“On behalf of all teachers, students and other participants here at M.K.I, please accept a warm welcome. Thank you for sharing your experience, insight and technique!”
1 Please tell us about the origins and principles of Shito Ryu Shuko Kai.
In the early days of karate history in mainland Japan (1930’s), students from Ritsumeikan and Doshisha universities in Kyoto started learning from Master Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju-ryu. Among those students, there were Masters Gogen Yamaguchi (‘The Cat’), Shozo Unida, Tomoharu Kizaki from Ritsumeikan University and Chojiro Tani from Doshisha University. Those people from Ritsumeikan University later formed Japan Goju-kai organization.
As for Doshisha University people, upon returning to Okinawa Island, Master Chojun Miyagi suggested they continue learning from his fellow master, namely Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-ryu, who had recently moved to Osaka from Okinawa. (Miyagi had learned from Kanryo Higaonna and Mabuni had learned from both Higaonna and Anko Itosu.) So Master Tani and his fellow students visited Master Mabuni in Osaka and conveyed the message from Master Miyagi. Master Mabuni agreed to teach them and thus became the instructor of the Doshisha University Karate Club.
Master Tani became one of Master Mabuni’s main students. Later, Master Mabuni presented Master Tani with a certificate of succession (‘Mokuroku’) which was rarely issued. This allowed Master Tani to develop his own sect, Tani-ha Shito-ryu (Tani sect of Shito school). He formed the Shukokai (‘Association of those who study together’) organization in 1949 in his hometown of Kobe City. (Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto are all in the Kansai region of Japan and not very far apart.)
He wanted to bring up young people with strong bodies and sound minds who could re-build Japan after the defeat of World war II.
He was an intelligent man and developed his own modern and scientific approach to karate.
2 When and where did you begin your karate training? Was that with Sensei Tani?
I started karate training informally at 17 with my cousin but my serious training started when I entered Doshisha University in 1968 and joined its karate club. There were several instructors and coaches but the chief instructor was Master Tani.
3 Is Shito Ryu Shuko Kai the only style of karate you have practiced?
As mentioned earlier, Doshisha University Karate Club was established as a Goju-ryu club with Master Chojun Miyagi as its instructor. When Master Kenwa Mabuni took over, he only taught Naha-te (Goju ) at the club so the club remained a Goju-ryu club, but this is Kenwa Mabuni’s Goju so, basically, it is the same as the Naha-te side of Shito-ryu. The only difference is, as he only taught Naha-te at the club, he taught much more in detail. Master Tani was the only person from the club who became a Shito-ryu practitioner. He was the chief instructor of the club from a few years before I entered till a few years after I graduated, and those who practised during this period actually learnt Tani-ha Shito-ryu as well as Goju-ryu. As mentioned earlier, Doshisha Goju-ryu is Kenwa Mabuni’s Goju-ryu and there is no conflict with Shito-ryu. I have also studied with Masters Fujimoto, Yamashita and Uehara, all of them graduates of the club and direct students of Master Kenwa Mabuni in Goju-ryu.
Master Fujimoto, who is two years junior to Master Tani and has been the chief instructor of the club for many years, also learnt Uechi-ryu and Jugo-Shizen-ryu from Master Seijiro Sakihama. So, although my karate is mainly Tani-ha Shito-ryu Shukokai, I have learnt Goju-ryu (of Kenwa Mabuni) through Masters Fujimoto, Yamashita and Uehara, and Uechi-ryu and Jugo-Shizen-ryu through Master Fujimoto.
4 Can you tell us about Sensei Tani and your relationship with him?
Master Tani was the chief instructor of Doshisha University Karate Club when I entered. So, he came to the dojo often to teach us and we went to his dojo to practise on a regular basis. We also held a week-long Gasshuku (training camp) at his dojo several times.
He was an interesting man with a very good sense of humour and we always had a good laugh with him. At that time, smoking was not considered a bad habit and almost everybody, including Master Tani, smoked. There was a big ashtray at his dojo and, at training breaks, we sat around the ashtray to smoke. While smoking, we discussed techniques and exchanged jokes. (Both Master Tani and I quit smoking later when it was established that smoking was bad for health.)
After I came to Europe, he visited us almost every year. The last visit was in 1997 at our 25th Anniversary event in London. We invited him together with his wife. Sadly, he became ill later that year and died at the beginning of 1998.
5 Describe what it was like training in Sensei Tani”s dojo and who else trained there?
The general training session at his dojo was held every evening except Sundays. People started gathering around 6 pm and trained among themselves until around 7 pm when Master Tani came down (he lived upstairs) to give the lesson. His lesson varied from day to day. Sometimes he just taught basics, sometimes some fighting techniques, sometimes katas, or mixture of these. There were many people training at that time, most of them adults, and the dojo was always full. Most of the senior people had left the dojo to start their own dojos so there was no resident senior instructor at the dojo, although many senior instructors came to train there regularly.
6 Did students come from other styles of karate?
Not really. At that time, usually people of other styles only came to make a challenge and it only happened from time to time. Some of Sensei Yasuhiro Suzuki’s senior members came in that way and were very impressed by the standard of people and the teaching of Master Tani. So, Sensei Suzuki eventually decided to join Master Tani’s organization. Some years later, Sensei Suzuki became the Chief Instructor of Tani-ha Shito-ryu Shukokai for Europe and lived in Paris and then Brussels from 1969 to 1981. I came to Paris in 1972, together with my colleague from the club Sensei Naoki Omi, to assist Sensei Suzuki at Master Tani’s request. I moved to Brussels in 1974 with Sensei Suzuki and assisted him to run Shukokai World Karate Union Europe from there until 1978, when I moved to England.
7 What were Sensei Tani’s training techniques and teaching methods?
He wanted to modernize karate. Instead of just showing the movement and telling students to copy, he wanted to explain how and why. He developed his own theories such as “changing weight”, “double hip-twist”, “zero-tension” etc. So, he taught basics with his theories. He also put lots of importance on traditional katas, stating that katas are a “treasure box of techniques”.
Later in his life, he developed the idea of performing katas as an art expression.
8 Has Shuko Kai Shito Ryu changed since Tani”s death?
For myself and Kofukan members, there was almost no change. We support Master Tani’s son as the new Soke (head of style) and visit the same central dojo in Kobe. I visit there every year just by myself and every three years with some of our members. I have a good chat with Mrs. Tani (Master Tani’s widow) every time I visit and I have good relations with the new Soke.
On the other hand, there were some changes organization-wise. The Shukokai organization has basically split into two, those who support the new Soke and those who do not. There is not much change for those who support the new Soke. The name of the organization is still “Tani-ha Shito-ryu Karate-do Shukokai”. Those who do not support the new Soke chose Sensei Yamada as their leader and the name of their organization is “Shito-ryu Shukokai Union”. Sensei Kawata, the most senior student of Master Tani, became independent (at Master Tani’s suggestion, according to Sensei Kawata) and his organization is called “Kawata-ha Shito-ryu Seikukai”.
9 Is it true that Sensei Tani”s son is no longer active in Shuko Kai? Has Shuko Kai karate gone in a different direction?
As I mentioned above, Master Tani’s son took over the position of Soke from his father. He trained with his father when he was young but stopped some years later. He played rugby at university. As his father wanted him to take over the position of Soke, he started to train with his father again a few years before the untimely death of his father. He is now fully committed to karate.
10 Are there any original Sensei Tani students still teaching?
I am not sure what you mean by “original”, but the most senior member of Shukokai was Sensei Fujiwara. He died many years ago. The next most senior was Sensei Fujitani. He left Shukokai and started his own organization many years ago but he is also dead. As I mentioned earlier, the most senior student alive is Sensei Kawata.
11 In conclusion please tell us your thoughts on karate’s purpose in present day society compared to when you first trained.
Personally I am trying to achieve as high a level as possible according to Japanese Budo principles and then to help others to follow suit. As an organization, I want to cultivate skilled, knowledgeable and well-rounded people who are respectable members of society. I believe this purpose is exactly the same as when Master Tani started the Shukokai organization in 1949.