Left - Hiroyuki Toyama
Center - Mamoru Yamamoto
Right - Mike Culbreth
Gichin Funakoshi - "Father of Japanese Karate"
and Soke (Founder) of Shotokan
Dr. Tsuyoshi Chitose "O'Sensei"
Founder of Chito-Ryu
Hanshi Mamoru "Kaicho" Yamamoto
Soke (Founder) of YoshuKai Karate
Modern Martial Arts come from a variety of different histories. All cultures developed methods of combat and competitive fighting for sport has been around for thousands of years. Ancient Romans famously held the Gladiator Games; the Greeks practiced what we now refer to as Greco-Roman wrestling in the original Olympic games millennia ago; Judo has been taught in Japan for hundreds of years; even the ancient South American Aztecs played a game that resembled war and resulted in the death of the losers.
The combat systems that we commonly refer to as Martial Arts, however, originated in the Orient, specifically China. They developed from a need to protect isolated areas from invasion. Many centuries ago warrior monks and lone soldiers assigned to distant outposts had the responsibility of sentry duty. If an invading army approached, they were to warn nearby villages and forts via fire signals. Because they were assigned to these posts individually or in small groups, they needed fighting skills to protect themselves. Over a period of time they developed specialized fighting styles of their own, shared skills among themselves and created drills for practicing their skills when no one else was around to practice with. When it was discovered that these militia soldiers had expertise in fighting, the local inhabitants sought them out as teachers; this was the unintended origins of what have become martial arts schools of today.
Eventually, as a result of Chinese invasion and conquest, these fighting arts made it to Okinawa. The Okinawan people adapted the practices, mixing it with some of their own pre-existing skills and naming it Tode. The Okinawans also mixed in their native weapons (nunchaku, sai, tonfa, and kama), which is called Kobudo (Way of weapons). Weapons used in MojuKai are discussed in more detail in the "Kobudo" section.
Gichin Funakoshi is widely considered to be the "father of Japanese karate". He began his study of martial arts in Okinawa from Anzo Azato, the father of a friend. Dr. Funakoshi studied both Shorei-Ryu and Shorein-Ryu styles of Okinawan Karate-Do. He combined the techniques from these two systems and created his own style which was eventually named Shoto-Kan. He returned to his native Japan in 1922 where he began teaching Karate in public school systems and promoting Karate as a form of exercise. This appealed to the Japanese because of their long history of military dominance effecting social status. His efforts to spread Karate took hold and spread throughout Japan very quickly. Funakoshi was also instrumental in changing the name of the art from Tode to Kara-te, a more Japanese term which means "empty-hand". He exchanged the Japanese Kanji (symbol) of "China" for that of "empty" to better reflect the Japanese culture and changes to the art. The name Shoto-Kan is a result of Dr. Funakoshi's nickname "Shoto" (swaying pine) and the word "Kan", which means house or group. Funakoshi was made the Honorary Head of the first ever association to organize Karate, the Japanese Karate Association (JKA). Many famous Karate masters studied directly under Dr. Funakoshi and his legacy is firmly established.
A contemporary of Funakoshi's was Tsuyoshi Chitose. Because of his position as a medical doctor, he is also known as Dr. Chitose. Dr. Chitose was frequently referred to as O'Sensei, an honorary nickname given to him by his many students. O'Sensei formed the Chito-Ryu system of Karate. Chito-Ryu loosely translates into "1000-year-old-Chinese-style", referring to the historical origins of karate. Chito-Ryu was started in Kumomoto, Japan, but is in essence an Okinawan system as he learned from Mr. Funakoshi who brought the art from his homeland of Okinawa. O'Sensei was particularly well known for his expertise in kata, regimented movements used to train karate techniques without need of a partner. Dr. Chitose became adept at kata, in part, because one of his instructors required him to learn Sei San, one of the oldest existing kata, for seven years before allowing him to learn the next one, Nisei-shi. O'Sensei studied under many Okinawan karate masters, including the systems of Shorei-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu. Dr. Chitose studied Karate for approximately 79 years, until his death in 1984, and promoted the Japanese modifications of it, such as mixing the Shuri-te (softer, more fluid and misdirectional motions) and Naha-te (harder, more direct and powerful motions) together. He also encouraged the melding of other, more native styles, such as Jujitsu and Judo, into karate. O'Sensei also studied with many kobudo masters including Chinen Sanda from whom he learned bo-jutsu (techniques of the staff) and he advocated combining kobudo (study of weapons) with karate. Like Dr. Funakoshi, O'Sensei had many famous students who furthered the art of Karate and his system of Chito-Ryu is practiced worldwide.
The creator of Yoshukai Karate, Mamoru Yamamoto , also known as Katsuoh Yamamoto, is arguably the most famous pupil of O'Sensei. Grandmaster Yamamoto is also known as Kaicho (which means President) and Soke (which means Founder). In MojuKai we refer to Grandmaster Yamamoto as Hanshi, which is the highest title one can hold in karate. Hanshi began studying military arts in primary school and became fascinated with the possibility of using karate to make himself stronger. His principle instructor was Dr. Chitose and he studied the Chito-ryu style as well as kobudo and traditional Japanese weapons, mainly Samurai Sword (Iaii). From 1960 through 1963 Hanshi was considered the top karate fighter in all of Japan, winning the 'All Japan Kumite' title three consecutive years. In 1963 Hanshi Yamamoto opened his own dojo, which O'Sensei named "YoshuKan". This was the beginning of Yoshukai Karate-Kobudo (kan refers to a single dojo or house and kai refers to a group of schools or an association).
Hanshi won many accolades and accomplished many feats in karate, becoming an emissary of the art throughout the world. Due to his long black hair and large size (in comparison to the norm for Japanese), one nickname he earned was "Crazy Horse" after the famous Native American Indian. Hanshi earned his fame by demonstrating incredibly powerful techniques such as bending iron bars with his shin, breaking huge slabs of concrete or ice with his head and exhibiting skills that most other karate-ka, including many who were regarded as masters, would not attempt. In the 1970's Grandmaster Yamamoto became internationally famous for fighting a Bengal Tiger to the death. Originally, this event was scheduled to be covered on ABC's Wide World of Sports, but protests by animal-rights groups canceled the broadcast. Despite the controversy, Hanshi went ahead, moving the event to the Phillipines. Hanshi fought the tiger for several hours, finally killing the animal with bo and sai.
Yoshukai has spread around the world and is currently practiced in Europe, South America, and North America as well as in Japan. At one point, in the late 20th century, there were literally tens of thousands of Yoshukai practitioners around the world. Unfortunately, in the last two decades, especially in the United States, egos have divided those who practice Yoshukai and there are many organizations under many directors who call themselves "Yoshukai". Each of these organizations has some claim to the legacy of Hanshi Yamamoto, but none have full claim. MojuKai is one of those systems. Renshi Darby has chosen not to use the name of Yoshukai in order to distinguish the purpose of MojuKai from the politics which so absorbs most American practitioners of karate, especially Yoshukai.
After Hanshi Yamamoto founded Yoshukai in 1963, one of his notable students, Mike Foster, who had also won the All Japan Kumite Championships, brought Yoshukai to the U.S. when he returned to Florida from Japan. In 1969 Master Yuki Koda, who had studied Chito-Ryu under O'Sensei Chitose with Hanshi Yamamoto, decided to move the United States. He was appointed to lead Yoshukai in America over Mike Foster, which led to Mr. Foster founding his own group, later to become known as Yoshukai International. Master Koda continued to lead the U.S. Yoshukai for Hanshi Yamamoto until his untimely death from liver cancer in 1997. At that time Master Koda requested that his followers, which numbered several thousands, steward U.S. Yoshukai until his eldest son, David, came of age to run the organization. Another split occurred when some members agreed to do so and others chose to create another system. Masters Yuki Toyama and Mike Culbreth received blessing from Hanshi to create "World Yoshukai Karate". Master Toyama had studied in Japan under Hanshi Yamamoto with Master Koda and Master Culbreth had previously served as the Assistant Director of U.S. Yoshukai under Master Koda.
MojuKai Karate-Kobudo originates from Yoshukai and is, in essence, the same style of martial art. Renshi Darby has personally trained with and instructed under the direction of Grandmaster Yamamoto as well as Master Koda, Mr. Toyama and Mr. Culbreth. The lineage of Yoshukai is important as it illustrates not only the origin of the techniques of MojuKai, but also our system's philosophies, most important of which is Kenkyo-sa Kara Yushu - Excellence from Humility.
Left - Hanshi Mamoru Yamamoto
Right - Hanshi Mike Foster
Soke Yuki Koda, Founder of
United States Yoshukai Karate
Left - Yuki Koda
Center - Mike Foster
Right - Mamoru Yamamoto