Spotlight: Teruyuki Okazaki – Striving for the Perfection of Character

Teruyuki Okazaki, described by some as one of the most technically gifted karateka to come from the Japanese Karate Association (JKA), can be thought of as a living textbook on the history and practice of Shotokan Karate. He was part of the third generation of students to train with Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi. Together with his mentor, Masatoshi Nakayama, he helped formulate the JKA Instructor Course, which has trained many of the top JKA masters. And if this was not enough, he was one of the first instructors sent by the JKA to the United States to teach Karate.

Okazaki was born on 22 June 1931 in Nogata, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. He was the second son of a family that came from a samurai lineage on his grandmother’s side.

As a child, Okazaki was unruly, constantly getting into fights. As a way to curb his unruliness, he was introduced to martial arts. He began practising Judo and Kendo as was normal for many boys of the time. His father was an accomplished kendoka.

In 1947 Okazaki enrolled at Takushoku University to study Political economics. He had not followed his older brother Teruyoshi to Waseda University. At Takushoku he had the opportunity to choose from a variety of martial arts including Aikido, Kendo, Judo and the fairly new art of Karate.

Okazaki loved to fight and was drawn to the dynamic style of Karate. However, his parents, especially his mother, saw Karate as a form of street fighting. He was persuaded to study Aikido. His teacher was Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba, who followed a traditional approach to his training. For the first three months of his training, Okazaki would sit in a seiza (kneeling) position and watch the class. Secretly he had also began Karate. When Ueshiba found out he was not pleased. He didn’t think Okazaki had what it took to succeed in Aikido.

Okazaki continued to practice Karate secretly. He eventually asked his grandmother to speak to his parents on his behalf. Although still worried about the dangerous aspects of Karate his parents gave him their blessing to continue learning the martial art. It is interesting that his older brother, Teruyoshi had also begun Karate at Waseda University.

At Takushoku University Okazaki’s main Karate instructor was Masatoshi Nakayama who would become a father figure and mentor to him. Sometimes he would be taught by Gichin Funakoshi, who he saw as a surrogate grandfather.

Every spare moment Okazaki had was taken up with Karate practice. He had begun Karate lessons with two of his roommates and they drove each other to success as they proceeded through the ranks.

It should be noted that Okazaki failed his Black Belt test twice. By his own admission, it had been due to his ego. Funakoshi and Nakayama realised he needed to learn that Karate was much more than performing techniques correctly. Okazaki was deeply disappointed and came very close to quitting the art he loved. However, his roommates persuaded him not to give up. He eventually passed his 1st Dan grading.

Even after receiving his 1st Dan, Okazaki’s temperament was still an issue. As punishment for being too harsh on a student, Funakoshi stripped him of his black belt. After a suitable period, he eventually received it back.

Alongside his brother, Teruyoshi, Okazaki would eventually be graded to 3rd Dan, while still at university.

In 1953 Okazaki graduated from Takushoku University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Economics. Shortly afterwards he was appointed team coach of the university’s Karate team. It was during this time that the idea of the JKA Instructors Course was formulated by Nakayama. Okazaki was to be the test subject. He and Nakayama determined what would be suitable for such a course.

In the early days of the fledgeling JKA, Okazaki was the main assistant to both Funakoshi and Nakayama. He assisted in teaching and demonstrations of Shotokan Karate. He also taught at his old university, Takushoku. He further taught at Boei University, which has been likened to the military academies of West Point and Sandhurst. He also conducted classes at Tokyo’s Toritsu University, which has since been amalgamated into Tokyo Metropolitan University.

1955 saw the JKA move to its first purpose-built dojo in the Yotsuya district of Tokyo. The following year the first intake of students for the Kenshusie (Instructor Course) took place. The earlier hard work of Nakayama and Okazaki culminated in a program geared towards developing top calibre Karate instructors. The first intake of three students was Hirokazu Kanazawa (Takushoku University), Takayuki Mikami (Hosei University) and Eiji Takaura (Chiba University). All three men held the grade of 2nd Dan. The course, lasting for a your, would result in the successful students being awarded their 3rd Dan. Okazaki was an instructor on the course and would go on to teach many of today’s top instructors.

Karate: The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting“, written by Hidetaka Nishiyama, was published in 1960. The book would go on to introduce Karate to many people around the world. Noted karateka, such as Stan Schmidt and Frank Cope attribute this book as the reason for them starting Karate. Okazaki appears in the book, performing various techniques and sparring drills.

Funakoshi and Nakayama were part of a delegation that introduced Japanese martial arts to the United States Strategic Air Command (SAC) in 1952. The other arts demonstrated were Judo and Aikido. This introduced many American servicemen to the art of Karate. When the servicemen returned to the U.S. they showed what they had learned in Japan and this led to an interest in Karate and a request for Japanese instructors.

In May 1961 Nakayama sent Okazaki to the United States, initially for six months. Okazaki arrived in the city of Philadelphia. In the beginning, things did not go smoothly for him. His first major problem was the language barrier. At the time he didn’t speak any English. He recalled that he could not even read the menu in a restaurant he visited and had had to point to the food he wanted to eat. He managed to find a translator to help him. However over time, thanks to his American wife, his English improved.

Okazaki’s next major hurdle was his teaching style. In Japan, instructors would tell their students what to do and they just did it without any question. American students were different. They asked many questions and wanted to know why a technique was performed in a certain way. Coupled with the language barrier and the complex principles found in Karate, he found it difficult to answer the questions. Someone had advised him to tell the students to just do as he said. So when the asked questions he would answer with “Shut up! Just do it!”. Also, the hard training style practised in many Japanese dojos did not translate well to the United States. This led to students quitting. However, like all great teachers, he adapted his teaching style, becoming one of the best and most sought after Karate instructors.

Okazaki ended up staying well beyond the allotted six months and eventually became an American citizen. A prime reason for him staying on in the United States was for establishing the art of Karate as taught by his mentors, Funakoshi and Nakayama.

In 1963, two years after arriving in America, Okazaki formed the East Coast Shotokan Karate Association. In 1977, alongside Yutaka Yaguchi, a graduate of the second JKA Instructor Course, he formed the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF).

An affiliate of the JKA, ISKF’s aim was to promote the teaching of traditional Karate by following the guidelines set out by Funakoshi in the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun. The headquarters of the ISKF can be found at Okazaki’s Philadelphia dojo. With him as chairman and the regional directors (Shojiro Koyama, Yutaka Yaguchi, Ray Dalke, Takayuki Mikami and Shigeru Takashina), the ISKF was built into a truly international organisation, with members in over sixty countries.

In 1981 Okazaki established the Instructor Training Institute. The instructor qualification was based on the JKA Instructors Course and took participants three years to complete. The aim of the course is to produce high calibre instructors, thus building a quality organisation.

Due to his tireless work in promoting Karate, Okazaki was recognised by Black Belt Magazine as “Man of the Year“, in 1982. In the same year, he was also inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame.

The world of Shotokan Karate was rocked in 1987 by the death of Nakayama. He had been instrumental in the spread of Shotokan Karate internationally. Perhaps, more importantly, he had been a unifying presence in the JKA, as the following years would show.

2007 saw Okazaki become one of the highest-ranked Shotokan masters in the world. He was awarded his 10th Dan.

In 2007 the ISKF terminated its thirty-year relationship with the JKA. Karate was no longer just a Japanese art. It had grown to include masters from different countries affiliated to the JKA. These affiliates wanted their voices to be heard and wanted to be a part of t he JKA’s decision making process. The JKA did not appear to make any changes to accommodate this. Out of loyalty to the members of the ISKF organisation, Okazaki felt he had to leave the JKA. Unfortunately, longtime ISKF members, Takayuki Mikami and Shojiro Koyama decided to remain with the JKA, out of loyalty they resigned from the organisation.

The ISKF was not immune from its own internal political problems. Some American instructors such as Ray Dalke were unhappy with the direction of the ISKF. They eventually left the organisation.

Every summer Okazaki hosted a week-long Master Camp. The first event took place in 1964 and has now been running for over fifty years. It has become an international event with many of the top Shotokan masters from around the world in attendance.

The last few years saw Okazaki take a back seat in the day to day running of the ISKF. His nephew Hiroyoshi, an accomplished martial artist, is now chairman and Chief Instructor of the ISKF. However, Okazaki still travelled the world conducting seminars and spreading the true essence of Karate.

On 21 April 2020 Teruyuki Okazaki died from complications due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic, in Philadelphia, United States.

Teruyuki Okazaki provided a direct link back to his mentors, Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama. He worked hard to keep the legacy and teachings of both the masters alive. It is safe to say they would be proud of his accomplishments.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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