Hidetaka Nishiyama: Shotokan Karate

A Rare Interview with Sensei Hidetaka Nishiyama

Hidetaka Nishiyama is a Japanese-American martial arts master, instructor, author, administrator and pioneer. A student of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shōtōkan-ryū, Nishiyama is considered one of the great masters of the style.

Hidetaka Nishiyama was born in Tokyo, Japan and started kendo training in 1933, followed by judo training in 1938. In 1943, he began training in Shotokan karate at the Hombu Dojo under its founder, Funakoshi Gichin. By 1946 he had his black belt in karate and by 1948, he would have his second dan. Two years later, while enrolled at Takushoku University, he became a member of the university’s karate team, and in 1949 he was named captain. He was a co-founder of the All Japan Collegiate Karate Federation and was elected its first chairman. Nishiyama received a Master of Arts degree in economics from Takushoku University in 1951. That same year, he was a co-founder of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) and was elected to the JKA board of Directors.

In 1952, he began training American military from the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Shotokan karate. The following year Curtis Lemay invited him to tour American air bases on the American mainland. The other karate instructors for this program included Gichin Funakoshi, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Lsao Obata. In 1960 he published his first book: Karate: The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting which he co-wrote with Nishiyama. Today it is still considered a definitive text book on the subject. In its 70th printing, (2,000 copies per printing) it is considered the best selling karate text book in history.

In July 1961, SAC karate students and JKA members residing in the United States invited Nishiyama to move to America. Later that year, he organized the All American Karate Federation (AAKF) as a nationally based amateur karate organization.[3] In November of the same year, Nishiyama organized under the control of the AAKF the first National Karate Championship in Los Angeles, California where he also established his dojo. Since then Nishiyama has been a major force in the propagation of the Shotokan style of karate in the U.S. and abroad. In 1965, Nishiyama organized a committee with the cooperation of the major Japanese karate styles that led to the first United States vs. Japan Goodwill Karate Tournament. Because of the participation of the All Japan Collegiate Karate Team, this event became the first truly international karate competition.

In 1968, Hidetaka Nishiyama organized the first World Invitational Karate Tournament held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in conjunction with the Olympic Commemorative Tournament hosted by the Mexico Karate Federation in Mexico City. A conference which took place during the tournament culminated in an agreement to form an international karate organization and to hold its first World Championship in Tokyo. In 1970, during a reorganization of the AAKF as the traditional karate governing body, the JKA Karate group separated and became the JKA-US, part of the AAKF.

Hidetaka Nishiyama continued as Chairman of the JKA-US and also as Chairman of the AAKF. In April of that same year, the AAKF became a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

In 1973, Nishiyama co-founded the Pan American Karate Union (PAKU) and was elected its First Executive Director. The first PAKU Championship was staged in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Based on a 1968 agreement formed at a Mexico City conference, tournaments were held in Tokyo (1970) and Paris, France (1973). These World Championships resulted in disagreements caused by the lack of formal international organization. An international meeting later followed in New York City resulting in the formation of the International Amateur Karate Federation (IAKF) with Nishiyama elected as its Executive Director.

The first IAKF World Championship was held in Los Angeles in 1975. He oversaw the formation of the Mediterranean Karate Championship Committee and Bolivian Karate Federation in 1976. Also that year, acting on behalf of the IAKF, he submitted an application to the International Olympic Committee seeking Olympic recognition for Karate.

Hidetaka Nishiyama then supported the formation in 1977 of the Central America/Caribbean Karate Confederation and the Asia/Oceania Amateur Karate Federation. In 1979, in accordance with U.S. public law regulating national amateur sports governing bodies, the All American Karate Federation was succeeded by the American Amateur Karate Federation, a public benefit, non-profit corporation. Nishiyama was elected its first President.

In 1981, he also lent support to the formation of the South American Karate Confederation and the North American Karate Confederation. In 1985, the IAKF changed its name to the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF) because the word “karate” had become a generic term applied to a variety of kicking/punching sports. The ITKF, under Nishiyama’s direction, wanted to make clear it was the governing body of traditional karate. In 1987, the IOC officially confirmed that the ITKF was the governing body for traditional karate.

Nishiyama’s reputation has spread foremost because of his superior technical expertise and his disciplined instruction. He is noted among martial artists for his interest in the similarities between the very different martial arts styles of Tai Chi and Shotokan Karate.

Among his former students are All Japan Karate Champions Hiroshi Shirai and Takeshi Oishi. In addition, he has trained a host of international and national instructors, national champions and celebrities.

Hidetaka Nishiyama continues to instruct at the Central Dojo in Los Angeles and conducts a busy schedule conducting seminars and courses around the U.S. and abroad. He is also producing new texts and manuals as well as instruction video recordings concerning traditional karate.

In recognition of Nishiyama’s decades of effort on behalf of Traditional Karate and his contribution towards the physical and psychological health of Americans through Karate, the Flag of the United States was flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on October 10, 1999 on the occasion of his 71st birthday.

In May 2000, Hidetaka Nishiyama was further honored when the Nishiyama Cup was held in Moscow, the first official Karate event conducted in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union.

In addition, the Republic of Poland honored Nishiyama in October 2001 when the nation’s President, Mr. Aleksander Kwasniewski, bestowed upon him one of their highest medals, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, on the occasion of the first Traditional Karate World Cup.

On November 1, 2003, he was awarded his Judan, or tenth degree black belt, the highest rank available in Shotokan karate.

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