Yoshinao Nanbu

…. As in any other martial arts, the fighter is only as good as they make themselves. Success will depend on the amount of effort personally expended. Some people make good fighters and some people do not. My method is similar to other martial arts – it contains the knowledge, the methods and skills, some unusual, for fighting – but the rest depends on the student and the student’s patience, endurance and personality in confronting and dealing with violence.

Yoshinao Nanbu

One of the most gifted martial artists of his generation, Yoshinao Nanbu was a lifelong martial artist. He was one of the first karatekas to introduce Shito-ryu into Europe.

Yoshinao Nanbu was born on 13 February 1943, in Kobe, Japan. He was descended from a samurai family steeped in martial arts tradition.

Nanbu’s great-grandfather was the famous sumo wrestler, Kochiza Tanigoro, who reached the highest rank in sumo, of Yokozuna. His father, Hideyoshi, was a 5th Dan in Judo, while his mother was a Naginata expert. If that was not enough, his uncle Mr Togashi was a 9th Dan in Judo. Another of his uncles, Mr Yana, was a Kendo master.

As a child, Nanbu enjoyed the summer visits he made to the mountain region of Tajima. He would spend much of his time swimming and fishing.

Nanbu’s first teacher was his father, who taught him Judo. While at primary school, his uncle taught him Kendo.

The more he learnt, the more Nanbu knew that he wanted to pursue a life in the martial arts. As a teenager, he started learning Aikido from a Sensei Tanaka. He would eventually reach the rank of 3rd Dan.

As a teenager, Nanbu also began learning Shito-ryu Karate and Kobudo. By 1959 he had reached the rank of 1st Dan.

In 1961 Nanbu enrolled at the University of Economic Sciences in Osaka. He joined the University’s Karate club, training under Shito-ryu master, Chojiro Tani.

Training at the dojo was extremely tough. In time Nanbu worked up to performing 1000 front kicks every day. His dedication to his training soon paid off. He became the Captain of the Karate club.

In 1963 Nanbu took part in the All-Japan University Championships. 1250 competitors took part in the all-day event. Nanbu was so focused that he didn’t eat or drink during the tournament. He would just focus on each opponent he was due to face. This approach works for him, as he won the tournament.

Nanbu was also awarded his 4th Dan in 1963.

Henri Plee, who was a pioneer of Karate in France, frequently visited Japan to train. On one visit he had seen Nanbu training. He was impressed by what he saw that he invited him to France.

In 1964 Nanbu arrived in France to teach at Plee’s Paris dojo. He taught three training session a day. In the morning he taught Aikido. In the afternoon he taught Judo. In the evening he taught Karate. He credits the teaching schedule for shaping him into a Budo teacher.

Initially, Nanbu found it difficult to attract people to Shito-ryu Karate. Shotokan and Wado-ryu Karate already had a big following in France. To showcase the effectiveness of Shito-ryu Karate, he sometimes competed in tournaments.

Nanbu also travelled around Europe, giving seminars and demonstrations. He made such a good impression, that he was eventually named Coach of the French National Team. He taught the side his phenomenal foot sweep (ashi barai) technique, with which the team achieved good tournament success.

In 1965 Nanbu entered his first European tournament, the International Cup, held in France. He became the first Japanese man to compete in European competition breaking with tradition. The decision was met with disapproval from other Japanese instructors teaching in Europe. They believed instructors should maintain a distance from the students. They did not want to risk the authenticity of their styles by losing.

However, Nanbu wanted to test the authenticity of what he was teaching. He believed in his technique so much, that he carried a knife with him. If he ever lost he felt honour-bound to commit seppuku (ritual suicide).

Nanbu’s victories soon developed an interest in what he was teaching. 1965 saw him make his first visit to the United Kingdom.

In 1966 Nanbu participated in the Coupe de France (French Cup). On his way to victory, he defeated French Karate legends, Dominique Valera and Patrick Baroux.

1966 also saw Ryozo Tsukada arrive from Japan, to become his assistant.

Nanbu returned to Japan in 1966, with his student Alain Setrouk. In Japan, they met up with Dominique Valera, Patrick Baroux, Jean-Robert Baroux, Philippe Ficheux, and Jean-Pierre Lavorato. The Frenchmen had driven from France to Japan. They wanted to further their knowledge of Karate. They all stayed with Nanbu’s grandmother.

In Japan, Nanbu started learning Shukokai Karate, which have been developed by Chojiro Tani, with the help of the student Shigeru Kimura. Tani asked him to become the official representative for Shukokai Karate in Europe and Africa.

Nanbu briefly returned to the UK in 1967, where he introduced Shukokai Karate. He returned to Japan with Scottish karateka, Tommy Morris. Morris had trained with him in Paris. He had set up the Kobe Osaka Karate Club, in Glasgow, in honour of Nanbu. In Japan, Morris became a student of Tani and Kimura.

On his return to Europe in 1968, Nambu opened his own dojo in Paris.

As an official representative for Shukokai Nanbu travelled the world, promoting the new style of Karate through seminars and courses. In 1969 he travelled to Chigwell, Essex to assist Kimura at an open course.

In 1969 the Shukokai Karate Union was established. Chojiro Tani was named President, with Shigeru Kimura being named Vice-President, and Nanbu being named Chief Instructor.

With the growth of Shukokai Karate across Europe, Nanbu was appointed to a number of positions. He was named the President of the Scottish Federation of Karate and also of the Norwegian Federation of Karate. He also became the Technical Director and advisor to the Belgian Federation of Karate and the Yugoslavian National Team.

Tani asked Nanbu to organise the 3rd World Shukokai Championships. The event was held in Paris, in October 1969.

Shortly after the World Championships, Nanbu resigned from the Shukokai organisation. He felt he had completed the task set by Tani, of spreading Shukokai Karate across Europe.

Nanbu had grown increasingly unhappy with the restrictions being placed on him within the Shukokai organisation. He also felt that there was a growing emphasis on sport rather than the Budo aspects of Karate. There was also growing political unrest in French Karate about the direction of Karate in the country. His resignation was not well received by some in the Shukokai world.

In 1970 Nanbu introduced the new style of Sankukai Karate to the world. The aim of the style was to produce karateka who were well-rounded budoka. The style combines elements of Aikido, Judo, Shito-ryu, and Shukokai. His early teaching in Henri Plee’s dojo had helped shape him. He saw Sankukai as the natural evolution of the Shito-ryu Karate he had been practising.

Nanbu’s new style was well-received in Japan. Shimane University changed from teaching Shukokai to teaching Sankukai Karate.

On his return to Paris, Nanbu opened a Sankukai dojo. Some of his previous Shukokai students like Englishman, Alan Hunt, came to train with him. Hunt was a Shukokai 2nd Dan. He was eventually graded to 3rd Dan by Nanbu and helped establish the Association of International Karate Sankuka GB (AIKS GB).

During 1973 Nanbu travelled around the world promoting his new style of Karate. He did 11 separate promotional tours. He continued touring for the next couple of years. In 1975, he and his assistant, Ryozo Tsukada, gave a demonstration of Sankukai at the BKCC All-Britain Championships, held in Manchester. Demonstrating Sankukai at the event gave it greater visibility in the UK.

By 1976 Sankukai had become one of the fastest-growing styles of Karate in the world. It had spread to around 43 countries worldwide. Nanbu established the World Sankukai Association.

1976 saw the 1st Sankukai World Championships take place. It was held in Monte Carlo, Monaco. 17 countries took part. Also, the 1st World Cup was held in Nice, France, that year.

Despite all the successes Sankukai were having, Nanbu had grown disillusioned with the martial arts world. He was disappointed with the negativity he found in some places. So in 1976, he stopped teaching, withdrawing from the martial arts world to settle in Cap d’Ali, Monaco.

During his time away, Nanbu reflected on the nature of his martial arts training. It was around this time that he started developing Nanbudo – The Way of Nanbu. He spent the next couple of years working on his new evolved style of Karate.

In 1978, at the 2nd Sankukai World Championships, Nanbu gave the world its first glimpse of Nanbudo, during a demonstration of the art.

Nanbu left Sankukkain in 1978, establishing his new martial art of Nanbudo. He had hoped that many of his existing Sankukai students would follow him. However, many of the students and the associations they belonged to, preferred what they were learning in Sankukai and did not follow him.

In time, Nanbu built Nanbudo into a style that is now recognised around the world. It is now practised in over 50 countries.

For the next couple of years, Nanbu travelled the world teaching Nanbudo. Every year he would hold a seminar training course on the beach of Platja d’Aro, Spain.

In April 1999 Nambu presented Henri Plee with an award for being the “Professor of the century“. This was at the 14th Martial Arts Festival of Bercy.

On 8 January 2008 Nanbu was promoted to 9th Dan, by the Federation Francaise de Karate et Disciplines Associees (FFKDA). This was for his lifelong achievements for promoting traditional Japanese martial arts and Budo. At an event taking place at the Pullman Rive Gauche Hotel, he was joined by fellow 9th Dan holders, Hiroo Mochizuki, Jean-Pierre Lavorato, Hidetoshi Nakahashi, and Dominique Valera.

Yoshinao Nanbu died on 28 April 2020. This was following a long illness. He was survived by his wife Sonia and daughter Sume.

Nanbu was one of the most talented martial artists of his generation. As a pioneer of Shito-ryu Karate in Europe, his desire to test the authenticity of his Karate, won him many admirers and influenced the likes of Dominique Valera.

A lifelong martial artist, Nanbu was never afraid to walk his own path. His self-reflection led to the development of Sankukai and Nanbudo, both of which have developed a following worldwide.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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