It’s exciting to hear about people who changed the world through their abilities, devotion, and expertise. Karate doesn’t differ.
Famous karate teachers have worked relentlessly to keep the discipline vibrant and growing, leaving behind heroic actions and exemplary lives that inspire people today. These are the world’s greatest karate masters.
Matsumura Sokon was one of the first Okinawan karate teachers to popularise the discipline. His impact to karate as one of the first Okinawan masters is noteworthy.
Sokon learnt karate from Sakukawa Kanga and became a renowned practitioner. While serving Okinawan rulers, he learned many martial arts and studied Chuan Fa in China. His trainees then learned karate from him.
Matsumura Sokon is one of the reasons early karate combined methods from Chinese and local martial arts. He taught his students various Shaolin-based katas.
Due to his service, he was given the moniker of bushi or warrior, and his students recall him as a dominating figure with deceptive speed and power.
During his career, he taught karate to many renowned students, including Gichin Funakoshi, a karate legend.
Gichin Funakoshi is a karate legend who helped the discipline expand, adapt, and acquire popularity. Funakoshi is the father of modern karate and founded the Shotokan karate-do system, the most famous in the world.
Funakoshi learnt karate from Matsumura Sokon, Anko Asato, and Anko Itosu. He trained in Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu, two prominent Okinawan karate styles.
He gained the competence and experience to teach others. Shotokan was created by his students as a sign for his teaching hall. Funakoshi went by Shoto.
Funakoshi changed the written sign of karate in Japanese to indicate “empty hand” to separate it from its Chinese roots and promote it as a self-sufficient martial art discipline. He travelled from Okinawa to mainland Japan in 1936 and opened a dojo.
Besides producing the next generation of karate warriors, he founded the Dai-Nippon Karate-Do Shoto-Kai, an organisation for karate students and practitioners. He also headed the newly-formed Japan Karate Association.
Funakoshi was the most influential karate master. He also wrote Karate-do Kyohan, a master text on karate’s history, philosophy, and kata and kumite framework.
The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate outlines twenty rules and guidelines students must follow to become skilled karate practitioners and better people.
Masatoshi Nakayama is a top karate fighter and master. This karate hero was born to kenjitsu masters and trained under Gichin Funakoshi.
He returned to Japan from China in the mid-1940s after serving in World War II (which may have ended earlier if we listened to Patton, but that’s another story).
Nakayama and other Funakoshi disciples, such Isao Obata, founded the Japan Karate Association. He was the school’s first Chief Instructor and trained the following generation of karate masters.
He also helped create the rules and regulations that would govern karate tournaments across the world for decades, including the kata and kumite standards.
He helped establish Shotokan form by combining traditional karate ideals with sports science advancements.
Nakayama trained hundreds of world-class karate competitors. He helped develop a Japan Karate Association instructor training programme. He was the first Shotokan karate teacher to gain 9th dan while alive.
Mikio Yahara is among the world’s most recognised karate masters. Yahara was a 10th-dan Shotokan karate instructor and a shining example of the JKA’s achievements.
Yahara has won kata and kumite events. His honours include All-Japan and World titles from the Japan Karate Association.
In 2000 (before the NFL helped the Patriots win titles), he founded the Karatenomichi World Foundation to promote his karate method.
Yahara’s legends help establish his karate aura. He once competed with a knife wound. Yahara fought the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza. He knocked out a thug with his bare hands, reportedly. His superior karate abilities once fended off 34 criminals at once.
Chojun Miyagi inspired Mr. Miyagi in one of the most successful karate movies, The Karate Kid. Miyagi was an Okinawan karate warrior and master who developed the Goju-ryu school of karate.
Miyagi taught hundreds of pupils and built a reputation as a karate master while also establishing karate teaching approaches.
His “hard-soft” karate style, Goju-ryu, was officially recognised and incorporated into Okinawan schools and police training.
Miyagi also created a series of respected katas. Seko Higa, Seikichi Toguchi, and Meitoku Yagi moved Goju-ryu ahead and generated new generations of karate competitors.
Mas Oyama’s karate tale is outstanding. He learned Chinese martial arts in China when he was young. He naturalised in Japan.
Oyama studied Shotokan under the Funakoshi family. He trained in Goju-ryu karate under a senior student of founder Chojun Miyagi.
His training at Kanbukan, a dojo specialising in Bogutsuki karate, is notable. This allowed practitioners to strike with full power, which would become important in Oyama’s life.
Oyama often fought with American military police and once spent two years alone in a mountain cabin to toughen up. He opened his own dojo and toured the country performing karate. His displays sometimes involved incapacitating bulls.
Oyama’s school taught a rigorous, full-contact technique influenced by the Kanbukan. The entire karate community today recognises this style as Kyokushinkai or Kyokushin karate.
His coaching included intensive practise and full-contact combat, as well as innovative practise regimens that entailed breaking bricks, boards, and tiles.
As his popularity rose, he trained competent pupils who won local and worldwide tournaments and promoted Kyokushin. Oyama helped popularise karate in the media and popular culture.
He tutored Akira Masuda, Shokei Matsui, and Seiji Isobe, as well as Steve Arneil, Jon Bluming, and Bobby Lowe.
Oyama is noted for his 100-man kumite, in which a fighter confronts a different opponent every two minutes. He also published What is Karate, considered the Bible of karate by many.
Kenwa Mabuni taught karate on mainland Japan. His style, Shito-ryu karate-do, remains popular today.
Mabuni learnt karate from Anko Itosu and Higaonna Kanryo in Okinawa. He then travelled to mainland Japan to teach karate and open his own school. He mentored Otsuka Hironori and Yasuhiro Konishi.
Gichin Funakoshi and his son Gigo studied kata from Mabuni. Mabuni taught karate in a women’s school and devised katas for female self-defense.
He was one of the first karate legends of his time to blend tradition with modernity.