Shojiro Koyama

Modern life is too quick and competitive, changes are rapid, and Karate helps us to see past the world around us and into ourselves. Our pace of living keeps us looking ahead; Karate helps us rediscover ourselves. Studying kata is like basic education and kumite is the final examination. The only diploma is using Karate in everyday life.

Shojiro Koyama

Described as the ‘Defender of Traditional Karate‘ Shojiro Koyama dedicated his life to spreading ‘Traditional Shotokan‘. A follower of Gichin Fuanakosh’s principle that Karate is a lifelong pursuit, he long believed that Karate is about finding balance in one’s life. To him, Karate was not about competing and winning trophies.

Shojiro Koyama was born on 4 December 1935, in Tokyo, Japan. He began learning Shotokan Karate at Hosei High School. His first instructor was Kimio Ito of the JKA.

Koyama had started learning Karate because he wanted to be stronger. He was not a natural, being a little stiff in his movements. Through dedicated practice, he passed his 1st Dan grading in 1951. By 1953 he had become the Captain of the Hosei High School Karate Team.

In 1954 Koyama enrolled at Hosei University to study Business Administration. He also joined the University’s Karate club where he was again taught by Kimio Ito. At the club, he trained with Takayuki Mikami, who was two years his senior. He eventually became the vice-captain of the Karate team.

Koyama graduated from Hosei University in 1958. He started working in the sales department of a steel company. He also became a coach at the Hosei Karate club. However, in 1961 he returned to Hosei University to take a postgraduate course.

In 1964 Koyama decided to move to the United States, although he knew very little about the country. He arrived in Phoenix, Arizona. He started working in the Physical Education Department of Arizona State University, on a two-year contract.

Koyama established the Arizona Karate Association in 1964, becoming Chief Instructor. By this time he was a 3rd Dan. The following year he established the Western States Karate Championships. He saw the tournament as a way to establish a US/ Japan cultural exchange. He saw himself as an emissary between both countries. Also, the money raised from the tournament was normally given to charities like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Arizona.

At the end of his two-year contract, Koyama was appointed by Arizona State University, Tucson, to teach Karate.

By 1977 Koyama’s association was part of the Hidetaka Nishiyama’s AAKF. However, there were growing tensions between Nishiyama and the other Japanese instructors in the AAKF. After a particularly heated meeting, five of the instructors – Teruyuki Okazaki, Takayuki Mikami, Yutaka Yaguchi, Shojiro Koyama, and Shigeru Takashina, left to form their own organisation. Masataka Mori was the only Japanese instructor to remain with Nishiyama.

The Japanese instructors established the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF). The instructors were still members of the JKA. Okazaki was appointed Chief Instructor of the ISKF, with Yaguchi as his deputy. In 1978 the ISKF held its first organisational meeting in Denver.

In 1979 Koyama was appointed the Chairman of the National Collegiate Karate Association. That year the 1st National Collegiate Karate Championships were held.

Through most of the 1980s and 1990s, Koyama focused on teaching Karate and organising the Western States Karate Championships and the National Collegiate Championships.

In 2003 Koyama was awarded his 8th Dan and appointed to the JKA Shihankai.

The 26th National Collegiate Karate Championships were are due to be held between 12 to 13 November 2005, in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, they were cancelled for the first time in their history due to Hurricane Katrina.

On 16 February 2018, JKA’s Shihankai Committee met and decided to award Koyama the rank of 9th Dan.

Shojiro Koyama has always been a humble man, not seeing Karate as a path to fame and fortune. Rather he has used his Karate as a way to give back to the community through supporting various charities.

Koyama was one of the first Japanese instructors to teach his Karate in the United States. He has also been a guest instructor in the Caribbean, the Middle East, Canada, and across the United States. He has also built the Karate program at Arizona State University into one of the most respected programs in the country.

In 2019 Koyama retired from active teaching.

On 19 October 2021, it was announced that Shojiro Koyama had died.

Koyama has written a number of books and articles on Karate. He has shown through these that he is a very deep thinker on the various aspects of Karate. Perhaps the following quote helps sum up the man:

If I continued to view Karate only as a sport, as I did when I was young, I think that I would never have understood that lifetime exercise and character development actually lead to improvement in technique.

Author: Patrick Donkor

2 thoughts on “Shojiro Koyama

  1. I trained with Sensei way back in the eighties. He loved to kick me in the stomach and make me say OS! In front of the class lol.

    Last year I found myself 30 lbs overweight. Two of my friends and I committed to a life style change in diet and exercise to lose weight. I told them that my diet was going to consist of what my Sensei once told me about when to eat. He said “Eat when hungry” and I’m doing just that. Having lost 25 lbs I’m 5 lbs from goal thanks to Sensei. Is that karate? Lol.

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