Henri Plee 10th dan (1923-2014)

Henri Plee, the father of European Karate has died.

Plee set up Europe’s very first Karate clubs in 1956 after his colleagues Jean “Jim” Alcheik and Claude Urvois studied the art under Minoru Mochizuki in Shizuoka.

Plee was a 3rd Dan Judo instructor at the time and so brought over Hiroo Mochizuki (now 9th dan Karate), Mitsuhiro Kondo (now 9th Dan Kokusai Budoin), Shuji Sugiyama and Tetsugi Murikami.

His Karate classes were hard and attracted the attention of English Judo instructor Vernon Bell, also a Judo instructor, who set up a study group in his parents back garden in Hornchurch, Essex and this became the UK’s first Karate “Dojo”. There were of course Jujutsu and Judo instructors in England who knew about Atemi Waza but Plee and Bell were the first to teach Shotokan (actually Yoseikan) as we know it.

The JKA and Wado Ryu organisations sent over masters like Kanazawa, Enoeda, Suzuki etc but for a short time, 1956-1963 Plee and Bell were Karate’s godfathers in England and France.

plee

Plee’s grades were:

  • 10th dan, Hanshi Karate in Japan, by Tsuneyoshi Ogura in 1987.
  • 9th dan, Hanshi Karate in Japan, by Tsuneyoshi Ogura in 1984.
  • 8th dan, Shihan Karate in Japan, by Tsuneyoshi Ogura in 1972, and in France by the Fédération Française de Karaté – FFKAMA in 1975.
  • 5th dan, Renshi Karate in Japan, by Chojiro Tani.
  • 1st, 2nd, 3rd dan, karate in France, by Minoru Mochizuki.
  • 5th dan, Judo.
  • 3rd dan, Aikido, by Masamichi Noro.
  • 2nd dan, Aikikai Hombu Aikido, by Tadashi Abe.
  • 1st dan, Yoseikan Aikido, by Minoru Mochizuki.

Here are some tips Plee Hanshi once wrote:

  • There must always be an adversary present in spirit; at no time take your eyes off him, show your teeth or laugh.
  • The spirit must draw together the body and the instincts.
  • When the mind is dissipated, the physical and mental force which is in you loses its co ordination.
  • Painful exercises improve the concentration, and enable you to discover the truth about yourself.
  • In every attack there is a problem of reaction, the force recoils on the attacker and he loses if his posture is defective (buttocks stuck out, shoulder moved back, heel raised or an incomplete Hikite), this also explains the unity of the direction of force. Execute everything in one solid, unified action, instantaneously.
  • Mental concentration can lead to an apparent increase in weight, as well as efficacy.
  • The eyes must attack first of all, followed by the foot then the fist, but all must reach the target at the same time.
  • The important thing about an attack is . . . to strike.
  • Unity of action takes precedence over the speed of the action.
  • In order to be fast and supple at middle level, it is necessary to train very deep and low.
  • Never at any moment lose your stability, for your opponent will not let it pass in real combat.
  • Consider every Kata which you execute as a matter of life or death.
  • Always try to really K.O. your partner in Gohon, Sanbon and Ippon-Kumite. This is your only chance to progress.
  • In blocking, it is necessary to increase your own stability while making your adversary lose his. If he is better balanced or stronger than you are, you must unbalance him as you block.
  • In every action, you must be aware of your own weak points (so as to defend them) and those of your opponent (so as to counter).
  • It is necessary to rediscover childlike purity and add to it the strength and speed of a man.
  • Nobody has a Mastery of Karate, for it is the total mastery of body and spirit which is the aim of Karate. It is necessary then to pursue your training in order to approach the maximum.
  • Before passing on to other types of counter-attack, master the Gyaku-tsuki shudan (middle level). But keep the others in mind.
  • Put the finishing touches to your blocks, postures and attacks. The majority of 2nd and 3rd Dan black belts go back again to the beginner’s Karate simply because it is quicker and stronger. The ultimate object is different. If not, you will be unable to extend your technique to cover the whole field of Karate.
  • All the postures other than Zen-Kutsu, Ko-Kutsu or Kiba-Dachi are variations of these. The three basic postures should, ideally, have the same distance between feet and the same narrow spaces between the arms and the body, with differing distributions of weight.
  • Everything which causes the shoulders to move forward is weak.
  • Everything which is on the axis of your body (which is also the line on which is found the three or four vital points) is strong.
  • Connected with the respiration, the body traverses successive periods of weakness and strength.
  • The sides under your arms are very weak, to protect them always will also strengthen them.
  • Perform Tsuki with your lower abdomen and your buttocks.
  • Your force should go right through your opponent, not stop at his body.
  • Do not curl up your toes and put strength into the ankles.
  • One cannot attack in Kokutsu without a period of “dead” time.
  • It is the forward knee which “pulls” the body.
  • Never put force in your shoulders, but under them.
  • In attack and defence, think of the rotation of the wrist, for a small force can turn aside a great one.
  • It is necessary to be always ready to block in all directions, to envelop yourself in a sensation of defence.
  • In combat, your breathing should not be visible to your adversary.
  • Karate can not be understood just by looking at it, but by work from the inside. It is not an intellectual game.
  • Always keep the lips low, at the same level.
  • The thumb must envelope the other clenched fingers, the little finger, being the weakest, should be folded first.
  • Between block and counter-attack, the fist should remain firm, with gradations of the concentration of force invisible to the adversary.
  • That which is essential is not the quantity or the beauty but the quality.
  • It is necessary that those whom you meet to train you are not merely pleased to see you, but have respect for your efforts and intentions.
  • It is the body and not the head which should remember the order and the development of a Kata.
  • One should not stop breathing during a Kata, a Kumite or an attack, neither at the impact nor even afterwards.
  • Try to find which is the strongest Oi-Tsuki or Gyaku-Tsuki.
  • The power of the Hikite (withdrawing the arm to the side) should be greater than the attack or the block. Should the forearm be horizontal, downwards or upwards?
  • The Kiai, an element of respiration, is just a consequence of the union of moral, psychical and physical force at its culminating point.
  • An effective action is always apparently simple, without particular force. A due amount of force should be employed in Kime.
  • One blocks with the body, the arms are accessories.
  • Is the force of a Tsuki at middle level rising, descending or horizontal? Is its maximum efficacy the same?
  • When making several attacks in pursuit (in the middle of Heian Shodan, for example), your buttocks when viewed from the back should not appear to move.
  • It is not a good thing to think of nothing but Karate, to make it an obsession, it is better to train everyday with sincerity and develop your other faculties for the rest of the time . . . for this is also part of Karate.
  • The three elements of good Karate are speed, power, endurance.
  • In each Kata, each Kihon and each Kumite, it is necessary to try and discover something and to have the impression that one has found more than in the last training.
  • Kime is the penetration of the wave of Ki, or vital source of the body, in both attacking and blocking. Without Ki, without Kime, there is no true Karate
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