Spotlight: Tommy Morris – The Father of Scottish Karate

Scotland’s first black belt, Tommy Morris is an icon of Scottish Karate. He has been rightly called the “Father of Scottish Karate“. He has had many successful students, including David Coulter and Pat McKay. Many Scottish Karate-ka can trace their Karate lineage back to him.

Tommy Morris was born in the Scottish city of Glasgow on September 8, 1939. He was small for his age and in an attempt to learn how to fight got a book on Jujitsu from his local library when he was 14 years old. The book fired his young imagination, making him want to learn the martial arts. In 1954 he started learning Jujitsu and Judo at a small local club in Glasgow.

On leaving school Morris found work as a copy boy for the Glasgow Evening Citizen newspaper. He worked there from 1955 to 1957. He then joined the Evening Citizen and Scottish Daily Express newspapers as a photo process engraver.

In 1957 Morris joined the Royal Marines Volunteer Reserves with whom he served for over five years. He qualified as a commando, parachutist, and assault engineer. As an assault engineer he became skilled in setting mines, booby traps and demolitions. He was also taught some unarmed combat. It was during this time that he started to hear about an Eastern martial art called Karate.

Although Vernon Bell had started teaching Karate in London, there were no qualified instructors in Scotland. Morris, who was now married, received a copy of Hidetaka Nishiyama;’s book “Karate, The Art of Empty Hand of Fighting” as a Christmas present from his wife. He also had a copy of Henri Plee’s book “Karate by Pictures“. Using both books he drew up his own training program which he used for the next couple of years alone and unsupervised.

In 1963 Morris left the Royal Marines Volunteer Reserves and joined the 15th Scottish Parachute Regiment of the Territorial Army. It was around this time that he started corresponding with Henri Plee. He wrote asking if he could visit Plee’s Paris dojo to train with him. Plee refused the request, stating that in the past he had allowed some people from Britain to train with him and they had found the training too tough and had quit. Morris wrote back saying that nothing could be as hard as the training he had undertaken in the Royal Marines.

Plee invited Morris to train at his Paris dojo where he would learn Shotokan Karate. Before he could go Morris needed to raise sufficient funds for the trip to France. He ended up selling his Royal Enfield Constellation motorcycle. It had taken him three years to save the money to buy the it.

In May of 1964 Morris traveled to Paris and had his first Karate lessons under Plee. Morris stayed in France for five days. His earlier training from the books proved useful. He was awarded the rank of 4th Kyu the end of his visit.

On his return to Glasgow a group of his friends approached him to teach them. An informal class was set up at the Osaka Judo Club’s gym in Glasgow. Word soon spread and the membership of the club rose to over ninety members in a short time.

In September of 1964 Morris returned to Plee’s dojo. At the end of the trip he was promoted to 1st Kyu. He also received his first Karate license under the auspices of the League Isle de France, the French Karate Federation.

1965 was a big year for Morris and his fledging Karate group. Yoshinao Nambu, a 4th Dan and student of Shukokai Karate founder Chojiro Tani, was invited to Europe by Plee. He arrived in Glasgow and stayed for a week. During the stay he and his student Patrick Baroux taught at Morris’s club. At the end of the week some club members took part in their first grading. Morris also graded, becoming the first person a awarded a black belt in Scotland.

In October of 1965 the club took part in its first British Championships held at Crystal Palace. Danny Bryceland, who had only been training for ten months, won the junior grade championships.

The Kobe Osaka Karate Club was officially founded in the November of 1965. The club was named in honour of Yoshinao Nanbu. The name was derived from Kobe where he had lived and Osaka where he had attended university. The club also moved location from the Osaka Judo Club’s gym to Dixon Halls, also in Glasgow. The same year also saw Morris competing internationally for Scotland and then Britain. He remained an international until 1970.

Karate took off in Scotland in a big way. Morris helped found the Karate-Do Association, in Glasgow. Clubs from Dundee, Coatbridge and Kilmarnock approached him with an interest in being affliated to the association.

In 1966 Morris opened Scotland’s first full-time dojo at 27 Union Street, Glasgow. This was followed by him hosting the first Karate international held in Britain. Later that year he organised the 1st Scottish Championships in a front of a crowd of 1400 at the Govan Hall, Glasgow. The event was attended by Henri Plee, Yoshinao Nanbu, Tatsuo Suzuki and Jacques Delcourt. Morris’ Kobe Osaka Club swept the board at the tournament.

Morris gave up his job with the Scottish Daily Express in 1967 to pursue his love of Karate. He traveled to Japan for a two month period along with Yoshinao Nanbu. They visited many dojos. However, it was at the dojo of Chojiro Tani that he found the style of Karate tha would change is life.

Chojiro Tani had trained with two of the great masters of Okinawan Karate, Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni. In 1950 he established Shukokai which is thought one of the hardest hitting styles of Karate.

At Tani’s Kobe dojo Morris met Shigeru Kimura, a top student of Tani. In Kimura, Morris had met the teacher he had been searching for. For the next six weeks of his stay in Japan Morris trained with Kimura for eight hours a day. He also had some lessons with Tani. Before returning to Scotland Morris graded to 3rd Dan.

Back in Scotland, Morris started teaching as a full-time instructor. He actively taught and promoted the Shukokai style of Karate. During this time he also qualified as a national referee.

Kimura visited Britain in 1969 as a part of a European tour to improve the teaching of Shukokai. The tour included visits to France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Norway. In Britain he stayed with Morris and taught at the Kobe Osaka Club.

As one of the nation’s top clubs, the Kobe Osaka Club went from strength to strength. In 1967 at the British Championships team event they finished third. The following year they finished second. In 1969 they won the event. Members of the club formed the majority of the Scottish team that faced England in the first international between the two countries in 1968. Scotland beat England in what was the first of an eight year unbeaten run between the two countries.

The Kobe Osaka Club moved premises in 1971 from Union Street to Glassford Street. By 1974 club membership had increased to over five hundred, with there also being a long waiting list. In January of that year a new dojo was opened by purchasing a new floor at the Glassford Street premises.

Apart from teaching Morris was heavily involved in the administrative side of Scottish Karate. In 1973 the Kobe Osaka Association severed ties with the Scottish Karate-Do Association. That same year Morris assisted in the formation of the new Scottish Karate Board of Control. He would eventually become chairman of the body in 1976.

In 1973, after several years of lobbying, Morris helped win the right for Scotland to be recognised as an individual country at the European Championships. That year at the championships held in Valencia, Spain, Scotland became European Team Kumite Champions at their first attempt. They defeated France in the final.

Morris qualified as a WUKO world referee in 1975. The following year he was appointed a member of the European Karate Union (EKU) Referee committee. In 1977 he was appointed a member of the WUKO Referee Council. By 1984 he had become the Chairman of the EKF Referee Committee, a position he held until 2015. In 1986 he became the Chairman of the WKF Referee Committee until his retirement in 2010.

In March 1976 Morris graded to 5th Dan by Tani and Kimura. He continued to have an influence on the success of the Kobe-Osaka Club members. In 1978 club member David Coulter won the European  Lightweight tittle in Geneva, Switzerland. That same year the Kobe-Osaka club dominated the 10th Scottish Championships. In the team kumite event teams from the club finished first and second. In the individual event team members finished in the top three positions.

In 1978 Morris saw twenty members of the Kobe-Osaka Club promoted to black belt. This included his 15-year old son Steven. Steven Morris became the youngest black belt in the club.

Morris wrote his first book in 1979, “Shukokai Karate Kata“.

Morris had seen the Kobe-Osaka Club grow from its humble origins in Glasgow to an international association. In 1991 he founded the Kobe Osaka International Association. The association comprises of members from forty countries.

Away from Karate Morris joined the Renfrew & Bute Police Special Constabulary in 1970, retiring in 1985 with the Long Service Medal. He is also an expert marksman. He was runner-up at the first Combat Pistol Championships in 1976. In 1977 and 1979 he represented Britain at the World Combat Pistol Championships.

In 2003 Morris was awarded his 8th Dan by the WKF. On retiring as the WKF Chairman of the Referee Committee in 2010 he was appointed as an advisor to the WKF President. He regularly travels the world  giving seminars on Karate and on self-defence. He and his son Steven regularly travel to Australia to give seminars and conduct gradings.

Tommy Morris has done much to promote karate in Scotland. In a life of firsts, he was the first Karate Black belt in Scotland, and the first Scottish National Coach. His club Kobe-Osaka has produced many top individuals. A world class referee and administrator he has had an impact on Scottish and World Karate. He is a true pioneer of Scottish Karate.

Author: Patrick Donkor

1 thought on “Spotlight: Tommy Morris – The Father of Scottish Karate

  1. Great read on Sensei Tommy. He truly is a great master and friend. I have had the honour of training with him here in Australia for 31 or more years and it is his constant drive and skill set that has helped me develop in a way I never thought possible.

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