Glimpse at AAK’s beginnings

With my most senior student, German "Hermie" de Leon Lopez.

I was barely fifteen years old, practicing Judo at the headquarters of the Quezon City Police Department when one day one of our instructors announced that we were going to meet an expert in another martial art. I was then in my third year of high school at San Beda College and I had classes that day. My Judo classmate picked me up at school and we all crammed into his Chevrolet Bel-Air and proceeded to where we would see this expert.

Mikami Sensei is not an impressive person, if you happen to meet him in civilian clothes. He was very different from our Judo instructors who were very bulky and squat. Takayuki Mikami Sensei was a small man with well-defined muscular development. He had closely cropped hair and was soft spoken with his broken English.

Training under Mikami Sensei was very challenging. He would push us to what we thought at that moment was already way beyond our limits. He would first demonstrate the technique, explain the details and then make us repeat it so many times we felt that maybe he wanted us to quit after all. More than half of the training was always kihon or basic techniques. When the other students felt that they could not go on, Sensei would show them the way by doing techniques with them. There was no stop to the training. Sensei said that you may rest but you have to listen and understand what he is explaining. “Rest your body but use your mind”. No time was wasted. While he was busy teaching the other students, I was supposed to keep practicing my basic techniques.

After the training sessions was when we got to know Mikami Sensei as a person. He always found time to discuss with us whatever we wanted to ask him concerning any question that came to mind. When we talked with him we felt he was genuinely interested in what we were talking about.

Takayuki Mikami Sensei went back to Japan in 1958. After he left, my thirst for Karate became so strong that I would go anywhere just to learn a few techniques from one instructor or another. My karategi was always with me. I would cut class whenever I found out there was karateka around so that I would not miss the opportunity to learn something from him even if it meant that I would be hurt.

After several other instructors and six years of this kind of life, I decided to settle down with a few friends and form a club so that I could always have somebody to practice with. A family friend allowed us to use his vacant lot in Quezon city where we built our first Dojo. We called it the Kuroi Samurai Dojo (“kuroi” means “black” in Japanes and samurai are Japanese knights or warriors). The size of our first gym was five meters by ten meters. It was constructed of makeshift and inexpensive material. The post and floor were used for crating heavy machinery. The walls were wooven bamboo slats (sawali) and the roof was made of second hand roofing materials donated by the members. This was in January 1964 and we already had our first students.

In June 1964, I took the sole leadership of the club when my other associates could no longer continue due to other responsibilities. In July 21, 1964, I with my students inaugurated the KSKD and the same year we joined 40 other associates to form the Karate Federation of the Philippines. This was the first attempt to unify all karate organizations by our accomplishments, such as garnering the highest rating in the 1st National Seminar of Karate Instructors (Dec. 1964), our members consistent wins in the National Championships and our members garnering of the highest ratings in the national blackbelt seminars and examinations.

1968 was a good year for the club. We transferred to a new and bigger dojo which was constructed right beside our house and we were able to establish our first school club at Ateneo High School. Two of our members, Eduardo Ponce and German Lopez, won the Inter-Federation Tournament (All Styles) which was dubbed the National Open Karate Championmship. I was coach of our Federation’s team. I was also elected vice-president of the Karate Federation of the Philippines (KAFE-PHIL).

The last time we participated in the KFP was in 1970 when I coached the federation team that won the championships at the Asian Festival of Combat Sports.

In May 1971 I was given recognition by the Board of Directors of the Karate Federation of the Philippines when they awarded me the rank of the 6th Dan.

By 1973 our organization which had already grown to become one of the largest in the country, changed its name to the Assocaition for the Advancement of Karate-do (AAK). The AAK maintained the Kuroi Samurai Dojo as its headquarters but also had already opened up by this time (14) branches; 8 in exclusive schools, 2 in commercial firms, 2 in housing villages, 1 in Batangas and 1 in Jolo. I was designated as President and Head Instructor.

In May, 1974, the Association for the Advancement of Karate-do together with the other major organizations formed the Philippine Karate Federation at that time. On June 23, 1974, on the occasion of the 1st World Invitational Karate Tournamnet in the Philippines, I was honored by the PKA as the AAK founder with its foundation award which stated”…in recognition of his unselfish efforts towards the unification of karate in the Philippines.”

The PKA had a very good start as a national federation. However, as time passed, many of its chartered members like the AAK became disenchanted with its policies as promulgated by its leadership. A lot of problems cropped up, which where left unattended. The leaders tended to favor the advice or opinions expressed by non-karate practicioners over those of authentic karate leaders. This led to the PKA’s downfall.

The AAK decided to become inactive in the PKA. Instead, I concentrated my efforts towards the expansion of the AAK by putting up more branches and upgrading the technical standards so as to be ready if and when the time came that we would have to prove our capabilities in open competition. I established a system of instruction wherein Karate-do was treated not only as a sport or as a means of self-defense but more importantly as a medium of character strengthening. As my first sensei made me realize, my students had to be taught to appreciate the value of hardship. I believe that in order for character to be strengthened, difficulty has to be sustained. The better one becomes, the harder it should be.

With my most senior student, German “Hermie” de Leon Lopez.

Our time came at last when in 1987 national karate tryouts were announced to select the National Karate Team to the 14th SEA Games. The AAK karatekas dominated the tryouts and won the most number of medals. In the meantime, the Philippine Karate-do Federation (PKF) was formed, and I was elected PKF President.

The PKF first tested the waters of international competition when it sent a Philippine karate team to particippate in the 1987 Asia-Pacific Union of Karate-do Organizations (APUKO) Championships in Jakarta, Indonesia, then to the 14th SEA Games the same year. In 1988, we sent a small team (made up of AAK’s David Lay, Ricky Lim and Eric Fermin, and Baguio’s Rey Hilario) to the World Union of Karate-do Organization (WUKO) World Championshps in Cairo, Egypt. Our karatekas gained much exposure from these first few tournaments; from these experiences we observed that, with little more hard work, Philippine karatekas had the potential to become world class. We then proceeded to put in that much-needed hard work.

Our big international debut was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when AAK blackbelts David Lay and Ricky Lim, together with Rey Hilario of Baguio City, won the first two gold medals for the Philippines in the Men’s Individual Kata and Men’s Synchonized Kata events.

Since that time, AAK karatekas have always made up the majority of the National Karate-do team and won in various international tournaments. Among our proud accomplishments are the numerous gold medals won in the Manila and Singapore SEA Games, silver and bronze medals in the Asian Games, 5th place in the world men’s kata (Ricky Lim). Still, my biggest dream is to produce nothing less than a world champion.

Sometimes, I am reunited with Mikami Sensei when I visit his fojo in New Orleans, or during the WKF (formerly WUKO) Technical Commission meetings. Of course as a man of martial arts, he will never tell me his feelings on the way we have handled the work that he himself started here in the Philippines. But knowing him, as his student, I have a strong feeling that he is happy with the way things have turned out.

Note: This article was written in 1994. To date, the AAK has produced World Champions. They are Sonny Montalvo, Joel Malilin, Jaime Berberabe Lim, Alisa Veguillas Cifra, Raphael Habalo, Vincent Pante, Tani Lim, Miguel and Raissa Velasquez, Sakura and Naoki Alforte, Adam Bondoc and Junna Tsukii. They have won gold medals in various world championships from the year 2001 up to the present time.

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