Nishiyama Hidetaka Sensei

Sensei Nishiyama Hidetaka  - 1928-Born Tokyo, Japan,  2008-Died – Los Angeles, CA, USA

On a personal note, many times in my (BMW)  presence Nishiyama Sensei would politely correct those around him to only call him either Nishiyama or to “Please only call me ‘Sensei’” when others would call him Master or O’Sensei.  This is why I call him “Sensei”.

Nishiyama Hidetaka is considered to be one of the great masters and pioneers of Japanese Traditional Karate. He began his study in 1943 at the age of fifteen, with Master Gichin Funakoshi, the man who introduced Okinawan karate to Japan. At that time, karate was not yet popular. Other martial arts, such as judo and kendo were taught as compulsory classes in Japanese middle schools, similar to American phys-ed classes. After a difficult search he found Master Funakoshi and his karate dojo in Tokyo. He continued his study from Funakoshi after he went to college.

In the late 1940′s and early 1950′s the American Strategic Air Command (SAC) special forces began combat training in judo, aikido and karate. In a recent interview, Nishiyama sensei related some of the events of that time period.

“We were invited to the American bases to instruct… I was the youngest. Every time we went to the bases we were expected to give demonstrations. These were very tough, I had to break many boards so pretty soon my hands and forearms were in a bad state. This happened 3 or 4 times a day. Eventually I couldn’t move my arms.” According to a student of Nishiyama sensei, “…many times the American instructors would present Mr. Nishiyama with very thick boards that had been soaked in water. Mr Nishiyama never failed to break these boards and never once asked his seniors to break them for him.” Although this was a difficult time for Nishiyama sensei and his fellow karate enthusiasts, it helped him realize that karate could be spread internationally. They were subsequently invited to the United States in 1953 to tour every SAC base in the U.S. and Cuba.

Nishiyama sensei was also one of the original founders of the Japan Karate Association, and until after his death was still a senior technical advisor to the JKA, and listed as such on it’s publications and website(s). Many of the JKA and later the ITKF seniors studied under or with him in one form or fashion (Examples: Enoeda, Shirai, Jorga, Dalke, Smith, Graves, Smaby, Jorgensen, Gomez, etc.). In 1960 he published “Karate: The Art of Empty Hand Fighting”. It is still considered a definitive text on the subject and one of the best selling karate books in history. In 1961 he moved to the United States and founded the All American Karate Federation (AAKF). In 1978, the AAKF completely restructured its organization and changed the name to the American Amateur Karate Federation. In 2013 after Nishiyama sensei’s death(2008)  the AAKF left Nishiyama’s international group – lead by Mahmoud Tabassi to join a Polish look-a-like federation. This was unacceptable to many in the USA …. So the USA Traditional Karate was formed by Brad Webb after the AAKF’s removal and is still supporting the ITKF and the Nishiyama family. is a public benefit, non-profit corporation and is the Traditional Amateur Karate governing body in the U.S. working with the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF), the worldwide governing body of Traditional Karate.

The USATK conducts national and regional competition, develops technical advancement through special training seminars throughout the US, fosters learning and educational training for instructors/students of karate and the general public.  The USATK and Japan Shotokan Karate  hosted the first ITKF North American Cup (Canada, Mexico, and USA) in 2015.

The ITKF was founded in 1975 to help avoid confusion between the “new” karate styles and traditional karate, and to maintain consistency in traditional karate training throughout the world. Even still the ITKF  is involved with the International Olympic Committee to have traditional karate recognized as an official Olympic event.

In the several years before his death, Nishiyama Sensei was working on a new karate book(and potential video series) aimed at karate instructors. He felt that in many geographically larger countries like the U.S., there tends to be a lack of continuity among instructors and their teaching methods because they cannot come together as frequently due to distance. He hoped to create another book (similar to his first) to advance the level of instruction and philosophy of karate in every country that teaches the art.

Nishiyama Sensei left us a great karate legacy which we each need to continue. His wife and 3 daughters have actively worked with the ITKF to continue the teachings of their husband and father.

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