Toru Arakawa

There are so many different cultures and ideas, how can one say a Frenchman follow along with an American and do things exactly the same way. If I have to give advice, it would be to Japanese teachers living abroad – I hope they don’t try to teach the same way in which they teach in Japan – it won’t work – our first thought should be communication. We are all doing the same thing but in our own way, so let’s try to understand what the next man is getting it.

Toru Arakawa

A direct student of Wado-ryu founder, Hironori Ohtsuka, Toru Arakawa helped promote Wado-ryu in Europe and the United States. He helped standardise the kata that was officially used by the World Karate Federation and Japan Karate Federation in their tournaments.

Toru Arakawa was born on 27 November 1932, in Gifu Prefecture, Japan. His father was a Judo practitioner.

In 1950 Arakawa enrolled at Nihon University. A keen mountaineer, he chose the University because of its reputation for organising good expeditions. This included having organised an expedition to the North Pole.

Arakawa studied at the Mishima campus of the University. At the campus he began studying Karate, having succumbed to its appeal. His instructor at the University’s Karate club was Wado-ryu founder, Hironori Ohtsuka.

As a beginner, Arakawa was taught by Ohtsuka’s senior students during his first year at the club. The club had been established shortly after World War II. The club would go on to have many illustrious members, including Hiroshi Kinjo, a renowned Karate master.

Arakawa fell in love off with Karate. He would sometimes go to the Wado-ryu Hombu to do some extra training. It was around this time that he met Tatsuo Suzuki, who was a year older than him.

During this time, there were no official competitions between universities. However, they would take part in ‘kokan geiko‘ which were an early form of informal competition. Different universities would meet to train and compete against each other. Nihon University participated in matches against local rivals, Shizuoka and Tokai universities. They sometimes visited the Wado-ryu club at Meiji University and the Shotokan club at Takushoku University to exchange techniques and compete against each other. It was not unknown for these informal matches to result in injuries.

In 1952 Ohtsuka awarded Arakawa his 1st Dan.

Arakawa graduated from Nihon University in 1954. He moved to the central Japanese city of Mishima, where he opened his own dojo. He managed to gain a lot of experience in teaching many different types of people.

In 1962 Arakawa succeeded Eiichi Wakabayashi as the Secretary-General of Wadokai, a position he held until 1979.

Arakawa was involved in a shooting incident in 1963. He was the bodyguard for a businessman, Seigen Tanaka, who had been organising an anti-drug campaign. This had angered some members of the Yakuza. During the incident, a member of the Yakusa had tried to kill Tanaka by shooting him. He had also tried shooting at Arakawa. However, Arakawa’s life had been saved when the gangster’s gun jammed. Together with a policeman, Arakawa was able to subdue the gunmen. Miraculously, Seigen Tanaka survived the shooting.

By 1964 Arakawa had been promoted to 5th Dan. That year Ohtsuka sent Tatsuo Suzuki (5th Dan), Arakawa, and Hajime Takashima (4th Dan) on a tour of Europe and the United States, to promote Wado-ryu Karate.

The two-month tour by the Wado-ryu instructors began in Europe in March 1964. The first leg of the tour was in Denmark. This was followed by a visit to the Italian cities of Rome and Milan. The touring party continued on to Switzerland, Germany, and France. The European leg of the tour culminated with visits to Spain, Holland, and England.

In the United States, they performed over 50 demonstrations. They started on the East Coast of the United States, visiting New York, Washington, and Florida. On the West Coast, they visited the Shotokan dojo of Tsutomu Ohshima, in Los Angeles, where they gave a Wado-ryu demonstration. In San Francisco, they visited the dojo of Yoshiaki Ajari. The tour finished in Hawaii. The tour proved to be a success, with many of the countries they visited, requesting Wado-ryu instructors from Japan.

On 1 October 1964, the Japan Karate Federation (JKF) was established as an umbrella for the various Karate styles in Japan. It was the official governing body of Karate in Japan. Ohtsuka was a founding member alongside Ryoichi Sasakawa, Gogen Yamaguchi, Manzo Iwata, Kenei Mabuni, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Eichii Eriguchi.

The JKF officially joined WUKO on 9 October 1970. The following day the first WUKO Karate World Championships took place in Tokyo, Japan. By this time Arakawa had started to climb the ladder within the Japanese Federation. He would eventually become the federation’s Technical Director.

At the 1975 WUKO Karate World Championships held in Long Beach, California, Arakawa was an official referee.

By 1982 Arakawa had risen within the ranks of the JKF. Known for his technical expertise he modelled the kata for the first JKF Shitei Kata book. The book contained standardised katas that were officially sanctioned by the WKF/JKF. These katas were normally performed in the opening rounds to qualify for the later rounds of a tournament.

JKF Shitei kata can only be performed in a certain way and do not allow for any personal variation. The following katas were chosen from the four major styles of Karate:

  • Seinchin and Bassai Dai (Shito-ryu)
  • Jion and Kanku Dai (Shotokan)
  • Saifa and Seipai (Goju-ryu)
  • Seishan and Chinto (Wado-ryu)

Through the 1980s Arakawa was a coach for the Japanese National Team. His students included the likes of Seiji Nishimura and Toshiaki Maeda, who were both Kumite World Champions.

In 1987 Arakawa was awarded his 8th Dan. He was 55 years old.

On 20 June 2015, Toru Arakawa, a grandfather of six, died from cancer in Tokyo, Japan. His funeral took place in Tokyo on 29 June.

Because of his technical ability, Hironori Ohtsukawas happy to select Arakawa as one of his ambassadors to showcase Wado-ryu to the world, in 1964. As a member of the JKF and later the WKF Arakawa helped shape international tournament competition.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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