The death of Toyama Kanken Sensei in 1966 meant the loss of one of the greatest karatedo masters of the last century. Along with Itosu Sensei, Higashionna Sensei, Aragaki Sensei, Tana Sensei, Itarashiki Sensei, Oshiro Sensei and Kuwae Sensei, Toyama Sensei was part of an extraordinary Okinawan martial arts ancestral line. It is to these, our martial arts ancestors, that we are connected to, through an invisible bond, just as strong as that which we feel connects us to our own ancestors. They are our companions when it comes to fighting techniques and spiritual character building in accordance with budo. As students of the Toyama line, we should be proud of this ancestral heritage, because quite frankly, we are walking in the footsteps of true giants. It is through us, his students, that Toyama Sensei’s karatedo lives on.
Ever since I started with karatedo, over 30 years ago now, I have been interested in the history and philosophy of the martial arts. However, I found, I was always particularly interested and fascinated by the history of karatedo Shudokan - which I think of as not only a style, but rather as a synonym for Toyama Sensei’s teachings. I always saw my exploration of all things Toyama Sensei, his teachings and his students, as an enriching addition to my own training at the dojo. My own teacher and master, Reinhold Hirsch Sensei, played a big role in this. I have him to thank for all my knowledge of the martial arts and the “do”.
From the very start of my studies, I collected every possible scrap of information I could find about Toyama Sensei. During the early 2000s I had already written my first book on Toyama Sensei, for my teacher Reinhold Hirsch Sensei. It was especially in the last two years, however, that many teachers of the Toyama Sensei line, worldwide, helped me gain an even deeper insight into Toyama Sensei and his teachings.
2016 has marked the 50th anniversary of Toyama Sensei’s death. Karate styles like Shotokan, Wado-ryu, Shito-ryu and Goju-ryu can be found all over the world. At first glance, this does not seem to be the case with Toyama Sensei’s teachings. Toyama Sensei never picked a name for his karatedo style, he rejected the athletic and competitive side of karate and told his students repeatedly that his karatedo should one day die along with him. Thus, Toyama consciously made no effort to distribute his teachings. Yet, a closer look reveales that many schools, like Doshinkan, Soryu, Keishinkan, Tsuchiya-ryu, Toyama-ryu, Shudokan, Yoshinkan, etc. are not only taught in Japan but worldwide. The same goes with taekwondo schools, which can be traced back to Toyama Sensei.
With this book, I would like to honour his students and the great master Toyama Kanken, himself. His students described him as a humble and kind man and a strict teacher. But what do we really know about his life, his teachings and his students?
What were Toyama Sensei’s teaching years in Okinawa like? How long did he train there and what did he learn from Itosu Sensei, Higashionna Sensei and his other Okinawan teachers? What did he learn from his Chinese teachers in Taiwan? Which techniques and which kata were taught in the Shudokan dojo in Meguro? Who were Toyama Sensei’s master students during the 1940s, 50s and 60s?
Even after extensive research, it was impossible for me to answer these questions fully. Why is that? Well, unfortunately, I do not speak or read Japanese, so I may have misinterpreted some of the translations available to me, at the time. Aside from that, every story is slightly altered by the storytellers passed experiences. Another factor is that there are many different interpretations among Toyama Sensei’s students, so I sometimes received completely contradictory answers from different sources. Although it is exactly these contradictions, that should inspire further discussion and research- I have quite deliberately left space for that in this book. Nevertheless, I feel that I was able to, at the very least, give the reader a “feel” for Toyama Sensei, his students, their own growth and teaching methods. That said, what I unfortunately cannot do, is meet the expectation of writing a book that truthfully reflects on all aspects of the above stated topics.
In my book I have discussed those of his teachers and students, whom he himself talked about in his book “Karatedo Daihokan” in detail, as well as mention those of his teachers/companions that I came upon during my own research.
I have taken most of the names of Toyama Sensei’s students from the Shihan/Hanshi list from his book “Karatedo Daihokan” but I will also be discussing those that Toyama only taught during his later years (after the publication of his book), and therefore do not appear on said list. Aside from that, I do also mention budo masters that are well known today, but only studied under him for short periods of time.
Firstly, you might ask, if Toyama Sensei taught at the Shudokan Dojo from 1930 to 1966, during which time he no doubt had many hundreds, if not thousands, of students, then why are there only a little over 30 mentioned in this book? Well, answer is: these were the only students I could gather sufficient information on. Almost all the students I will be referring to in this book started their training after World War II, and yet, Toyama Sensei had opened the Shudokan dojo in 1930. The problem is, there are hardly any records about either the training that took place there or the students that studied there, before 1945. I am certain that Toyama Sensei had extraordinary students during this time as well, who may very well have even opened up their own dojos in Japan, but sadly, their knowledge about Toyama Sensei’s teachings, has remained hidden from me.
The Life and Teachings of Toyama Sensei
The Long-Term Students of the Master