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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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With a string of highly successful and popular titles to his name, Dr. Clive Layton has secured his role as one of the most important writers of Shotokan Karate. Books like ‘Conversations with Karate Masters’, ‘Karate Master: The Life & Times of Mitsusuke Harada’ and ‘Kanazawa 10th Dan’ to name a few have brought him much attention and popularity and ‘Shotokan Dawn’ is no exception, and is considered as one of his most accomplished pieces.


Shotokan Dawn: A selected, early history of Shotokan Karate in Great Britain (1956-66)’ looks at, as the title would imply, the planting of the seed that brought karate into Great Britain; a nation which would soon become one of the most successful homes of Karate-Do in the World, which created many Internationally respected Martial Artists.


This books tells the story of it’s emergence from France from the teachings of Henry Plee through the vision and ambition of the UK’s Vernon Bell, which eventually led to a growth of major popularity and interest in Karate within Britain.


Volume 1 of this two part series interestingly look at Karate pre-Kanazawa, exploring the early movement and establishment of the BKF due to the efforts and work of Vernon Bell. In many respects it seems only naturally fitting that this book centres on Bell due to his significant role in the planting of those seeds.


The book opens with a beautiful foreword from Bell himself who states ‘I have read the two volumes of Shotokan Dawn and they provide a truly fair and excellent record of events’. He then goes onto say ‘Going over all the memories, visiting the sites again after all these years, has enriched my life, spurred my individual training on, and I believe the books will have a similar effect upon al who read them’.


Rich with factual information, this book is so layered with so many wonderful elements. A great portion of the book is made up of excerpts of the letters between Vernon Bell and Henry Plee, discussing Bell’s ambitions to develop Karate within the Great Britain and Henry Plee’s devotion to help support and nurture this. This is excellently seasoned with anecdotes from many influential people from this time. The likes of Vernon Bell, through interview with the author, Terry Wingrove and so many others share their sometimes-vivid memories of early karate in GB. These names are now considered vitally important in Karate history, but to hear them talk as beginners, sharing anecdotes from their younger years is humbling and completely fascinating.


We hear about the early influence of Judo in GB, and Sensei Kenshiro Abbe and Hiroo Mochizuki (who by some accounts spent a year training with Master Gichin Funakoshi). Bell recalls his visits to Paris to join Plee and the times he spent sleeping in the dojo with nothing but a blanket. All of this brings the story of early British Karate alive and provides a brilliant insight into the early struggles to establish Karate and the perseverance of certain figures within GB.


Using BKF Records ‘as the backbone’, Layton gives the accounts with as much honesty and truthfulness as possible, and he respectfully discusses the validity of the ‘memory’ as a recording device. To an extent the reference to the written text, in the form of letters, grading sheets and registers helps put the correct and the incorrect information into the right places, and while at times this may seem a little heavy, it does serve to provide a balanced account of the true events of these important 10 years in British Karate.


One of the most intriguing things that this book discusses from this era was the selectiveness of the BKF membership and the requirements of joining. With health checks, references from a priest and so many other things being taken into account before allowing you to join, this kind of vetting it could be said limited the promotion of Karate-Do, but with hindsight most would suggest it helped keep Karate within the correct crowd away from the hands of those who could abuse it.


For me however, my favourite section of the book is that which looks at the period of time that Tetsuji Murakami had a heavy influence. During the first Course with him it was said that he ‘He tore up everything we’d done before’ as Terry Wingrove states. By all accounts, Murakami’s influence in these early years was immeasurable, and his presence certainly built and structured the way karate was practiced.


There are wonderful and often comical anecdotes from this time, one involving Wingrove, Bell and a bowl of urine. Stories that will certainly make you laugh while being contrasted with stories of the harsh treatment Murakami dealt out consisting of slaps to the face and stamps on the back leg. While at times I find the book a little too factual, stories such as these help lighten the book and give it a real personality.


Shotokan Dawn V1 is an essential and truly unique text, which should be read by all karateka. Littered with some beautiful photographs, this book really is an excellently set forward book that will help inform us all of where our karate came from.


To buy this book, visit www.monabooks.co.uk