Kisaburo Watanabe, one of the supreme Japanese technicians of the 1950s and 1960s and a revered coach based in London for more than four years, has died, aged 83. He was the GB national coach for three years and travelled round the country instructing and developing the sport.
His style had an immense influence on British fighters in the 1960s, such as Olympians Brian Jacks and Tony Sweeney, who in turn passed on their acquired technical style to such Olympic medallists as Angelo Parisi and Neil Adams.
When you watched Parisi and Adams move in competitions, you could see the actions of Watanabe reincarnated in front of you. The debt that British judo owes Watanabe is incalculable.
Unusually for a Japanese, he began judo late, at the age of 16. He captained the Chuo University team and in 1959 came third in the All-Japan championships, where there are no weight categories and where he was outweighed by many competitors. He himself usually weighed about 84 kgs. But was renowned for his aggressive attacking, especially with taiotoshi, uchimata and osotogari, which he used from a double lapel grip.
In 1960, he took the Asian Games title and was an inspiration at Chuo University to Isao Okano, the 1964 Olympic middleweight champion and twice All Japan Champion. He arrived in Britain in 1962 to coach at The Budokwai and the Renshuden in London.
His superb techniques are still remembered at the Budokwai, where in the main dojo there is his portrait. When he last came to London for the centenary of the club last year, he was photographed in front pf the picture. He was clearly not well at the time but was determined to return to Britain to see his many friends and pupils to celebrate the occasion.
He was asked once by Brian Watson, a leading British judoka in the 1960s, who lives in Japan, whether he ever regretted coming to Britain and not attempting to be a member of the Japanese team, when Tokyo staged the 1964 Olympics. He replied: ”Yes, I may have competed at the Olympics. But I never regretted accepting the invitation from Trevor Leggett. It was a great experience living in the UK, one I shall remember for the rest of my life”.
Watanabe returned to Japan in 1967 and joined the Budokan, which will stage the judo tournament at the 2020 Olympics, as it did in 1964, where he eventually became head of the Promotion Department. When Britons visited Japan, he was always most hospitable, delighted to be reunited with old friends and welcoming new ones.
He is survived by his wife Reiko and two daughters, Kyoko and Satoko and will be remembered for years to come by many friends in this country and Japan.