Tomiko Mitsuoka

I feel I am nobody without Karate and will be lost without it. It provides me with guidance, discipline, perseverance and gives me respect as I respect others.

Tomiko Mitsuoka

Currently ranked as an 8th Dan, Tomiko Mitsuoka is one of the highest-ranked women in Shotokan Karate and the highest-ranked female instructor in the World Shotokan Karate-Do Federation (WSKF). A popular instructor, she places a huge emphasis on a no-nonsense approach to training.

Tomiko Mitsuoka was born in Ikeda, Japan in 1948. She began learning Shotokan Karate in 1966 when she was 18.

Mitsuoka had been working long hours in a department store. She wanted to learn self-defence to protect herself. She struggled to find a dojo that would accept her to train. At the time, it was not popular for women to practice martial arts. Some martial arts like Karate had developed a bad reputation. She tried joining a Judo club, but they did not accept women as students.

Mitsuoka’s cousin, Yasuyuki Mitsuoka, was a Karate instructor. He introduced her to his teacher Hirano. Hirano was a student of Gichin Funakoshi and accepted her as his student. It was another three years before another woman joined the dojo.

Hirano followed the teaching style of Funakoshi. This involved plenty of basics and the five Heian kata. Classes will typically three hours long. Two hours were spent on practising basic techniques. The final hour of the session was spent on kumite and kata. At the time the only belts available were white, brown, and black belt.

Mitsuoka had been training for around six months when she was involved in an incident. She was on her way home from work one evening when a man tried to attack her. She punched him in the stomach with a reverse punch and managed to get away. She was a white belt at the time.

By 1970 Mitsuoka had been training for four years. That year she was graded to 1st Dan by Hirano. It was also around this time that she started training with Hirokazu Kanazawa and the JKA.

Wanting to improve her English, Mitsuoka travelled to Sheffield, England to work as an au pair. She took her gi with her to England, hoping to find somewhere to train. She eventually found a dojo, run by Steven Bellamy (her future husband). Bellamy had represented the UK internationally, with the likes of Steve Cattle, Terry O’Neill, and Billy Higgins.

In 1973 Mitsuoka returned to Japan with her new husband, Bellamy. She joined the Yotsuya dojo of Kanazawa. She trained three days a week under Kensuke Seto, at the time a 2nd Dan. She also trained under Minako Kobayashi, who became the first JKA All Japan Female Kata Champion.

Mitsuoka remained Kanazawa’s student for the next sixteen years. She learnt all her advanced kata from him and took all her Dan gradings (2nd to 5th Dan) under him.

Mitsuoka would also visit the Hoitsugan dojo of Masatoshi Nakayama. However, when Kanazawa left the JKA in 1977 she stopped visiting the dojo.

Kanazawa established the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation (SKIF) in 1977. Mitsuoka enrolled on the SKIF Instructor Class. By this time she trained mainly with Hitoshi Katsuya.

By 1978 Mitsuoka had been promoted to 4th Dan. That year she gave birth to her first son. She returned to training shortly after.

The 1st SKIF World Championships were held in Tokyo, Japan in 1983. Mitsuoka competed in the Individual Kata event, finishing in third place. She also competed in the Team Kata event, winning the title.

In 1985 Mitsuoka competed in the 2nd SKIF World Championships held in Düsseldorf, West Germany. In the Team Kata event, she helped Japan to first place. She repeated the feat at the 3rd SKIF World Championships held in Utsunomiya, Japan in 1988.

On 1 June 1990, the World is Karate-Do Federation (WSKF) was formed by several black belts leaving SKIF. Takeaki Kamiyangi, a former Director of SKIF and student of Funakoshi, was named Chairman. Hitoshi Kasuya, a student of Masatoshi Nakayama was named Chief Instructor. They firmly believed in following Funakoshi’s teachings and his Twenty Guiding Precepts.

In 1990 Mitsuoka was promoted to 6th Dan. Kamiyangi and Katsuya were part of the grading examination board.

The 1st WSKF World Championships were held in Ankara, Turkey, in 1991. Mitsuoka helped Japan win first place in the Women’s Team Kata. She retired from active competition sometime after this.

In 1994 Mitsuoka moved to Slough, England, with her two sons. She worked as a specialist Japanese chef. She eventually opened her first Karate school in Slough. For a while, it was only her son Jo and one other student, Robert Brealy, in the class. In time she would attract other students, many who still train with her today.

Mitsuoka has always looked to expand the knowledge of her students by giving seminars and courses or inviting guests instructors to her dojo. In December 1995 she gave a three-hour course, with sports coach Dr Steven Bellamy to demonstrate the effectiveness and benefits of Karate training.

By 1998, Mitsuoka had built a strong dojo. Her cousin, Yasuyuki Mitsuoka, visited that year. He taught as a guest instructor at the dojo. He also ran a weekend course. He was very impressed with the standard of her students.

In August 2000, the 5th WSKF World Championships were held in Tokyo Japan. Mitsuoka was a referee at the championships. While in Japan, she took and passed her 7th Dan grading. Kamiyangi and Kasuya were on the examination board.

On 15 August 2013 Mitsuoka was awarded her 8th Dan. This made her one of the highest graded women in the Shotokan Karate world.

In 2013 Kasuya undertook a tour to visit many of the countries affiliated to the WSKF. Between 20-21 September Mitsuoka hosted a special training session at her dojo, as part of his international tour.

As a senior member of the WSKF, Mitsuoka visited Nigeria for the first time in 2016. In Lagos, she conducted a well-attended Open Karate Seminar.

Tomiko Mitsuoka has been the foremost woman in Shotokan Karate for many years. She is one of the highest-ranking female instructors in the world. She is one of only the only women to sit on the Technical Committee of a large organisation. She sits on the WSKF Technical Committee as an advisor. She also frequently travels the world giving seminars and courses, and refereeing at WSKF tournaments.

Away from Karate Mitsuoka volunteers at a Slough food bank three times a week.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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