Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei

In this, our second post we look briefly on the life of Nakayama Masatoshi sensei (1913-1987).

Nakayama sensei was an exceptional martial artist and ground-breaking thinker, who was instrumental in the development and popularization of Shotokan karate. 

Revolutionising karate tournaments, studying in China, helping to found and run the Japan Karate Association, devising and executing the first instructors program and researching numerous sciences and other arts to improve his karate, Nakayama Sensei is rightly held  as the reason Karate spread throughout the world.


Nakayama sensei initially began studying judo around 10 years old and later became interested in Karate after reportedly attending a karate session by mis-reading a poster and believing it to be a kendo lesson. Training under Gichin Funakoshi sensei, the founder of our style – Shotokan Karate –  and integrating elements of judo into his karate practice gave him more rounded understanding of the hardships of martial training at the time. 

Training at that time was gruelling and in addition to his five hours a day of karate training which lead to around a 90% drop out rate within the first 6 months, Nakayama sensei managed to continue his training and pursued an academic course in Chinese history and language, eventually studying in China for around 5 years before working for the Chinese government, returning to Japan in around 1946.


While in China, Nakayama Sensei continued to practice and teach karate, and also studied various Chinese martial arts.  Meanwhile, the first dedicated dojo of Shotokan was built in Japan during his absence, however, the impact of World War 2 left the dojo in ruins with a large number of his fellow karate-ka being lost during the war. 

Nakayama Sensei began to organize classes again and in 1948 helped to found the Japan Karate Association. Although Funakoshi sensei was the head of the new organization, he was 81 years old at the time and as such it was Nakayama sensei who ran the dojo as Chief Instructor of the J.K.A. until his death. <1>

Aside from karate and judo, Nakayama sensei learned kinetics, physiology, and anatomy as he wanted to provide better instructions and understanding to his karate through a more scientific approach. Bringing this knowledge and experience, along with other senior instructors within the JKA, Nakayama Sensei established the first formalised instructors program standardising the methods of how to teach karate.  Under Nakayama Sensei graduates of the instructor program were tasked to spread karate far and wide beyond Japan into America, Europe and the Middle East.  <2> <3>


But this was not Nakayama sensei’s only approach to the development of karate and he recognised an opportunity in competition karate.  In 1957 the first All Japan Karate Championship was held, with Nakayama sensei being instrumental in the foundation and creation of the rules systems for competition. 

The first tournament was a huge success and over the years, the tournament divisions expanded to include a university division, various youth divisions and women’s kata and kumite divisions. <3>



Nakayama sensei’s adaptation of kata and kumite for the competition space lead to a rapid rise in Karate’s popularity, with the 5th JKA All Japan Karate Championship in 1961 being attended by the then Crown Prince of Japan himself. <4>



Throughout his life Nakayama Sensei was a prolific writer and instructor, and in addition to despatching his instructors worldwide, he himself also played a significant role in the dissemination of karate to the wider public. He wrote numerous books on karate, including “Best Karate,” a multi-volume series that is widely regarded as a classic in the field and is highly recommended to anyone who wishes to gain a greater understanding of karate and travelled extensively to teach and promote the art with his focus being on emphasising the study of the inseparable trinity of karate—kihon, kata, and kumite.

Being quoted at one of the infamous Crystal Palace seminars in response to being asked the most important aspect of karate:


“It is important is to practice Kata, Kumite and Kihon (basics) equally and not to concentrate on just one. Without all three there is no Martial Art.” <5>


Nakayama sensei’s approach standardised many of karate’s practises, established the first bespoke instructors training program and revolutionised karate for competition – allowing the popularisation of karate to take it across the globe and establish Shotokan as a principal and significant form of Karate practise today. 

His legacy is the continued and joint practise of Shotokan regardless of race, religion or location.