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  KOI - The Kobe Osaka Story - The Early Years

The Kobe Osaka Story-The Early Years

From the Kobe Osaka Story by
Alistair Marshall and Tommy Morris


Tommy Morris, Scotland's first karate black belt, is the acknowledged founder of organised karate in Scotland. He first became interested in the martial arts at the age of 14. "I suppose I was something of a seven stone weakling, though I don't remember anyone kicking sand in my face," says Tommy, "but I did decide to do something about it. I became interested in judo and ju-jitsu after reading several books and magazines on the subject. I had already come to the conclusion that proficiency in unarmed combat was a necessary part of any self-respecting man's repertoire and of course it was also a great way to keep fit and develop my physique".

In 1957 Tommy joined the Royal Marines Reserve, qualifying as a commando, a parachutist, and an assault engineer. During his 6 years of service he taught close combat and participated in many successful demonstrations and displays throughout the United Kingdom. It was in 1961 that he first heard of the new techniques of karate, which were fast gaining popularity in France and the U.S.A., but there were no qualified instructors in Britain. He realised that if he wanted to learn the new art he would have to teach himself from training books and manuals. He drew up his own training programme and every day for the next two years, in every available free moment, he persevered with his task alone and unsupervised. With no fixed place to train his dojo was often the open fields, sometimes the Royal Marines Drill Hall at Eglinton Toll, more often than not the Daily Express process-engraving darkroom during the meal-break.

The major breakthrough came in late 1963. The Glasgow novice wrote to the famous French martial arts expert Monsieur Henri Plee, who had made a study of karate in Japan and who was teaching the Shotokan style of karate. The young Scot was invited to cross the Channel and train for a spell at the Frenchman's famous dojo, the Academie Francaise d'Arts Martiaux in the Rue de la Montagne St. Genevieve in Paris. Finance for the trip was a major stumbling block but Tommy overcame it by regretfully selling his most prized possession - a Royal Enfield Constellation motorcycle he had saved three years to buy - and in May 1964 he set off to take his first instruction in karate. Once in Paris he found that his lonely hours in the gym had not been in vain. His training schedule had been basically correct and at the end of five days he was awarded the grade of 4th kyu.

Back in Glasgow Tommy was approached by a group of friends and asked if he would be prepared to instruct them in karate. A small informal club was formed at the Osaka Judo Club's gym in Albion Street, and interest was so intense that by the time Tommy set off for a second trip to Paris in September of 1964, the Club membership had mushroomed to over ninety. Tommy was promoted to the rank of 1st kyu by Monsieur Plee, and the membership of the Osaka Karate Club, as it was then known, continued to snowball. In 1965 some of the leading instructors of the day were invited to Glasgow to give instruction. Among the first were Yoshinao Nanbu then 4th Dan, and Frenchman Patrick Baroux who was later to become European Champion in 1966 and 1967. At the end of Sensei Nanbu's week long course, he awarded a number of Osaka Club members their first gradings. Tommy Morris himself made history as the first Scot ever to be awarded a Karate Black Belt.

Members of the Kobe Osaka in September 1965. Yoshinao Nanbu is in the centre with Patrick Baroux and Tommy Morris in the front. Are you in the photo? If you are why not get in touch?

In October that same year, the club took part in the first British Karate Championships at Crystal Palace and Danny Bryceland a Kobe-Osaka member who had been in training for only 10 months won the Junior Grade Championship of Great Britain. In November 1965 the club moved to a new H.Q. in the Dixon Halls and changed its name in honour of Mr. Nanbu, to the Kobe-Osaka Karate Club. Kobe is the city where he lived and trained and Osaka the university where he studied.

It was also in 1965 that a number of people in Dundee, Coatbridge, and Kilmarnock, approached Tommy with a view to affiliating with his club to learn karate. As a result a Constitution was drawn up and the Osaka Karate-do Renmei, later to be the Scottish Karate-do Association was founded with Tommy Morris as Secretary and National Coach.

In 1966 a karate magazine article by Bob McIntosh the Chairman of the Scottish Karate-do Association, had this to say - "The Association and its growth are the direct result of the prodigious efforts of our own Tom Morris, who is the only Black Belt holder in Scotland. It is an accepted fact that karate and Morris are synonymous with all who reside in the North, and his boundless enthusiasm and organising ability are the motivating factors behind the success we have enjoyed so far. As our National Coach, he travels wherever requested, and his prowess in his field is unique. This is the view of all who have enjoyed his instruction. If these attributes are overshadowed at all, it is only by his performance on the mat, which is an experience in itself. His sacrifices for the sport have been many and varied, and his entry into karate is an absorbing tale on its own. In an effort to emulate someone like this, members train hard and compete in a like manner. If they are trained by Morris, there will never be any hesitation to accept any challenge. The Association was founded in June 1965, and gradually enquiries came from various parts of Scotland. It soon became apparent that someone would have to accept the mammoth task of welding different clubs together. Tom Morris immediately set about preparing a Constitution along with plans to embrace as many clubs as possible throughout Scotland. Today, these clubs are now united under the guiding hand of this singularly dynamic person. Tom's efforts have been rewarded by the successes achieved, and when one considers his capabilities, there can be little doubt of future success."

Prophetic words, since members of the four clubs who attended the inaugural meeting little realised that in the space of one decade Scottish Karate would blossom to include thousands, and that home-bred karate champions would emerge, who one day would challenge Europe and the World and win. In February of 1966 Tommy successfully organised the first Karate International to be held in Britain. A highly experienced French team came out on top but the Scottish squad's experience was invaluable for the future. Tommy himself now became an established member of the Great Britain Team and took part in the first British International events and the first European Championships in Paris.

In October 1966 he organised the first Scottish Championships in the Govan Town Hall. In attendance were such famous names as Henri Plee, Yoshinao Nanbu, Tatsuo Suzuki, and Jacques Delcourt, President of the European Karate Union. A capacity crowd of 1400 wildly cheered the demonstrations and fighters alike. Not unexpectedly Kobe-Osaka swept the board.

Success followed success. The first Kobe-Osaka Championships held shortly afterwards attracted hugely enthusiastic support. "Oh those heady exciting days, we little realised we were making history", says Tommy. In January 1966 the club had moved to new premises at 27 Union Street, where it was to stay for the next five years. The Scottish Karate-do Association was also flourishing and by the end of the year there were 14 clubs. Shortly afterwards the staggering interest in Karate in Scotland forced Tommy to make the most crucial decision of his life. If he wanted to promote and nurture the present growth in interest he would have to give up the security of his job as a photo-process engraver with the Scottish Daily Express. Work-mates told him he was mad to consider it, but in July 1967 he made the break and set off on a further quest for knowledge on a two month Odyssey to Japan with Yoshinao Nanbu. Together they visited as many Japanese karate clubs as possible, but it was at the Kobe dojo of Sensei Chojiro Tani, that Tommy was introduced to the karate style that he felt had everything. "Some of the dojos I visited had been disappointing," says Tommy. "Many of the techniques were archaic and lacked in real power. Some of the movements were purely traditional, rather than functional and therefore did not provide the answers in sporting or self-defence situations. The new style I was introduced to at the Shukokai dojo in Kobe appeared to have everything the others didn't. It was aesthetic. It looked how I believed karate should look. It was powerful. It was fast. It had traditional roots, and it was realistic and effective." It was here that Tommy met Sensei Shigeru Kimura and recognised immediately that he was to be one of the world's great karate instructors. Bearded and almost six feet tall, he was anything but the traditional Western idea of a Japanese. Fast, fearsome, explosive and deadly in action, it was the quiet aura of invincibility that was most impressive of all.

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Tommy resolved to make an in depth study of his style and trained eight hours a day with him for the next six weeks. It was a spartan existence on a diet largely composed of fish and rice with a four mile walk each way twice a day, to the dojo, often in 100 degree heat. Training commenced with half an hour's punching practice on the makiwara and then an hour and a half training in basics and kata, sometimes under the personal tuition of Mr. Tani and sometimes alone. After a light lunch there were a further two hours of basics and kata training. Between 4pm and 6pm there was practice with nun-chaku and ton-fa (Okinawan close combat weapons originally used as farm implements). After a half-hour break, public classes commenced for an hour and a quarter and after that Mr. Kimura took the black belts for "special" training. This included very hard training, kata and free fighting. To finish there was a period of free practice, with the survivors working late into the night. At the end of his stay in Japan, Tommy was promoted to the rank of 3rd Dan. An achievement which rightly gained him recognition as "The highest ranking karate man of British origin in the United Kingdom." (Karate & Oriental Arts Magazine November 1967).

Tommy Morris demonstrating
Ton-fa 1981

The wave of publicity which followed his return from Japan led to incessant demands for Tommy's services for courses in Shukokai Karate and the first authentic demonstrations of Nun-chaku, Sai, and Ton-fa throughout Britain and Europe. The great Hiroo Mochizuki, himself an accomplished weapons expert and a master of Iai-do, paid him the ultimate compliment watching his demonstrations in London and Paris, when he said "Those were some of the best ton-fa demonstrations I have ever witnessed."

The Kobe-Osaka Club membership also increased by leaps and bounds. In the British Championships Team Events the club was 3rd in 1967, 2nd in 1968 and 1st in 1969. In 1968 Peter Buonaccorsi took the British Junior Grade Championship and Danny Bryceland topped off his 1965 success by winning the Senior Championship. Success in the Scottish Championships was also evident with Kobe-Osaka members winning all events from 1966 to 1971. It was a startling achievement considering that there were nine senior Japanese instructors and over 300 clubs in Britain at the time.

In 1968 the first Scotland v England International was held and the Scottish team comprised entirely of Kobe-Osaka members, thrashed the English in the first victory of an unbeaten run which was to extend for eight years. In 1969 Tommy Morris took part in a series of demonstrations and courses in England and France along with Shigeru Kimura and arranged for the karate master to visit the Kobe-Osaka Club in Glasgow where he awarded Black Belts to several members.

In 1970 Tommy became Scotland's first International Karate Referee when he successfully passed the European Karate Union's Referees Examination in Ostend, Belgium. So successful a referee was he that in 1974 the European Karate Union appointed him Vice Chairman of the European Referees Commission. In 1975 he was appointed Arbitrator at the 2nd World Karate Championships in Long Beach, California and in 1977 at the 3rd World Championships in Tokyo, was promoted to Chief Referee (Kansacho) and elected Chairman of the World Union of Karate-do Organisations (W.U.K.O.) Rules Committee.

In 1973 accompanied by Brian Docherty, one of his senior instructors, he paid a working visit to the dojo Mr. Kimura had established in New Jersey, U.S.A. There, he gained valuable insights into the American karate scene and exchanged close combat techniques in training sessions with the New Jersey State Police.

In the same year the Kobe-Osaka Clubs, now an Association in their own right, severed their relationship with the Scottish Karate-do Association and Tommy assisted in the formation of the new Scottish Karate Board of Control. He also achieved a goal he had fought for, for several years as delegate to the European Karate Union, when the Scottish squad was recognised as a separate team for the first time in the European Championships. The stand he had taken was vindicated in the most crushing way, when in the finals in Valencia, the Scots beat the French to take the Championship at their first attempt. All but one of the team had started their karate at the Kobe-Osaka Club. The wheel had turned full circle.

The Kobe-Osaka Club's membership had now grown to over 500 in Glasgow alone, and there was a long waiting list. Tommy therefore purchased another floor at the premises in Glassford Street, where the club had moved in 1971, and a new dojo was opened on the 6th January 1974.

Bruce Lee and the "Kung-fu" films now hit the Western world with a bang. The Kobe-Osaka club was besieged with people eager to emulate Lee's exploits and Tommy had to negotiate with Unicorn Leisure for the use of Clouds Disco at the Apollo Theatre to cope with the demand. What started off as a let for two nights per week became four nights and a Saturday and Sunday. Over 1500 people started karate there that year alone, and in order to meet all his commitments Tommy was now working a 90 hour week. So great was the demand that Tommy opened clubs in Kilmarnock, Ayr, Motherwell, Dumfries and Edinburgh and trained some 30 instructors to teach Kobe-Osaka's 2500 members. By the middle of 1975 the "boom" was over and the hordes of aspiring "Bruce Lee's" once again gave way to the more serious student.

In line with their established policy of keeping abreast, indeed in front, of new developments, eight Kobe-Osaka instructors visited Mr. Kimura's dojo in New Jersey in the late summer of 1975, and fought Mr. Kimura's crack team. The result was a resounding victory for Kobe-Osaka when they defeated the U.S. team by 7 victories to 1 and took the first five places in the individual event.

In April 1976 Tommy Morris was elected Chairman of the Scottish Karate Board of Control and in March was promoted 5th Dan by Senseis Tani and Kimura. However the boss of the Kobe-Osaka had no intention of letting the grass grow under his feet in the fields of self-defence and combat. An expert with knife, pistol, rifle, and shotgun he graduated as top student at Jeff Cooper's American Pistol Institute in Arizona with a rating of "Expert-Special Merit", in the use of the .45 automatic pistol. He was runner up in the first U.K. Combat Pistol Championships and represented Great Britain in the biennial World Combat Pistol Championships in September 1977 and again in 1979.

In 1978 Kobe-Osaka members again demonstrated their superlative abilities and further consolidated their position as leaders in the karate world. David Coulter won the European Lightweight title in Geneva, and the Kobe-Osaka teams took both first and second places in the 10th Scottish Championships. This was their seventh Scottish Championships team victory. In addition Kobe-Osaka members took first, second and third places in the individual event. Twenty members were also promoted to Black Belt status including Tommy's son Steven, who after nine years training became at 15 years old the Club's youngest black belt.

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