GKR’s place in karate history

Chart showing the lineage of GKR karate

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Many traditionalists judge a karate style by its lineage back to the pioneers of karate. Of course, a club is far more than list of who taught who, and I'd sooner train in a club that is progressive and based in the modern world, than one which is constrained by ancient teaching methods, but GKR brings the best of both, with a direct lineage back to the biggest names in Okinawa's martial history.

It has often been stated that GKR represents a fusion between Shotokan, and Goju (more accurately Keishinkan and Goju Kai). These two styles represent significantly different philosophies on martial arts development. On one hand, Keshinkan is very direct and hard, and includes many exaggerated stances, and uses karate as a form of callisthenics, as well as for self defence. It operates at long distance. On the other hand, Goju uses more realistic stances, understands the meaning of soft, as well as hard, and is primarily a functional style based around close quarters grappling and striking.

Kancho Sullivan's most influential instructors have been Tino Ceberano, Merv Oakley, and Masayuki Takasaka, and he has earned dan grades in their respective styles.

Merv Oakley and Tino Ceberano are both Goju Kai practitioners, who trained directly under Gogen Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was the founder of Goju Kai, an offshoot of the Goju Ryu style. Goju Ryu is considered to be one of the four classical modern Okinawan karate styles – the others are Wado Ryu, Shotokan and Shito Ryu. Yamaguchi was taught by Chojun Miyagi, Goju Ryu’s founder.

Thus, two of Kancho’s earliest and most influential instructors can demonstrate a direct and relatively short lineage back to the founder of Goju Ryu. It’s through these influences that we get the concept of hard and soft in GKR, as well as the Goju katas Saifa, Seiunchin, Empi, Sanseryu, Seipai, Karurunfa, Shisochin, and Seisan.

The Goju link is irrefutable, but the Shotokan connection is less direct.

Kancho trained in Budokan under a Malaysian called Tony Chew, and then under Chew’s father, Chew Choo Soot, who was the founder of the Karate Association of Malaysia. Soot was trained by Masayuki Takasaka, a Keishinkan practitioner whom Sullivan subsequently met and trained under directly, before sponsoring the man to move to Australia to start his own karate empire.

Sullivan learned his Shotokan katas (Taikyoku Shodan, Bassai Dai, Empi, Hangetsu, Kanku Dai, Kanku Sho, and Sochin) from these people. But some of these kata, such as Hangetsu (which also exists in Goju and many other styles of karate under different names) pre-date the formation of Shotokan, so they could be considered to be style-less in any case.

Takasaka studied at Takushoku University , and whilst the club there was independent, it was heavily influenced by the Shotokan style. Takasaka trained under a man called Masanao Takazawa, who was taught by Kanken Toyama, founder of the Keishinkan style. Toyama received his instruction from a number of Okinawan masters, all of whom predated the foundation of Shotokan. However, it was from one of these same masters – namely the influential and highly respected Yasutsune Itosu, a martial arts practitioner from the Shuri region of Okinawa -  that Gichin Funakoshi, Shotokan’s founder, received some of his instruction. Toyama also studied under Chojun Miyagi.

Kancho also lists Hirokazu Kanazawa (the highest ranked Shotokan karateka in the world today) as one of his influences. However, as Kancho says, “The Shotokan aspect within GKR comes purely from that influence within Keishinkan”, which suggests that Kanazawa ’s influence was very minor, or that Kancho had already learned and decided upon the Shotokan kata and principles by the time he encountered Kanazawa ..

Any way you look at it, it’s clear that Kancho Robert Sullivan, can rightly claim to have trained and been graded in traditional Okinawan karate, with a direct lineage that goes straight back to the birth of modern karate in the early part of the last century.

Although it has been stated in the past that GKR is a fusion of Goju and Shotokan, and his latter senseis - to whom he seems to be far closer - provide the Shotokan influence, it would be fair to say that the Goju influence is by far the dominant force, and this is the aspect that GKR most continues to foster, with training trips for the senior black belts to Goju honbus in Japan .

The fact that GKR students continue to perform well on the national stage in Australian all-styles competitions, is the clearest possible indicator of the value of Kancho's approach, and the effectiveness of this fusion of styles.

Although it may well be only 21 years old as of 2005, GKR is part of a rich heritage of karate extending straight back to the pioneering days when the art was not even called karate. It uses traditional training methods, and uses traditional kata. Some have been modified along the way, as they always have by the masters of every style, in order to make them more functional, but a student in GKR could likely go into a dojo 100 years ago, and the syllabus would not be too alien to him.

We're part of a long tradition, with noble goals, and we should be proud to call ourselves GKR students.

Here's a deeper article on what each of the styles brings to GKR. GKR - Karate's Special Blend