Considered the “Father of Brazilian Karate” Mitsusuke Harada has proved to be an innovative instructor. He received one of the last 5th Dan grades awarded by Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi before his death.
Mitsusuke Harada, the eldest of two children, was born in Dairen, Manchuria, in the Northeast of China on 16 November 1928. His father worked for the South Manchurian Railway. This meant the family moved around a lot. During the 1930s the family lived in Peking and Shanghai.
In 1936 the Shotokan was built in Zoshigaya, Toshima Ward, Tokyo. This provided a central dojo for the students of Gichen Funakoshi to train at. Two years later the Harada family returned to Japan.
Harada began his training in the November of 1943 at the Shotokan. He began training because he wanted to get stronger and also liked the novelty of the art of Karate. At the time the instructors at the dojo were Genshin Hironishi, Wado Uemura, Yoshiaka Hayashi, and Yoshitaka Funakoshi who were among Gichin Funakoshi first generation of instructors.
On 10 March 1945 the Shotokan was destroyed during the bombing raid of Tokyo by American B-29 bombers, during World War II.
After the war returning students resurrected their training, particularly at the various universities.
Like his father before him, Harada joined Waseda University in 1948. He joined the University’s Shotokan Karate club.
The Waseda Karate Club was very strong. At one time they had four 3rd Dan; three 2nd Dan; and five 1st Dan training at the club. The club was captained by Tsutomo Ohshima, a friend and training partner of Harada. Training was very hard and he did not always enjoy it.
Harada was responsible for collecting Gichin Funakoshi to come teach at the Waseda club. Funakoshi, who was in his eighties, fundamentally believed that kata was at the heart of Karate and kumite was just an aid to kata. This was not a popular sentiment with some senior students who wanted to do more kumite.
Harada built a good relationship with Funakoshi and would often train with him in the lounge of Yoshihide Funakoshi’s house. Years later Harada would recall these lessons with fondness. His only regret was that he didn’t ask all the questions he wanted to.
On 1 May 1949 The Japan Karate Association (Nippon Karate Kyokai) was formed with Kichinosuke Saigo as the first President of the association. From the start there were political issues within the association. Some groups from universities such as Waseda refused to join the association.
1951 saw Harada graduate from Waseda University with a BA in Economics and Commerce. November of that year also saw him awarded his 1st Dan from the JKA as his eighth attempt. Karate had undergone changes from how it looked before the war. For instance Yoshitaka Funakoshi had introduced the sidekick into Shotokan. Many of the seniors who had returned from the war had practised a different, less dynamic style of Karate. Although they sat on the grading panels they were out of touch with the development and growth of Shotokan Karate.
Harada remained at Waseda for another two years to study a Master’s Degree. During this time he started teaching two-hour sessions once a week, assisting Hiroshi Noguichi in the Physical Education department of Waseda.
In 1953 Harada graduated from Waseda University and started working in a Tokyo bank. It was around this time that he had a chance encounter with Shigeru Egami at the Waseda dojo. Harada had been training by himself. Egami would eventually become a mentor and close friend to him.
Egami started teaching Harada privately. Sessions lasted three hours a day, seven days a week. It was also around this time that Harada started training with Tadao Okuyama, a close friend of Egami. Okuyama has been described as an outstanding karate-ka, rivalling Yoshitaka Funakoshi in skill. He would have a profound affect on Harada’s future training.
Harada would also help with teaching at the Kodokan, the home of Japanese Judo. In 1953 he assisted Masatoshi Nakayama with teaching Karate to American personnel.
In 1955 Harada’s bank sent him to work in São Paulo, Brazil . He is sometimes called the “Father of Brazilian Karate”. With the blessing of Gichin Funakoshi he started teaching Karate to employees at his company. Interest soon grew and he was soon teaching 30-40 students in the evenings. This was the beginning of the first Karate club in South America.
Harada wanted to affiliate his new Karate club with Japan. However, Funakoshi was against the idea. He wanted Brazilian Karate to avoid the bureaucracy and politics that plagued Japanese Karate. Harada eventually founded the separate Karate-Do Shotokan Brazileo in São Paulo. The first person Harada graded to black belt was a Mr Yasuda, a fellow bank employee. By the time Harada left Brazil he had around sixteen students who were graded to 1st Dan. He was eventually replaced by Arinobu Ishibata.
In 1956 Harada was awarded his five 5th Dan by Gichin Funakoshi. He received a scroll that had calligraphy written in Funakoshi’s own hand. This was the last grade Harada ever received. In honour of Funakoshi he did not want to be graded again.
On 26 April 1957 Funakoshi died in hospital, surrounded by his close family. Egami was his only student present at his bedside. Egami sent a telegram to Harada informing him of Funakoshi’s death. Disagreements over the funeral arrangements between the JKA and the Shotokai led to a split within Shotokan Karate. Waseda, Chuo, Senshu, Gakashuin and Tokyo Noko universities decided to join the Shotokai group. Egami wrote to inform Harada of the developments. Because of his close ties to Egami, Harada decided to join the Shotokai.
In the February 1963 Harada arrived in Paris, France at the invitation of Hoam Nam, a Vietnamese karate-ka, teaching at the dojo of Tetsuji Murakami. Initially Harada had planned on staying in France for a year to teach. However, he ran into some immigration problems and some political issues with another Japanese instructor.
Now in his thirties, Harada resigned from his banking job and decided to follow a path of teaching Karate full time. He travelled to Brussels, Belgium where he taught for a few months.
At the invitation of Judo master Kenshiro Abe’s a British judo council,
Harada arrived in England on 19 November 1963. Masters from across Europe had been invited to give a martial arts display at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 November. They were masters representing the arts of Judo, Aikido, and Kendo. Harada was the only Karate exponent in attendance. For the exhibition he performed the kata Empi and a series of kumite drills. His original assistant had been injured. The replacement was not at a suitable level so Harada felt a little disappointed with the demo.
Ken Williams had been one of the Aikido masters who had performed alongside Harada . Impressed by Harada, he offered him a place to teach Karate at his Aikido dojo in Hillingdon, London. Known as “The Hut” the dojo was a converted boy scout hut. From 1964 to 1968 Harada would alternate his teaching between London and Brussels. He became the first Japanese Karate instructor to reside in the UK.
In 1965 Harada formed the Karate-Do Shotokai (KDS) organisation, becoming its first President. By 1967 he had opened a number of dojos around Britain and Europe. That same year he returned to Japan to learn the new developments in Shotokai Karate. However, following his visit he was left a little unsure of the direction of the Shotokai organisation plan to take.
Over the years the KDS as an organisation has suffered a number of splits within it. The first split came in 1971. After Harada’s visit to Japan in 1967 he had brought back new ideas and developments in Shotokai Karate. However, in 1971 he decided to return to the orthodox Karate style he had learnt during his university days. Some of his students wanted to continue with the new things they have been learning. This led to split within the organisation. Harada also broke technical ties with Japan so that he could follow his own path.
There was a further split in the KDS 1988, due to internal politics. Disappointed, Harada considered returning to Japan. However, he decided to remain in the UK with his remaining students. Also now that his organisation was free of politics he was free to research and develop his own brand of Karate.
In 1997 a biography on Harada was published. Entitled “Karate Master: The Life and Times of Mitsusuke Harada” , the book was written by Clive Layton. Layton wrote another book two years later called called “Reminisces by Master Mitsusuke Harada”.
1998 marked the 130th anniversary of Gichin Funakoshi’s birth and also 60 years of Shotokan Karate. To mark the anniversaries Nihon Karate-Do Shotokai held an event in Tokyo Japan In October. Harada was invited to give a demonstration. He took a select group of KDS students to assist him. The demonstration was well received.
In 2007, Harada, now living in South Wales, was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to Karate. He personally received his MBE award from the Queen Elizabeth II.
As Chief Instructor of the KDS Harada still continues to impart his considerable knowledge at seminars and courses held in Britain and also in Europe.
Mitsusuke Harada is one of the few people alive to have trained at the original Shoto-kan with the likes of Gichin Funakoshi, Yoshitaka Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami. He has kept the teachings and principles of his teacher Gichin Funakoshi alive. Now in his nineties he still continues to explore all that Karate has to offer, always seeking to improve.