Tak Kubota

I don’t train so that I can go to a tournament and do a show. I do it because I want to train my body so I will be prepared for any confrontation. That’s the philosophy of my style. You can hit me anywhere you want and it will probably hurt you more than it does me.

Takayuki Kubota

A pioneer of martial arts in the United States, someone once said of Takayuki Kubota:

If you threw all of the top Masters in the world into one room and had them fight it out, Kubota would be the one who walked out at the end.

A highly respected martial artist, he is known for his innovative techniques applied to the area of law enforcement. He is also a successful actor, who has appeared in 300 movies, television shows, and commercials.

Takayuki Kubota was born on 20 September 1934 in Yashiro-Shi, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. He was the fourth of six children, having four brothers and one sister. His family were descended from a samurai clan that had once invaded the island of Okinawa.

His father, Denjiro Kubota run a small factory. He was a Jujitsu and Jukendo master. He taught is six children martial arts and meditation. It was not unknown for them to have to do 500 kicks, 500 punches, 500 stance changes, 500 hits of the makiwara, and 500 minutes of kata.

In 1939 Tak Kubota started learning martial arts from his father around the age of 4/5. He also had the opportunity to learn some Karate from two Okinawan soldiers, stationed near his home. The soldiers, Terada and Tokunaga taught him Karate techniques more suited for war and not for sport or self-improvement.

World War II had ended in 1945. Around the age of 14, Kubota decided to move to Tokyo. Being from the country, his family were worried about how he would cope in the big city. However, they supported his decision. Kubotatook a three-hour train journey to Tokyo. At the time there was very little work in the city. To survive, he ate out of garbage bins.

One day while waiting in line for food, Kubota helped the police arrest some criminals, using some of his martial arts techniques. One of the policemen was so impressed, that he found a place for him to stay. He also helped him finish his education. In return, Kubota taught the policeman some Karate techniques.

Kubota wanted to improve his Karate, but he didn’t have the money to attend formal Karate classes. He would go to one of the top dojos in Tokyo, at night where he would watch classes through the window. He made notes, learning what he could. He would then go away and practice what he saw.

After the end of the war, many top Masters had relocated to Tokyo to teach Karate. In time Kubota raced enough money to start training with them. The first dojo he trained at was the dojo of Kanken Toyama, an Okinawan master, from who he learnt Shudokan Karate. He also had the opportunity to train under Gogen Yamaguchi, Mas Oyama, and Yasuhiro Konishi.

Kubota was soon becoming recognised for his Karate. In 1950 he started teaching Karate to US military personnel. He did this until 1959.

In 1953 Kubota opened his first dojo, in Tokyo. It was around this time he established Gosoku Ryu Karate, a very aggressive style of Karate. It is a fusion of Goju-ryu and Shudokan. The name Gosuku taken from”Go” meaning power and “soku” meaning speed. It was Gogen Yamaguchi who encouraged him to develop his style. Kubota would also exchange techniques with other karatekas like Fumio Demura and Takayuki Mikami.

Apart from teaching Karate to the Tokyo Police Force, Kubota also worked as a bodyguard for several United States Ambassadors to Japan. This included Douglas MacArthur II and Edwin Reischauer. It was through Reischauer and his wife that he got his first real exposure to American culture.

On 21 March 1953 Kubota established the International Karate Association, in Hameda, Japan.

In 1958 Kubota had the opportunity to start teaching the US Military Police. He also taught other military personnel at US camp Zama. Three years later he started teaching military personnel at Grand Heights Air Force Base, Tokyo and US Air Force Police at Fuchu Air Force Base.

An article appeared in Black Belt Magazine detailing Kubota’s work with police forces in Japan. The article was seen by a Training Lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He arranged for Kubota to be flown to the United States in 1963, where he demonstrated his techniques. The demonstration was so impressive, that he was hired to teach the LAPD training personnel. He was also eventually hired to teach the FBI.

On 2 August 1964 Ed Parker’s 1st Annual International Karate Tournament was held at Long Beach, California. Kubota was invited to give a demonstration of his Karate. In the demonstration, he showed his extreme strength and conditioning. He also showed his fighting prowess when he faced three of the finalists of the black belt division, that included Chuck Norris and Tony Tulleners. In an impressive display, he fought them individually, and then all at once. He was invited to give another demonstration at Ed Parker’s tournament two years later.

In 1964 Kubota opened his Los Angeles Karate dojo. Initially, many of the students were associated with law enforcement. The following year he began teaching Law Enforcement Combat to the FBI and the DEA. He also started teaching Karate at California State University, Northridge.

By 1970 Kubota students were making an impact on the tournament seen. His student, Tony Tulleners was selected to represent the United States at the 1st Karate World Championships, held in Tokyo, Japan. He finished in joint third place with Dominique Valera of France. Koji Wada of Japan defeated John Carnio of Canada in the final.

In the Team Kumite event, Kubota’s students, Tulleners and John Gehlsen were a part of the US team. During the tournament, Gehlsen was undefeated, only drawing one bout. Tulleners won all his bouts. Gehlsen was presented with an award for his outstanding spirit. Tulleners was one of six competitors, including Takeshi Oishi, to receive an award for their outstanding performances during the tournament.

In 1971 Kubota became the Kubotan and Baton instructor for the LAPD. He developed his Kubojitsu in 1956. His association had also grown. He had affiliated dojos in Japan, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Hawaii, in Canada.

At the 2nd Karate World Championships, held in Paris, France, three of Kubota’s students were selected to represent the US Team in the Team Kumite event. They were Tony Tulleners, John Gehlsen, and George Byrd.

In 1973 Hollywood actor, James Caan became Kubota’s student. He remained his student for over 20 years.

Kubota became an American citizen in 1974.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Kubota appeared in a number of feature films. He had become a member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1972. He appeared in ‘The Mechanic‘ (1972); ‘The Killer Elite‘ (1975); ‘Operation Petticoat‘ (1977); and ‘Focus on Fishco‘ (1983).

Kubota started teaching Karate and Japanese Culture at the Occidental College in 1978. That year he invented the Kubotan key chain. It was designed as a self-defence weapon to be used by female police officers of the LAPD. In 1991 he patented another self-defence weapon, the Kubotai. It is used to employ wrist locks to immobilise an opponent.

In 1990 Kubota was inducted into the Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame. He was named ‘Weapons Instructor of the Year‘.

Takayuki Kubota has seen his style of Gosoku Ryu Karate established in over 59 countries. A pioneer and innovator, he has written numerous books and instructional videos. He has received numerous awards and recognition from the likes of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the Governors of Hawaii and California. He has produced a steady stream of competitors who have competed at world level. His self-defence techniques and weapons have helped revolutionise law enforcement around the world.

Kubota married his wife Thea in the 1970s. Together they have three children, who have all practised Karate with their father.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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