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Wado Ryu Training in the ’60’s

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Just found this on my computer.  It’s a great insight into the early days of Karate in London.  I asked my older brother years ago what it was like training with the first Wado Ryu Japanese Instructors that came to the UK in the 1960’s, this is what he sent me…

“My interest in the martial arts was quite practical, at school I used to get involved in a fight about once a month, mainly due to my stubborn refusal to fit into the strict pecking order that operated there. Those more aggressive and athletic would “put me in my place” when I did not show the appropriate respect, and those less able saw me as a way of improving their standing as I did not require “respect” from them and must therefore be less than them.

This interest showed mainly in reading anything I could find on combat, in those days limited mainly to secret agent books and the occasional Judo manual. Not very helpful except talking my way out of several situations by persuading my would be assailant that I knew a secret fighting art! After I left school my interest remained along with the assumption that anyone bigger than me would eventually get round to picking a fight. I came across the term ‘karate’ in a book (possibly a 007 novel) and added the word to my vocabulary, although I though it rhymed with carrot. I eventually discovered the “Teach yourself Carrot” book and was reading this at work when someone said they knew of a gym that taught karate.

That gym was ‘Ravelles’ in Judd Street just up the road at Kings Cross. I visited the Gym and spoke to “Max” who ran the place and booked up a course in karate. This consisted of a 10 week course plus Gi and licence making you a member of the Wado Ryu Association set up by the newly arrived “top” Japanese Instructor Professor Tatsuo Suzuki.

However, you did not grace the Professor’s Dojo till you had been graded green belt and my first lesson was with a thin studious Japanese Instructor called Sensei Shoimitsu. I nearly walked out when I was told to bow, but thankfully swallowed my pride and followed orders. These were difficult to follow as none of the instructors knew many words of English and those that they could speak were with a terrible accent. All instructions were accompanied with a demonstration of what we should do, as we would never have understood them otherwise. You eventually ‘tuned your ear’ into their accent, so if your instructor lapses into a weird and unintelligible accent when instructing you he probably trained at the same Dojo! The classes were rigidly structured up to green belt with techniques being introduced in a specific lesson. After practising Junzuki for four or five lessons, the introduction of Maegeri was a high point, until Mr Shoimitsu took you through 250 repetitions each leg (in a one hour lesson including warm-up). That’s when I learned that you ache the second day after overtraining not the first which still seems illogical to me.

Training sessions were an hour long with a warm-up period that became stretch and strength exercises where the instructors realised how inflexible our joints were and how we responded to painful exercise. We were completely unaware that it was not the “Japanese” way to show that you were in pain and they must have considered us a bunch of pansies when we grunted and groaned our way through these exertions. I suspect that they doubled the repetitions in order to harden us up. I remember the two man stretch exercised where the instructor would add his strength and weight to your partners if he thought your partner was not pushing as hard as he could. I can remember the bunny hops up and down the stairs and the wheelbarrows on your knuckles up and down the room. We trained with several instructors but the ones I remember (apart from Mr Shoimitsu) were Mr Hayakowa and Mr Fuji. Mr Hayakowa was completely different from most of the others, his English was better and he was less formal and more instructive than the others. He would talk to and instruct students individually rather than simply give instructions to the class and push or kick individuals into the correct stance. He was not very happy, his first love being Judo and I believe he eventually went to Europe to teach this. Mr Fuji came later onto the scene, Max introduce him to us as the twice winner of the All Japan Championships. Again he was much more of a personality and he specialised in freestyle and self-defence.

After nine months of training and having reached the dizzy height of green belt, one started training with “the Professor”.

Having trained with the same students up to this point, all the same grade and with the same length of training it was a shock to enter a class of different grades and to mix it with the seniors. Freestyle was practised regularly now and everyone was worried by the possibility of being kicked or punched in the groin, not because of the pain but in case the Professor insisted on administering Shiatsu to limit the damage and suffering. This was not only more painful than the injury, as it involved the base of your spine being dropped onto the Professors knee whilst the afflicted area was massaged but was acutely embarrassing to us macho men. The Japanese did not suffer from the same taboos about physical contact that the British do. Oddly enough if you were knocked out you were left where you fell to recover. I can only remember sparring with the Professor once and that was a painful experience as he constantly kicked to the front foot to my shin. At the end of every lesson both Mr Suzuki and Mr Shimitsu would ask if anyone wished to spar with them, I cannot remember anyone taking up the offer. After the lessons with Sensei Shoimitsu all the brown belts use to get changed at lightening speed to try and disappear before he invited them down to the pub. It appears he had this habit of picking the toughest and largest looking bloke in the pub and staring at him until a fight started – and for some reason the brown belts did not think this a particularly good idea.

At that time, Sensei Ohtsuka the founder of Wado Ryu came to Britain and conducted a course at the Crystal Palace. He was a short frail looking gentleman in his seventies who’s bearing and presence was very impressive, even to ignorant English green belts like myself. He spoke no English and there were always at least two instructors with him to translate. His style seemed much “softer” than that we were used to with much less time with more emphasis on circular and evasive techniques which usually culminated in a throw or lock. When he demonstrated a movement the overwhelming effect was one of effortlessness, no excess motion, tension or breath. When correcting your position there was none of the pushing or pulling we were used to but a gentle guiding with a definite sense of humour, laughing at our tensions. We were astounded at the respect and deference shown by our instructors to this man and I remember watching Sensei Shoimitsu sparring with him as if he were walking on glass.

Towards the end of 1969 Professor Suzuki stopped teaching at the Dojo and the lessons were taken by Sensei Shoimitsu. This was not very popular as he insisted on free sparring with everyone. Within a couple of weeks three of the brown belts had been injured two with broken ribs and one with a broken cheekbone. Almost all of us decided to leave as we did not relish the idea of ending up in hospital and I moved on to the infamous ‘Mushindo’ karate training under Terry Dukes.”

*Editors note – The late Terry Dukes was a controversial character who became ‘Nagaboshi’ and my brother then went on to train with George Andrews at the Marble Factory off Walworth Road, Steve Morris at his London Dojo and Yang Tai Chi with Chu King Hung.

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5 thoughts on “Wado Ryu Training in the ’60’s

  1. S. White says:

    As a teenage student of Myoshin Hayakawa in his Sheffield class in 1970 — moving from instruction from Phil Milner, one time English associate of the Japanese Wado Ryu instructors principal among them being Suzuki and Fuji — might I make a few comments regarding principally Myoshin Hayakawa but the others too, in the light of your account.

    I understood Hayakawa stood somewhat apart from the other Japanese instructors in terms of social class or status, with different attitudes and tastes. He spoke decent English, was affable in ways the others were not — I trained under Fuji and Shiomitsu in one-off classes in Yorkshire — ‘forgiving’ and more understanding of cultural differences, with an outlook more at ease with Western behaviours and values. I cannot comment whether or not he moved to Europe to teach karate, but some of his absences from his class were explained at the time as trips to Europe, though often hunting, specifically, I recall, of Chamonix mountain goats, was mentioned. He seemed to exercise considerable urbane charm with women. He seemed to have a love of good living, the enjoyment of life’s luxuries. Certainly, training with Hayakawa was less fraught with fewer injuries picked up during training, as was my experience from instruction from Fuji and Shiomitsu.

    All of the Japanese Wado Ryu instructors were present, I believe, when the first Wado Ryu kumite competition was held at Montgomery Hall, Sheffield in 1970. I do not recall who emerged as champion on that occasion but I do remember Hamish Adams and John Hickling being foremost (Hickling sometimes training in Hayakawa’s class in Sheffield). As to the close contact that was practised by the Japanese instructors, I do remember, at this competition, Shiomitsu in an exhibition bout with another younger Japanese karateka delivering a blow of sufficient force to his ‘opponent’ as to halt proceedings while first aid was administered, following a presumptuous challenge from his junior ‘opponent’. After first aid, the bout was resumed, with the unfortunate recipient of Shiomitsu’s lesson receiving further treatment after the event.

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  2. S. White says:

    A simple addendum to my earlier post. Raking over the memories and doing internet searches, I found the following: https://www.facebook.com/kassidyuk/posts/152846444789141. The ‘disappearance’ of Hayakawa would seem to be explained. From my recollection, the ‘Chen Lee’ of the ’72 film is Myoshin Hayakawa, as the FaceBook poster affirms.

    Might I amend something in my earlier post, namely, Hamish Adam and not Hamish Adams, as I mistakenly recalled?

    And, finally, looking the pages, here, might I be right in thinking Takamizawa was present at the Wado Ryu competition in Sheffield in 1970? Indeed, I now think he might have been the party giving the exhibition bout with Shiomitsu that night.

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  3. Paul Bentley says:

    I trained at Ravelles with sensei Suzuki and those mentioned from 1963 to 1971. Those were the days of Pete Spanton and Ticky Donovan. I helped run a club near Farnborough and we regularly had Japanese instructors from London working with us. One not mentioned is sensei Maeda, who was excellent and didn’t feel obliged to kick heads in either!

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