Harada Sensei – biography

Story by Jonathan de’ Claire BSc (Hons) – with the assistance of Master Harada and the references of Karate Master and Reminiscences by Dr. Clive Layton.

A Student at the Shotokan

When a young boy aged 15 entered the Shotokan dojo in Zoshigaya, Toshima Ward in 1943, Master Gichin Funakoshi was the undisputed leading light of the Shotokan movement. After his first lesson this teenager was hooked on Karate, his name was Mitsusuke Harada. This first class, was taught by, the formidable 4th Dan – Master Genshin Hironishi. Other notable Shotokan instructors during this period were Masters Wado Umeura and Yoshiaki Hayashi. Initially, training consisted of practise in kata, kihon, kumite and ten-no kata. The lessons were for 2 hours at a time.

The Shotokan, of course, was the first purpose built dojo in Japan. The money to build it had been raised by O’Sensei’s students and to manage this venture a group had been formed. They were called the Shotokai (Shoto’s group). At this time of course Japan was at war, in the evenings the black curtains were always kept drawn and the lights low in case of an imminent air raid.

It was whilst training at the Shotokan, Harada first saw the legendary Yoshitaka Funakoshi. The rumour that Waka (Young) Sensei was coming went before him as the buzz of expectancy spread.
Yoshitaka was Gichin Funakoshi’s third son, He had taken over as Chief Instructor the Shotokan and first assistant to his father after the sudden death of Master Takeshi Shimoda.

Yoshitaka had been awarded the rank of Renshi from the Butokukai. He lived next door to the dojo with his wife and family. Harada recollected that when Waka Sensei entered the room the atmosphere changed, becoming “charged with energy”. He had the reputation of having awesome ability. At this time Yoshitaka Funakoshi was 36 years old and stood 5ft 5ins, he was stockier than his father; had a crew cut, large eyes and a prominent Hara – Master Harada recalled. Yoshitaka would select black belts and accept any attack, standing in a deep fudo-dachi posture (his favourite) with an open handed kamae. He also welcomed forceful attacks with bokken and bo. Unfortunately, even though he looked fit and strong he was indeed very ill and in 1945 he died of gangrene of the lungs. This was a truly massive loss, not only to his father, but also a disaster to Shotokan Karate; as Yoshitaka was indeed a very special individual whom was always researching and developing his father’s Karate, he was innovative, dynamic and creative. He searched for and made much progress in the development of Shotokan Karate.

On the 29th April 1945 an air raid on Tokyo caused the famous Shotokan dojo, to be destroyed by fire, in the early hours of the morning. After the demise of the Shotokan, Harada wrote a letter to Gichin Funakoshi requesting, if it would be possible to continue training. O’Sensei, who was living with his eldest son Yoshihide in Koishikawa in Tokyo, replied to Harada welcoming him to train at his son’s house on a private basis.

University Days

On entering the prestigious Waseda University in 1948 (as his father had done) to study for a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce, Harada continued his training at the Waseda club. Once he had let slip that he had trained at the Shotokan, Harada said he was “a marked man” as every blackbelt wanted to test him. Whilst at Waseda he attended training camps and weeklong courses. Initially Master Toshio Kamata (Watanabe) would teach. In Harada’s year there was also another name that was to become well known – Tsutomu Ohshima.

Harada at this time would frequently collect master Funakoshi by taxi and escort him to the Waseda dojo, in order for O’Sensei to teach there.

On the 1st May 1949 when the Nippon Karate Kyokai (JKA) was formed, Harada was asked by dojo Captain Joji Takeda, to pick up Gichin Funakoshi and take him to the Iomiuri Shimbum Hall. Master Hironishi had been instrumental in bringing this meeting together as a way of uniting karateka after the disruption of the Pacific War. It had been Yoshitaka’s last request to Hironishi to try to keep “the way of Shoto” alive, if it was at all possible. At the demonstration that day, it was the first time Harada saw Master Funakoshi perform an individual kata – Kanku Dai. Harada subsequently saw O’Sensei demonstrate this form on other occasions and remembers one particular fine performance at the Japanese Budo Sai.

At this time Gichin Funakoshi was trying to reverse the decline in the level of technique and spiritual void that had become dominant as a result of the war. With his son Yoshitaka and main hope for the future of karate now gone, his task had become even more difficult.

Now that Harada had entered University O’Sensei was more communicative towards him and would often joke. Always reflecting back on Okinawa, his karate teachers and his youth. Harada said O’Sensei’s techniques were “soft, relaxed and unfocussed” when he remembered how the old master would teach him. Whilst at Waseda, Harada trained under Master Funakoshi from 1949-52, classes were generally on Saturday between noon to 1.30pm. As was his custom Funakoshi would teach mostly kata. O’Sensei believed kata was the soul of Karate. Unfortunately his students wanted kumite and attendance’s at his classes were low. Harada remarked “we didn’t realise the importance of kata then and Funakoshi didn’t explain and that’s where he made the mistake. We, the students were concerned with the second dimension, he (Funakoshi) spoke in the third”. If a senior grade taught kumite whilst O’Sensei was present he would no longer take and interest in the class and look out of the window ”this is how we knew O’Sensei disapproved”.

Despite his age Master Funakoshi was “very agile and he had indomitable spirit”. At the first winters course of that year the frail looking old master engaged Master Kamata in kumite. Kamata was very strict with himself and generated great power; he attacked Funakoshi with an oi-zuki. The old master performed his favourite technique gedan-berai, simultaneously grabbed the arm and countering, Kamata fell to the ground. This caused a great impression all around. Harada’s faith had been restored – Master Funakoshi could still do it and do it well! Those years of kata had allowed him to stay very active. Allowing him to continue in kumite even at his advanced age.
It was at Waseda, that Harada also came under the influence of two other extremely outstanding Karate Masters. Both of whom deeply affected master Harada’s life – Shigeru Egami and Tadao Okuyama.

Egami trained in Judo and Kendo in middle school as was customary. He attended Waseda University to read for a Bachelors degree in Commerce as Harada was doing. Egami also studied some Aikido and helped form the University Karate club in 1931. His principle teachers were, Master Gichin Funakoshi and Master Takeshi Shimoda, Funakoshi’s assistant. Egami also engaged in a great deal of “special practise” with Yoshitaka his senior, whom he described as being of excellent character and highly skilled. Egami was an outstanding karateka, generally being regarded as having the finest punch in the Shotokan Style – he was an oi-zuki specialist. He was also a teacher at the military’s Nakano School; this was a unit for the Special Forces.

After a chance meeting at the Waseda dojo where Harada was practising individually as he often did, Egami noticed his efforts to improve and offered to help him. Over the next 18 months they trained 7 days a week. It was the start of a friendship that would last many years. This was a time of great innovation and research for Egami. He was developing his already formidable punch, into a more relaxed, fluid and more penetrative style. Together they researched, spending 3 hours each day practising and many more talking about karate, especially theory. Harada improved dramatically as a result of his private tuition.

Egami was attempting to change the stiff rigid training he had undergone, for the past 25 years. He realised that this type of technique was seriously flawed. His new technique was a radical concept, the relaxation of the joints and loss of undue tension allowed for the release of true power and penetration. Even through 4 cushions Harada, could still feel the sickening blow. His blocks were equally devastating, each time Harada attacked his blows would be parried and he would be knocked to the floor.

The result of Master Egami’s research was a softer, faster and more fluid Karate, which made Egami’s techniques more powerful than the typical Shotokan he had previously practised. Master Egami worked closely with Gichin Funakoshi until the old master died, and he considered that the development and direction of his research was in line with his teacher’s wishes.

However, tragedy struck again, Egami fell ill before he could physically pass on his new found body condition; but Harada had already experienced it, he had indeed passed it onto to his pupil.

At the first summer camp that Harada attended he was introduced to an outstanding 3rd Dan named Tadao Okuyama. Harada trained under him every afternoon for 2 years. Okuyama suddenly disappeared after a disagreement with master Kamata over technique. He left and went into the Tsukuba Mountains 50 miles Northeast of Tokyo in search for the truth. A couple of years later he re-appeared but trained only with Master Egami in secret. One day Egami told Harada of this and used a meeting with Okuyama as motivation whilst he practised. Then in 1955 when Harada was due to leave Waseda that day came. As soon as Harada saw the kimono clad Okuyama with his long flowing hair he said, “I knew I couldn’t win the encounter”. There was something special about him. Harada faced him all the same, but as soon as it had begun it was over “it was truly incredible” Harada recalled, “so fast”. Okuyama had attacked Harada’s head with an open palm. Okuyama had not even physically touched Harada “but I felt the power, such power, I had never felt that before anywhere”. It still haunts Harada to this day. Okuyama had not been locked in the past as many of his contemporaries were; he was concerned with future…how to evolve. A long time partner of the gifted Renshi Yoshitaka, Master Egami admitted to Harada that Okuyama’s level was even higher still; so high in fact that no one could follow him.

After completing his Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1953, Harada had then undertaken a Masters, which he successfully completed in 1955. Whilst at graduate school he assisted Master Noguchi and also had a position with Toshiba. He also assisted Master Matoshi Nakayama to teach American servicemen. It was during this time at Waseda that Harada first witnessed the founder of Aikido – Master Morihei Ueshiba, he described him as “tremendous”. Harada was also fortunate enough to see his final demonstration at the Kodokan in 1969, only months before he died. Harada spoke of Ueshiba’s apparent ability to throw opponents, without touching them to his teacher Master Egami. Master Egami told Harada about his own encounter with Ueshiba many years before as a student, likewise finding himself flying through the air without any physical contact. He then told his student something that would affect his life for the next 50 years – Master Egami said “you must endeavour to produce this effect with Karate technique”.

Karate Goes To South America

In 1955 Harada took a position with the Bank of South America in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He was to set sail on the Africa Maru. Master Egami (whom he had trained with night before). Master Motohiro Yanisagawa (a student of Egami from Chuo University) and his son Daisuke saw Harada off. His parents and sister had said their farewells earlier as requested by their departing son. During the journey, the ship docked in Los Angeles, Harada had an opportunity to visit his old friend from Waseda Tsutomu Ohshima who was now based in California.

On his arrival in Brazil, Harada settled into his new job at the bank, the manager on learning of his newest employee’s Karate expertise, asked Harada to do a demonstration for the bank staff. After the demonstration, a young employee approached him and asked to be taken on as a student; but there was nowhere to train! The prospective student was persistent and found a Judo dojo, which he said, they could use together. They began training in October 1955. Soon the student’s nephew joined and then some of his friends came. In no time the club expanded to some 30-40 students. This was the first Karate Club in the whole of South America, Harada as his instructor Gichin Funakoshi had been before him, was a pioneer of Karate.

Master Harada wanted to affiliate the club with Japan and wrote to Master Funakoshi. O’Sensei responded to his student’s letter and Harada was shocked by the contents of the letter. Master Funakoshi firmly stated that Harada should start up a separate Brazilian Organisation. Harada was pleased and encouraged. O’Sensei considered that, the art he introduced to mainland Japan had been largely spoiled and corrupted. By starting a new organisation, there was a chance for Karate to start afresh, away from the squabbling and bureaucracy that had become so commonplace in Japan. Hence the Karate-do Shotokan Brazileo was born.

It was at this time that Gichin Funakoshi endorsed his faith in Harada, awarding him his 5th Dan, at the very young age of 28. Master Harada has never sought a Dan grade beyond Godan feeling it meaningless, how could he grade above his own teacher O’Sensei, who was 5th Dan (this is also the highest grade attainable in Master Harada’s organisation the KDS).

In April 1957, Master Harada received a telegram from Master Egami informing him of that Master Funakoshi had passed away quietly in hospital on the 26th of that month. He had been at his old teachers side when O’Sensei took his last breath. Egami had taken on the role of looking after the Old Master and had learnt much from him, but when Egami fell ill, no one could fulfil his duties. Funakoshi’s family objected to a particularly well-known association and one bureaucrat of that organisation in particular, to arranging the funeral.

There were many reasons for this. Therefore a group was formed to attend to the funeral, with Yoshihide, O’Sensei’s oldest son as Chairman – the Shotokai. At this time the Shotokai had no Karate significance, but some of its members did, Masters Hironishi, Egami, Yanisagawa. Members of the Shotokai were executors to the estate and trusted by the Funakoshi family. Under the direction of Dr. Nobumoto Ohama the President of Waseda, the Waseda group joined. After the funeral the Shotokai was not dissolved and the universities of Chuo, Senshu, Toho, Gakushuin and Tokyo Noko remained. At this point, there were, no technical differences, all were practising Shotokan.

Master Egami wrote to Master Harada, to inform him of the developments. Harada with his close ties to Master Funakoshi and Egami subsequently became a member of the Shotokai. Funakoshi’s students could not agree in which direction the founders style should develop. The Shotokai were dedicated to preserving the orthodox teachings of Gichin Funakoshi, and Egami believed that future development should lead along the path the old master had intended. Certainly it could be said that Funakoshi did not approve of the direction certain senior Karateka were taking his Shotokan Karate.

Late in 1959 Master Ohshima, now a 5th Dan awarded by Waseda University came to Brazil to visit his old friend Master Harada and teach at his dojo. He stayed for two weeks, and whilst he was there the two met up with Master Masahhiko Kimura a famous Judoka from Takushoku University. By 1963 Master Harada had some 16-17 blackbelts under him, all 1st Dan.

His first blackbelt was Mr. Yasuda a fellow bank employee. By now other instructors had come to Brazil and the usual petty rivalries had begun, it was time to move on.

Later that year Master Harada had been invited to Paris. Karate students there had heard of him and raised sufficient funds to buy an air ticket in order that he could visit them. Harada resigned his position at the bank, with the intention of taking a year out to travel, before returning. By now, an additional call had been received by Master Harada, to take over Ohshima’s group (at the request of Master Ohshima). On his arrival in Paris, Master Harada taught at the dojo’s of Tetsuji Murakami, a Yoseikan 3rd Dan whom had come to France at the invitation of Henri Plee. At this time Master Harada was teaching orthodox Shotokan Karate. Practise mainly consisted of Ten-no Kata, Kihon, Sambon Kumite and Kata. Whilst researches with Egami had certainly become a part of Harada’s practise, these benefits were being expressed through a university style he had been taught. However, Master Harada was aware of the rigidity of the Shotokan he had been practising and endeavoured to evolve and progress.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Master Harada always took part in each lesson; he would accept each student in turn, allowing a strong bond to be built. Another instructor involved with Harada at this time was a named Hoang Nam. But, again, jealousy and politics appeared again, forcing Master Harada to take his obvious talents elsewhere.

At the invitation of the famous Judoka, Kenshiro Abbe, Master Harada went to Great Britain. Already though, a faithful group had already formed in Europe, and Harada was to return regularly. Abbe was a Budoka of high recommendation, not only was he an 8th Dan Judoka, but held a 6th Dan in Aikido, having studied under Master Morihei Ueshiba; he also held Dan ranks in Kyudo, Ju-Kenjutsu and Kendo. On the 23rd November 1963, the National Judo Championships were being held at the Albert Hall in London. A number of martial arts demonstrations were performed aside from the Judo competition, these included Kendo (Tomio Otani), Aikido (Masshiro Nakazono 6th Dan, Masamichi Noro 6th Dan) and Karate that was demonstrated by Master Mitsusuke Harada and an assistant. This allowed exposure for Harada, he also wrote an article in the Judo News entitled “The Essence of Karate “. This rare piece gave a comprehension of Master Harada’s thinking at the time. When considering the dynamics of Karate training Harada thought speed, endurance and strength were the 3 factors involved; elements of these he considered important were correct form of posture, relaxation, concentration and natural movement.

He also commented on Karate in Europe, writing that he thought Karate could become as proficient as in Japan, once the fundamentals were understood.

After giving a course in Karate at the Abbe School of Judo on the 7th and 8th November 1963, Master Harada was asked to give a number of courses and demonstrations around the country. From early in 1964 through to 1968, Harada would alternate teaching between the U.K. and Brussels. His organisation was fast growing into a large Europe wide following. It was during one of these trips to Brussels, that Master Harada met Jotaro Takagi who was on a business trip. Takagi was a graduate of Chuo University (and the future Chief Instructor to the Shotokai in Japan). He showed Harada new practise developments from Tokyo and for six months, towards the end of 1967, Master Harada returned to Japan to investigate.

Master Harada learnt many things on this return to Tokyo, but on the whole felt it was not a good trip. Harada was unsure of the direction that Shotokai was taking, he had grave reservations. He visited Master Egami to inquire as to his position – Shotokai or Shinwa Taido. But, Egami sat on the fence not giving an answer one way or the other. This depressed Harada greatly, however one thing was confirmed; a replacement had been found to take Harada’s place in Brazil – Arinobu Ishibata a graduate of Chuo University. Master Harada was now free to stay in Britain.

Early summer schools were held in the Spartan conditions of Grange Farm. At this time Harada’s Karate group was a part of the International Budo Council, but when Abbe left to return to Japan in 1966, Harada resigned from the IBC being unhappy with developments. It was then that Master Harada formed the Karate-Do Shotokai (KDS) Organisation. Initially, there were some ten clubs up and down Great Britain. He would also train at Kenneth Williams’ dojo in Hillingdon 3 times a week. Master Harada soon earned a reputation as being an uncompromising instructor, always willing to demonstrate his ideas, at great risk to himself, in the name of progress.

After his trip back to Japan, many of Harada’s senior students travelled to experience the new ideas for themselves. But, in 1971 Harada took a definite direction, returning to a more orthodox style he had experienced in his University days. This included the invaluable year and half under the tutelage of master Egami. Whilst this was welcomed by many, others wanted to carry on with the way they had been practising. This led to an inevitable split in the organisation.

But Master Harada was now untethered by the constraints of Japan. Having spent 3-4 years with unsuccessful experimentation, he had drawn the line, effectively breaking technical ties with Japan. Master Harada now studied his own training background and Karate-Do in great detail, slowly but surely changes began to appear in his practise. Counting aloud stopped, for this was verbal stimulation, conditioning the student to sound, neglecting the visual. Instead he used visual perception as the trigger.

Harada’s practise began to evolve into a relaxed and flowing style with dynamic penetrative power. The KDS organisation grew, to a point where there were 3 courses being held on any one weekend, in different parts of the country.

Disaster struck again in 1988, the KDS suffered another major split at the height of its growth. The organisation halved its numbers. Many senior grades were lost after investing years of intensive training and time on them. Bitterly disappointed, Master Harada considered returning to Japan. But, he persevered with his faithful group of KDS students and again invested his time energy. Now, Master Harada’s beloved KDS was developing into, an organisation free of politics and power chasers, those that remained were in there for the good of Karate, there to train and improve, with no hidden agendas. With energy rejuvenated, spurred on by the enthusiasm of his group Master Harada researched his Karate with new and innovative approaches to training, pushing the boundaries of his practise to new levels.

In today’s KDS Organisation, Master Harada teaches his students body language and perception through the variety of exercises that his research has produced. Constant practices of movement, keeping the correct distance and finely tuning the students body reactions in regard to an opponents movements

Correct structure and form within movement is adhered to, whilst relaxation is paramount to a mobile body condition. From this natural and relaxed state, Master Harada can produce dynamic speed and power; even now in his mid-70’s, he seems still to be pushing his own boundaries back with each practise. He is a true testament to his own research and life’s work. “Age and size should be no barrier in Karate”, as many younger and larger opponents will testify to, as being very true, where Master Harada is concerned!

Indeed, at long last, Master Harada had the opportunity to show the product of his life’s work at the Shotokan in October 1998. After many years of resistance, to his developments from the home of Karate, Master Harada received an invitation from Nihon Karate-do Shotokai, to demonstrate at the famous dojo. The celebration, to commemorate 60 years since conception of the Shotokan, and the 130th anniversary of Gichin Funakoshi’s birth; would allow for an international meeting to take place in Tokyo. Master Harada took a select group of his KDS students and made “a huge impact” at the display attended by, all of the Japanese groups and visiting parties from Europe and South America. Master Harada had come full circle, after beginning his Karate training at the Shotokan back in 1943; he was now back with his own group the KDS, wholly being accepted as being as an undisputed Master of Karate by his peers and mentors some 60 years on.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2007, Harada Sensei received an MBE for services to karate.