You may not recognize the name Yasuzato Yoriyuki, but he was the grandson of Azato Anko, the famed Karate and Jigen-ryu master who was a student of Matsumura Sokon as well as teacher to Funakoshi Gichin.
The family ‘Japanized’ the family name from Azato to Yasuzato and I met his daughter, Yoriko and her husband Hiroyuki on two occasions when I was still living in Japan. I think it was around 2000 and 2001. There dojo is in To’no-cho in the city of Sasebo. When I visited their Shobukan dojo they received me warmly and we talked a little about her father and the Karate they teach which in general focuses on sports Karate (Shotokan) for competition for kids. They do preserve the ‘older stream’ of Karate passed down them by Yoriyuki and I was able to see a little bit of their kumite sets, but unfortunately not the kata.
At any rate, I thought the following article would be of interest to readers as it talks about Yoriyuki and the founding of his dojo, the Shobukan. It was originally published in Sasebo Sports, Vol 22, 2006.
Contributor to the Spread of Okinawa Karate: Yasuzato Yoriyiki
“All you need is to sow the seeds of Okinawan karate, and to gain the trust of the community and the organization”. My father always said this and practiced this philosophy his whole life. His only daughter, Yasuzato Yoriko, together with her husband Hiroyuki, took over and developed the Shorinkai Shobukan Okinawa Karate Dojo. Her father, Yoriyuki, overcame the chaos after the war and continued to spread the “seeds of Karate” to the world by serving the officers and enlisted men at an American military base. When she talks about her father her eyes convey the testament to the fact that the image and spirit of my father live on to today.
Karate is for Self-defense, Wishes for Peace & Always Teaches Training the Body and Mind
The Shobukan Dojo headquarters is in Tono-cho and has branches in Haiki and Ainoura. About 300 people, ranging in age from three years old to over 70 years old, practice daily. The dojo also offers classes outside the city limits in Nagasaki city, and in Kurume and Yame in Fukuoka prefecture. The director, Yasuzato Hiroyuki, 58, teaches in the evenings while working for the city of Sasebo.
Although he is a 7th dan, he has inherited the strong spirit of the founder Yoriyuki. He is always smiling, and has gained the trust of his students, teaching the spirit of Karate, and its essence and techniques with a strong bond between teacher and student. His wife, Yoriko, laughs and says, “I’m mostly behind the scenes,” but as a 6th dan, she has a reputation for her teaching skills.
The Navy & Settling in Sasebo
Born in Okuma, Nakagami County, Okinawa Prefecture in 1913, Yoriyuki went to the prefectural industrial school and then to the Naval Academy on Etajima, Hiroshima. As a result of this, he lived in Sasebo, and under the care of his superior officer, he arranged a marriage with Ms. Take, a native of Uku-machi, Kitamatsuura-county. In the Navy, he served on a battleship and was in Manchuria during the war. After suffering hardships, he returned home unharmed to Ms. Take.
He had been a Karate student since he was a child and dan holder since his technical high school days, but he never talked about himself much, even to his only child, Yoriko. “He didn’t like to fight with other people, and peace and good relations with everyone were the basis of his daily life,” says Yoriko.
He built a humble shack in Wakaba-cho to live in and ran a fish store. When he went to the fish market behind Sasebo Station in Miura-cho to stock up on fish, he would find time to train himself in the shadows of the freight cars on the pull-out line without anyone knowing what he was doing. But, someone saw him and asked, “please teach me too”.
The number of students increased from three to five, and this became the foundation of today’s Shobukan Dojo. “My father was a good man. He used to let students who come from far away to stay with him. When there was a shortage of things, he would entertain people with all the alcohol and food he could get, so our house was always on the brink of poverty. When I was in elementary school, my job was to go to the pawnshop,” says Yoriko, smiling.
Moving from City to City & the To’no Dojo
”Ya!” This is the piercing spirit and movement felt around the dojo; its noise and vibration cannot be avoided.
In the town’s community center there were complaints almost immediately, and Yasato Yoriyuki who valued people’s harmony above all else, decided to move the dojo. During the time of the late mayor Tsuji Kazumi, Yoriyuki was allowed to use the Shimanose fire department’s dojo. He thought he’d be relieved, but when he found out that the officers on duty couldn’t sleep well, he had to search for a new location again.
It was thanks to the help of Nakamura Hiromi, President of Saihi Bus Company, who was a member of the House of Representatives at the time, that he finally settled on a dojo in To’no. The dojo is located in a corner of the To’no Market Street and was used as a gymnasium of the To’no Elementary School before the war. After the war, it was used as a boxing gym and then as the dojo for the Judo Association, but after the construction of a new Judo hall, it became the dojo of the Shobukan.
After working as a fishmonger in the daytime, he also worked as a security guard at Tamaya Department Store at night. At that time, he met an officer from the U.S. military base who asked him to teach at the base’s special services.
Yoriyuki, who was an 8th dan in Judo and a 6th dan in Kendo, was asked to participate in three divisions: Judo, Kendo and Karate. This is how many Karate fans were born on the base, and in 1961, the “Japan-U.S. Friendship International Karate-Do Tournament” was held with the participation of many American children.
Around this time, Yoriyuki had a heartbreaking episode. At the time of the Vietnam War, a U.S. Marine who was learning Karate was going to the front lines. He said, “I have mastered the art of self-defense and I am not afraid of war,” and went to Vietnam. The marine eventually returned safely and proudly reported that he had killed Viet Cong…and handed his teacher his combat record.
Despite the brutality of the battlefield, Yoriyuki, a true lover of peace, was deeply affected by the insanity of war, and told his family about it from time to time. At the end of the Pacific War, Okinawa had paid a heavy price for the U.S. military invasion, but its desire for peace had been there since the Ryukyu Kingdom era. Karate was born from this desire and as such has only a “devotion for self-defense”.
“Purify your mind and strengthen your body” and “To continue is the way“. These are the two mottos of Shobukan Karate Dojo. Although it is not an Olympic event today, Karate is being promoted internationally as part of the Asian Games and World Championships. Last year, Chihara Shiyo from the Shobukan became the best in the world.
Yasato Yoriyuki’s Karate, which Hiroyuki and Yoriko have inherited, has grown into a large tree with branches and leaves that flourish around the world.
Yasuzato Yoriyuki departed to this world on November 23, 1974. He was 61 years old.
Yasuzato Yoriyuki’s posthumous article “Okinawa Karate” was published in the local magazine “Rainbow” (Niji) in 1980. The following is the summary of the article.
In 1470, during the Muromachi period of Japan, Shohashi, the lord of Shuri Nakayama Castle in Okinawa, assumed power. During the reign of his grandson, Shoshin, the “Bunji Rikoku” (文治立国) was proclaimed which forbade the use of military force. In 1609, Okinawa was attacked by the Satsuma clan and all weapons were confiscated.
Karate was born out of the need to train the body to protect life and property. The leg techniques, kicks, are unique to Okinawa. It is hard to believe that this highly polished techniques are the work of human beings. Furthermore, by adopting the advantages of Chinese Kenpo and other techniques, it was perfected as a martial art that teaches, “there is no first attack in Karate”.
In Okinawa, Karate was simply called “Te” until about a hundred years ago. Eventually it was introduced into junior high school physical education and became “Karate” which was documented by Hanashiro Chomo sensei, who used the kanji for “Karate“. In 1912, when the Japanese Navy’s fleet entered Okinawa, more than a dozen non-commissioned officers were selected to train in it during a training camp.
In 1920, Okinawa Teachers’ College Karate instructor, Yabu Kentsu, took the first steps toward internationalization by demonstrating in Hawaii and Los Angeles while on his way to visit his children in the United States. There is a plaque on the outer second gate of Shuri Castle on Okinawa that reads “Shurei” (守礼 – observing courtesy). Karate also begins and ends with courtesy. Okinawans are proud to be the “People of Shurei” and have been practicing Karate for a long time.