Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Mitsusuke Harada, one of the few remaining karate-ka who trained under Funakoshi Sensei, gives a fascinating insight into karate history.
When a young boy aged 15 entered the Shotokan dojo in Zoshigaya, Toshima Ward, Tokyo 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 of 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 fathers 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.
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. 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.
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).
Harada Sensei's 5th Dan Diploma awarded to him by Funakoshi O-Sensei himself
It was in 1965 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.
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.
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-80’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!
In the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2007, Harada Sensei received an MBE for services to karate.