Robert Fusaro

You have to constantly assume a novice’s mind if you want to keep learning and growing.

Robert Fusaro

One of the pioneers of Shotokan Karate in the United States, Robert Fusaro was known for the elegance and simplicity of his teaching. Interested in teaching the traditional aspects of Karate, he opened the first Karate school in Minnesota.

Robert Fusaro was born on 7 September 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. His father was an Italian immigrant, who worked in the garment industry.

In 1940, Fusaro’s father moved the family from New York to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul.

Growing up, Fusaro with a slightly introverted child. He was not particularly interested in sports.

After graduating from high school, Fusaro took a year off, before enlisting in the army. This was during the Korean War. After basic training, he was initially deployed to Korea, before being deployed to Japan in 1955. He was stationed just outside of Tokyo.

In 1955, an army buddy of Fusaro invited him to try a Karate class at the JKA Hombu. Fusaro had been interested in martial arts and wanted to investigate the little known martial art. After watching the class he decided to join.

Fusaro’s instructors at the JKA included the likes of Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, Masataka Mori, Katsuya Kisaka, and Takayuki Mikami. On occasion, he had a chance to see Gichin Funakoshi at the dojo. It was not until years later, that Fusaro realised who he was.

In 1957, after being discharged from the army, Fusaro decided to stay in Japan. He wanted to continue practising Karate. Kimio Ito of the JKA personally sponsored his extended stay in Japan. He supported himself by selling American Encyclopedias to army personnel.

The 1st JKA All Japan Karate championships were held at the Tokyo gymnasium, in 1957. The tournament did a lot to popularise the JKA brand of Shotokan Karate. Hirokazu Kanazawa became the first Kumite Champion, Hiroshi Shoji becoming the first Kata Champion.

Fusaro and seven other non-Japanese students including Maynard Miner were allowed to demonstrate semi-free sparring at the 1st JKA All Japan Karate Championships.

In 1958 Fusaro returned to the United States, as his father had become very sick.

Fusaro was a brown belt when he returned to the United States. He had been very close to getting his black belt. Masatoshi Nakayama, the Chief Instructor of the JKA, suggested he continue with his training for the next six months.

Fusaro trained in the basement of his parent’s house. He kept in regular contact with the JKA. He would send them films of his training progress.

Working briefly as an accountant, Fusaro knew he wanted to make a full-time career out of teaching Karate. He had been teaching Karate classes from the basement of his parent’s house. This made them the first man to teach Shotokan Karate in Minnesota.

Fusaro named his Karate club the Twin Cities School of Karate. He had put out flyers to attract students to the club. Within four months he had around twenty students. With an increase of students, he eventually rented space at the Ruth Wagner Ballet School, where the Karate club stayed for around a year.

In 1958 Fusaro also founded the Midwest Karate Association. His Karate school eventually came to be known as the Mid West Karate Organisation.

Fusaro was awarded his 1st Dan by Masatoshi Nakayama.

By 1960 the number of students training with Fusaro had grown. He opened the first dojo in downtown Minneapolis.

In 1961 Fusaro was married to his wife Gloria. They had met while attending business school. She would go on to help him run the business side of the dojo.

1961 also saw the arrival of Hidetaka Nishiyama to the United States, on behalf of the JKA. He established the All-American Karate Federation (AAKF), and in November of that year, the 1st National Karate Championships were held in Los Angeles.

Fusaro had the opportunity to learn from instructors like Teruyki Okazaki and Yutaka Yaguchi, who had also arrived in the United States. However, he mainly studied under Nishiyama, as he liked his philosophy and teaching style.

By 1965 Fusaro was becoming established as a Karate instructor. That year he began teaching an accredited Karate course at the University of Minnesota.

With the popularity of Bruce Lee in the 1970s, there was a big interest in martial arts. To attract students Fusaro would give Karate demonstrations at movie theatres when they showed Bruce Lee films. He also organised Karate tournaments.

In 1982 Fusaro was graded to 5th Dan. This was in front of a grading panel consisting of Nishiyama and Hiroshi Shirai.

Fusaro and his wife Gloria eventually had two sons, Michael and Darrell. Both boys developed a love of Karate.

On 7 November 2008, Fusaro’s teacher Hidetaka Nishiyama died. Since Nishiyama’s arrival in the United States, he had been responsible for all of Fusaro’s gradings attempts.

The International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF) awarded Fusaro his 8th Dan, on 18 October 2010.

Fusaro was a longtime member of the AAKF. In 2012 the AAKF presented him with the Distinguished Service Award, in recognition of his service.

In 2013, Fusaro became one of the highest-ranked Shotokan practitioners in the United States. On 21 April 2013, he was awarded his 9th Dan.

On 13 October 2016, the World Traditional Karate-Do Federation (WTKF) awarded Fusaro with the title of Traditional Karate-Do Ambassador, for his lifetime achievement in Karate.

In 2017 Fusaro retired from actively teaching Karate, due to ill health. He was 84 years old at the time.

Fusaro celebrated 60 years of teaching Karate, on 8 September 2018. A special seminar was held to mark the event.

On 29 June 2019, Robert Fusaro died in Minneapolis, following a stroke he suffered earlier that year. He was survived by his wife Gloria, their sons, Michael and Darrell and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

On 7 September 2019, a public memorial was held for Fusaro, on what would have been his 86th birthday. He was posthumously awarded the rank of 10th Dan by the AAKF and the WTKF.

Robert Fusaro can be considered a pioneer of traditional Shotokan Karate in the United States. Training for over 60 years, he established Shotokan Karate in the Minnesota area.

Fusaro’s sons, Michael and Darrell, and some of his other students have continued the legacy of Karate in the Minnesota area. A number of his students have gone on to achieve high ranks and run their own dojos.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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