 24 October 1996, the High Court of Tokyo upheld the decision. Matsui issued an open letter to IKO members on 12 November 1996. In the letter, he tried to put members’ minds at rest. He stated that it was everyone’s duty to keep Oyama’s dream alive.

The High Court decision led to a split within the IKO, into three separate organizations:

  • IKO-1: led by Shokei Matsui
  • IKO-2: originally led by Yukio Nishida. The organization has been subsequently led by Keiji Sanpei, Yasuhiro Shichinoh, and Kenji Midori.
  • IKO-3: led by Yoshikazu Matsushima

As the leader of IKO-1, Matsui has introduced a number of innovations. This includes:

  • A Women’s World Karate Championships
  • A World Cup Team Karate Championships
  • An International Senior Karate Championships
  • An International Youth Karate Championships

On 1 October 2005, the Ichigeki Plaza opened in the Ebisu district of Tokyo, Japan. Ichigeki is an all-around health and fitness facility, offering Karate, kickboxing, and MMA training. This facility was the brainchild of Matsui.

The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake hit the northeast coast of Japan’s Honshu Island on 11 March 2011. It measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and triggered a tsunami that flooded over 200 square miles of land. At the time Matsui was on a teaching trip to Russia. He made arrangements to return to Japan.

On 14 March 2011 Matsui issued a message on behalf of the IKO-1. He pledged the support of the IKO-1 to help the people affected by the tragedy.

As the head of the IKO-1 Shokei Matsui travels around the world spreading Kyokushin Karate. The IKO-1 has over 12 million members in 124 countries. Over the years there have been rumours of the major IKO factions reuniting. Matsui would like this. However, there are still obstacles to overcome before this can happen.

A phenomenal fighter, Shokei Matsui has had some great matches against the best competitors in the world. Below are some videos showing this great competitor in action:

Author: Patrick Donkor

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