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Master Hidetaka Nishiyama (1928-2008)

Hidetaka Nishiyama was a world-renowned karate master well known for his steadfast dedication to the preservation and protection of the art of Traditional Karate. His passing in 2008 was met with deep regret by his many students. He was truly a legend in the karate world and his passing marks a significant loss to the thousands of individuals who benefitted from his teachings. The following is but a brief synopsis of the many achievements that Sensei Nishiyama accomplished during his lifelong dedication to the Art.

Born in Tokyo in 1928, Hidetaka Nishiyama began his karate training in 1944 under Gichin Funakoshi at the Shoto-kan. Two years later, while enrolled at Takushoku University, he became a member of the university’s karate team, for which 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 was selected as a member of the martial arts combat instruction staff for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Combat Training Program. SAC personnel received training in judo, aikido, and karate at the Kodokan. Other karate instructors for this program included Gichin Funakoshi, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Isao Obata. In 1953, SAC invited Nishiyama as part of ten-member Budo Mission from Japan, visiting SAC bases in the U.S. giving instruction in karate, judo and aikido.

Karate, The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting, co-written by Nishiyama and published in 1960, is today considered the definitive textbook on the art. It is believed to be the best-selling karate textbook in history.

In July, 1961, SAC karate students and JKA members residing in the United States invited Nishiyama to visit America. Later that year, he organized the All American Karate Federation (AAKF) as a nationally-based amateur karate organization. In November of the same year, Nishiyama organized the first National Karate Championship in Los Angeles, California, where he also established his dojo. Since then, Nishiyama has been a major force in the propagation of the JKA-Shotokan style of karate in the U.S. and abroad.

In 1965, Nishiyama organized 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 even became the first truly international karate competition.

In 1968, Nishiyama organized the first World Invitational Karate Tournament held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in conjunction with the Olympic Commemorative Tournament. A conference held during the tournament culminated in an agreement to form an international karate organization and to hold its first World Championship in Tokyo. In 1970, during a reorganization of the AAKF as the Traditional Karate governing body that would encompass all traditional karate styles, the JKA Karate group in the US separated and became the JKA International USA, 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 cofounded the Pan-American Karate Union (PAKU) and was elected its First Executive Director. The first PAKU Championship was staged in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.

World Championships held in Tokyo (1970) and Paris (1973) resulted in disagreements caused by the lack of formal international organization. An international meeting later followed in New York City resulting in the formation of the International Amateur Karate Federation (IAKF) with Nishiyama as its Executive Director. The first IAKF World Championship was held in Los Angeles in 1975.

In 1976, he oversaw the formation of the Mediterranean Karate Championship Committee and Bolivian Karate Federation. Also that year, acting on behalf of the IAKF, he submitted an application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) 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, the All American Karate Federation was re-named the American Amateur Karate Federation and became a public-benefit non-profit corporation - in accordance with U.S. Public Law regulating national amateur sports governing bodies. 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. In 1987 the IOC officially confirmed that the ITKF was the governing body for Traditional Karate.

In recognition of his decades of effort on behalf of Traditional Karate and his contribution towards the physical and psychological health of Americans through Karate, the U.S. National Flag was flown over the over the Capitol in Washington DC on October 10, 1999 on the occasion of his 71st birthday.

In May 2000, he was further honored when the Nishiyama Cup was held in Moscow, the first official karate event conducted in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.  In 2000, the Emperor of Japan awarded Nishiyama with “Kunyoto” – Fourth Order of Merit – and was decorated with “Zuihosho” – the Order of the Sacred Treasure – for his many contributions to promote Japanese culture through Traditional Karate.

In 2001, on the occasion of the first Traditional Karate World Cup, the President of the Republic of Poland bestowed upon him one of the highest medals in Poland, The Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

As a result of Nishiyama’s superior technical expertise and disciplined instruction, his reputation spread worldwide. He has trained thousands of students, many of them now well-known as international champions and leading instructors.

Hidetaka Nishiyama passed away on November 7, 2008, at age 80, survived by his wife and three daughters. As a Charter Member of the JKA and founding member of the ITKF, his influence on the modern day practice of Traditional Karate is unparalleled. He will be remembered for the great influence and impact he had on the lives of those who practice Traditional Karate.

Additional Links:
Hidetaka Nishiyama – Wikipedia Page
Karate: The Art of Empty Hand Fighting   |  Master Nishiyama’s classic text.

Articles on Sensei Nishiyama:
“Smoke from an Urbane Volcano”  Sports Illustrated Magazine | August 1975
“An Interview With a Karate Legend”  Black Belt Magazine | January 2006
“A Tall Tree In The Forest Has Fallen” | November 2001

Memorial Tributes to Sensei Nishiyama:
2009 AAKF Nationals Program

Biographical Timeline

1928   Born October 10 in Tokyo, Japan
1933   Started Kendo training at the age five
1938   Started Judo training at age ten
1943   Earned Kendo shodan ranking.
1944   Begins Karate training at Master Gichin Funakoshi’s dojo, the Shotokan.
1945   Enrolled at Takushoku University. Joined Takushoku University Karate Team
1946   Earns Karate Shodan ranking.
1948   Earns Karate Nidan ranking.
1949   Named Takushoku University Karate Team Captain. Elected Chairman of the regional collegiate union team
1950   Earned Karate sandan ranking. Co-founded the All Japan Collegiate Karate Union and elected its first chairman
1951   Graduated from Takushoku University, M.A. in Economics
………..Becomes a founding member and director of the Japan Karate Association (JKA)
1952   Selected as a member of the martial arts combat instruction staff for Strategic Air Command (SAC)
1953  Invited by SAC Commander General LeMay, along with other martial arts instructors, to tour SAC bases in the US
………..Named Chief of the Department of Instruction of the JKA (the legendary Instructor’s Training School)
1960   Publication of “Karate, The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting”
………..Earns Karate Godan ranking
1961  Came to the United States and organized the All American Karate Federation (AAKF).
………..The first AAKF Karate Championship was held at the Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles CA.
1965   Organized the first United States vs Japan Goodwill Karate Tournament.
………..Participation of All Japan Collegiate Karate Team makes it the first official international karate event.
1968   Organized first World Invitational Tournament, held at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
1973   Co-founded the Pan American Karate Union (PAKU) and was elected if first Executive Director.
………..The first PAKU championship was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
1974   Elected the Executive Director of the International Amateur Karate Federation (IAKF)
1975   The first IAKF World Karate Championship was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
1979   The All American Karate Federation changes the name to American Amateur Karate Federation (AAKF)
………..Nishiyama is elected as the first president
1981   Elected President of the JKA International of the US
1985   The IAKF changed its name to the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF)
2000   Nishiyama Cup is held in Moscow, the first official karate event in Russia after fall of the Soviet Union
2000   Awarded “Kun-yoto”- Fourth Order of Merit by the Emperor of Japan.
………..Decorated with “Zuiho-sho”- The Order of the Sacred Treasure, for his many contributions to promote Japanese culture
2001   The Republic of Poland honored Nishiyama with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland
2008   Passes away November 7, 2008
2009   Posthumously awarded the rank of 10th dan by the ITKF