This week in history (21 May – 27 May)

On 23 May 1952 the founder of the Shito-ryu style of Karate, Kenwa Mabuni, died aged 63.

Mabuni trained under two of Okinawa’s greatest masters, Anko Itosu and Kanryo Higaonna. His style of Karate combined the linear techniques of Itosu with the circular movements of Higaonna.

In the 1920s Mabuni frequently traveled to Osaka, Japan where he was one of the first Okinawan masters to teach Karate. In 1929 he moved to Osaka to teach Karate full-time.


On 23 May 1971 Eddie Whitcher graded for 3rd Dan at the JKA headquarters in Tokyo, under Masatoshi Nakayama. He was the British subject to do this.

Like many karate-ka who started   training in the mid-50s to early 60s, Whitcher’s introduction to the martial arts came via judo. He had practiced judo for two years reaching the level of green belt. However following a motorcycle accident he suffered nerve and muscle damage to his shoulder. This made the throwing and grappling aspects of judo difficult for him to perform.

Looking to find an alternative to judo, Whitcher came across Yoseinkan karate (a version of Shotokan karate) and started training at Vernon Bell’s Upminister dojo in 1963. His initial lesson  left him a little disillusioned, as he spent the entire lesson standing in a forward stance. However he did not give up and stuck with the training.

After the JKA arrived in Britain in 1965, Whitcher became a dedicated student of Hirokazu Kanazawa. 1966, he graded for his black belt and passed, becoming the first British student to achieve this grade under Kanazawa and the JKA. In 1967  he earned his 2nd Dan from Kanazawa. With his encouragement Whitcher traveled to Japan to train at the JKA’s headquarters.

This was a difficult period for Whitcher. He struggled with the language, food and humidity. He persevered and ended up staying in Japan for a number of years. In that time he attended classes in the JKA’s instructor program. In these classes he was pushed to the limits, training and sparring with some of the best JKA practitioners. This included Masahiko Tanaka, Takeshi Oishi, Masaaki Ueki, Norihiko Lida, Keigo Abe and Mikio Yahara to name a few. It should also be noted that at this time training was very hard. Non-Japanese were regularly pushed to their limits.

On 27 May 1949 Isao Obata, Masatoshi Nakayama, Shigeru Egami and other senior students establish the Nihon Karate Kyokai (Japan Karate Association) with Gichin Funakoshi as the Chief Instructor. Many of Funakoshi’s students had served in World War Two. Many of his students had died in the war. Those that returned back to Japan were looking to resume their pre-war Karate training. The JKA would go onto become one of the premier Karate organisations in the world.

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