Messages of condolences and sympathy having been pouring in from around the world following the passing of one of the key men in Australian and world karate, Sensei Konstantinos (Con) Kassis died of cancer on Tuesday 7 June. He was 63 years old.
An 8th Dan Black Belt instructor Mr Kassis had received a Master Degree (Shihan) issued to him by Grand Master Kenei Mabuni, the son of Kenwa, the founder of the Shito-ryu Karate-Do style of karate. In his youth, Mr Kassis had gone to Japan to train under Kenei Mabuni. In time he became so proficient that he was the only Westerner to have ever trained students in Japan.
As the program director and head of the Kassis Karate Academy in Tullamarine, Mr Kassis trained some of the best karate athletes in Australia. In the 2001 National Championships his academy students earned a clean sweep of the medals for Men and Women’s kata events and the gold for Men and Women’s team kata events. A kata (Japanese word for “form”) is a sequence of choreographed martial art movements.
Mr Kassis was also the chairman of referees of the World Karate Federation (WKF) the body that represented the sport for the first time in Olympic history in Tokyo last year. He was also chairman of the Technical Commission which was set up by the WKF to determine changes in the sport.
His older brother by six years, Michael, who Con convinced to try karate many years ago and 50 years on is President of the Oceania Karate Federation and vice-president of the WKF, told Neos Kosmos that messages were coming in from all over the world.
“As brothers, we travelled the world together, he was very respected and will be greatly missed,” Michael Kassis said.
The brothers, were born in Ioannina to Vasillios aged 90 and Athena who died in July last year. The family migrated to Melbourne, Vasillios first in 1963 and the rest of the family following in 1964. Initially the family rented in a shared house in Ascot Vale. They then moved to South Street, Ascot Vale before eventually buying a home in Essendon.
“There were hard times but we managed to make it through in the end,” Michael Kassis said.
Con completed a motor mechanic apprenticeship and during this time in the late 1970s he was first drawn to karate. It was to dominate his life. In 1987, he went to Japan to find a karate teacher that would take him on. His first trip was not successful but he returned the following year and asked Kenei Mabuni to take him on as a student.
The master asked his students if they were willing to accept Con into the dojo. Michael Kasis said that they all accepted him and then “they got stuck into the sake (rice wine) to celebrate.”
It was an association that lasted over 40 years and as many trips to Japan.
“He was not only a good karateka but he had an urge to learn and he was a very likeable person,” Michael Kassis said.
He travelled extensively overseas to teach karate and he also wrote a book focussing on the kata form entitled Shito-Ryu Karate-Do.
“He would always forget things but never a kata,” his brother Michael said of him.
Along with karate, Con was also a passionate fisherman and had a home in St Leonards to indulge his other great passion.
Con was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer towards the end of July last year, just weeks after the death of his mother.
His funeral service will take place at Panagia Soumela in Keilor East on Friday, 24 June.
Con Kassis is survived by his daughters Sophia and Christina from his first marriage to Elizabeth Downs. He married Rosanna who survives him.