John Watkin - Karate LIFE, Vol. 1. No.1, 1993, Melbourne Australia.

Karate LIFE, Vol. 1. No.1, 1993, Melbourne Australia.

Tile size front page of Karate Life Vol. 1. No. 1, 1993. John Watkin performing a demonstration throw at HMAS Cerebus with base instructor N.G. Craske. Melbourne 1981.

John Watkin

Chief Instructor - Shinto Yoshin Ryu Karate

President - Karate Instructors Association of Australasia (inc)


John Watkin will be 64 years of age in the very near future. He will also be retiring from his teaching profession. At a time such as this most people would turn their attention to improving golf handicaps or dangling a line in search of the elusive fish or three. Most people, that is, but not John Watkin or should we say Dai Sensi John Watkin.

John Watkin will use the extra time, which at the moment is something of a precious commodity, at his Dojo and with his students in the Melbourne of Preston. John is the Australian Chief Instructor of Shinto Yoshin Ryu Karate. However, it doesn’t stop there. Apart from teaching Karate he also teaches Judo, Ju-Jitsu and Kick-Boxing and holds Dan grades in several martial arts aside from those already mentioned.

John’s introduction to martial arts back in 1952 seems fairly typical of the time, however, what is remarkable was his diversification into several other systems as time went by.

With the memory of World War 2 still fresh in the minds of many, the political climate in Australia, in 1952, dictated that anything with a Japanese flavour was not the be fostered. It was because of this attitude that the fighting system known as Karate, which was only just beginning to creep into Australia should be otherwise referred to as “self defence” rather than by its true name.

So John attended his first Self Defence class at the YMCA at 8.00 pm on Saturday the 2nd of August 1952. His teacher then, was Jack Cox who tought a misture of Judo and Ju Jitsu. By Christmas time john was a Yellow Belt. John continued to train at the YMCA for 9 years studying mainly Judo.

Hwever it was not in this art that John received his first Black Belt. That came in 1959 in the art of Ju Jitsu which he studied at Beatty’s Physical Culture He began training there in 1955 and with his love for both arts was eventually training 6 nights per week.

In 1959 he began teaching at the Collingwood Technical school and in 1960 he opened his own school in Fairfield tecaching both Judo and Ju Jitsu but going under the title of Shinto Yoshin Ryu Ju Jitsu. In 1960 his hard training was rewarded with a promotion to 2nd Dan and he effectively took charge of teaching in Australia.

In the mid to late 60’s John also trained under some well known Australian pioneers, namely Tino Ceberano and Wally McClean. John was responsible for prompting a young, new Australian glazier, to commence Karate classes which would eventually lead to the establishment of Goju Kai. Wally McClean was also pioneering with his Wado Kai system and this also included a student by the name of John Watkin.

Over the years John has more than just dabbled in various Martial Arts and has always held the view that one can learn from others. He has always been prepared to attend courses and seminars conducted by anyone connected to the Martial Arts.

His current list of accreditations bear testimony to the diversity of his training and he presently holds the following grades;

7th Dan – Yoshin Ryu Karate received in 1989
6th Dan – Katate Instructors Association Multi Style received 1981
5th Dan – Judo received in 1988 from Yoshiaka Shinojima
4th Dan – Shinto Yoshin Ryu Ju Jitsu received in 1988
3rd Dan – World Tae Kwon Do Federation received in 1987 and
2nd Dan – Australian Tae Kwon Do Federation received in 1980 both from John Hoffman
1st Dan – Wado Kai received in 1973 from Wally McLean
1st Kyu – Aikido (“One day I must get around to going for my Black Belt in Aikido!”)
John Watkin standing before the Shinto Yoshin Ryu Club banner.


The original club began as “Shinto Yoshin Ryu Ju Jitsu” in 1883 under Sensei Nakayama who in 1921 handed over the running of the school to Sensei Hironori Ohtsuka who, in abour 1940, founded the Wado-Kai Karate system which this spelled the end of Shinto Yoskin Ryu Ju Jitsu. It wasn’t until 1960 when it was rekindled by John Watkin at his Fairfield club.

After training in the old stype of Ju Jitsu, with firther studes in Aikido and Judi, it was decided to add the influences of Wado Kai and Goju Kai to all of this and recreate Yoshin Ryu as a new Karate style.

Today He teaches out of his full time facility in Preston, Melbourne where he offers Karate training as well as the other forms of martial arts. The school is now known as the Willow Heart Yoshin Ryu Karate, a name chosen from historical fact.

The terms Willow Heart and Yoshin basically have the same meaning and are used in the title based upon an experience by Professor Jigoro Kano, founder of modern day Judo, who noriced that after a fierce snow storm the usually strong and solid oak trees in his garden had collapsed under the weight of the snow on the branches, however the soft an pliable willow tree had survived because when the snow accumulated on the branches they merely drooped and unloaded the snow and the returned to their original position. Kano used this analogy in his teachings to explain his method of using an attackers force against them in order to succeed in battle.

Apart from Karate-Do, John also incorporates weapons training including Boken, Bo, Sai, Tonfa and Kama. This weapons training is dealt with in three stages to provide the best practical effect. Initially training is conducted in pairs with both students wielding the weapon against one another. One student then dispenses with the weapon and learns to combat his partner unarmed allowing the body to become the weapon. Finally both dispense with the weapon and revert to unarmed combat. This, john explains, has a practical aspect in that it is often difficult, when faced with genuine self defence situation, to lay one’s hands upon a Bo or Tonfa, however, the principles remain the same.

With his friends and fellow Karate Ka, Tino Ceberano and Wally McLean, John was a foundation member the Federation of Karate-Do Organisations (FAKO) which is now known as the Australian Karate Federation (AKF). John, however, became disillusioned by the direction in which this organisation was heading and eventually left.

Two ./MA/KarateLife/images. John Watkin performing a Karate Kata and John Watkin performing a Bo Kata.

In 1976, at the invitation of Peter Corbitt, John attended a Goju Kensha seminar to train with their Japanese Chief Instructor Sensei Ohtsuka. After an enjoyable weekend of training a friendship between John and Peter emerged and they decided to train together regularly. These informal sessions soon gave way to the formation of a more formal organisation and thus, along with other attendees, on the 27th of April, 1976 the Karate Instructors Association was born with John Watkin elected as Director and Peter Corbitt, Secretary.
Fearful of previous disappointments with the formal bodies John ensured that long discussions were conducted to ensure a system which would work without suffering to politics. Membership eligibility was open to Chief Instructors only and not to entire organisations.

From these early days KIA has changed and grown. Original club rules and constitution were drafted on a single foolscap sheet of paper but now are contained in two books. Peter Corbitt moved to Western Australia and consequently Les Anyos stepped in as Secretary. The body has send competitors to four world championships – and competed successfully! When Ray Rigby in New Zealand joined in the ‘80s the name was further amended to KIAA witht the inclusion of the world ‘Australasia’. The latest change occurred when the KIAA amalgamated with the World Association of Kickboxing Organisations (WAKO) which has allowed for international growth.

Today the KIAA has some 30 members throughout Australia and New Zealand and John Watkin still presides as president. The international flavour grows with KIAA assisting two clubs in South America, a member club in the USA and the recent affiliation to Japan under Shihan Takahashi, which John belives adds a great psychological boost because in terms of Karate-Do Japan is considered as the ‘homeland’. Set up to assist Karate Instructors rather than control them, the KIAA conducts various courses for self improvement free of the influences of individual styles. The purpose is to share one another’s knowledge. Formal sessions are conducted in various areas including Referee training.

To ensure healthy growth of Karate-Do throught the world John believes that the various governing organisations must adopt a set of rules which will allow the various styles to compete together in harmony. Otherwise Tae Kwon Do is going to take over as it has already shown in the Olympic arena. John points out that the are approximately 25,000,000 followers of Karate throught the world today, yet we are not represented at the sporting Mecca of thw rolds. Why though, is the relative newcomer, synchronised swimming, represented when it surely must have a much smaller following? It is because the sport is perhaps well organised and controlled?

Two ./MA/KarateLife/images. John Watkin performing a sword demonstration woth a Bokken and John Watkin performing a Karate Kata.

This philosophy is probably subscribed to by many rulers of our sport from organisations all over the world and may sound rather simplistic, however nothing has occurred to achieve the common aim. The reason for this, John explains, is that ther are too many administrators, all with a unbending attitude, who do not seem prepared to listen to the next. “Champions may come and go but administrators go on forever.” These people all strive for the top positions and seek personal glory without thought for the art itself and this inturn hampers the prospects of the development of the sport. The nature of Karate-Do is combat and this combative nature is robably to blame in some respects for the situation we find ourselves in today.

“I have trained in some 8 or 9 different styles of Karate and they are all basically the same. Each Instructor has two arms and legs and there is a limit to what he can do with them.”

No-one holds copywrite on Karate-Do and no-one can claim to hold all the knowledge of Karate-Do. This must be remembered for the benefit of our sport!

With all this in mind John will continue to teach his style of Karate and looks forward to redinting later this year. This will hopefully allow more time to expand the club and perhaps travel more, however, working on expanding the club effectively rules out travel prospects and vice versa.

With the better part of a lifetime involved in martial arts, John Watkin will no doubt continue to enjoy his involvement. One of the ‘highs’ of his involvement teaching Karate will probably take a long while for many of us to experience.

“as far as achievements are concerned, many things appeal to different peopoe. One that I enjoy is the fact that I have tought three generations in the one family. I get a lift out of people stopping me in the street and introducing themselves as past students from m any years and reminding me that they sat a grading ro Brown Belt way back when. Of course it is difficult for me to remember the individual faces and initially it may seem unimportant because I have graded many to Brown Belt but to this person it is very important because it is the only Brown Belt he’s every received.”