Karate Do Goju Kai in Australia

Merv Oakley introduced the Goju style of Karate to Australia in 1963. Merv, a student of Jujutsu for many years, travelled to Japan by cargo ship with the intention of furthering his martial arts training. On arrival at Tokyo, he started to look for a martial arts school, which - back in 1963 - was not easy to find. At that time there were very few Japanese people that spoke English and Merv Spoke very little Japanese. After spending many days observing different schools such as Judo, Jujutsu, Aikido and so on, Merv was almost ready to give up.  Whilst walking through Ueno park, by chance, Merv saw a group of Karate students training - they were from Gogen Yamaguchi Goju Ryu. Merv watched them and when they had finished, he approached them. Being quite impressed by what he had seen, Merv asked them to take him to their dojo, which they did, and they introduced him to the 10th Dan Master Gogen Yamaguchi. This began a very hard training schedule of 6 hours a day, 6 days a week in the dojo.

Oakley Sensei with Master Gogen Yamaguchi

Master Gogen Yamaguchi training with Sensei Merv Oakley

About one week after Merv started training, an American, Lou Angel, arrived. Lou was a 2nd Dan from Peter Urban’s dojo in New York, who had come to Japan to further his training. Yamaguchi Sensei found cheap accommodation for both Merv and Lou, close to the dojo. They were very fortunate to receive private lessons from Yamaguchi Sensei himself, for one hour each day, before classes started. They were also fortunate that one of the Shihans -  Gon Yamamoto - took an interest in them and gave them private lessons three times a week after classes had finished. These lessons would vary in time from one to three hours, making some of their training days 10 hours long. When one considers that the most dedicated martial artist in Australia would only train 10 to 12 hours a week, one can see how Merv Oakley and Lou Angle crammed so much knowledge into their heads in a relatively short time. Although living in a Spartan fashion, their money was running out quickly.

Yamaguchi Sensei arranged for Lou to stay with one of the students and for Merv to stay with his eldest son, Nonremy, in his apartment in Oemuchi. This was a great help both financially and for Karate training. Nonremy was preparing to go to America to teach GoJu-Kai in San Francisco the next year and was keen to improve his English. So Merv taught Nonremy English, and he taught Merv Karate.  Without all of this specialised training, the solid foundation of the art could not have been laid down so solidly for Merv to continue to build on for the rest of his life.

After months of hard training, the big day arrived - the American and the Australian were to go for their grading.  Both were very nervous, Lou was so nervous that he drank a full three-litre bottle of sake and three bottles of beer the night before the grading. On the morning of the grading, Lou had one hell of a hangover and Merv failed to get any sleep at all. Some condition to go before Gogen Yamaguchi on such an important occasion - but somehow they both battled through it.

Then there was the most difficult part: since there were over a thousand people attending the grading, it was three weeks before the results were posted.  Merv looked at the list to try to find his name, but everything was written in Japanese. But one of the other students pointed to Merv's name and told him that he was now a Black Belt. Then Lou Angel walked in and the students came to attention. The student with the highest grade in the dojo yelled "Angel Sempai!” and all of the students yelled  "Os!" Yes, Lou had passed the grading and was now a 3rd Dan - a rare achievement for a non-Japanese person, back in 1963. Both Merv Oakley and Lou Angle left Japan.

The following week after returning to Sydney, Merv started the first GoJu dojo in Australia. For the next three years, Merv would return to Japan for three months each year to further his training. With his commitments getting larger at home, he then had to cut back to one month a year in Japan over the Christmas holidays, when his Dojo were closed. Around 1965, a 3rd Dan from  Yamaguchi's Dojo in Japan was sent to Perth in Western Australia. 

Unfortunately around that time there were many desertions from Yamaguchi's Dojo, and the 3rd Dan was one of them. When he arrived in Perth, he was a 4th Dan representing Gon Yamamoto, a Shihan who had left Gogen Yamaguchi's Dojo the year before. In 1966 or 1967, a Hawaiian Tino Ceberano came to Australia to start a Dojo in Melbourne, Merv and some of his students travelled to help Tino get started there.   

Whilst in Japan in 1969, Merv invited Gogen Yamaguchi to visit Australia. The invitation was accepted and Yamaguchi came to Australia in 1970. This visit was a great boost for Australian Karate because Gogen Yamaguchi was the first Grandmaster to visit Australia. Merv held a tournament - which was packed out - and Yamaguchi’s performance of Suparinpei Kata almost brought the house down. In the early 1970’s the Australian Karate Federation was formed and Merv was a foundation member. In the early days when John Taylor of Kyokushin Kai ran the federation, in New South Wales it was a very well run organisation indeed. Everyone had a smashing time at the tournaments, especially with the clashes between GoJu and Kyokushin. Everyone learnt a great deal during those years, including mutual respect some of the different styles that have lasted to this day.

In November 1970, a long time friend of Merv's, Isao Hirate, a 3rd Dan from Japan, arrived in Sydney - he only taught Karate for a short time. However, he refereed and judged at many FAKO tournaments for many years. Often Hirate would go to a tournament to observe, only to be pulled out of the audience to referee. Isao Hirate has also expertise in the restaurant business - he now owns and operates the 'Shogun' restaurant in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Merv had always been interested in Kobudo, so on his way home from the world karate championships in Paris in 1972, he stopped off in Japan to visit Katsumi Murakami at his dojo, tucked away in the mountains of Kyushu.  Murakami Sensei accepted Merv as a student and a long relationship began.  Late in 1972, Merv brought Murakami Sensei to Australia to instruct his students in Kobudo. These seminars came to a climax with a tournament and a Ryukyu Kobudo demonstration that demonstrated to everyone how weapons should be used. Merv and his students were all very sad to see Murakami Sensei leave Australia. Merv has often said that Murakami Sensei is what all martial artists should be like, yet few are. Nowadays Merv thinks of Murakami Sensei as a father figure and friend, as well as a teacher.

Around 1980, Merv joined the Japan Karate Federation GoJu-Kai and in 1987 he took a team of his students to Singapore to compete in the first international JKF GoJu-Kai tournament. The team came third overall and gained a lot of experience. Merv and his students also competed in the Hong Kong tournament in 1989 and Merv Oakley hosted the International in Australia in 1990. They also took part in the New Zealand tournament in 1995. Unfortunately due to the death of the president of the JKF GoJu-Kai in South Africa, the tournament scheduled for there in 1997 was cancelled.