Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura, the man entrusted by Master Higaonna to fulfil a life time’s duty of protecting traditional Goju-ryu and passing it on the next generation. In July 2012, Sensei Higaonna announced to his senior students around the world that he would be passing the flame of Goju-ryu onto Sensei Nakamura – a man who has been one of his closest and loyal students.
At the age of only 47 years old, Sensei Nakamura claims that as he is young and that he still has a lot to learn as a Karate-ka; demonstrating the kind of humility we have come to expect from his own instructor. He has committed himself to spend the rest of his life to further protect and develop Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate-do.
Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura had no idea that when he began martial arts training at the age of 12, that his journey would become as serious of a life’s pursuit as it has. He was born in Osaka, Japan on April 3rd, 1965 and took up Judo at the age of 12, beginning the practice of Karate in Senior high school at the age of 15. He continued his Judo practice for six years, achieving the level of 2nd Degree Black belt in the art. His commitment to his martial arts training began at an early age, with him training in Judo a minimum of five times per week.
As he entered senior high school he experienced his first introduction of Karate, practicing in a Goju Kai club for three years. Although he admits that his focus was more on Judo at this time, there was obviously a passion and appreciation for Karate that lead to him joining another Karate school upon attending university.
Sensei Nakamura attended Kagawa university and while there began training with another Goju style club. The training was physical, but focused on a lot of free fighting as the club was full of eager young men out to prove themselves on the dojo floor. Sensei Nakamura was one to hold his own and when he told the club instructor that he was heading with some friends to vacation on Okinawa during his university break, his instructor insisted he should get in contact with one his own Sensei’s.
Always the loyal student, upon arriving in Okinawa Sensei Nakamura telephoned a man name Shuichi Aragaki. Unto his knowledge, Sensei Nakamura was calling a Karate Master who was one of only two private students of the Goju-ryu style founder, Bushi Chojun Miyagi, following the devastation of World War II. Aragaki Sensei was very kind to this young stranger and invited him to his home for dinner. During the meal, Aragaki Sensei told him about his training with Chojun Miyagi Sensei and what is true karate was all about. After Nakamura Sensei returned to the main land, he started thinking about Aragaki Sensei’s stories often. He decided to return to Okinawa and visit Aragaki Sensei one more time to find out more out his Karate from him before he graduated University.
Upon returning to Okinawa, Sensei Nakamura contacted Aragaki Sensei and visited with him again. The Karate master then took the young man and led him to the Uehara dojo in Okinawa. Following introductions, training began. The aging Master asked the young Nakamura Sensei to punch him. Realising the age different, a Sensei Nakamura punched slowly for Master Aragaki who was taken aback. He asked again for the young man to punch him with full power. Sensei Nakamura charged in and quickly found himself on the ground numerous times. He later explained that each of Master Aragaki’s punches landed precisely on vital areas each time and that he felt as if he could have been killed by the Sensei had the choice been made. Training eventually moved on to Kata training. After the Master saw the performance of his Kata he asked him ‘what is this? This is not traditional Karate.’
The meeting ended, but those words continued to echo within Sensei Nakamura’s mind, especially when returning to the university dojo. Later the same year, Sensei Nakamura graduated from university with a law degree and a degree in politics. He had hoped to become a high school teacher, or business man, which had changed from his original choice of wanting to be a policeman in High School. Regardless, Sensei Nakamura had the education and degree’s to enter any occupation that he chose. But with the words of Master Aragaki rolling through his head again and again, he decided he must return to Okinawa.
As you can imagine after achieving such high profile degrees at a university level, his mother was not impressed with his decision to move to Okinawa to practice Karate. With all this sitting upon his young shoulders, Sensei Nakamura still decided to pursue Master Aragaki and called to tell him he was returning to Okinawa.
Arriving at the Masters house, Sensei Aragaki explained to the young man that he did not have time to instruct him. Instead he took the young Sensei Nakamura to the legendary Higaonna Dojo, the Okinawan home of the famous World IOGKF Chief Instructor, Sensei Morio Higaonna. The World Master was living in America at the time, but Master Aragaki had a plan for the young man. He showed Sensei Nakamura how to use traditional supplementary training tools (Hojo Undo), such as Chishi, Nigiri Game and Kongoken. He told Sensei Nakamura, ‘you must do this every day, train hard’.
In the time of Goju-ryu founder, Bushi Chojun Miyagi, a student who applied to the dojo was subjected to several years of Hojo Undo and Sanchin training. If the student had the patience and the focus to survive this ordeal, then he would be taught Kata and more about Goju-ryu. Although this Hojo Undo still holds a large part in the training of a Goju-ryu Karate-ka, it is an old custom that today is no longer set in stone, in an attempt to ensure Karate remained popular. Karate was already popular with Sensei Nakamura and Master Aragaki recognized this to the point where he subjected him to the same ordeal as that of a new student some fifty years before.
Determined to find true Karate, Sensei Nakamura listened to Sensei Aragaki and practiced hard every day. However, after a few weeks Master Aragaki had not visited the Dojo. Sensei Nakamura would often have dinner at the Masters house on the weekend, Aragaki Sensei gave him lectures about Karate and life, but he visiting to the Dojo was never mentioned. Training continued and the weeks continued to pass, still no Master Aragaki.
It was not until six months had passed, that Master Aragaki had confirmed that Sensei Nakamura had the drive and discipline of a student from the olden days. He went to the Dojo and began to train Sensei Nakamura once or twice per week. First he taught him Sesan Kata, followed by other Goju-ryu Kata; Sesan Kata is Nakamura Sensei’s favourite Kata to date.
Sensei Nakamura continued to train and when Master Higaonna returned to Okinawa in 1991 to visit and train at his Okinawan Dojo, he immediately identified the young man’s ability and training style. When he managed to win the IOGKF World Championships Hard style free sparring (Irikumi Go) and 2nd place in the Kata competition in the same year, Master Higaonna saw the value in Sensei Nakamura and asked him to come to America with him so he could continue his training. Very nervous, Sensei Nakamura told Master Aragaki of Higaonna Sensei’s invitation and he urged him to go. ‘Higaonna Sensei is the best Master in the world. You should go learn from him.’
MOVE TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
So once again, Sensei Nakamura packed up his life for Karate and set off to America to pursue training under his new Master. When first arriving in California, Sensei Nakamura was living with Master Higaonna and his family, becoming an Uchi Deshi (literally a house student). He would train every morning with the Goju-ryu Master in his garage and then again with him in the afternoon and evening at his Dojo in San Marcos – the Institute of Traditional Karate. Class training with Master Higaonna is physical as it is, let alone being one on one with him and having no place to hide or leave room for error. The training was gruelling and helped forge Sensei Nakamura into the Karate warrior he would become.
He was soon promoted to assistant instructor at the San Marcos dojo and spent time assisting Higaonna Sensei’s wife, Alanna, in the IOGKF office, who was administrative director of the International Federation at the time; a role he would one day inherit from her. Sensei Nakamura was also responsible for teaching junior classes and when Higaonna Sensei was away teaching overseas Gasshuku’s he would instruct the senior classes.
As anyone who has had the fortune to train with Master Higaonna knows any session under him drastically improves your Karate in all aspects, Sensei Nakamura has spent years continuously training under the Master and benefiting from his knowledge and traditional methods. This was proven when he again claimed gold at the 1994 IOGKF world championships in the free fighting competition (Irikumi Ju) and Kata. In 1995 his name became well known among the IOGKF and Goju-ryu world as he was direct assistant to Master Higaonna in his legendary video documentary ‘Power Training’.
BACK TO JAPAN
In the same year, Master Higaonna realised the need for mainland Japan to have a strong headquarters and decided he would return to Tokyo to establish the Ryubukan, a Dojo
that would become the centrepiece of Goju-ryu in Japan. He asked Sensei Nakamura to accompany him and the two moved to Tokyo together.
ONLY THE TRADITIONAL PATH
In 1994 Tetsuji Nakamura Sensei was 29 years old and had just accomplished his goal of winning the IOGKF World Championships free fighting category – a task he felt pressured to accomplish having been an instructor at the IOGKF Honbu Dojo. But as he lay in bed the next morning, he thought to himself ‘am I really the best in the world?’ His answer to himself was no. Even though he had achieved an impressive win of the entire tournament, he still felt that compared to many of the IOGKF International senior instructors, he was only starting out as a good traditional martial artist.
It was at this point that he decided to end his competitive career to focus solely on Traditional Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate-do. He changed his personal training schedule to reflect a greater emphasis on Hojo Undo (supplementary training specific to Goju-ryu) and Sanchin practice. He felt his Karate, strength, power and speed improved drastically as he moved into his thirties.
His commitment to traditional Karate made returning to Japan to assist Master Higaonna in establishing the Ryubukan Dojo a little easier. Master Higaonna decided a strong centrepiece for Goju-ryu in Japan was needed and in turn he established the Dojo in the capital of the land of the rising sun. Sensei Nakamura was training daily and teaching at the Ryubukan as an assistant instructor. He stayed in Tokyo for three years to help Master Higaonna to establish the Japanese Headquarters.
In 1997, Sensei Nakamura moved to Canada to help his friend, Jim Marinow (former IOGKF Canada Chief Instructor). The two had practiced together in California under Master Higaonna in the early 1990s. In 2000, he married Rania and they had their first baby, Emilie, in 2002. In same year, Mrs. Alanna Higaonna retired from her position as an administrative director and Master Higaonna appointed Sensei Nakamura as the new person to oversee the running of the International Federation. Nakamura Sensei moved back to Okinawa with his wife Rania and three month old daughter for one year, so he could take over the task of administrative director for the IOGKF. He then moved back to Canada in 2003, as Jim Marinow left the IOGKF in 2002. It was here that Master Higaonna appointed Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura as Chief Instructor for IOGKF Canada.
When Sensei Nakamura declared to his parents that his intentions were to follow his Karate calling after he had finished his university degree, they were not overly impressed. His mother did not speak to him for a great length of time. But when his parents travelled to Canada in 2000 for a vacation, they quickly realised the happiness and the life that Karate had given their son. From this point on, they accepted and supported Sensei Nakamura’s quest to become the best person he could be and to spread Goju-ryu across the world.
IOGKF Canada really began to grow at Sensei Nakamura’s hand and at the end of 2003 he decided that it was time for him to establish his own Dojo. This was the beginning of Shudokan, now one of the world’s most popular Goju-ryu Dojo’s. For a number of years he taught out of a purpose built Dojo, but as his popularity grew he was soon dealing with over 180 students training regularly, it was decided that a bigger venue was needed. In 2011, a labour of love was created. A very large two story mechanics garage was transformed into the new Shudokan Dojo. Students from all over Canada and World assisted in building the new home of IOGKF Canada and soon the IOGKF World.
Sensei Nakamura’s excellent repour with instructors and students all across the globe, coupled with his rapidly growing International following and his understanding and respect for preserving traditional Goju-ryu; saw Higaonna Sensei appoint him as IOGKF World Vice-Chief Instructor in 2008 and also as an executive committee member for the World Federation.
Sensei Nakamura’s role in how Goju-ryu was protected and spread to the World was now becoming larger and he began to travel more and more, having visited over 30 countries in recent years. His humble nature, approachability and sincere desire to want to help every person improve themself through Karate brought exciting prospects to an International organisation which was well past its 30th anniversary.
As the 2012 IOGKF World Budosai approached, Master Morio Higaonna took the time to reflect on his role in traditional Goju-ryu. Now in his mid seventies, Master Higaonna had fulfilled the wishes of style founder, Bushi Chojun Miyagi and spread Goju-ryu to the four corners of the globe. From South Africa to Canada, Britain to Australia & New Zealand, America to the middle east – the IOGKF has an extremely strong foundation in over 60 countries. Master Higaonna then decided he had to look to the future.
A meeting was called for all country chief instructors during the Budosai event. Master Higaonna announced to his most senior students, many of them now respected International instructors in their own right, that he would be stepping back from his role as World Chief Instructor to take up an advisory position within the Federation he had founded. He then moved to announce that Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura would succeed him as the new IOGKF World Chief Instructor and charged him the responsibility to pass Goju-ryu onto the next generation. This announcement was well received by all attendees at the World Budosai and news quickly spread across the globe.
During the same week, Sensei Nakamura achieved the rank of 7th degree Black Belt from Master Higaonna. When this was announced to the world it was met with thunderous applause. When Chojun Miyagi Sensei first entrusted Goju-ryu to a young man named Anichi, he told him he had given him a precious treasure, one which he must protect and never lose. Master Higaonna had now given the same to Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura and the new IOGKF Chief instructor understood the importance of what he has given. “I feel a great responsibility to be chosen as the leader of my generation.”
Today, Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura still resides in Canada with his wife Rania and two daughters, Emilie & Sophia. He is a caring family man and dedicates his time between his home life and Karate practice and instruction. He will still tell you today that he is not the best in the world. However it is this humility, coupled with the thousands of hours of sincere & dedicated practice and research that really do make Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura one of the best in World. He once remarked that he doesn’t think he can ever reach Master Higaonna’s level, but that he will never stop striving to do so. With this passion and spirit towards training and with the backing of the World, the future of Goju-ryu is safe and will continue to prosper under his leadership.
In 2020 Nakamura Sensei’s travels and gasshuku came to an abrupt halt due to the worldwide pandemic. Nakamura Sensei remained true to his mission by providing a venue for IOGKF members worldwide to continue their training. Within days, under his guidance prerecorded videos from instructors around the globe were being shared with IOGKF members. And shortly thereafter, he orchestrated online several gasshukus featuring senior instructors of IOGKF from various countries. He was truly a model of one of the IOGKF precepts, “Never give up”. These events provided IOGKF members around the world with the opportunity to train with many of the top IOGKF instructors who they may never had the chance to do before. The members remained connected and they continued to work on improving their skills all in the safety of their own homes.