This week in history (26 August – 1 September)

26 August

On 26 August 1941 Karate instructor and humanitarian, John Van Weenen, was born in Enfield, just outside London. He was the second of six children.

In 1964 Van Weenen along with his brothers Jeff and Garry emigrated to Australia settling in Adelaide. He and his brother Jeff began Karate training under Moss Hollis, who originally hailed from Birmingham, England. In 1966, Van Weenen was awarded his 1st Dan, just before returning back to the UK.

Van Weenen travelled to Japan in 1967 with friends Eddie Whitcher and Mick Peachey. They hoped to train with their legendary instructor Hirokazu Kanazawa in the country of his birth, at the JKA headquarters.

During the 1990s Van Weenen led humanitarian efforts to help the starving people of Albania and Kosovo.


29 August

On 29 August 1934 Steve Arneil, a pioneer of British Kyokushin Karate, was born in the mining city of Krugersdorp, South Africa.

Arneil began training with the founder of Kyokushin Karate, Mas Oyama, around 1961. In 1965 Oyama asked Arneil to attempt the One Hundred Man Kumite Challenge.

The challenge devised by Oyama, was designed to test if a karateka had the necessary endurance and character to fight one hundred men in succession without a break. If the karateka was knocked down for more than five seconds, then they failed the challenge. It was not about winning but about surviving. Kicks were allowed to the face and joints of an opponent. At the time Oyama was the only man to have taken and completed the challenge. Others had attempted and failed the challenge.

Arneil began the gruelling training required for taking the Challenge. The training lasted over five months. He stopped his day job as an English teacher and dedicated himself to training hard every day. Oyama monitored and guided his training but did not give a date when the challenge would occur.

Arneil turned up for his normal training session one day and was told he would be doing the 100 Man challenge. His first fight was around fifteen seconds, with him knocking out his opponent. He would go on to knockout around thirty-four of his opponents. He did lose some fights, but importantly he survived. The challenge lasted around two hours forty-five minutes. At the end of the challenge his body was covered in bruises.

Steve Arneil became the first non-Japanese and only the second man after Masutatsu Oyama to complete the One Hundred Man Kumite Challenge. Shortly after the challenge he graded for and was promoted to 3rd Dan.


30 August

On 30 August 1931 Shotokan Karate master Hiroshi Shōji, was born in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. Appearing in volume 4 of Masatoshi Nakayama‘s Best Karate series, he was known for his sharp quick movements and exceptional tai-sabaki.

At the first JKA All-Japan Karate Championships in 1957, Shoji became the first All-Japan Kata Champion. He was the only man ever to achieve a perfect score of 10 in the Championship’s history.


1 September

On 1 September 1923 the plates to Gichin Funakoshi‘s book “Ryukyu Kempo: Tode” were destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake.

The earthquake that hit the Japanese island of Honshu in 1923 was one of the most destructive ever recorded and resulted in a tsunami. The cities of Tokyo and Yokohama and the prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka were devastated. There were widespread fires that caused considerable property damage and the death of many. The death toll was an estimated 140,000 people.

The plates for Funakoshi’s book are thought to have been destroyed in the fires that raged in Tokyo. This was his first book, around 300 pages in length, and was written as an introduction to Karate for the Japanese people.

The book was one of the first to contain a written history of Karate. It was divided into the following sections:

• What Karate Is
• The Value of Karate
• Karate Training and Teaching
• The Organisations of Karate
• Fundamentals and Kata

The Okinawan art of Karate was still not well known in Japan. However, Funakoshi had some influential supporters of his Karate. Some of them, including the former governor of Okinawa, Marquis Hiaamasa, Admiral Yashiro and Vice-Admiral Ogasawara had written the foreword for the book.

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On 1 September 2006 a public funeral for Shotokan Karate legend, Tetsuhiko Asai, was held at the Gokokuji Temple in Tokyo, Japan. More than 2000 people attended.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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