Keiji Tomiyama

Sensei Keiji Tomiyama 7th Dan is one of the most senior Shito-Ryu Instructors in Europe. He has been teaching at Kazoku Kai Clubs for over 15 years. Sensei Derek Ridgway considers Sensei Tomiyama one of the finest Karate-Ka he has trained under and he has the greatest influence on the Karate Derek now teaches.


D.R: So Sensei when did you first start Karate?

K.T: I first started training at high school, originally my cousin taught me.

D.R: Was that in the Shito style?

K.T: Yes, well before that I did some boxing and I had a fight with my cousin and he beat me so I decided to take up Karate and that’s how I started.

D.R: So after that you went to university, which university was that?

K.T: Doshisha university which is where I continued my training.

D.R: Was that the same style of karate?

K.T: No originally it was Goju but it later changed to Tani-ha Shito-Ryu.

D.R: Who were your instructors at that time?

K.T: First instructor was Mr Una and Mr Tani also.

D.R : I know that Doshisha university is a very old university dojo. Can you tell us anything about it?

K.T: It is one of the oldest in Japan and was originally a Goju dojo.

D.R: So how old is the dojo there?

K.T: It dates back to the original Goju in Japan its first instructor was Chojun Miyagi.

D.R: So where is the link with Shito-Ryu did Kenwa Mabuni teach there also?

K.T: Well as I said Chojun Miyagi would come and teach at the university but he was only visiting Japan he did not live there permanently so he suggested that his friend Kenwa Mabuni who had recently arrived in Japan should continue to instruct in his absence. Kenwa Mabuni only taught Goju at the dojo as was the tradition started by Chojun Miyagi.

D.R: After university you moved to Europe. When was that?

K.T: In 1972 I went to Paris where I stayed for nearly two years, then in 1974 I moved to Brussels. Finally I moved to England in 1978.

D.R: At that time you were doing what we would know as Shukokai?

K.T: Yes our organisation was called The Shukokai World Karate Union.

D.R: Your style seems different to what we would associate with Shukokai in this country?

K.T: Yes we study more of Mr Tani’s original teaching hence Tani-ha Shito-Ryu.

D.R: Can you tell us about Kofukan?

K.T: When I came Mr Suzuki was chief instructor for Europe (not to be confused with the Wado instructor of the same name) so we were working under him. Then he went back to Japan and his dojo in Japan was called Kofukan so that is how we came upon the name. There are so many breakaway Shukokai groups we wanted to make sure that we kept our authentic identity so we called ourselves Kofukan.

D.R: What does Kofukan mean?

K.T: Ko is the Tiger, Fu is the wind and Kan as you know means group or organisation. Originally Chinese legend said that king of the sky is the dragon and king of the land is the tiger and when the tiger appears the wind blows, and when the dragon appears so do the clouds. this is a common oriental legend.

D.R: what was Mr Tani like to train with?

K.T: It was very enjoyable, he was a good teacher.

D.R: Did he ever talk of the times he trained with Mr Mabuni?

K.T: Yes, but not too much. He would sometimes mention his times with Mr Mabuni and of course Mr Miyagi.

D.R: Did he say what training was like in those days?

K.T: He did not speak too much about training, but as you know I have other instructors and they do tell me things and I learn more from them about the days with Kenwa Mabuni.

D.R: how did your relationship with Mr Fujimoto begin, because I know he is also a big influence on your Karate?

K.T: Initially at university, as I said Doshisha university is the birthplace of Goju in Japan and Mr Fujimoto graduated at that university as did Mr Tani. So his history at the university Karate club goes back a long way.

D.R: Mr Fujimoto studies the Uechi style of karate. Who were his instructors?

K.T: His instructor is Mr Sakihama he is still alive, although now very old.

D.R: What was Mr Sakihama like to train with when he was younger. I have heard his training was very hard?

K.T: Yes he was very hard before, but now he is much softer, my instructor still learns from him although Mr Sakihama is now around 90 years old.

D.R: Does Mr Fujimoto ever talk about when he started karate all those years ago?

K.T: Well when he started it was as I said at university so the main training was free fighting. Then after training at university they would go to Kenwa Mabuni’s dojo it was there that he taught them kata and Bunkai. This would only be Naha-Te Karate which is what he taught at Doshisha university because he considered that he was looking after the club for Chojun Miyagi.

D.R: Does the Goju taught there still use the posture of rolling and appearing to unhook the shoulder like the Uechi stylists do on Okinawa.

K.T: Yes that is correct, it is different from mainstream Goju. We call it the Kotsukake principle, it is still taught to Goju students there and is the principle taught by Mr Fujimoto. (This leads us to assume that Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni must have taught these principles although it is not now found in mainstream Goju or Shito)

D.R : Has Karate changed much since you started?

K.T: Well when I started, competition was becoming very big especially of course in university, now competition is more sports type; much more mobile. So in a way the sports side has progressed I suppose. But on the other hand it is progress in the wrong direction we must not neglect Traditional training.

D.R: Moving onto the subject of Kata there are lots in Shito-Ryu.

K.T: Yes we practice well over 50.

D.R: Why do you need so many?

K.T: Well blame Kenwa Mabuni, he was so hungry for knowledge he would train with many people and collected many kata. His approach was open minded to knowledge so his students have the same approach and if we have the chance to learn kata which are interesting we do so and add them to the system.

D.R: Do you have any particular favourite kata which you personally like?

K.T: Yes and no. All kata have merit, but if you want me to go for a personal favourite I like to practice the kata taught by Mr Fujimoto namely Higoanna Seisan and Sanrinryu. But I like to practice all kata.

D.R: Mr Fujimoto’s kata are Uechi type kata?

K.T: Yes, but if you see the main Uechi style people they are a little different to the way Mr Fujimoto does them. His kata have a different lineage, from Mr Sakihama. He put his stamp or seal on the kata and Mr Fujimoto has also put his own stamp on the kata. I don’t mean that they changed the Kata, that is still the same, but they changed how you do it, the feel of the kata. On the whole the kata has been made much softer.

D.R: Recently you have had the chance to learn kata from the Ryuei-Ryu style of karate as popularised by the many times world kata champion Mr Sakumoto.

K.T: Yes that is correct, Mr Sakumoto is very good and has been world champion. The rules for kata competition state that you must perform kata of the four main styles only. Shito-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, Goju, and Shotokan. Anyway Mr Sakumoto’s style is not of the main four and Shito-Ryu is very broad in its kata syllabus so it was decided that Ryuei-Ryu kata should be added to the Shito-Ryu list for competition kata. So if they are on the list I have to learn them. On the other hand as I said we in Shito are open minded and the Ryuei-Ryu kata are very nice so we have no problem in adding them to the system just like Mr Mabuni did with kata in the past.

D.R: So you have actually learned them from Mr Sakimoto?

K.T: Yes we learned four kata namely Anan, Heiku, Paiku, and Paichu.

D.R: Do you know any history on these kata, are they very old?

K.T: I think they are old, history says that Higoanna Kanryo went to China with Nakaima, who is the founder of the Ryuei-Ryu system, and trained with a teacher called Ruruko. He also went to China and trained with the same man Ruruko. So they both were supposed to have trained with the same man although as we know the kata they learned are different so I don’t know.

D.R: What are your hopes for the future.

K.T: I would like to achieve a very high level, I am very lucky to have been able to train with such good instructors as Mr Tani and Mr Fujimoto, I feel that I am still learning and trying to improve. All martial arts go from hardness and ultimately end with softness, so the top level is pure soft but if you learn pure soft from the beginning you never get it. You must learn hard first and eventually progress to softness which is ultimately the strongest. Most Karate people including myself are still too hard, I believe. When I go to Japan Mr Fujimoto tells me that I am still too stiff, but that is the path that I wish to follow towards true softness and if I can instruct people along that path I will be happy. I also wish to give the best to my members to give them a good standard so that they can improve. Competition gives students a determination and strength of mind and also it can promote friendship which is important.

D.R: Karate as a whole in the future how do you see it?

K.T: Sport is good but we must be careful if we go too much for the sport it can be detrimental to the traditional side, but if you do too much on the traditional side maybe the popularity of Karate will fall and you will not have many training. So you have to find the middle ground between the two that, I believe, is the way forward.

D.R: Sensei Tomiyama thank you very much.

K.T: Thank you.

I would like to thank Sensei Tomiyama for his time and patience in granting me this interview, and to wish him his family and all his members all the best for the future.

Derek Ridgway


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