The political, WUKO vs. ITKF, controversy



by Jon K. Evans, Ph.D.

Black Belt Magazine, Feb 1988

Although most of the Western karate world is unaware of it, there is a considerable schism in “shotokan” karate. There is good reason to believe it was this division that led to the long and bitter rivalry between the World Union of Karate-do Organizations (WUKO) and the now-defunct International Amateur Karate Federation (IAKF) for International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognition as the international governing body for amateur karate and the right to oversee all karate competitions at future Olympic Games.

In Japan, the different approaches to Gichin Funakoshi’s popular style are [ed: were!] represented by, on the one hand, the Japan Karate Association (JKA) and, on the other, the All-Japan University Karate League. Internationally, JKA shotokan is represented by its affiliated organizations in various countries, as well as instructors originally aligned with the JKA who have since formed their own international organizations (like Hirokazu Kanazawa in Great Britain and his Shotokan Karate International), and national groups that have disassociated themselves from their original instructors but still consider themselves to be practicing JKA shotokan (like the American JKA, led by Randall Hassell and Ray Dalke).

Internationally, the University style is represented by university-trained instructors who don’t subscribe to the JKA’s canon of shotokan. A good example is the loosely affiliated association of national organizations in America, Israel, France, Morocco, Spain, Switzerland, Gabon, Germany, Holland, Canada, and Curacao, each of which calls itself France Shotokan, Swiss Shotokan, Israel Shotokan, etc. This group practices shotokan karate as interpreted and taught by Tsutomu Ohshima of Los Angeles, whom they regard as their chief instructor.

Despite similarities on the international level between the JKA’s shotokan and the university style as taught by Ohshima (both groups insist they practice shotokan karate; both claim direct descent from Funakoshi, the founder of shotokan; both practice Funakoshi’s kata (forms); and both pattern their practices after Funakoshi’s original instruction sessions at Keio University), there are considerable philosophical and physical differences in their approaches to the teaching and study of karate.

The specific technical differences between JKA and university technique have been discussed in a previous article, “The Division in Shotokan” (BLACK BELT, March, 1982). Suffice it to say that the JKA’s basic technique tends to be mechanical and disjointed, while the university method is more fluid, without movement-restricting rigidity. This discussion will be restricted to the differences in philosophy and political attitudes between the two groups.

Most of the differences in the two approaches to karate training are directly traceable to the history of the JKA and the University League in Japan. A brief review of the post World War II history of karate politics in Japan might prove instructional at this point.

Shortly after World War II, Isao Obata, Seichi Takagi, Hiroshi Noguchi, Shigeru Egami and Genshin Hironishi gathered other longtime karate practitioners from universities such as Waseda, Keio and Takushoku to form the JKA in order to provide organizational and financial support for Funakoshi, who, like most true martial arts masters, was not financially successful. Takushoku Uníversity had been the training school for imperial administrators during Japan’s expansionist period, and its students gravitated into administrative positions in the new karate organization. With their imperial background, they soon began to lend a regimented, aggressive, expansionist flavor to the JKA, a development not entirely palatable to the more introverted university men.

Eventually, the university groups decided to withdraw from the JKA and reform on one hand Shotokai, where Master Funakoshi was the president until his death and the All-Japan University Karate League under the leadership of Isao Obata. The division, however, was not exact; Takushoku University stayed with the JKA while also participating in the University League, and several individuals made their own choices. The overall result was that Japanese karate divided in the 1950s into what were essentially a university karate league and a public or layman’s karate group.

The JKA considered the aggressive development and expansion of karate training to be a vital part of its practice program; “technical progress” were its watchwords. By contrast, the university group tended to be more conservative and followed Funakoshi’s original teachings more closely. The JKA adjusted details of Funakoshi’s kata, not distorting them beyond recognition, but certainly redefining characteristic movements. One of the clear differences between the JKA’s shotokan and Ohshima’s university-based version is the incontrovertible fact that the JKA teaches kata that are not the same as Funakoshi’s because of these adjustments. Ohshima, by contrast, teaches only Funakoshi-authorized kata.

In order to understand how the schism between the JKA and the main university karate groups led to the worldwide rivalry between WUKO and the IAKF, it is necessary to review the relationship and the differences between Ohshima, a product of the university system, and Hidetaka Nishiyama, a leading technician of the JKA.

Ohshima, a 1953 graduate of Waseda University, studied karate there under the personal supervision of Gichin Funakoshi, he went to the United States in 1955 to do graduate study in political science at the University of Southern California. In 1956 he began teaching karate to a small group of Americans in what is generally conceded to be the first organized karate practice in the United States. By 1960, Ohshima had decided to return to Japan to live.

Before leaving the United States, Ohshima wrote to Japan asking for an instructor to continue teaching his American students. Well aware of the university-JKA division in Japan, Ohshima did not want a similar problem to arise overseas, and he hoped to keep his fledgling organization in the U.S. independent of both the University League and the JKA. His original invitation went to a Keio University student who was medically unable to accept the offer. Ohshima’s second choice was Nishiyama of Takushoku University and the JKA, a renowned technician who immediately accepted the offer. The fact Ohshima could offer Nishiyama a position proved that it was possible to make a living teaching karate outside of Japan. Thus encouraged, the JKA immediately began a rapid expansion program, exporting instructors worldwide in the 1960s. By the end of the decade, Teruyuki Okazaki and Takayuki Mikami were in the continental U.S., Hirokazu Kanazawa was in Hawaii, and Keinosuke Enoeda was in Great Britain.

In early 1961, Ohshima met with Nishiyama and agreed on the details of an arrangement for Nishiyama to assume the responsibility of instructing Ohshima’s American group. Ohshima wanted Nishiyama to stay for three years, but Nishiyama insisted he could stay for only one. They agreed they would jointly choose a replacement instructor at the end of Nishiyama’s one year, and that in order to maintain the American group’s neutrality in the university-JKA disagreement, Nishiyama would not affiliate the American group with the JKA.

On arriving in Los Angeles, Nishiyama took control of Ohshima’s American organization. Stating that the JKA had advanced karate technique far beyond Funakoshi’s level, he abrogated his agreement to maintain neutrality and affiliated the Americans with the JKA. He then proceeded to retrain Ohshima’s students in JKA technique, as opposed to the less rigid, less mechanical university style. In a series of clever political maneuvers, he reorganized the administration of the group. He also did not depart at the end of a year; by then he was firmly entrenched.

When Ohshima arrived in Los Angeles in December of 1962, intending only to visit his old students, he was appalled at what Nishiyama had done to the American organization Ohshima had spent five years building. Ohshima decided to stay and try to salvage what he could.

After a few months of serious friction within the group between the Ohshima loyalists and the Nishiyama followers, Nishiyama took two-thirds of the students and moved to a different dojo (training hall) down the street. Unable to maintain the upkeep of his decimated dojo, Ohshima moved to a different section of Los Angeles, and both he and Nishiyama continued to train their adherents in their respective approaches to karate. Nishiyama called his organization the All-America Karate Federation (now the American Amateur Karate Federation). Ohshima’s Southern California Karate Association soon metamorphosed into Shotokan Karate of America (SKA).

Ohshima and Nishiyama maintained an uneasy truce until 1970, when the first World Karate Tournament was organized by the Federation of All-Japan Karate-do Organizations (FAJKO) in Japan. Japanese instructors in various countries were invited to send teams to compete in Tokyo. The United States invitation went to Ohshima, who formed a committee of Japanese instructors (including Fumio Demura, Gogen Yamaguchi, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, and Nishiyama, among others) to select the U.S. representatives. Southern Californian karateka Dan Ivan was chosen leader of the delegation. Amid convoluted political machinations, WUKO was formed in Tokyo during the tournament.

In 1971, Jacques Delcourt of the French Federation of Karate and Associated Martial Arts, charged with the organization of the second WUKO World Karate Championships, invited Ivan to send a U.S. team to Paris in 1972. Ivan, disgusted with the political maneuverings surrounding the 1970 inception of WUKO in Tokyo, passed the invitation on; it eventually reached the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which knew nothing about karate. The AAU asked Nishiyama’s AAKF to organize its team for WUKO II.

Despite vociferous protests from other U.S. karate organizations, Nishiyama and his minions chose a seven-man team –three MKF athletes and four affiliated with the AAKF. The AAKF ignored outstanding American athletes like two-time national champion Ron Marchini who did not belong to the organization The AAKF- chosen United States team later walked out of the 1972 WUKO championships in protest of the officiating.

During the next two years, the AAKF controlled U S amateur karate with respect to WUKO Nishiyama’s mouthpiece, A R Allen, served as AAU national karate chairman and as first vice-president of WUKO, and the third World Karate Championships was set for Long Beach, California, in 1974 However, in early 1974, the national administration of the earlier Nishiyama and Allen intended to install the AAKF as the American member of WUKO, usurping the AAU’s position David Rivenes, AAU president, immediately fired Allen as AAU national karate chairman and appointed Caylor Adkins, one of Ohshima’s black belts, to the position The third WUKO World Championships was subsequently deIayed for a year, until 1975, to enable the AAU to set up a proper organization to run the competition Nishiyama staged a world tournament of his own in 1975, attended by teams representing JKA organizations in various countries

Having lost control of the AAU, which was the American member of WUKO, and having thereby lost the first vice-presidency of WUKO, Nishiyama in 1975 formed the International Amateur Karate Federation (IAKF, naming himself executive director, to dispute WUKO’s claim as the international governing body of amateur karate The national members of the IAKF were in nearly every case the JKA organizations from various countries, regardless of whether or not those organizations had any recognition from their own governments or national Olympic committees WUKO membership, on the other hand, was limited to national organizations having the recognition of their own governments, Olympic committees, or highest sporting authorities.

A lengthy and bitter battle ensued between WUKO and IAKF for recognition by the International Olympic Committee and pre-eminence as the recognized international governing body for karate, culminating in the June 5,1985, recognition a WUKO by the IOC.

In the overwhelming sweep of events, the actual roots of significant happenings are sometimes lost. It may seem difficult to believe that the rivalry between WUKO and IAKF for the control of international amateur karate was in fact based in a schism between karate factions in Japan some 30 or 40 years ago The ideological differences generated in that sport were carried to the United States by young men trained in opposing philosophies The emanations of the American conflict spread worldwide, scooping up thousands of innocent karate practitioners into a political contest not of their making.

About the Author: Jon Evans is a Black Belt in Shotokan Karate and currently serves as WUKO controller of competition. He worked on the AAU National Karate Committee for 16 years and served nine years as first vice-president of WUKO.