Seiji Isobe

Training is not a flowery path; it is repetitive and simple routine. Supporting this routine is the most important thing, it is the means to acquire confidence in yourself, the basis of self-control, then acquire a total and perfect serenity of spirit.

Seiji Isobe

Known as the ‘Father of South American Kyokushin Karate‘, Seiji Isobe has established the style of Karate in several countries. He has coached many of Brazil’s top Kyokushin talent, including Ademir da Costa, Francisco Filho, Glaube Feitoso, and Ewerton Teixeira.

Seiji Isobe was born in Fukui, Japan, on 29 February 1948.

Isobe began practising Shotokan Karate in 1963. He would eventually be promoted to 1st Dan. He soon had doubts about the validity of the Karate he was practising. His teacher had practised with some Kyokushin practitioners and was battered and bruised.

After Isobe received his 1st Dan grade in Shotokan, he stopped training with his instructor. He decided to train with a group of friends. He did this for a couple of months. He eventually wrote a letter to Mas Oyama, asking to train with him.

In 1967 Isobe and two friends travelled to Tokyo, with the intention of training at the Kyokushin Hombu. They remained in Tokyo for three days. However, they could only watch training sessions as Oyama was away from the dojo. They liked what they saw and knew this was the style for them.

The following year, Isobe and his friends returned to Tokyo, to train with Oyama at the Kyokushin Hombu. In his first training session, Isobe broke his finger while blocking a low kick. He had his finger splintered at a local hospital. He returned to the Hombu to continue training for the next three days, while he was in Tokyo. He started training regularly at the Hombu dojo. He would take a train journey from his home in Fukui to Tokyo.

In 1969 Isobe became an uchi-deshi (live-in student) of Oyama. In October of that year, he competed in the 1st All Japan Open Karate Tournament. He competed in the next two All Japan Open Karate Tournaments, held in 1970 and 1971.

Isobe became Oyama’s personal driver in 1970. He did he did this for over a year.

In 1972 Oyama promoted Isobe to 2nd Dan. Isobe wanted to open a branch dojo on behalf of Oyama in Fukui.

Oyama had other plans for Isobe. Initially, he wanted him to go to Australia to teach. However, he decided to send him to Brazil instead. Originally, Oyama had selected Hideyuki Ashihara to travel to Brazil.

Both Oyama and Isobe knew very little about Brazil. Isobe’s teaching stint was initially scheduled for one year.

It should be noted that Tsunioshi Tanaka was running a Kyokushin association in Brazil, with around 100 students. However, Oyama did not recognise the association, as it did not follow the rules set out by the Hombu in Japan.

On 10 October 1972, Isobe arrived in São Paulo, Brazil, not speaking a word of Portuguese. He eventually learnt the language and customs of Brazil through his students.

Through the early part of the 20th century, many Japanese had immigrated to Brazil. This meant many of the major Karate styles were well represented in the country. However, Kyokushin was not as well known. To change this, Isobe made a number of television appearances where he broke blocks of ice with his head. These appearances were televised across most of South America. This soon developed an interest in Kyokushin Karate in the region.

By August 1973 Isobe had established his Kyokushin Liberdade Academy in a shed, located in the neighbourhood of Rua da Gloria. This would eventually become the Hombu of his association.

Isobe set himself the goal of making Kyokushin Karate well known in South America. He initially only intended to be in Brazil for 3 to 4 years, before returning to Japan. However, he was persuaded by his students to stay much longer.

In February 1974 Isobe relocated his Liberdade dojo to a much bigger location in the same neighbourhood. Around that time he opened a second dojo in Pinheiros.

June 1974 saw Oyama visit Brazil. He named Isobe the Head of South American Kyokushin. Isobe conducted his first black belt grading in May of the following year.

The 1st Open World Karate Championships were held in Japan in 1975. Isobe sent a team to the championships. He was also one of the officiating judges.

In November 1976 Isobe established the Foundation of the Kyokushin Association of Martial Arts. He registered the association with the São Paulo Federation of Pugilism. The following month the 1st National Kyokushin Karate Championships took place. Tadatoshi Tanaka became the first champion.

March 1977 saw the 1st Open Karate Championships take place in Concepcion, Chile. Later that year in September, the 2nd National Kyokushin Karate Championships took place. Mas Oyama was the guest of honour. Mauricio Fernandes became champion.

On for December 1977, Isobe’s first child, son, Ulisses Riyuji was born.

For the next few years, Isobe continued to promote Kyokushin Karate through the many tournaments he held. In August 1978, the 1st Paulistano Karate Tournament Oyama Kyokushin Tournament was held. It was a tournament established for the São Paulo region of Brazil.

By September 1981, interest in Kyokushin was on the rise. At the 5th National Kyokushin Karate Championships, there were 48 competitors. The following year the tournament saw 64 competitors competing in front of an estimated crowd of 3000. At the 1st South American Kyokushin Championships held in September 1981, there was a crowd of 7000 people in attendance.

Isobe now had now developed a number of black belt students. In January 1983 he held the 1st São Paulo Instructors Course.

The 3rd World Open Karate Championships were held in January 1983, in Japan. Isobe took a team consisting of Ademir da Costa, Jemusu Kitamura, Francisco Feitosa, and Jack Morino to the Championships.

Isobe’s Brazilian team gave a good showing at the tournament. Jemusu Kitamura was given an award for his performances during the Championships. In March 1983, the São Paulo Department of Sports and Tourism gave Isobe an award for the performances of the Brazilian team at the World Championships.

To celebrate Kyokushin’s 10-year anniversary in Brazil, the 1st Japanese-Brazilian Championships took place in São Paulo, in August 1983. Ademir da Costa was the champion.

In November 1983 Oyama presented Isobe with a special plaque for his efforts in promoting Kyokushin Karate in South America.

August 1985 saw Oyama attend the 3rd Kyokushin Oyama South American Championships and the 10th Kyokushin Oyama National Championships in São Paulo.

Isobe’s son, Ulisses Riyuji, began training with him in 1988. He would go on to win several National, South America, and World titles.

On 25 April 1994 Isobe’s mentor and teacher, Mas Oyama died. He was succeeded by Shokei Matsui as the Head of the International Kyokushin Organisation (IKO). However, some top instructors such as Hatsuo Royama, Tsuyoshi Hiroshige, and Kenji Midori, eventually left that IKO to set up rival organisations.

Matsui established an international department for the IKO. It was led by Bobby Lowe. Members included Isobe and Peter Chong.

August 1994 saw the 1st Mandinlito de Karate Kyokushin Oyama take place in São Paulo. The tournament celebrated the 20th anniversary of Kyokushin Karate in Brazil. There were competitors from Brazil, Japan, Australia, Spain, Canada, USA, South Africa, Holland, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Columbia. Isobe’s student Francisco Filho was the champion.

Francisco Filho had become one of Isobe’s top students. In February 1995 Isobe asked Filho to attempt the 100-Man Kumite Challenge in São Paulo. Filho completed the challenge in 2 hours 45 minutes. He had 100 wins, 41 by knockout. However, his attempt was not officially recognised by the Japanese Hombu.

Isobe and Filho travelled to Japan in May 1995 to officially take the 100-Man Challenge at that IKO Hombu. Filho completed the challenge for the second time in 3 hours 2 minutes. He had 76 wins, 24 draws, and 0 losses. 26 of his wins were by knockout. Filho was one of the few challengers not needing to be hospitalised after the challenge. However, many of his opponents needed hospital attention.

Isobe’s students were becoming well recognised and respected in the world of Kyokushin. Rabiana Resende became heavyweight champion at the 1st Women’s World Championships, held in New York. Another of his students Marcos Costa finished in second place at the 1st Pan-American Karate Kyokushin Oyama Championships held in New York, in 1996. His son Ulisses Riyuji finished in fourth place in the same tournament. Filho was invited to teach at the IKO Hombu in Tokyo.

Isobe’s students were finding increased success on the world stage. At the 1st World Cup for Teams, held in Paris, France, his Brazilian team finished in second place. In 1999, Francisco Filho, Became World Champion, the first non-Japanese to do so. In 2002 Isobe’s Brazilian team won the World Team Championships. Students Ewerton Teixeira and Andrews Nakahara, became heavyweight and middleweight champions respectively, at the 2005 World Weight Championships. Teixeira would also become a World Champion in 2007.

In 2000 Isobe passed the day-to-day running of the Liberdade dojo to his son Ulisses Riyuji.

The 25th Anniversary Edition of the Japanese Edition of Newsweek Magazine was published in May 2011. Isobe was named as one of the ‘25 Japanese he changed the world‘.

Isobe was given the title ‘Citizen of São Paulo‘ in September 2018. This was for his services to Karate in the São Paulo area. This was appropriate as 2018 marked the 110th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil.

On 21 April 2019, the IKO-1 held the 36th All Japan Weight Category Championships. The following day a Memorial Service was held to mark the 25th anniversary of Mas Oyama’s death. It was held at the Mount Mitsumine Shrine, Saitama Prefecture. The service was attended by around 120 people. Isobe was in attendance, having travelled from Brazil.

Seiji Isobe had been instrumental in the development of Kyokushin Karate in South America. It is a testament to his teaching and organisational skills that he was entrusted by Mas Oyama with this task.

Isobe remains a member of the International Committee of the IKO-1. He continues to travel around Brazil and the rest of South America, giving seminars and courses.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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