Shotokai to Sogobudo


Shotokai’s history is a fairly twisted and difficult story, for two basic reasons:

1) Shotokai practice has never been really standardized, and at least in the past, godan level practitioners had implicit permission from Egami sensei to more or less starting their own groups, all of which displayed some technical variation — usually related to which Japanese university club they trace their origins. For example, Chuo university karate is different from Senshu or Waseda university practice. This may be considered kind of odd, considering that Egami sensei taught directly at both Waseda and Chuo. For some reason, the Chuo club tended to be more “experimental” in its practice and carried Egami sensei’s ideas to a more extreme — even radical — realization. Hosei and Waseda karate is a little bit more restrained; it is often called “university” style karate and is very very close to the karate of Yoshitaka Funakoshi — at least this was true before 1975. We lack information as to know what their practice may look like today.

2) The other reason the Shotokai is a little fractured is that there is a very strong sense of competition — even animosity — between the university karate clubs. For example, JKA “Shotokan” is really just a reflection of Takushoku University club practice–virtually all of the original JKA people were Takudai graduates. Takushoku is not a first-line Japanese university, and most of the “shotokai” masters (a very good example is Harada sensei of Waseda) were from those “top” universities–Waseda, Keio, Gakushuin, and Hosei—so there were serious class conflicts. To understand Shotokan/kai karate you have to understand the relationship between the university clubs–especially the “old boys” the graduates that continued to practice with their university clubs after they graduated–from their ranks came most of the instructors.

Anyway, it is a very complicated history, and everyone tells it differently.

Kimura-sensei studied with master Funakoshi from about 1934 to 1940. He went up to Tokyo after finishing college, in Hiroshima, where he already had studied with the Mabuni group (Shito Ryu) to study further in agriculture–it is possible that he went to Tokyo No Dai or to Hosei. It is known that he practiced virtually every day with Yoshitaka sensei and knew Mr. Egami very well. It is believed that he was a sandan before the war, and was promoted directly to godan after the war. Kimura-sensei regarded Egami sensei very highly and very much endorsed Egami’s ideas. Beikoku Shotokai were the only group known of in America that practiced that way.

SKA does not practice Egami style karate; they practice Waseda University karate club style. Beikoku Shotokai were a very insular group and had very little contact with others. Very few people really appreciated or understood what Egami sensei was doing, so they stayed to themselves. Mr. Kimura disliked the politics of karate and felt that such arguments were a ridiculous waste of time. Further, he forbade athletic competition, having near disdain for “sports” karate. To them, karate was more about self-challenged personal growth.
If there is a “style” of karate called Shotokai, different than Shotokan, then its founder is Shigeru Egami. Very much could be written about his vision and courage. Egami sensei worked for years with certain students from Waseda and Chuo to refine his ideas. Perhaps Harada sensei was one of them. The thing is, not everyone agreed with Egami sensei, and some of the Shotokai groups never really liked the changes he made–especially the fist. The changes in the way of striking date to the early 1960’s. He introduced most of the changes between 1964-1967 at Chuo University. Some of the changes were pretty stunning in terms of orthodox karate. Many groups adopted a “wait and see” attitude. Now, it must be remembered that Egami sensei was very ill for most of his senior years, and many people thought that he would either die or be forced to resign.

More important were the changes in the flow of the kata; Egami sensei’s changes were very radical. When Mr. Kimura’s son returned from Japan, Mr. Kimura was rather surprised. He even visited Japan. But by 1972 or so, he began to gradually introduce the changes.  The karate Kimura’s students originally learned was the “university style” like today’s Shotokai in some ways, but still a little more conventional — very fluid compared to JKA but not nearly like today’s practice.

Egami sensei changed the whole way of striking–and when you change that, everything changes. It wasn’t until some Japanese university students started training with Beikoku Shotokai, around 1974, that they really adopted Egami’s ideas all-out. It must be remembered, though, by then Egami sensei’s body was very damaged and tired, and there were many people who did not at all agree with him. Most accepted some of his ideas, but felt that he was going too far. Around 1968 he got an idea that was even more controversial–Sogobudo.

Contributed by a Godan Shotokai friend, that has chosen to stay anonymous.