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October 10, 1928 - November 7, 2008
Hidetaka Nishiyama was a great Japanese martial arts master, instructor, author, administrator and pioneer. A student of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Ryu, Nishiyama is considered one of the great masters of the style.
Born in Tokyo, Japan Nishiyama 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 the 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 Masatoshi Nakayama, and Isao Obata.
In 1960 he published his first book: Karate: The Art of 'Empty-Hand' Fighting which he co-wrote with Richard C. Brown. 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 and in November of the same year, Nishiyama organised under the control of the AAKF the first National Karate Championship in Los Angeles, California where he also established his dojo. Since then, Nishiyama was a major force in the propagation of the Shotokan style of karate in the U.S. and abroad.
In 1965, Nishiyama organised 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, Nishiyama organised 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 organisation and to hold its first World Championship in Tokyo.
In 1970, during a reorganisation of the AAKF as the traditional karate governing body, the JKA Karate group separated and became the JKA-US, part of the AAKF. 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 organisation. 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.
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 trained a host of international and national instructors, national champions and celebrities.
Before his death in 2008, Nishiyama taught at the Central Dojo in Los Angeles, and often taught seminars and courses around the U.S. and abroad. He also produced new texts and manuals, as well as instruction video recordings concerning traditional karate.
In honor of his 71st birthday, Nishiyama was presented with an American flag which had been flown on October 10, 1999 over the Capitol in Washington, D.C.. The special flag was given to him in recognition of his decades of effort on behalf of Traditional Karate. This flag was intended to acknowledge his contribution towards the physical and psychological health of Americans through martial arts.
On November 3, 2000, the Emperor of Japan awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette to him in a ceremony on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
On the occasion of the first Traditional Karate World Cup in 2001, the Republic of Poland honored Nishiyama with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, which was presented by the nation’s President, Aleksander Kwadniewski.
And in May 2000, 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.
On November 1, 2003, he was awarded his Judan, or tenth degree black belt, the highest rank available in Shotokan karate.
Nishiyama sensei died on November 7th, 2008 in Los Angeles.