Master of the Masters: Katsunori Tsuyama

By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Have you ever thought about who the master of Shotokan masters might be? Who trains or has trained, for instance, Tatsuya Naka? The answer is: Katsunori Tsuyama.

Although he is widely unknown – except for some experts – he has been one of the most important figures in Shotokan over the last 50 years. The reason for his importance is that he has been coaching the famous Takudai Karate Club at Takushoku University in Tokyo. In this position he formed many excellent Karateka like Tatsuya Naka, Manabu Murakami, and Richard Heselton.

Who is Katsunori Tsuyama?

Katsunori Tsuyama and Takushoku University

Katsunori Tsuyama (津山克典) was born in Saga on the island of Kyushu in 1936. Not unsual for Japan, he got in touch with Karate during his highschool years. He was around 16 when he started to learn Shotokan Karate. Two years later, he moved to Tokyo. Tsuyama became a student at the already very famous Takushoku University. Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama taught at this institution. While he enrolled in business administration he also joined its Karate club. Only two years later and not in his senior year, he became the captain of the team.

His rigorous training during his university years led him to historical success. At the first ever held JKA All Japan Championships in 1957, he reached the 2nd place in Kumite right after legenday Hirokazu Kanazawa.

Katsunori Tsuyama with the famous Takushoku Karate Club. He is squatting second for the right side.
Katsunori Tsuyama with the famous Takushoku Karate Club. He is squatting second for the right side.

From Tokyo to Saga to Tokyo

After he finished his studies in Tokyo, he moved back to Saga and worked as a manager. A few years later, worked for the company of his wife. Besides his business activities he also began to teach Karate. First, he taught at the University of Saga, a local highshool, and at a military academy.

Over the course of the years, Karate became again the major part of his life. In 1968, he got an offer to teach Karate at Takushoku University. He accepted and moved back to Tokyo in order to work as a sports teacher. To professionalize his teaching he enrolled in the faculty of sport science at the University for Education in Tokyo.When he passed the exam he became head coach at his alma mater Takushoku University. At the same time, he was teaching at the Honbu Dojo of JKA.

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During this time, he also taught Karate at the JKA headquarter. Many famous instructors learnt in his class. Amon them were Hideo Ochi, Masao Kawasoe, Hideo Yamamoto, Tomio Imamura, Tatsuya Naka, and Yuki Mimura.

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Head Coach at Takudai

Since the death of Masatoshi Nakayama, Katsunori Tsuyama leads as head coach the Karate education at Takushoku University. In this capacity he has formed many extraordinary Karate within the JKA, SKIF and JKF. Although Tsuyama Sensei has reached 83 years now, he is still active and teaching. Even abroad he has given seminar in the last 10 years.

Katsunori Tsuyama: Master of Kihon

Master of Kihon characterizes the style of Katsunori Tsuyama best. His major focus lies on basic training. Kata and Kumite always come second. Only when the body has memorized the right execution of a technique it will be really effective. For some this might be tedious. But Katsunori Tsuyama describes his approach in following way:

“At the end there is only one thing that is Kihon. Many complain about the monotonous basic training. The body may, however, be aware only by a uniform constant repetition of movements. One should look for the connection of conscious art and physical strength. The technique must be so trained that it settles in the subconscious. If it is needed, it shoots out, as easy as if you were speaking a word.”

Katsunori Tsuyama

To get an idea of him and his way of training for yourself, we have attached the following video. If you see some familiar faces in the video, please, write their names in the comments. Sorry for the poor quality.

4 comments

  1. 30 years? Actually, he has been a very important figure in Shotokan for over 50 years. He started teaching at Takushoku University in 1968. He taught many of the top JKA instructors there and at the JKA Honbu Dojo in Tokyo. When I first moved to Japan in 1985 (I lived there for a total of 8 years in the 1980s & 90s), he was often teaching the Instructors’ class. Amazing instructor.

  2. I met Tsuyama Sensei in 1975 at JKA Honbu Dojo in Ebisu and later at Takudai University (Takushokudai). It was Sensei of my Sensei Kawawada. His most famous story was that of destroying bags with the fingertips of mae-gueri. He is an impressive master.

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