Shigeru Egami has been described as fearsome and possessing both physical and psychological strength. Although not commonly recognized in the West, Egami is considered Gichin Funakoshi’s one student who most closely followed his Principles, especially in the belief that Karate was not just a physical pursuit.
Egami was born on the 7th of December 1912 in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. Like most children of the time, his first experience of martial arts was in Judo, starting at the age of 13.
By the time Egami entered Waseda University in 1932 he had been practising Judo for a number of years. He had also been practising Kendo and Aikijutsu, an early form of Aikido.
At Waseda doing some form of sport was a requirement for obtaining a degree. Karate was still fairly new in Japan, having only been introduced ten years earlier by Funakoshi. As a way of promoting the art of Karate, Funakoshi taught the art at several universities. Formed in 1936 the Waseda University Karate Club is one of the oldest in Japan.
Egami joined Waseda’s Karate club, training under Takeshi Shimoda, Funakoshi’s assistant. Shimoda is often considered to be Funakoshi’s most talented student, having trained with him since 1922. Motonobu Hironishi, who would go on to become President of the Shotokai organisation, also started at the Karate club at this time.
Shimoda died in his early thirties from pneumonia. Some sources state he died in 1932. However, the common consensus is that he died in 1934. His teaching duties were taken up by Yoshitaka Funakoshi.
Yoshitaka Funakoshi was Funakoshi’s third son. Much of the advancement in Shotokan Karate can be attributed to him. He introduced the characteristic Shotokan long stance and also various kicking techniques. His dynamic style made him popular among the younger students.
The 1930s saw Egami travelling around Japan with Yoshitaka Funakoshi, giving various Karate demonstrations. The aim of these trips was to promote Karate. Also, 1935 saw the formation of the Shotokai association, which brought together all of Gichin Funakoshi’s students.
After graduating from university Egami had the option of getting a good job through his father’s connections. However, he worked as a waiter so that he could continue his Karate training.
In 1937 Gichin Funakoshi appointed Egami to the Shotokan Committee for evaluation. He was the youngest instructor to be given the honour. A little after this time he was called up for active military service. However, he was released after only four days as it was found that he was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis.
In 1939 Egami worked for the Department of War at the Nakano School, an institute for the training of elite forces personnel. Yoshitaka Funakoshi and Tadao Okuyama were also teaching with him.
he period of 1941 to 1945 was mixed for Egami. He was married in 1941 and by 1945 his wife had given birth to two of his three sons. Between 1942 and 1945 many of his peers and Gichin Funakoshi’s students were killed during the Pacific conflict of World War Two. 1945 saw the destruction of the Shotokan dojo during a sustained bombing of Tokyo. The dojo located in Zoshigaya had been the first Karate dojo built-in in Japan, in 1936. During the bombing raid his house was destroyed. He and his family had to live in the ruins. 1945 saw the death of his teacher and friend, Yoshitaka Funakoshi, from gangrene of the lungs.
After the war, many of Gichin Funakoshi’s students who had survived wanted to resume their pre-war Karate training. However, through lack of training, some of those students’ technical skills had declined. To address this decline of technique the Nippon Karate Kyokai (Japan Karate Association) was formed in 1949. The aim of the association was to gather Karate knowledge. Funakoshi was named Technical Director of the JKA. It should be noted that a few years earlier Egami had become his assistant, helping him with teaching duties.
In 1948 Egami’s third son was born. In that same year, he opened a dojo in Mitsui Miike factory.
The 1950s saw Egami increase his teaching duties. At Waseda University he was manager of the Karate club. He was also a lecturer in Physical Education at Chuo, Toho and Gakushuin universities.
Egami’s health began to suffer when he was in his forties. Between 1956 and 1957 he underwent two operations for stomach ulcers. He also suffered a heart attack which resulted in him being dead for almost ten minutes. The illness led to a curtailment of his personal Karate training, but not his teaching duties.
On 26 April 1957, Gichin Funakoshi died. At the hospital his close family were present. Egami was the only student present at his bedside.
Following the wishes of Funakoshi, the Shotokai was reformed by a group of individuals, including his family and various university groups. The aim of the organisation was to take care of his funeral arrangements. However, a disagreement occurred between the Shotokai and the Japan Karate Association (JKA). The JKA believed that they should be organizing the whole funeral and would not participate once the Funakoshi family declined the offer.
After the funeral, Shotokai continued as an organisation. Several of the university groups, however, decided to leave the organisation. Egami and Hironishi remained with Shotokai. Egami became the Chief Instructor with Hironishi eventually becoming president of the organisation.
1957 saw the JKA and Shotokai eventually part ways. The JKA under Chief Instructor Masatoshi Nakayama were beginning to follow a more sport-oriented approach to Karate. The Shotokai believed in following a more traditional approach, in keeping with Funakoshi’s teachings.
Since the early 1950s, Egami had been looking at new ways in which striking could be improved in Shotokan Karate. He believed that the body should be more relaxed prior to striking. He also believed that the makiwara (striking post) practice should be lessened. Egami also believed that the perception of Karate was, a martial art used for violence. He wanted Karate to develop more in line with Gichin Funakoshi’s Principles.
Harmony was another of the key principles explored by Egami. In this respect, similarities can be found in Aikijutsu’s development into Aikido, under Morihei Ueshiba. He also explored the technique of irimi.
1958 saw the publication of Funakoshi’s last book, Karate-Do Kyohan. Egami features in many of the photographs in the book.
For the rest of his life, Egami continued his investigations into the improvement of Karate and also teaching his findings to others.
In 1973 Egami took a teaching trip to Los Angeles, USA. Three years later he took teaching trips to Taiwan and five European countries.
In 1976 Egami’s book, The Way of Karate: Beyond Technique was published. Revised editions were published in 1986 and 200 as the Heart of Karate-Do.
On 8 January 1981, Shigeru Egami died from a brain tumour. He was 68 years old. It is a pity that many karatekas in the West know very little about this elite martial artist. He fully understood Gichin Funakoshi’s belief that Karate was more than a physical pursuit. He understood that Karate had a very strong mental element to it.