The chronological lineage of the Karate-do of the Yoshinkan Dojo.

Sakugawa Kanga

The techniques and spirit of Yoshinkan Karate-do can be traced back 250 years to the great Okinawan master Sakugawa Kanga (1733-1815), also known as Sakugawa Tode or Sakugawa Satsunushi. Sakugawa became famous for his heroic exploits as the head of security for a prominent commercial shipping firm. He studied fighting traditions in Fuzhou, Beijing, and Satsuma, and was recognized for his incredible physical prowess and indomitable spirit. He had a profound impact on the growth and direction of the self defense disciplines that were fostered in and around Shuri, one of the major centers of karate development in Okinawa. In addition to learning Chinese Kempo and Japanese bo fighting techniques abroad, Sakugawa studied under Kusanku, a Chinese military attaché stationed in Okinawa, from which we have the advanced kata called kusanku which survives to this day.

Matsumura Soukon

One of the most famous students of Sakugawa was Matsumura Soukon (1796-1893), also known as Matsumura Bushi. Standing over six feet and “possessed of a mesmerizing gaze”, Matsumura became known as the “Miyamoto Musashi” of the Ryukyu Islands. He began his training in Chinese-based karate as a young boy under the watchful eye of Kusanku in Okinawa. He was also an expert in Te and served as chief of the military and as court retainer for three consecutive kings of Okinawa. In addition, Matsumura traveled to Satsuma and received his menkyo (teaching certificate) in Jigen-ryu kenjutsu (swordfighting). In many ways, Matsumura is considered the great grandfather of the karate movement that surfaced in and around Shuri. He successfully synthesized the teaching principles of Jigen-ryu kenjutsu with Chinese-influenced systems (ie. Tode, later known as karate) and native Okinawan fighting traditions (i.e. Te) he had also studied. By doing so, Matsumura established the cornerstone upon which an eclectic self defense tradition began to flourish in Okinawa. After retiring from government service, Matsumura was one of the very first to begin publicly teaching self defense principles in Shuri, and some of his more famous disciples include Itosu Anko, Funakoshi Gichin (founder of Shotokan),and Kyan Chotoku. Matusmura’s style, which became known as Shuri-te (Shuri hand), was based upon the fighting traditions of Okinawa, China, and Japan, and through Itosu Anko was to have a profound influence on the development of Yoshinkan Karate-do.

Itosu Ankou

Itosu Ankou (1832-1915) began his martial arts training under Matsumura Soukon. Although only of average height, Itosu had a barrel chest, a body like granite, and extraordinary arm strength. Famed for his balanced temper even when faced with an unprovoked attack, he would let the blows bounce harmlessly off his body before calmly bringing the attacker to his knees by merely seizing his wrist. Itosu was a nobleman who had been an important official in the Okinawan government. He retired in 1885 and taught karate to a few select students in his home. Itosu revolutionized karate by leading a campaign to introduce the art to the island’s school system as a form of physical exercise. He was the first to teach in a public school, a significant step in the evolution of the discipline since karate was now available to the general public for the first time. He was the creator of the pin’an (peaceful mind) kata series, called heian in Japanese. Itosu had many famous students, many who were to go on to become karate leaders in their own right. From Itosu’s inspiration, the growth of karate was to blossom and spread first to Japan, then all over the world. Itosu Anko was the principal mentor of Toyama Kanken, the teacher of Takahashi Eishu HanshiH (the late headmaster of Yoshinkan Karate-do in Japan).

Higaonna Kanryo

Toyama Kanken’s second great teacher was Higaonna Kanryo (1853- 1916), a contemporary of Itosu from Naha city in Okinawa. Higaonna, also pronounced Higashionna, was another legend in the world of karate. Just as Itosu’s style of karate proliferated and became known as Shuri-te, Higaonna’s style became prominent in Naha city and was known as Naha-te. Higaonna was first introduced to the fighting traditions under the tutelage of Aragaki Seisho, and traveled to Fuzhou in 1873 to learn the central elements of several styles of Chinese Kempo for 10 years. Higaonna trained with various implements such as weights and iron clogs while in China, which he brought back to Okinawa with him, and became known for his tremendous strength from training in the kata Sanchin. He possessed great skill from his rigorous training in China, and after a brief demonstration for King Sho Tei he became the martial arts instructor for the Royal Family in Okinawa. Higaonna used to say to his students, “In karate training, as well as in life, when something blocks your path, step aside and move around it”. This reflected the style of karate he practiced, characterized by circular blocks and evasive maneuvers. Higaonna taught karate at his home and devoted his life to the development of Naha-te. A Confucian scholar, Higaonna also counselled the younger generation in his own martial arts philosophy. He believed that “those who learn the great art of karate should help others, never seek trouble, and refrain from fighting”.

Toyama Kanken

Toyama Kanken, Takahashi Eishu’s principle mentor, was born in Shuri city, Okinawa on September 24, 1888. Toyama began his formal training with Master Itarashiki in 1897 at the age of 9, and later apprenticed himself to Anko Itosu with whom he studied for 18 years. As noted already, Itosu was one of the most influential teachers of karate in Okinawan history. He had many famous students, but Toyama distinguished himself by becoming one of only two disciples of Itosu to be granted the title “Shihanshi”, or protégé, of Itosu’s “okugi” (innermost secrets). The other was Funakoshi Gichin, often called the “Father of Japanese karate”. Itosu was Toyama’s primary instructor and inspirational guide, and he appointed Toyama as his assistant at the Shuri Dojo in 1907. Shuri city was one of the three major centers in Okinawa where karate blossomed, the other two being Naha city and Tomari city. To broaden his repertoire of combative techniques and further deepen his understanding of martial arts, Toyama also studied under other masters, a “who’s who” of some of the most accomplished teachers of Budo in Okinawa at the time:

Chibana Choushin (1887-1969) – a Ryukyu Kobudo (Okinawa weapons) master

Oshiro Chodo (1887-1935) – a Kobudo expert and one of the most famous Yamani-ryu (Yamani school) bo experts of all times

Yabu Kentsuu (1863-1937) – one of the first to instruct martial arts in the Okinawan school system, he was also the first Karate-do master to teach in the United States (Hawaii in 1927); he was known to have never been defeated, and in turn, never really hurt anybody

Higaonna Kanryo (as per previous paragraph)

Azato Anko (1827-1906) – a principle disciple of Matusmura Soukon

Arakaki Seisho (1840-1920) – a well known master who studied Chinese Kenpo under Ryuru Ko and Wai Xinxian

Following his apprenticeship in Karate-do and Kobudo in Okinawa, Toyama moved to Taiwan where he taught elementary school from 1924 to 1930. There he refined even further his martial skills and knowledge of combat while training with notable masters of Chinese Kenpo. He studied a variety of both internal and external styles of Chinese martial arts, including Hakutsuru Ken (White Crane Style) and Tai Chi Chuan. His main teachers of Kenpo during this period were Chen Feji and Lee Xian Fang.

On March 20, 1930, Toyama traveled to the Japanese mainland and opened his first dojo, called Shudokan, or “The hall for the study of the Way”. Shudokan karate is a composite system, encompassing kobudo – bo (6 foot staff) and sai (a short-forked metal truncheon) – and the empty-hand techniques of internal and external styles of karate and kenpo. Along with Mabuni Kenwa (founder of the Shito-ryu style) and Funakoshi Gichin (founder of the Shotokan style), Toyama was one of the early Okinawan pioneers to spearhead the introduction of the martial discipline of Karate-do to the Japanese mainland.

In 1946, Toyama founded the All Japan Karate-do Foundation (AJKF), or “Zen Nippon Karate-do Renmei Sohonbu” in Japanese. By establishing this organization, Toyama’s intention was to unify the karate styles of Okinawa and Japan into one governing organization to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and techniques. The federation became an authority for promotions and rank certifications, since Toyama was given the rank of “Dai Shihan” (master instructor) by the governor of Okinawa, Koshin Shikioku. In this way, Toyama was authorized to promote to any rank in any style of Okinawan karate, and he certified qualified candidates to ranks as high as judan (tenth degree), the highest possible level. The Shudokan Dojo thus became a major training center for senior students of Karate-do from all over Japan and Okinawa who came for advanced instruction and testing. Many high-ranking Yudansha (black belts) were produced from the Shudokan Dojo. They eventually dispersed to various places and developed their own organizations and styles, spreading Karate-do around the globe. At a conservative estimate, there are more than 20,000 practitioners of Karate-do worldwide whose styles have their root in Shudokan.

Toyama’s system of combat is characterized by large circular movements as well as penetrating linear strikes. The stances are narrow but fairly deep, making the student stable yet extremely mobile. The movements in the kata tend to be quite large, perhaps due to the weapons training of the bo and the sai. The influence of Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te is evident as kata from all three systems are included in the curriculum, although the techniques and fighting style of Shuri-te are by far the most prominent in Shudokan. After opening his dojo in Tokyo, Toyama also became very well known for the “aku ryoku” (strong gripping) methods of Itosu and Itarashiki.

Toyama considered Shudokan to be more of a place for training than a particular style, and in 1966 he died without naming a successor. Many of his senior students established their own styles: Hanaue Toshi maintained the original Shudokan; Ichikawa Iso founded the Doshinkan Ryu (The Heart of the Way style) in 1969; Onishi Eizo established the Koeikan in 1952; Koyasu Michio founded the Soryu in 1967; and Takahashi Eishu started the Yoshinkan Dojo in Tochigi, Japan in 1974, just to name a few. Only two of Toyama’s students, Ichikawa Iso and Takahashi Eishu Hanshi, maintained the values of classical martial arts by not introducing competitions or tournaments. They preserved the strong spirit and traditions of Budo in their dojo, as did their teacher before them. Toyama was of the opinion that freestyle sparring and competitions are like “cat fights”, and a sign prominently displayed in his dojo loudly proclaimed this belief: “NO FREE STYLE SPARRING PERMITTED”

Takahashi Eishu

Takahashi Eishu Hanshi was born on March 2, 1940 in Miyagi prefecture, Japan. He embarked on his martial arts career in 1958 by training under the auspices of Hirashima Kunio Shihan. Takahashi took to the martial arts like a fish to water. Although relatively small in stature, his movements were crisp and precise, and he had an uncanny way of blasting through his opponent’s defenses with devastating power.

Hirashima Shihan introduced Takahashi to the Shudokan style in 1959. Toyama Sensei was 71 years of age when Takahashi humbly went to his dojo located in Meguro-ku, Tokyo, to seek out the famous master. He was not disappointed. He met a man who appeared kind and amiable on the outside, yet demonstrated tremendous dignity and without a doubt commanded respect. Toyama Sensei told the young Karate-ka (practitioner of karate) that it’s fine to come to the dojo just once a week, but it is imperative to practice the rest of the time by himself. This stuck in Takahashi’s mind for many years, a question mark that would not go away. What did the great Sensei mean? Didn’t a Karate-ka need to train vigorously in the dojo everyday to gain mastery? Many years later, as a master of Karate-do himself, Takahashi finally came to the understanding that the path to Budo is not found outside oneself. The true path – the “Way” – is a journey towards self-mastery that can only be found within. Takahashi Hanshi’s journey started in 1958 and continues to this day. It is a path with no end, a ceaseless struggle to perfect the self and develop one’s human potential to the highest degree.

Training in Shudokan Karate-do at the time was conducted at the Hatoyama Yochien, a kindergarten that was owned by the wife of a former prime minister of Japan. During the daytime Toyama Sensei’s job was to manage the kindergarten, and the building became a haven for small children exploring the wonders of life. From 3:00 to 9:30 pm however, the sound of children’s laughter was replaced by the kiai and commands of vigorous karate training. Takahashi quickly discovered that the Sensei expected all of his students to adhere to the strict etiquette and manners of traditional Budo. Upon entering the dojo, students immediately went to Sensei’s room and greeted him politely. Takahashi noticed that Toyama Sensei always had a warm expression on his face, and he never saw him angry. But woe to any students who forgot their manners, or who broke any of the rules of the dojo. Displaying proper respect to others and having good manners was so important to Sensei that sometimes students were expelled for merely breaching dojo etiquette. While practicing in the dojo, Takahashi would often hear Toyama Sensei playing the Shamisen, a musical instrument. The Sensei’s professional specialty, in fact, was teaching music, and he regularly published articles on music and other subjects in a magazine called “Okinawa”. And even though Toyama was somewhat of a musical genius in addition to being a martial arts master, he never bragged about these things. When Toyama wasn’t playing the Shamisen, Takahashi noticed that he was always tapping his fingers. When considering the Sensei’s famous “aku ryoku” (gripping strength), Takahashi once thought it was from this incessant tapping. But he later came to realize that Toyama Sensei underwent austere training in Taiwan in Chinese Kenpo, and his aku ryoku came from the continuous strengthening of his ki (vital energy). This, then, was the reason for the painful “tap” on Takahashi’s arm when Sensei demonstrated a blocking technique on him!

Takahashi trained intensively with Toyama Sensei until he became a Shihan (Senior Instructor) in 1966, the year of Toyama’s death. Since Toyama did not name a successor to Shudokan before he died, the senior students eventually went their own way. In 1972, Takahashi founded the Kushinkan Dojo in Tokyo, and taught there until 1974 when he moved to Oyama city in Tochigi prefecture to establish the Yoshinkan Dojo.

In 1986, Takahashi diversified his martial arts training to include Kiko (Chi Kung), an ancient Chinese method of strengthening ki and increasing the vital energy of the body. At this time, he learned chiefly from Chen Zai Wun. In 1987, he started studying the internal martial art of Tai Kyoku Ken (Tai Chi Chuan) under the guidance of Lee De Fan. Takahashi then trained with Hoshino Sensei, and is currently learning the Chen style of Tai Chi from Feng Zhuqiang. Takahashi has been to mainland China multiple times to undergo intensive training in internal martial arts with masters there.

At the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo in Japan, Takahashi carried on the tradition of his teacher, Toyama Sensei, until his untimely death from pancreatic cancer on November 13, 2011. He taught empty-hand and weapons techniques in conjunction with the spirit and philosophy of Budo to both adults and children on a full time basis. Takahashi was also actively involved in teaching Tai Kyoku Ken and Kiko at several locations around Oyama city, and was much sought after for his invigorating internal energy sessions. Over the years, he incorporated internal energy power training into the techniques and philosophy of the Yoshinkan Dojo, a synthesis which resulted in Takahashi Hanshi’s techniques becoming more relaxed and fluid, and subsequently much more powerful.

Takahashi, who was also a master calligrapher in his own right, was promoted to kyuu dan (ninth degree black belt) in the 1990’s. He continued to train everyday until he passed away. Takahashi’s calling as a teacher of Budo was distinct in that for him Karate-do was not merely a hobby but a full-time career. In order to perfect his mind, body and spirit, Takahashi Hanshi had devoted his whole life to his art – a way of life called Karate-do.

Stephen Whiffen

Stephen Whiffen’s first experience with the martial arts was in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1983. As an eighteen year old he joined the Scarlet Dragon Society, a Kung Fu school established by Sifu Bill Scott. Upon joining the Scarlet Dragon Society, Whiffen trained almost daily, and in less than three years he was promoted to the rank of 1st degree black belt by Ron Day, Sifu Scott’s mentor who is based in Kitchener, Ontario. Whiffen continued to train in Kung Fu, competing in tournaments and sharing the teaching responsibilities in the club. Despite dedicated training for five years, he sensed something was lacking in his martial arts development. After graduating from university with a Bachelor of Physical Education in 1988, Whiffen’s quest for a true master to show him the “Way” brought him to Japan. By chance, he ended up in Oyama city. With a population of 150,000, relatively small by Japanese standards, Oyama is the home of the Honbu Dojo for Yoshinkan Karate-do. Whiffen was introduced to Takahashi Hanshi in November of 1988, and after observing a class instantly knew that this was what he had been searching for. He joined up immediately.

On May 20, 1989, Whiffen was promoted to the rank of shodan (first degree black belt) by Takahashi Hanshi, and on February 20, 1991 he received his nidan (second degree). Whiffen returned to his hometown of St. John’s that year and established the Yoshinkan School of karate, teaching there three times a week until he completed his masters degree in business in 1993. Upon returning to Japan soon after, he underwent further intensive training with Takahashi Hanshi, and on September 20 of that year, was promoted to the rank of sandan (third degree). Whiffen returned to Canada to settle down in 1994, but went back to Japan in 1997 to spend another year of training at the Honbu dojo. Whiffen was introduced to the internal energy arts of chi kung and tai chi chuan at that time by Takahashi Hanshi. After returning to B.C. in 1998, Whiffen was asked by Takahanshi Hanshi to disseminate the Yoshinkan style of budo to the Canadian public. On June 3, 1999 Whiffen officially opened the Yoshinkan Karate-do Canada Dojo in the basement of his residence, the only dojo of this style outside Japan. Classes are now also taught at the Fleetwood Community Center twice a week, and specialized instruction is given at the Cloverdale dojo once a week. Whiffen was promoted to yondan (fourth degree) on March 28, 2001 during Hanshi Takahashi’s first visit to B.C., and he was given the title of Renshi (instructor) on June 12, 2004. Whiffen was promoted to godan (fifth degree) on April 16, 2007, and received the title of Shihan on November 1, 2010.

Whiffen’s philosophy towards martial arts is similar to his teacher’s – the karate-do practised at the Yoshinkan Dojo is not considered to be a sport or self defense, it is a form of budo in its purest sense. The end goal of training is not to win or triumph over another, it is only to polish oneself, to gain a deeper understanding of the mysteries of life and to strive to attain “self perfection”. Budo is not about winning or losing, not about stroking the ego with trophies or victories. It’s about living life to the fullest, about polishing one’s heart and spirit to be the best person one can be, to remain true to oneself in spite of adversity and difficulty, to gain a deeper understanding of the self and the universe through austere training and commitment. Training in karate-do has to encompass the “do”, the Way – everything we learn in the dojo applies to life. Indeed, the “do” is life itself, the ultimate aim of our training to be spiritual growth, to reach our full potential as human beings and attain a presence of body and mind that will be an inspiration for those around us. It is a lifelong commitment that goes beyond the self, that touches everything we say and do in its depth and breadth.