The early karate education of Shihan Tomiyama
The article below includes an interview with Shihan Keiji Tomiyama about his early karate education. Click to view the whole page.
(Publication: Blitz Magazine New Zealand; Author: Brian Chambers)
In the beginning - Tani-ha Shito-ryu Shukokai
1970: Master Tani, Soke of Tani-ha Shito-ryu Karate-do Kempo Shukokai, asked Doshisha University Karate Club students whether any of them would like to assist in the development of Tani-ha Shito-ryu abroad and go to America to assist Sensei Kimura or to Europe to assist Sensei Suzuki. It was intended to be for one or two years after graduation, before settling down to be ‘company men’ back in Japan. Out of the three who said yes, two finally made the journey from Tokyo to Paris in March 1972. These were Naoki Omi and Keiji Tomiyama, now Joint Chief Instructors of Tani-ha Shito-ryu Karate-do Kofukan International. Not quite ‘company men’ in the recognized sense, they are nevertheless dedicated to one organization, and that is the karate association which has now spread around the world.
1972: However, the Chief Instructor for Europe at the time was Sensei Yasuhiro Suzuki. He was assisted by Senseis Hanai, Ikazaki and Shimabukuro, who each had their own specialities. Life with the two ‘new boys’ settled down to a routine of lessons in French, informal training among themselves and visiting the different karate clubs in the evening. In the summer their number increased again, when Miss Ishimaru and Mr. Hayashi arrived. In that same year a Shukokai Championship was held in Stockholm. Sensei Suzuki was of course in charge of Tani-ha Shito-ryu Shukokai in Europe at that time, but without as yet a structured organization. The main countries involved were France, England, Yugoslavia and Sweden, with small groups in Norway and Belgium.
1973: Sensei Suzuki moved to work at his company’s Brussels office, taking Keiji Tomiyama with him to teach in Belgium.
1974: In the spring a large “Central Dojo” was opened in Brussels and members of S.W.K.U. (England) attended for two week-long seminars. After this, Mr. Hayashi was sent to England to teach where he stayed for about a year.
From 1976 till 1978, the Euro-Cup was held each year at Pepinster, a small Belgian town near the German border.
In 1975, the large “Central Dojo” had to be closed and a smaller one was found near the Gare du Nord. This Dojo became the headquarters of S.W.K.U.E. (Shukokai World Karate Union Europe) until 1978.
The association continued to develop, alongside some groups who adhered to Master Kimura’s organization, which is why there are two or more Shukokai organizations in some countries.
1977: We started to issue our newsletter “Forum” twice yearly. “Forum” continued to be published until 1982.
In 1978, Keiji Tomiyama moved to England leaving Sensei Shimabukuro to look after Belgium.
1979 : The Euro-Cup was held in Paris. Keiji Tomiyama was appointed General-Secretary. It was decided to formalize our organization and to collect a membership fee from every member to pay for administration costs and services. Belgium disagreed and so had to leave the organization. Sensei Shimabukuro left Belgium to engage in business and the “Central Dojo” was closed, bringing the era of Tani-ha Shito-ryu in Belgium to an end.
1980 : The Euro-Cup was held in Peterborough, England. Sensei Suzuki attended the event and conducted a grading examination for Mess. Omi, Okubo, Kamohara and Tomiyama in lieu of demonstrations during the event: all were awarded 5th Dan.
Also in 1980, Master Tani visited Europe with his wife and several instructors. On that occasion, Master Tani asked for a World Cup to be organized the following year in Europe. So, we organized a World Cup in Edinburgh in 1981. Master Tani brought Mr. & Mrs. Inagaki with him, who later formed Nippon Kofukan.
Sensei Suzuki finally went back to Japan that year, called by his company, thus Senseis Omi and Tomiyama became the leaders of the organization. Some other Japanese instructors had also by this time left the organization, leaving just three resident in Europe, including Hiroshi Okubo.
Kofukan is established
At the beginning of the 80s there were many groups calling themselves “Shukokai”, especially in Britain. The majority of these groups were break-aways from Sensei Kimura’s organization. Being one of many “Shukokai” groups made the impact of our organization weaker. After many discussions between Sensei Suzuki and Sensei Tomiyama it was decided to call our organization “Kofukan”, the name of Sensei Suzuki’s Dojo, instead of “Shukokai World Karate Union Europe”. We became the one and only “Kofukan” with a strong identity. Sensei Tomiyama explained the situation to Master Tani and we, naturally, remained as a part of his “Shukokai” organization.
1986: Master Tani visited Europe and awarded Mess. Omi, Okubo and Tomiyama 6th Dan.
1987: Master Tani attended our Euro-Cup held in Slovenia (then Yugoslavia). Our member countries then were Sweden, Norway, Scotland, England, France, Channel Islands and Yugoslavia.
1990: From this time on there was a rapid expansion of the organization.
In 1990 Bulgaria joined with Dimitar Savov at the head, also Georgia, ex-USSR, under Vladimir Japaridze and Shota Shartava.
Portugal rejoined under the leadership of Joao Dias in 1991 and Denmark also joined.
After a chain of contacts, Kofukan was well established in Zimbabwe, Botswana & South Africa by the end of 1991.
Also in 1991 we were joined by Matthew Beaumont’s group in Australia and in 1992 by Brian Davis in New Zealand.
After an initial contact by Emmanuel Rajasekaran in 1989, the United Arab Emirates & India became members in 1992. Shihan Tomiyama visited India for the first time in 1993.
In 1992 Karl Skrabl, previously training in Slovenia, moved to work in Switzerland and started a group there.
Good contact was maintained with Mr. & Mrs. Inagaki from 1981 onwards, including many group visits to their home town of Izushi, and in 1994 they received permission from Master Tani and Sensei Takahara to leave Sensei Takahara’s Seikenkan group to become independent as Nippon Kofukan (Kofukan Japan).
In 1992, Master Tani awarded a “Shihan” diploma to Keiji Tomiyama at the Kofukan 20th Anniversary celebration.
Master Tani held the Anniversary Championships and celebration event in Kobe in 1994. Both Senseis Omi and Tomiyama attended this remarkable event and were both awarded 7th Dan. Sensei Omi received his “Shihan” diploma on this occasion.
In more recent years we have been joined by Argentina, Belarus, Canada, Kuwait, Nepal and Qatar.
So Kofukan has certainly grown as an organization since it was created. We consider it a remarkable achievement to gain so many new member countries without ever offering any incentive such as giving away new grades. All our members, both old ones and new ones, are serious and honourable people who are dedicated to following and continuing the style while still being creative about how they communicate the message to their members. We are proud of their continuing progress and achievements.
The modern Kofukan structure
Although Senseis Omi and Tomiyama became the practical leaders of the Kofukan organization after Sensei Suzuki’s return to Japan in 1981, the structure of the organization was unchanged. Keiji Tomiyama remained as General Secretary and Sensei Suzuki remained as the Chief Instructor despite the fact that he stopped practising and teaching due to his busy schedule.
- Honorary Chairman: Sensei Yoshimichi Shimizu
- Adviser: Sensei Yasuhiro Suzuki
- President: Keiji Tomiyama
- Chief Executive: Naoki Omi
- Joint Chief Instructors: Keiji Tomiyama & Naoki Omi
- Secretary: Sally Tomiyama
- Chief Referee: Steve Coupland (England)
Since that time, Master Chojiro Tani has sadly died, and the position of Soke of Tani-ha Shito-ryu Kempo Karate-do Shukokai has been taken up by his son, Chojiro Tani II. We continued to have a good and productive relationship with his Shukokai organization from that time.
However, from November 6, 2017, Kofukan International has withdrawn from Tani-ha Shito-ryu Kempo Karate-do Shukokai to further develop our own unique organization around the world.
Kofukan 50th Anniversary
In 2022 we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the origins of Kofukan International.
“To commemorate the occasion and to express our gratitude for their loyalty and service to our organization over so many years, we have decided to award our eligible senior members new Dan grades, Shihan Diplomas and Shōgō titles,” said Shihan Tomiyama.
Kofukan has been operating in Australia for over 30 years under the guidance of several 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th dan black belts, with instructors receiving training from Shihan Keiji Tomiyama during his (almost) annual visits to Australia.