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Abe Keigo Sensei is one of the most famous karate instructors teaching today. Student of Master Nakayama, his deep skill and extensive knowledge make him a Martial Arts treasure.
Abe Keigo sensei was born 28th October 1938 in the town of Iyoshi in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoken. Abe Sensei began training at the age of fifteen at his middle school karate club, and was taught by an Okinawan Sensei from Toyama Sensei's lineage of Shito Ryu Karate-Do.
By the age of eighteen, he was accepted into the famous engineering program at Nihon University in Tokyo, and just two years later in 1958 he began training at the JKA Honbu Dojo with a very powerful sensei named Masatoshi Nakayama who was to become his teacher and grandmaster. (Abe Sensei is in fact featured in several of M. Nakayama's books)
As a young karateka, Abe also took a keen interest in competition, taking 3rd place in the first JKA National Championships, and becoming captain of the Japanese team at the second World Championships in Paris, France. Sensei Abe the took 1st place at the JKA international Friendship Tournament in 1973, and took 1st place in the second and third JKF National Championships as a representative of Tokyo.
More significantly, he was also responsible for devising the original rules for Ippon Shobu competition, and was an essential figure in the popularising of Karate, not just through the teachings, but through the rules he helped create.
After training at the Honbu for seven years, he become an instructor for the JKA in 1965. In 1985 he was made director of Qualification and from 1990 Technical Director of the JKA (Matsuno section), a position he held for nine years until retiring from the JKA on 31 January 1999.
Japan Shotokan Karate Association was formed on the 10th February 1999, and quickly became incredibly successful. This success was totally to the credit of Abe Sensei, who is an inspiration to the world of karate, for he upholds the spirit of Karate-Do, while developing with the modern times.
The part he played in the popularisation of karate cannot be denied, and he is not only a living legend, but a credit to his teachers and will always be respected as one of the greatest karateka to have ever lived.
An Interview with Abe KeigoSensei
By Thomas A. Casale, USA 2002
Casale: Sensei, my questions will be about a variety of topics, but before we start I want to sincerely thank you for taking the time to do this interview. It is very important to us.
Abe: It is my pleasure. I will do the best I can to answer your questions.
Casale: Did you ever have any exposure to Funakoshi Sensei ?
Abe: No, he passed away before I got to Tokyo.
Casale: What was Nakayama Sensei like as an instructor ?
Abe: Nakayama Sensei was very serious. He trained us very hard and always encouraged us to not only train hard, but to intellectually study what we were training. He stressed understanding ourselves and being good human beings.
Casale: Did you have any other Sensei's besides the Shito Ryu instructor as a child and Nakayama Sensei ?
Abe: I would “ONLY” call Nakayama my Sensei.
Casale: Could you share 1 or 2 fond memories you have about Nakayama Sensei that may not be too well known ?
Abe: <laughing> Nakayama Sensei was asked to be in the James Bond 007 movie “You Only Live Twice." Due to previous commitments, he was unable to go, so he asked me if I would go in his place. Naturally I was very excited and I did it ! I got paid $3,500 for two weeks work. Now this was the mid 60's and the average Karate instructor was making maybe $100 per month. I got paid more than the top Samurai actor in Japan and it was one of the best experiences of my life. All thanks to Nakayama Sensei. Nakayama Sensei also had a very artistic eye. He loved doing artistic photography. Some of his work was even exhibited in professional art galleries.
Casale: Did you ever study another form of Budo besides Karate-Do ?
Abe: Yes. I have also been practicing Iaido for 30 years.
Casale: Do you teach Iaido ?
Casale: What benefits have you derived from your training in Iaido and how has it effected your Karate ?
Abe: In Karate training you can't kill your training partners. In Iaido, everything you do is with the intent of cutting and killing the opponent. Training with this intent raises your spiritual awareness and appreciation of life. Modern day Karate has lost the “Ikken Hisatsu Spirit."
Casale: Do you think that Sport Karate is destroying the spirit of Karate-Do ?
Abe: This is a deep and interesting question. It's important to have a balance. The true path lies in a balance between Training Karate for health, Training Karate for Sport and Recreation and Training Karate for Budo (Karate for a life and death self defense situation). Technically these things are very different. You must not mistake the true path as being only one of these aspects of Karate. Training Karate for health will allow your body to defend against illness and you will live a longer higher quality life. Real Budo Karate training for self defense will have ramifications of serious injuries to you and your training partners. You must be very careful in Budo training. Besides, you should never have an occasion to use Karate in a real situation anyway. You should develop the intuition, character and ability to avoid a fight. Training Karate as Budo has little to no application in our society. Avoiding a fight is the best self defense. If you lived in a time of war where hand to hand combat would be used, your training would be drastically different. Lets hope this never becomes necessary.
Sport Karate Training allows you to develop without serious injury, to a physical level not possible before. The attitude in your training is most important. If the spirit of Karate-Do is being destroyed, it is happening because of people and attitudes, not because of sport competition. No matter what you are training, you should always train with the idea of becoming a better human being. Train to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Train to be a good, honest and trustworthy human being. Train to perfect your character. This is the spirit of Karate-Do.
Casale: Sensei, it is a common belief that Funakoshi Sensei was against the concept of “Sport Karate”. I know you said that you didn't train with him, but to your knowledge, what were Funakoshi Sensei's feelings about Sport Karate ?
Abe: This is a difficult and controversial question. Nakayama Sensei often spoke of Funakoshi Sensei. To my knowledge, Funakoshi Sensei was not the type of person to give an opinion like this in a non-diplomatic way. He understood that our Karate would grow and change. He understood that it would be influenced by many people and many things. Because he had this insight, he chose his words carefully. So I really don't know what his feelings were. Maybe it's best to say they were unknown. Funakoshi Sensei always said that the perfection of one's character was the most important thing. I think this should be our concern.
Casale: How was Karate training different before the introduction of Ippon Shobu Sport Kumite and Kata Competition?
Abe: Naturally competition rules greatly influenced our training. Before Ippon Shobu all we did was Kihon, Kata andb Yakusoku Kumite. Everyone became so good at body shifting, blocking and countering that the engagement would seem to go on forever. People, especially senior grades, would get frustrated and would start to throw dirty shots. Also, people would get very angry if they were hit by a lower grade and start to cheat. Like they would call Jodan, then throw MAE GERI !!! Many times the engagement would end up going to the floor and become an angry rough and tumble, almost like a real fight. Ippon Shobu brought a cleaner and less frustrating structure to our training. It allowed peoples technique to grow and develop in a more natural way.
Casale: Ippon Shobu Kumite was conceived while you were training and teaching at the honbu dojo with Nakayama Sensei. Were you involved with the creation of Ippon Kumite in any way ?
Abe: Yes, I created the original rules for Ippon Shobu competition. The rules were made to maintain the Budo concept of killing the opponent with one perfect decisive blow. In order to score an Ippon, representing the opponent's death, a technique had to be exceptional. Naturally an opponent could also be killed by two excellent, but less than perfect blows (Waza Ari). Ippon Shobu teaches the Karateka to maintain a heightened awareness and superior concentration because there are no second chances when your life is on the line. We need that intense mental and emotional pressure to remain in the correct frame of mind. Traditional Ippon Shobu Kumite also helps to promote and maintain a high international standard of technique.
Casale: Sensei, is it true that your family comes from a Samurai bloodline?
Abe: Yes. My grandfather's grandfather (about 140 years ago) was a Samurai and a master of Jujutsu.
Casale: Would you recommend cross-training in another form of Budo ?
Abe: In the old days the Bushi (warriors) would train in maybe 18 different arts out of battlefield necessity. They would punch, kick, throw and practice bone breaking and sword techniques on the corpses of their enemies. Although this sounds barbaric, it allowed the Bushi to have a true understanding and "feel" for what their techniques and weapons could really do to a human body. They would also employ the use of many different weapons on the ground and from horseback. So, yes I would recommend cross-training. You should be familiar with many different arts.
Casale: Would the different principles of the different arts promote confusion or conflict in the student ?
Abe: If a Martial Art is being taught properly, all the essential principles should be the same and compliment each other. There is only one human body. When I say become familiar with many arts, I don't mean to practice Shotokan on Monday, Goju on Tuesday, Jujutsu on Wednesday, etc… etc… I mean that you should have an open mind to exploring principles, techniques and training methods taught in other styles. Study the Budo with an open mind.
Casale: Would you recommend that Shotokan Karateka study some of the original Okinawan versions of our Katas and some other Okinawan Katas that are not found in Shotokan ?
Abe: Absolutely Yes ! This is very important. Very Important! The study of Okinawan Katas is a must for the advanced Shotokan Karateka. It will allow you to see and better understand the evolution of our modern day Kata.
It will give you insights otherwise not possible to attain. Many techniques we do have not changed much in the last 40 years, but in the 40 years before that Karate changed greatly. This is why we need to study the old Okinawan Katas. These Katas are like a window to our past. We didn't even have Mawashi Geri before World War II. Nakayama Sensei introduced Mawashi Geri and Miyata Sensei (Who was Kohai to Nakayama Sensei) helped to develop it. Both Nakayama Sensei and Miyata Sensei were know to have an extraordinarily powerful Mawashi Geri.
Casale: The modern versions of the Katas we practice now are very different from the original Okinawan versions. How do you feel about all these changes?
Abe: With respect to the meanings of the Katas, the changes were not good. With respect to the human body, the changes were very positive. Nakayama Sensei was the first to do scientific research on Karate and Kata in particular. His discoveries and insights allowed him to develop our Karate into what it is today. Through training in Nakayama Sensei's Karate he continues to teach us all.
Casale: Sensei, you said, “With respect to the meaning of the Katas, the changes were not good.” Can you please explain this?
Abe: Yes, of course. The Katas were originally designed for Budo. Kata was a library of techniques to incapacitate and even kill the opponents. Remember, the origin of many Kata and techniques were Chinese and China was involved in many wars. These fighting methods eventually found their way to Okinawa and Okinawa was involved in wars. Remember, it was all hand to hand combat there were no laser guided smart bombs back then. Killing was face to face, done by the hand of the warrior. Think about the reality of it. They fought for their lives among the dead bodies of their friends. There was screaming, blood and killing all around them.
This developed a mental focus in the warrior that is indescribable and most probably unattainable unless you were in the terrifying reality of hand to hand, face to face warfare. The techniques found in Kata came from actual battlefield experience where killing and killing quickly was necessary. But the war of today is different than the war of the past. And we are not battlefield warriors who kill on an almost daily basis. Funakoshi Sensei developed Karate into a “DO” as opposed to a “JUTSU” (an Art and Philosophical Way of Life as opposed to only fighting techniques). Funakoshi Sensei modified the Katas to be more physically demanding and more focused on body dynamics and beauty. This allows the student to focus on defeating his most dangerous modern day opponent, himself. This transition from Jutsu to Do was also necessary to bring Karate to the Ministry of Education in Japan to be taught in the schools. This allowed Karate-Do to grow and eventually be practiced my millions of students as it is today. So in Karate's transition from Jutsu to Do, something was lost, but something much greater was gained. The Budo is still in our Katas anyway. If you train hard and study deeply, you will find that most of the original principles and techniques are still alive and well. They just look different.
Casale: Obviously the use of weapons had a profound effect on the formation of our Katas and we see many photos of Funakoshi Sensei using weapons. Did he teach Kobudo at the Shotokan ?
Abe Sensei: I'm not sure, but I believe so. He died before I got to Tokyo. Nakayama Sensei taught self defense against weapons.
Casale: Are there philosophical lessons taught and represented by the physical techniques of Kata ?
Abe Sensei: Yes. The deep practice of Kata is linked to interpreting opponents and reading and understanding human beings. You must also understand the relationship between Kihon, Kata and Kumite. The mental focus and image training taught in serious Kata training will help you to anticipate the thoughts and movements of others and will bring a greater focus to your life in general. You must study this very hard for a very long time.
Casale: When should students learn Bunkai ?
Abe Sensei: They should begin Bunkai training as soon as possible. Students should learn Bunkai as they learn and train the Kata.
Casale: O.K. <Laughing> Sensei, This is a topic of many interesting discussions. What is Ki ?
Abe Sensei: <Laughing> Ahhhhh, Tommy…This is a very difficult and broad question. Ki is indescribable. It is inexpressible. Those who give a long detailed precise explanation of Ki have no idea what they are talking about. They are making it up.
All I can say is that Ki is an energy. It deals with relaxation, breathing, timing, balance, and one's intention. Whether all this adds up to Ki or not, I cannot say. Ki is a combination of many things working in harmony together.
Casale: O.K., I know you said it's indescribable, but maybe we can look at examples of Ki. We hear stories of Aikido's O-Sensei Ueshiba throwing people across the room and knocking them down without even touching them. Have you ever seen or experienced anything like this?
Abe Sensei: One can redirect energy and intention. If done properly, this redirection of force has a very powerful and dramatic result. But I do not believe it is possible to knock a person down without touching them.
Casale: Can you describe your personal development of Ki ?
Abe Sensei: Up until my late 30s I was only physical strength, speed and power. But after that I developed a “lightness of touch” where everything, especially Kumite became much easier for me.
Casale: That's a very interesting way of wording your feeling… “A Lightness of Touch." What do you think of Tai Chi Chuan for a Karateka ?
Abe Sensei: I think Tai Chi is excellent. It teaches power through relaxation which is very important for a Karateka to understand. Most Karateka do not appreciate the power of relaxation. People would have more powerful technique and a more powerful life if they learned to relax more. I do Tai Chi exercises in my own training. It is very beneficial.
*Note to the reader:
If you watch Abe Senseis technique, it has a very relaxed quality to it. There is a slight vibration in his hand at the end of every technique. I had the opportunity to assist Abe Sensei in teaching a couple of seminars while he was here in New York. I was his uke for demonstrations of Bunkai and the explanation of technique dynamics. When Abe Sensei hit me, it felt like his hand weighed 500 pounds. His punching and striking techniques have a very relaxed and heavy, yet snappy, quality to them. The only time I felt anything like this was when I was pushed by the late Master of Tai Chi Chuan, Zhang Lu Ping. I put my hands on his arm and with a “gesture” I was lifted about two feet off the ground and propelled backwards about 8-10 feet into a wall. It was incredible. Abe Sensei hit me in the ribs and abdomen a few times and I could literally feel the force “traveling through” me. Yet with all this power, there seemed to be absolutely no effort on his part. In my opinion, this fantastic power generated through "Masterful Effortlessness" is an excellent example of true “Ki."
Casale: Funakoshi Sensei said, "Low Stances are for the beginner and high stances are for the advanced." Yet, advanced students are never encouraged to develop power and technique from a high stance, by training in a high stance. Advanced students are even penalized in gradings and competitions for having a higher stance. How do you feel about an advanced Shotokan Karateka adjusting to a higher stance and using vibration, as in Okinawan Karate, as opposed to a low stance and using a large rotation?
Abe Sensei: This is a very good question. I understand what you mean. These things (vibration from a high stance) are in our training. You must study and look for them. We practice moving from a high stance when we do drills that require you to begin from a Shizen Tai (like the beginning of Sanbon Kumite) then shift into a stance to block and counter. In this training you start from a high stance. You don't really need to practice a high stance because it's much easier than a low stance. Everything depends on the situation. You should use the appropriate stance for what is happening at the moment. In a fight, height will naturally vary. Tai Sabaki (Body Shifting) is better from a high stance because higher stances provide more mobility than low stances. Lower stances provide more stability because of their shape and the low center of gravity.
Because the situation should dictate the height of the stance, a Karateka must be able to generate power from a stance of any height. Power from vibration only comes after a person is an expert at generating power from rotation in a low stance. This is because vibration is a much smaller movement. This is one of the reasons I advocate Shotokan Karateka practicing Okinawan Katas as well. We must borrow and understand lessons from other styles. We must understand how they make power. One can generate great power from vibration, if they understand proper body dynamics. Again, this type of short vibrating power takes many years to develop.
Casale: How important is inside or outside knee tension in stance training.
Abe Sensei: <Laughing> Ahhhh…. A funny thing comes to mind…A common mistake among Shotokan Karateka is that they over-exaggerate the need for their stance to have a “bow-legged” look. Yoshitaku Funakoshi (Gichin Funakoshi's son) was slightly bow-legged and students at the time wanted their stance to look like their Sensei's stance, so they started pushing their knees out too much. You should have outside pressure on the knees in outside tension stances and inside pressure on the knees in inside tension stances, but you should not force your knees into an OVERLY-UNNATURAL POSIITON. You'll develop knee problems. There must be appropriate outside or inside pressure exerted on the knees so you will have both stability and mobility in your stances.
Casale: Sensei, How old are you now and how often do you train for yourself?
Abe Sensei: I am 63 years old and I train four or five mornings per week. I do Karate and I some weight training at the gym.
Casale: Do you have a dojo in Tokyo?
Abe Sensei:I teach in a sports centre. I have about 200 students.
Casale: Do you have an organization?
Abe Sensei: Yes, My organization is called the Japan Shotokan Karate Association. The J.S.K.A. is about a year old now and doing very well.
Casale: Sensei, I mean no disrespect by asking this question. Please understand that I ask you this in the interest of the Karateka who may want to join your organization. What makes your organization different than all the others? Why should people join your organization?
Abe Sensei: Unlike most leaders of Karate organizations, I do not want my organization to grow very large. Very large organizations mean very large problems. I want a smaller organization where I can be an active part of everyone's life and a high degree of quality can be maintained. At this point there will be no representatives. I want to avoid any type of political tension. I've had enough of that for 10 lifetimes. All instructors and dojos will be directly affiliated with the J.S.K.A. in Japan. I understand the needs of Karateka today and I am doing my best to build a non-political atmosphere of friendship and good will. We have a modern open-minded approach and we welcome anyone who wants to train hard, study deeply and has a desire to be an active part of our Karate family.
Casale: Sensei, I'm done with my questions. Is there anything additional you would like to say to the readers?
Abe Sensei: Just a final thought. It is my hope that we can come together in sincere friendship and work well together. We should do our best to avoid the out of control, power hungry people who have stopped developing. Please remember to have a feeling of openness and understanding of one another. Keep your focus on the idea that Karate-Do is for your development as a human being. This will allow you to be a truly honest and successful person. In this spirit, you'll touch the life of everyone you meet in a positive way.
Casale: Sensei, thank you for your time and wisdom. There is much here to think and meditate on. I truly appreciate your time and patience.
Abe Sensei: OSS!
I don't suppose that Hirokazu Kanazawa needs any introduction at all, but just to recap, he has been one of the leading figures in the Shotokan world for almost fifty years. He was the first JKA All Japan Champion, one of a new breed of athletically gifted karate instructors with a proven competitive pedigree, one of the very first professionally trained instructors, one of the first to bring karate out from Japan into the wide world. Today he is seventy-three years old, still in good physical condition, a 10th dan and head of one of the leading Shotokan groups, with a diary dull of international teaching engagements.
I met Hirokazu Kanazawa in November 2004 at a course he was giving in Glasgow, Scotland, and would like to thank the course organizer, Jim Palmer, for making the meeting possible.
One thing I couldn't help noticing after the course, was that around fifty students lined up to have their books, magazines or uniforms signed, or have their photos taken with Kanazawa Sensei. He gave time to everyone, chatting and writing out his elaborate "Mount Fuji" signature. Although the process took more that an hour, he never showed any sign of irritation and was patient and gracious throughout. In its quiet, understated way it was all quite impressive.
During our talk he was friendly and open, and it was interesting to hear about his early days of training and kumite, the challengers he sometimes had to face, and his meetings with the old masters like Chosin Chibana. When we were looking through some material on the Okinawan masters he had met forty years ago, he observed that they were all dead now, and then added jokingly, "It will be me next!" Well I hope not. He is in terrific shape for seventy-three years old, a testament, if you like, to the benefits of long term karate training, and I hope he remains in good health, that his diary remains full, and that he continues to teach his classical karate to his thousands of students for many more years to come.
Take care of yourself, Sensei.
November 13, 2004, Glasgow and Stirling, Scotland.
Graham Noble: Sensei, the first time you saw karate was by Mr. Yamashiro, an Okinawan?
Hirokazu Kanazawa: Yes, it was when I was at senior high school. Okinawa, after the last war, was governed by the USA. Therefore, when Mr. Yamashiro came to university, for fishery college, in the holidays he didn't go back to Okinawa. He came to my countryside, Iwate, because he was a very good friend of my brother. He would work at my father's company, part-time. Sometimes he would show karate kata. One day he showed how to break bamboo. That was a big surprise for us.
From then I wanted to do karate, but unfortunately at that time northern Japan didn't have karate--not until you go to Tokyo. It was only when I went to university that I had the chance to do karate. I started at Nihon University, studying fishery. I started karate, Shotokan style, but there was only one black belt instructor there, all the others were white belts.
GN: It wasn't a strong club?
HK: No, I wasn't happy, because I liked karate very much. I wanted to go to the strongest karate university, so I took my entrance exams again, this time for Takushoku University. Then I started karate at Takushoku.
GN: Can we go back to Mr. Yamashiro for a moment. You said that he practiced his karate by himself, in secret?
HK: Yes, he trained by himself, but we would try and watch.
GN: Did he train in kata, makiwara?
HK: Kata, yes.
GN: What style was it? Shorin-ryu?
HK: I think Shorin-ryu, because he [deletion] sometimes would (Kanazawa demonstrates a quick slap to the inside of the thighs, then shows a sharp attacking move) hit like this then attack, "Aaagh!" Don't know what style, but maybe Shorin-ryu, yes.
GN: And he once knocked out the local policeman, Kodama?
HK: Yes. I think sometimes he would get lonely, homesick for Okinawa. One day he got drunk. Now my town was a fishing port. There were many fishermen, they were very rough and were often fighting. Now Yamashiro was a very small person, something was said, and fighting started. Someone called the police and they came in a truck. Then Mr. Kodama came, a very big man, a famous godan in Judo--godan at that time was very high. He came in. "What is this?" he said, "I am Kodama!" Even the Yakuza didn't want to take on Kodama. But (Kanazawa chuckles), Yamashiro said, "What is Kodama!" and jumped up and hit him --Bahh!-- on the nose, breaking it. Then all the other policemen jumped on him and took him away. He was in jail only for a day. My brother went to the police station to explain and to take responsibility for him and he was released.
GN: What was different about Takushoku University karate club? What was it that impressed you about it?
HK: At that time Takushoku was the strongest university in karate in Japan. They were famous. They had karateka like Nishiyama, Arai, Yanase, then Minoda, Kurosawa, Okazaki, Irie, Onoue (?). All very strong students.
GN: Was that strong in kihon, kumite?
HK: Everything. I went to all the university dojo in Tokyo. Then one day I went to Takushoku university. It was kamae and "Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba!" (Rapid fire techniques). "Awwhhh!" I thought, "This is the karate I want to do."
GN: What was the training like? Lots of kihon, repetition, not much explanation?
HK: Kihon, and especially makiwara: Makiwara, makiwara everyday, before training and after training. The skin would get torn off your knuckles at first.
GN: So they thought the makiwara was very important?
HK: Yes, but sometimes I didn't like it so much. At night I would have to take the straw out of my knuckles.
GN: You said that at the time most of the seniors didn't explain very much, but Nakayama sensei was different, he would explain about each technique.
HK: Nakayama Sensei would give a very scientific explanation. He would come once a week, but other seniors and old boys (of the university) would come every day, and enjoyed pushing us in training. They never gave any explanations. They would push us down on stretching, and for our jumps they would sometimes swing at our legs with a bo.
GN: That could hurt.
HK: Yes, very dangerous! (Laughing). Once a month all six Shotokan Universities came together to train. This I enjoyed very much.
GN: What kind of training was that--shiai (contest)?
HK: First we did basic training, all together. Then after that, kumite training. I enjoyed that so much.
GN: Was that sambon kumite, ippon kumite, and jiyu-kumite?
HK: Funakoshi sensei didn't want so much jiyu-kumite, but the seniors, they liked it very much.
GN: Was there much contact? Did people get black eyes and broken noses, for example?
HK: Yes, yes. Also sometimes there were grading examinations. When I took nidan or shodan, I can't remember. Waseda University Club was there. I stood waiting for the attack, but the Waseda karate timing was different--he came in, but the timing of his punch was different and I didn't move back, and he collided with me and tumbled me down. This wasn't very good. Then it was my time to attack jodan, but my timing was different too and smack! I punched him in the face. I thought I had failed the grading. But Funakoshi Sensei said OK, the timing between the two clubs was different, but even so the Waseda man should have blocked my punch. So, OK, Kanazawa is successful in the grading. I passed.
GN: In the kokan geiko you would have trained with other styles, Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu, Shito-ryu. Tatsuo Suzuki (Wado-ryu) told me that in those days he could tell immediately what style someone was from just by looking at their stance, their kamae.
HK: Yes, we could see that, the kamae were different: Goju-ryu mainly in nekoashi-dachi; Wado-ryu a high stance, no kamae; Shotokan, more a long stance and kamae.
GN: When you were talking before you said that the Goju-ryu had some tough fighters kokan-geiko.
HK: Yes, Goju-ryu used to do a lot of free sparring training, so they were very good.
GN: What kind of techniques did they use?
HK: They fought at short distance. Before that we had already reached them, but after we came close they would throw us down--bang!--because their close-in technique was very good.
GN: So you might score the point first, but then they would throw you?
HK: Yes. Therefore what we did was to really hit with our technique, so they couldn't catch us with their throws. The seniors, the old boys, would say "Stop Kanazawa! Stop!" But I knew that if I stopped the Goju fighters would throw me down. Therefore it was very difficult. After, I said to the senior, "I am sorry." He said, "Don't worry. When I said stop I meant you could carry on hitting him."
GN: He really meant the opposite of what he said?
HK: The opposite. Yes.
GN: You told me earlier that one time when you were on the JKA instructor's course, Ujita Sensei and his Goju group from Wakayama Prefecture came to the JKA dojo, and they were very strong fighters.
HK: Yes, I was surprised. Mr. Okazaki, and Mr. Minoda (?) from the JKA were as strong or maybe stronger than them, but the other JKA people…no chance.
GN: So the Goju Kai fighters were stronger than the JKA fighters?
HK: Yes, yes. (Note. Kanazawa sensei did not fight on this occasion).
GN: You mentioned one occasion when a Goju Kai senior told you to demonstrate your kicks on him.
HK: That was during kokan-geiko. The old boys of the Kansai University were there. After the training finished they asked me, "Please show us your kicking." So I showed my kicking technique against one of the seniors, maybe nine of ten times. Then the last time, as I kicked he blocked and hit me at the same time in the face with fura-uchi bang! I was not happy. I was just showing him my kicking, not fighting. But, they were seniors, and even if they were from a different style you always showed seniors respect. But inside I was "Grrrr!", really angry!
GN: In those early days did the Goju people use mawashi-geri?
HK: They only did chudan kicking. We did jodan kicking.
GN: You were on the first JKA instructor's course with Takayuki Mikami. Who were your first teachers there?
HK: Mostly Nakayama sensei, and sometimes Nishiyama sensei.
GN: Did you often have to do jiyu-kumite with the seniors in the dojo?
HK: The seniors did the teaching. Sometimes we did jiyu-kumite with the seniors, but sometimes with the seniors it is difficult. (Kanazawa Sensei explained earlier that it was difficult to go against seniors strongly because of the in built Japanese respect for them). But one day, one of the seniors, Mr. Yanase, a class mate of Nishiyama Sensei I think, and a judo 4th dan very strong did kumite with me. When he did kumite he would catch his opponent and throw him down.
He did that to everybody, so everybody was frightened of him in kumite. I did jiyu-kumite with him and as he came in I hit him. "Oh, I am sorry," I said. Then he came in again to throw me, catch me, and again, bang! "I am sorry, I am sorry!" After three times of him coming in and me hitting him, Mr. Yanase said, "Ok, Kanazawa. We finish for today!" He could not catch me with his throws.
GN: Which other seniors were there? Did you do kumite with Nishiyama Sensei?
HK: Yes, yes.
GN: Kase Sensei?
HK: Yes, I think so. Not so many memories, but yes, Mr. Kase, he liked jiyu-kumite.
GN: Did he use a lot of tai-sabaki body movement?
HK: Yes, he used mainly fudo-dachi because he was in the line of Yoshitaka Funakoshi Sensei. Therefore he used fudo-dachi.
GN: Did you ever hear stories about Yoshitaka Sensei?
HK: No, I never heard many stories about Yoshitaka Sensei.
GN: Did you ever see Egami Sensei?
HK: Yes, yes.
GN: Was he good?
HK: Yes, be he was more in a different world. He was close to God. When he talked about karate or did karate he was different to us. We thought, "Is this Shotokan?" It looked different.
GN: Did you know Minoru Miyata sensei?
HK: Oh yes, Miyata sensei took me all over Kyushu. One day we went to the Kushinkai. I forgot the name of the instructor, but he was very strong. He sometimes came to Takushoku University and did fighting with the seniors, very good fighting. So Miyata sensei took me to the Kushinkai in Kumamoto to do kumite. I did kumite with all the black belts, then came to the last one. We took up kamae, but he didn't move. So I thought what should I do? Miyata sensei had introduced me as the All Japan Champion, so I myself shouldn't initiate the attack. So I waited and he waited. So (inaudible).
It was dangerous, but already too late, and next moment "bang!" That opened up a cut.
GN: He cut you?
HK: He hit me. Then they put a bandage on and we started kumite again. But now we have equal feeling. So I attacked--"Ba, ba, ba, ba," pushing him back to the wall twice. Then he stood back up and said, "Ok, today I don't want any more fighting, as I know Mr. Miyata very well."
GN: Was Miyata Sensei a good karateka?
HK: Yes. His style was closer to that if Kase Sensei, more Yoshitaka Sensei's style.
GN: When you were preparing for the first All Japan Championships did you do any special training?
HK: Yes. For two months before I didn't train with my friends because of course they would be my opponents in the tournament. So I did secret training by myself and visited other dojos sometimes other style dojos. There were many dojos in Tokyo. Sometimes I went to university dojos, to a Shito-ryu dojo, but mainly I went to Takushoku University dojo to do kumite with the students.
Then four days before the championships I was training in the dojo. Of course, I did the general training, maybe an hour and a half, two hours, and then after the end of training I did fighting, kumite, with seven of the students. They were very good for my tournament training. I finished and said thank you, but then my senior said "Kanazawa! Are you finished?" I said, "Yes." He said, "No, you are not, you must do more!" so I did another six fights. But on the last one I broke my hand.
GN: Your right hand.
HK: Yes. Therefore, the JKA said I couldn't compete. Two days later my mother came to Tokyo to see me fight in the championship. I said, "I cannot fight because I have broken my right hand."
She said, "Ohhh, in karate you only use your right hand?"
I said, "No, no, karate is also the left hand and both of your legs."
"Then why can't you participate if you have only broken your right hand?"
"Because the JKA says so"
But my mother said, "I still don't understand. Please ask the JKA why you cannot participate. You still have your left arm and both legs. Only one hand is broken."
I went to see Nakayama Sensei and Tagaki Sensei (Masatomo Tagaki, the general secretary of the JKA) to explain, and then I went to see one of my seniors from high school. He was my senior in Judo and he ran a clinic. He said he would write a letter to the JKA, and he would accompany me to the tournament and take responsibility for me if something happened. So Nakayama Sensei and Tagaki Sensei said, "Ok, you can participate." Now, I never pray to God for things. I respect God, but I do not pray for help with things. Only this one time, I said, "Please God, let me win just one fight," so I could show a winning fight to my mother.
Then I won my first fight, and I thought that was enough. But then I won the second fight, and the third--funny. My niece came up to me and said, "Ok, uncle, grandmother says that's enough." But I said, "No, I still have to go on now because I'm winning. If you're winning you can't stop." So I continued to fight, but from this moment all the opponent's movements seemed to happen slowly. I could see all the detail. I used left hand blocks and counterattacked with kicks--only kicks: combination kicking, or sometime just one kick to take the point. I used one hundred percent kicking techniques.
GN: So you won all the fights with kicks?
HK: Yes, one hundred per cent. I used my hand to block or feint. In the final match I met Mr. Tsuyama. He was a famous person in university karate, also a champion. His favorite technique was jodan mawashi geri. He would take kamae then kick, no initial movement, with the front foot kick--bang! He got everybody. But I couldn't block because I couldn't use my right hand; my left hand wasn't enough. Therefore as soon as he moved, at the same time, I slipped into his attack and then pushed with my shoulder and used kekomi against his supporting leg and fell down. He was very shocked because no one had done this to him before. Then I thought, "He is not so confident now. I have a good chance." I did mae geri, then mawashi geri chudan and scored. I thought, maybe I can use that technique one more time, it's a possibility. A third time would be impossible, but a second time, maybe. But of course not exactly in the same place. So this time I did mae geri and then jodan mawashi geri to score and win by nihon, two ippons, the first one mawashi geri chudan, and the second one mawashi geri jodan.
Part II (Issue No. 8)
Graham Noble: You went to Hawaii in 1960.
Hirokazu Kanazawa: 1960, yes.
GN: You say in your book that many of the Americans were teaching karate then, even though the may have only been brown belts, and that meant the standard wasn't very high.
HK: That's right, because at that time they had come out of the army, the military, and had been training in Okinawan or Japanese dojos. But they hadn't trained a very long time so they were mostly brown belts; they had to go back to the U.S. before they could take their black belts. Then they started to teach karate.
GN: And you had some challenges in Hawaii from boxers and wrestlers.
HK: Ah yes, not just from karateka, but from many kinds of fighters, boxers, wrestlers, kajukenbo. There was a karateka with a connection to Kushinkai. After he fought with me and lost he joined Shotokan.
GN: What techniques would you use against a wrestler or a boxer?
HK: Jodan mawashi geri--Bang!--using the instep or otherwise (with the ball of the foot) too dangerous. I feined and then kicked jodan, and bang! They were knocked unconscious. Because they didn't know jodan mawashi geri. Punching, they could maybe block, but jodan mawashi geri, no. Therefore, for strong people I would kick jodan mawashi geri. And for the boxer I used ashi barai. When he punched I could see the fist coming, but I had done boxing so I knew there would be a "one-two". So after the first punch, when the second one came, I dropped my body and threw him over using ashi barai and then Bang! (Finishing punch). This needs good timing. It was on a tatami, but he still hit his head and was stunned.
GN: In Trinidad and Tobago you had to fight another karate man who said that all of the previous Japanese instructors had been afraid to fight him.
HK: Yes. He had lumps all over his arms; he would hit a tree every day to harden his body. When I was taking a class he went round the students talking to them. I was very unhappy about this and told the students they must not stop, must keep training. This man was telling the students: "His (Kanazawa's) karate is not real karate, it's just gymnastic karate. My karate is real karate." Then after training was finished, he still stayed around. He said to me, "I want to fight with you." I didn't want to fight because if I won that wouldn't be so good, the people of Trinidad might become my enemies. If I lost, that would be the end of my teaching. So I said to him, "You can join the class, do some kumite training." At that time there were only two black belts in Trinidad, the rest were brown belts or lower grades. So I did kumite with five or six black and brown belts. The man was watching me doing kumite, but I was very careful, I never showed jodan mawashi geri. It was a demonstration with him in mind, so I only showed punching and mae geri.
Then I made as if to see him and said, "Oh sorry, please (do jiyu kumite), so he got up and took his stance, shouting, "Aaargghh!!"
I did mae geri to his front knee (Kanazawa showed a mar geri which skimmed across the opponent's knee) and then immediately switched into jodan mawashi geri--bang! He was knocked unconscious. The head was my target because I knew from Hawaii to use jodan mawashi geri against strong people. Then after he woke up, he said, "I didn't know the knee had a vital point." I said, "Oh, no, I kicked you in the face after I kicked your knee." He said, "Oh, that was so fast, so this is karate." I said, "My karate is good for health, so even if people call it gymnastic karate I am happy. But good gymnastic karate is also good for real fighting."
Then I said to him, because when he first came in and I said I didn't want to fight him he said, "Hah, all the Japanese instructors say that to escape from fighting." I said, "Who were these Japanese instructors?" He gave five names, Nishiyama and Ohshima, and three others I didn't know. But I explained to him that they were very good karateka, masters, therefore they shouldn't be your partner in fighting. But I was still young, still not at their level, so I could fight with him.
"Oh," he said, "Now I understand." Now a few years later in Mexico there was an international tournament and I was with the Japanese team. Enoeda was there too. Nakayama sensei said to us: "Kanazawa, Enoeda, two persons say they want to fight with Japanese players, but I don't want a problem at the tournament. Can you go and deal with it. These two persons went to get changed to fight us, but we were waiting, waiting and they never came back. Then afterwards I realized that one of the people was the man from Trinidad.
GN: In Hawaii you were challenged by a Kajukembo master and he was a twelfth dan. (He withdrew his challenge after seeing Kanazawa give a breaking demonstration).
HK: Yes, twelfth dan, gold belt. Silver belt was eleventh dan.
GN: Who was that? Do you recall the name?
HK: I can't remember the name, but he was Hawaiian, a big strong man.
GN: In 1965 you did a world tour with Kase, Enoeda, and Shirai. For many people that must have been the first time they'd seen karate.
HK: Yes, yes.
GN: Were there any challenges during that tour?
HK: No challenges, but when I was training in Chicago I was partnering a very big guy who was coming at me with punches and kicks. I closed in to stop him and did seionage (shoulder throw), but he was too heavy and he came down on my leg. I was on crutches until the time we arrived in Europe.
GN: Can we talk about your visit to Okinawa in 1964. You told me earlier that the person who impressed you the most was Chibana Sensei. (Choshin Chibana, the headmaster of Shorin-ryu).
HK: Yes, we met him at his house, sitting round, drinking tea and talking, many questions. Sometimes the questions were not very good, but of course the students were young. But one asked a question about technique, and Chibana Sensei said, "OK you try and attack me, any technique." So the student went to attack, I'm not sure what attack, I think he tried to grab Chibana Sensei's wrist, but before he could get the grip--"Bam," he was thrown across the room. Chibana Sensei remained sitting down.
GN: And Chibana Sensei said to do any attack?
HK: Yes, "Grabbing, hitting, you try."
GN: You also saw him put his fingers through a bundle of bamboo.
HK: Yes, yes. A bundle of bamboo. Some of the students held it and he hit it with nukite--Agh! Agh!--then kicking with his toes, his toes were pulled together like this, and Bang! Bang! I was surprised, and the students were--"Ohh!"
GN: And he was almost eighty years old at this time?
HK: Something like eighty years old.
GN: You also said that he used very high stances, and he explained to you why.
HK: Yes, he thought that was better for power. He explained... when you are punching, your body must expand--Bam! so that your power goes in to the punch. (Here Kanazawa demonstrates moving from gedan barai in zenkutsu dachi to the punch). I think his training was reality training. That was my impression.
GN: You also mentioned Yuchoku Higa Sensei and his special way of hitting the makiwara.
HK: Yes. The first time I saw him I thought he wasn't very good, I thought he was missing the target. But I misunderstood. After four or five times I understood: he would hit each corner of the makiwara and then the centre. So he would hit. Ba-ba-ba-ba-Bang! Ba-ba-ba-ba-Bang! And then on the last punch he hit so the makiwara sheaf was knocked off the makiwara. Special technique.
GN: Did you train at the dojos when you were in Okinawa?
HK: Yes, at Yuchoku Higa Sensei's dojo.
GN: Was that mainly kihon and kata?
HK: Yes, kihon, and showing us kata.
GN: Did the Okinawan teachers show you bunkai or different ways of using the kata?
HK: Well, we were only at each dojo one day. We were at Yuchoku Higa Sensei's dojo for two days. His dojo was half inside his house and half in the garden. But also we trained every day at the dojo of the Immigration Department. That was through Meitogu Yagi Sensei who arranged for us to use it every morning to train.
One day some challengers came to our hotel. They were from Okinawa Kempo. They wanted to fight us. But Seikichi Toguchi Sensei (Goju-ryu), who was looking after us, said that it would be better not to fight, because Okinawa was like a family group, and if there was trouble all the Okinawan people would be against us. It would be better if the Okinawan Kempo group came to the dojo to train together. Therefore we answered: "Every morning we train at the Immigration Department Dojo. You can come there any time to train. You are welcome." So for a few days they came and watched from outside, but they never came into the dojo. Therefore there wasn't a problem.
GN: Moving on to more recent times, you have introduced kata from other styles into your teaching, such as Seiunchin and Sepai from Goju-ryu.
HK: Yes, Seiunchin from Shito-ryu and Sepai from Goju-ryu.
GN: So you are bringing Naha-te and Shuri-te kata together in your teaching?
HK: Naha-te is I think more Chinese Style, the technique is more round, (circular). Shuri-te is maybe more Okinawan. Some Okinawan people say, "Our style is not from China we had our own Okinawan techniques. This is Shuri-te."
Naha-te is more from contact with China, Chinese technique and Okinawan technique brought together. Tomari was similar, close to China. Shuri-te is more in keeping with the original Okinawan karate. This is what they say, thought I don't know really.
GN: Is it useful for Shotokan people to learn Goju-ryu kata?
HK: I think so. The reason I can still do karate at seventy-three years old is because I do tai ch'i. Tai ch'i is so different, extremely different from karate. In karate speed is very important, but in tai ch'i you much not use speed. Power is very important in karate, but in tai ch'i you must not use power: you must only move by intention, don't use muscle. Focus is very important in karate, but in tai ch'i you must not use focus: in tai ch'i before you can focus you are already starting the next movement. But of course I understand the reason for this. Because in karate "no focus," means that at any time you can make focus. If you move slowly and relaxed, any time (any instant) you can make speed. And if you really understand relaxing, you can really understand power. So by doing tai ch'i I can see my karate very well. So tai ch'i supports my karate.
Therefore it is also good to study other karate styles. Especially, for example, Shotokan does not have shiko-dachi. But shiko-dachi is a very good stance. Kiba-dachi is very strong, but if there is a mistake in timing it can lose balance. Shiko-dachi is like a wooden house, a Japanese house. Kiba dachi is like a stone house, a Scottish house. In a typhoon the stone house will stand up, but the wooden house will be blown down. But in an earthquakes--you do not have earthquakes--the stone house will be destroyed while the wooden house remains standing. So therefore each has good points. Both (stances) are necessary.
GN: The Shotokan style is more of a long style while Goju-ryu is more close in. Do you think karate should try and bring these two ideas together?
HK: Yes. During training I say wide, deep, strong. But for kumite, short, high, relaxed. In training, although it may be difficult to move fast from deep stances, you should always try to move faster, faster, faster. Then when you are in a short stances it is very easy to make fast movement and quick tai-sabaki.
GN: Today you did breathing exercises in class. Is that a kind of ch'i-kung?
HK: A kind of ch'i-kung, yes.
GN: Did you get that from Chinese systems, or is it you own development?
HK: My own, from tai ch'i, from karate, and from my own research. For example, Goju-ryu has a lot of breathing, but Goju-ryu breathing is only for fighting. My breathing methods are more internal. Of course, breathing methods can be of many kinds: for fighting, for confidence, for calming, for clearing the mind, for power.
GN: Sensei, thank you very much for your time.
HK: OK, OK. Thank you.
In 1913, in Kanazawa, Japan, Masatoshi Nakayama was born to a samurai family that, for many generations, had been attached to the Sanada clan as kendo instructors. Nakayama's grandfather, Naomichi, was the last family member to teach fencing. His father, Naotoshi, studied Judo and was a doctor in the army. Since the senior Nakayama was stationed in Taipei, Taiwan, that was where young Masatoshi spent his grammar school years. In addition to academic studies, he also spent time practicing kendo, swimming, skiing, playing tennis, and running on the track team.
In addition to being a kendo instructor, Naomichi Nakayama, had been a surgeon in Tokyo. Naotoshi had followed his father's footsteps into medicine and naturally expected Masatoshi to do the same. The future karate master, however, had developed a strong interest in visiting and studying China. Consequently, he secretly took the entrance exams for Takushoku University, which specialized in preparing students for overseas work.
In 1932, when Nakayama arrived at Takushoku to begin his studies, he also intended to continue his practice of kendo. Due to a misreading of the schedule, however, he showed up at the dojo when the karate team was practicing instead. He was fascinated by what he saw and was invited to come back for the next class to give it a try. As he would put it later, "I completely forgot about kendo."
At that time, Master Funakoshi was still active in teaching and the training was grueling. Only about 10% of the students lasted longer than six months. The training consisted of repetitions of a single kata, perhaps as many as 50 or 60 times, and hitting the makiwara (striking post) as many as 1000 blows. Nakayama's generation, however, had been raised practicing kendo or judo and thus they were all used to various types of matches in which one faced an actual opponent. This led to the development and inclusion in karate training of five, three, and one step sparring in 1933, semi-free sparring in 1934, and free sparring in 1935. In the fall of 1936, Nakayama and other students of Funakoshi's gave the first public performance of these new training methods in a demonstration at the Tokyo Civic Centre.
In addition to his five hours a day of karate training, Nakayama pursued an academic course in Chinese history and language. He spent 3 or 4 months travelling in Manchuria during 1933, his sophomore year, and returned to China in 1937 as an exchange student at Peking University. He was a student there for 5 years and then went to work for the Chinese government. He did not return to Japan until 1946.
During the decade he spent in China, Nakayama continued to practice and teach karate, but he also studied various Chinese martial arts with a number of masters there. In the interim, he missed the founding of the first dojo built for karate in Japan: the Shoto-kan, built for Master Funakoshi by a group of his students in 1938. Nakayama also escaped the horrors of World War Two as experienced in Japan.
Upon his return to Japan, Nakayama found that many of his karate peers, as well as the Shoto-kan dojo itself, had perished in the war. He began to organize classes again and, in May of 1949, he helped to found the Japan Karate Association , which would be incorporated as an educational body under the Ministry of Education in 1955. Although Funakoshi was the honorary head of the new organization, he was 81 years old at it's founding, and it was Nakayama , Funakoshi's hand picked successor, who was the Chief Instructor of the J.K.A. from it's founding until his death.
As early as 1947, Nakayama had become the Coach of the Takushoku University Karate Team. In 1952 he was hired as part of the physical education staff and would eventually rise to become the director of that department. Among his many accomplishments are the creation of sport karate (the J.K.A. hosted the first All Japan Karate Tournament in 1957, which was the first world karate championship), the creation of the J.K.A. Instructor Training Program, and the spreading of karate to the United States and the rest of the world.
These last two achievements went hand in hand. In 1951, the U.S. Strategic Air Command instituted a program of training in the martial arts. They sent their physical training instructors to the Kodokan in Tokyo for instruction in Judo, Karate, Aikido, and other arts. Nakayama, along with Isao Obata and Toshio Kamata, was chosen by Funakoshi to provide the karate instruction for this program. The problem with this was that people who had had some limited training in karate returned to the United States and began to teach on their own. The same situation had developed in Japan at that time. By the mid 1950's there were over 200 so-called styles of karate being taught, many of them by people with very little training. Thus Nakayama, under Funakoshi's direction, created the Instructor Training Program to ensure the quality instruction of true karate. He was assisted in this by Motokuni Sugiura (the current Chief Instructor of the J.K.A.), Hidetaka Nishiyama (the head of the A.A.K.F.), and Teruyuki Okazaki
The final step in the process of spreading karate to the world was the sending of instructors to America and then to other countries. The first Japanese to teach karate in the U.S. was Tsutomu Oshima, a student of Funakoshi's from Waseda University, who came to Los Angeles in 1955. He was later replaced by Nishiyama, who founded the All American Karate Federation, the U.S. branch of the J.K.A. Okazaki came to Philadelphia in 1961 as the first graduate of the Instructor Training Program assigned to the U.S. and founded the East Coast Karate Association as part of the A.A.K.F.
On April 14th, 1987, Masatoshi Nakayama died at the age of 74. Until his death, he continued to travel, teach, write books about karate (over 20), and oversee the growth of the J.K.A. into a world wide organization of over 10 million people in 155 countries. He was a true Master of Karate-do who, completely absorbed all of Master Funakoshi's philosophies, techniques, and ideas, and spent his life passing them on to the world.
The Soul of Karate-Do: Initial Move and Posture
In the early days of karate-do, for some years after 1935 college karate clubs all over Japan held inter-school matches. They were called kokangeiko, 'exchange of courtesies practice' and the participants freely attacked each other with all the karate techniques at their disposal. Their original purpose was to promote friendship between clubs. The matches were to consist of displays of kata, the set patterns of defence and attack, or of practice in attack and counterattack. The latter was ideally a formalized affair. One person attacked, only once. Then his opponent counterattacked, again just once. They continued in strictly controlled alternation. But the young blood of the students ran too hot to be satisfied with such tameness. They could not resist the temptation to use to the fullest the techniques they had learned and the powers they had gained through daily training. There would be five or six contestants from each university in these free-style matches. Giving a brave yell at a signal, the paired opponents began to fight. If a melee developed, it was the responsibility of the judges to step in and part them. The truth is, the judges rarely had time to exercise their responsibility. It was all over in 30 seconds. Some of the contestants had broken teeth or twisted noses. Others had earlobes nearly ripped off or were paralyzed from a kick to the belly. The injured crouching here and there around the dojo--it was a bloody scene. Karate in its early days had no match rules, although there was a gentlemen's agreement to avoid attacking vital organs. Despite the wounded, the custom of holding such "matches" remained popular for some time. I was a student in a karate club in those days. If the custom were to continue, I feared, karate would degenerate into a barbarous and dangerous technique. Yet, defeating an opponent is the common aim of all the martial arts. A person must fight freely in a match, using his techniques, if he is to maintain his skill. If that is so, I thought, then karate is too powerful and too dangerous for match competition.
Karate was developed in Okinawa , where the people were strictly forbidden to own weapons. Its practitioners there usually trained themselves alone through practice centering on kata. They held no matches. Although we can maintain our technique through practice without an opponent, we cannot improve our mental and physical conditioning in preparation for actual battle.
Specifically, we need to learn how to overcome anxiety or how far we should stand from an opponent. Without practice against an opponent, we cannot have the chance to work at our greatest capacity. I was in a quandary. Fighting is dangerous, but fighting is indispensable. Only through it can we maintain the essential skills of our martial art. Even after graduating from college, I still kept hoping to see the development of a true match that would make karate a modern martial art. Once I organized a match with the contestants wearing protective gear, but the special clothing was an obstacle and turned out to be itself the cause of unexpected injuries. I had to keep looking for a solution. That was just before the beginning of World War II.
After the war, Japan abandoned the militarism of the past and made a fresh start as a nation based on pacifism. Even so, the college karate clubs kept holding their wild fighting contests, and the number of injured kept mounting. In the new climate of peace, violence in any form was a hateful thing. If karate remains as it is, I thought, it will be regarded as the embodiment of violence and will eventually fade away. Yet judo and kendo (fencing) were developing as sports. The glorious contests of swimmers and baseball players were brightening the post-war gloom. Young karate practitioners began to hope that karate would become a sport, would have rules for matches.
I thought it was high time we made a sport of karate. I studied the rules of many sports and observed matches. Finally, I developed match rules and styles of fighting that allowed contestants to use karate techniques to the fullest without injuring each other. However, if we put too much emphasis on fighting, we become loose in technique. To prevent that I made a contest of the kata, too. The matches I had worked out, consisting of free-style fighting and kata, were first performed in Tokyo at the All Japan Grand Karate Tournament in October 1957, under the auspices of the Japan Karate Association. They were most impressive--attack and counter-attack with rapid, powerful, well-controlled technique. The kata contestants displayed quick, beautiful movements. Both the fighting and the kata left the audience impressed. Not one contestant was injured in the free-style fighting. The new matches were a great success. That was the beginning of the free-style fighting matches performed today in karate tournaments around the world. Finally a match form close to actual fighting had come to the public.
As you can see, I solved my quandary and succeeded in creating the karate match. I'm still afraid of one thing however. As karate matches become popular, karate practitioners become too absorbed in winning. It is easy to think that gaining a point matters most, and matches are likely to lose the quickness of action characteristic of karate. In that case, karate matches would degenerate into mere exchanges of blows. Moreover, I cannot say whether the idea of free-fighting styles matches the soul of karate as taught by Master Funakoshi Gichin, the founder of karate-do. For as you will later see, the soul of his karate requires quite a high standard of ethics.
"Art of Virtuous Men"
Master Funakoshi often recited an old Okinawan saying: "Karate is the art of virtuous men." Needless to say, for students of karate to thoughtlessly boast of their power or to display their technique in scuffles goes against the soul of karate-do. The meaning of karate-do goes beyond victory in a contest of mastery or self-defence techniques. Unlike common sports, karate-do has a soul of its own. To be a true master is to understand the soul of karate-do as a martial Way. Karate-do has grown popular these days, and its soul is apt to pass from our minds. Here I would discuss the soul of karate, returning to the roots of that martial Way. It is said that karate has no initial move (sente). That is an admonition to practitioners not to launch the initial attack and concurrently a strict prohibition against thoughtlessly using the techniques of karate. The masters of karate, especially Master Funakoshi, strictly admonished their pupils with those words again and again. In fact, it is not going too far to say that they represent the soul of karate-do.
In karate, the power of the whole body is focused on one part, such as a fist or foot, so that immense destructive power is loosed in a moment; hence the warning: Regard your fists and feet as swords. In a match the attacker's fist or foot is in principle aimed at a target a few centimetres, an inch or so, from the opponent's body in order not to injure the opponent . (emphasis added)
Out of consideration of such destructive power, come the words: There is no initial move in karate. That spirit is embodied in the kata, the patterns forming the core of karate-do practice. Karate has two forms of practice: kata and kumite (mock fighting). The kata are patterns of combined defence and attack that assume four or eight enemies right, left, in front and in back. As far as I know, there are 40 or 50 kinds of kata. Each begins with defence (uke). You may argue that since karate was born as an art of self-defence, it is natural that it has no initial move. That is certainly true, but if you immediately conclude from the words, "There is no initial move in karate," that you can freely counterattack, you have not yet fully grasped the soul of karate-do. The underlying meaning of those words is much deeper.
In addition to refraining from attacking first, practitioners of karate are required not to create an atmosphere that will lead to trouble. They also must not visit places where trouble is likely to happen. To observe those prohibitions, the practitioner must cultivate a gentle attitude toward others and a modest heart. That is the spirit underlying the words, "There is no initial move in karate". And that spirit is the soul of karate-do. One master says: "Karate is based on attempts to avoid a trouble, so as not to be hit by others and not to hit others." Another says: "Harmoniously avoid trouble, and abhor violence. Otherwise, you will lose trust and will perish."
At the bottom of the soul of karate-do lies the wish for harmony among people. Such harmony is based on courtesy, and it is said that the Japanese Martial Ways begin with courtesy and end with courtesy. Such is the case with karate-do…
"Karate and Void"
"There is no initial move in karate" is one saying. "There is no posture (kamae) in karate" is another. The former represents karate-do's ethical aspect. The latter summarizes the proper attitude in training or actual fighting. Both sayings are integral elements of the soul of karate-do. When we say, "There is no posture in karate," we basically mean this: you should not stiffen your body; you should always relax yourself to be ready for any attack from any direction. When the gale blows, the stiff oak resists and breaks, the flexible willow bends and survives.
But even if there is no physical posture, you may think a certain mental posture necessary. You cannot relax your attention. That is why in karate-do it is said: there is posture but no posture. Practitioners assume a mental posture but not a physical posture. Actually, that is not the highest stage of the art. At the highest stage, practitioners of karate should in actual fighting have posture of neither body nor mind. Herein lies the deep meaning of "There is no posture in karate". It is this highest stage, the essence common to the Martial Ways of Japan , that I would next explain.
In the 17th century, the Zen priest Takuan gave Yagyu Munenori a treatise which had great influence on the ideological side of the Martial Ways of Japan . It is popularly called "Fudochi Shinmyo Floku" and in it, Takuan wrote:
"If you place your mind on the movements of your opponent, your mind is absorbed by the movements of your opponent. If your mind is on the sword of your opponent, your mind is absorbed by the sword of your opponent. If your mind is on cutting your opponent, your mind is absorbed by cutting your opponent. If your mind is on your sword, your mind is absorbed by your sword. If your mind is on not being cut, your mind is absorbed by not being cut... (emphasis added)
"Where, then, should the mind be? You should put your mind nowhere. Then your mind is diffused throughout your body, stretched out, totally unfettered. If your arms are important, it serves your arms. If your legs are important, it serves your legs. If your eyes are important, it serves your eyes. It works freely in the body wherever necessary.
"If you concentrate on one place, your mind, absorbed by that place, is useless. If you are worried about where to place your mind, your mind is absorbed by that worry. "Ku" (emptiness) should throw off worry and reason. Let your mind go over your entire body, and never fix your mind on a certain place. Then your mind must accurately serve in response to the needs of each part of your body."
In short, the Zen priest says that the mind, if placed nowhere, is everywhere. The concept reflects Buddhism's abhorrence, especially in the Zen Sect, of attachment and bonds. Such antipathy is based on the concept of "void" in Mahayana Buddhism. In Buddhism the English "void" or "emptiness" translates the Japanese word ku, derived from the Sanskrit sunyata. Its original meaning is to be lacking in or to be wanting in. Mahayana Buddhism arose in opposition to the rigid doctrine of traditional Buddhism and made the bold assertion that we should not be trapped by the difference between good and evil, or enlightenment and illusion. That assertion seems to destroy ethical value, but Mahayana Buddhism claims that it strengthens ethical value. When we reach the stage wherein we adhere to nothing, our actions are naturally good. The basic idea of Mahayana Buddhism, Ku, is different from nothingness and is difficult to understand. It cannot be explained in a few words, but perhaps a specific example will help you understand void and one of its aspects--denial of confrontation.
When we first learn how to drive a car, we find it very difficult and take every precaution. But once we have thoroughly mastered driving, we can be quite at ease while we drive and still not break the rules. We aren't very conscious of our driving technique. Mahayana Buddhism aims at attaining the stage of enlightenment without worrying about the difference between good and evil, or enlightenment and illusion.
That, too, is the highest stage of actual fighting in karatedo. There we do not have posture of mind. In the martial arts, when we have attained the highest stage after long years of training, we return to the first stage. In the first stage, where we do not know any posture or technique, we do not fix our minds anywhere. When attacked, we simply respond unconsciously, without strategy. But as we come to understand posture, the use of technique, and fighting tactics through our study of technique, we occupy our minds with all sorts of things. The mind is divided into attack or counterattack and loses its freedom. After a long period of further practice, we can move unconsciously, freely, and properly. That is the highest stage of karate-do, the true meaning of "there is no posture of mind." That stage can be reached only after hard and painstaking training, but it has nothing to do with physical strength. In the West, physical strength counts for much in the martial arts. Men of a certain age must quit. Karate-do, however, emphasizes technique based on the practice of kata. We can continue to practice this martial art for a lifetime, no matter how much our physical strength declines. The more we practice, the more gracefully we can move. Finally, we attain the highest stage, where there is posture in neither mind nor body.
The author of one of the world's all-time best selling martial arts books, "Karate the Art of Empty Hand Fighting" (now in its ninetieth printing), Nishiyama Hidetaka is undoubtedly one of the most controversial martial artists of all times.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, on November 21, 1928, Nishiyama Hidetaka began his karate training as most Japanese children of the era did, on the fifth day in the fifth month of his fifth year, which was then called Boys' Day but in today's Japan is called Children's Day.
He started in kendo, eventually making third dan after seventeen years. He began karate at the age of sixteen and has become one of the foremost authorities in the world on Shotokan karate and one of the world leaders trying to get karate into the Olympics. Presently, Nishiyama Sensei is a ninth dan and the leader of the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF).
His karate training began at Takushoku University under the instruction of the father of modern day karate, Funakoshi Gichin. While at university, he studied economics, but it was karate that really excited him.
After attending one of Nishiyama Sensei's instructor's classes, I fully understand why he is so widely respected for his knowledge and ability. His class was filled with kumite combinations and broken down into logical sequences coupled with fighting psychology that only a true master of the art could divulge. When the class was over, I had the opportunity to interview him for Bugeisha.
DW: Sensei, was karate your first Martial art?
No, I started kendo when I was 5 years old. In Japan it was traditional for a young boy to begin Kendo training on his 5th year, 5th month and 5th day, so my father took me to a Kendo Sensei at that time. I studied Kendo until I was 16 years old. I was a Sandan (3rd degree black belt).
DW: Since you began karate in 1945, how has the training changed?
When I first started to train with Funakoshi Sensei, there was nowhere near the attention to detail that there is in today's karate. Funakoshi Sensei explained no details, he told commands like Shuto Uke or Zenkutsu Dachi, everyone had to look for themselves and find the details on their own. Now karate is taught with a great deal of attention to detail. As an example in the Bassai Dai kata, in the opening move, should the open hand be on the fist or on the arm? Obviously when you put the open hand on the fist you are over extending the arm and it is not supporting the blocking closed fist like it does when you put the open hand on the arm.
DW: In the Funakoshi video we just finished reviewing, you mentioned it was filmed at Keio University and that you trained at Takushoku University. How did the training differ in these two universities in those early years of karate in Japan?
The difference between the two schools was that Takushoku training was much more spirited and physical. Some of the more famous graduates of Takushoku University were JKA (Japan Karate Association) instructors like Nakayama Masatoshi, Kanazawa Hirokazu, Enoeda Keinosuke, and Okazaki Teruyuki. On the other hand, Keio University, which was the first university to adopt a karate-training program, was much more refined and gentlemanly. Keio University developed JKA instructor Obata Isao.
DW: I have noticed that many of the katas have varied depending on the participants. Should they not all be the same?
No, not really. A kata will vary depending on the individual's size and capabilities. The real secret to the art is in adhering to the principles of body movement and trying to attain the maximum effect with the minimum effort. We must not just copy our instructor's moves; we must strive to understand what makes them work and how to maximize them. You also need to understand that in the old days, there was no standardization of kata. Each instructor would teach on an individual basis and adjust a kata to fit that individual. Let me give you an example of how this affects the kata we see today. In the opening movements of the Kanku Dai kata there are two Shuto Uke (knife hand blocks), today everyone places their hands very high almost pointing straight up. This was not done this way originally as Funakoshi Sensei explained to me. This came about because Funakoshi Sensei is a very short man and he needed to put his hands this high to fit his body because everyone else was much taller than him in Japan. But he also told me that Itosu Sensei was very tall, and his hands were placed much lower. So the kata must be custom fit to your personal physique. The problem today is that everyone copies their instructor and very few people understand the proper application of the moves in kata. The kata is only an outside symbol that represents the inside. So you must understand the inside, if not then you are only a puppet doing movements with no meaning.
DW: What are your technical interests at this point in your training?
After 50 years of training, I am still intrigued with the concept of maximum effect with minimum effort. Therefore, this is what I am continuing my own personal study of at the moment.
DW: Can you please explain further this concept.
In the beginning of training we all use muscular strength. We use a big body action to make big powerful movements. But as one trains longer this needs to change so that you generate big power from little movement. This is the way of nature because as you get older you loose muscular strength so you must find this other way of generating power before you get too old.
DW: What is your opinion of sport karate today?
I think it is all right, but I do not understand what the purpose is. In traditional karate, I understand the purpose. It is proper timing (and) executing proper techniques both with the ultimate aim of self-defence. One must remember that in karate only five percent of the participants want to participate in competition. The other ninety-five percent join for the other benefits that karate has to offer. Benefits like fitness, self-defence, character development, philosophy, and psychology plus much more.
DW: What do you think of coloured uniforms?
In Japan the white uniform was always used because martial arts philosophy stressed cleanliness, thus white symbolizes purity. A Samurai always had to be clean in his mind, body and spirit. In a confrontation or Shiai my opponent becomes my Sensei and in turn, I am his Sensei so we must respect each other. Respect begins with proper attitude and cleanliness.
DW: What is your opinion of junior black belts?
I have no problem with this as long as the youngster is technically qualified and they should be promoted the same as anyone else. However, once they reach eighteen years of age, they should be re-evaluated as a regular adult black belt and then they should be promoted to whatever rank the instructor feels is appropriate. We must not forget the purpose of ranking individuals. It is meant as an incentive and motivation. They, perhaps even more than adults, need motivation and incentive to continue training since they do not yet understand the philosophy and meaning of martial arts.
DW: If you were to make one suggestion to a twenty-year-old black belt what would it be?
I would suggest that they try to learn the principles of body movement rather than trying to copy their instructor's technique. Also to avoid dangerous situations, because in a real martial arts confrontation, one cannot lose because losing means death. The only real way not to lose is not to fight.
DW: At what stage of training is a student ready to leave his Sensei?
It is difficult for a student to leave his Sensei if he has a very good Sensei. The longer the better. I would say maybe Sandan or Yondan then the student can go, but he should always come back to his Sensei for further training and to check for any mistakes.
DW: Who was your biggest influence in your martial arts training?
I would have to say that it was Funakoshi Sensei, Nakayama Sensei who became the chief instructor for the JKA. Also my Kendo Sensei Mochida Morio.
DW: It seems that most articles about you are political in nature. What are your non-political goals for the future?
I would very much like to write more books as well as videotapes. I believe that there is a great deal of information that I have collected over the years and developed in regards to kyusho (pressure points), principles of body movement and body dynamics relating to karate that would help improve the quality of karate if it were made available to those who study the art.
DW: What are the major points in attaining high-quality kata?
The main points are:
1. Total body dynamics and adhering to the principles of body dynamics.
2. Proper techniques, meaning that the practitioner understands the application of each move.
3. Good power and focus.
4. The transition and the shifting, continuity, and tempo related to application.
5. Attention to the small details, like the little finger or the hooking of the wrist.
6. Overall impression which is attained by watching a person's spirit during the kata performance.
DW: What then are the qualities of good kumite?
First, the technique must have real application. In other words, if completed, serious damage would result. There must, of course, be proper timing and distancing of the technique.
DW: In summary, what is next for you?
Well, the first and foremost objective of mine is to get karate into the Olympics. Now, the IOC (International Olympic Commission) has recognized that there are two aspects to karate: one, the traditional side, which we, the ITKF, represent; and then the general side, which the WKF (World Karate Federation) will represent. It is my hope that karate will be in the Olympics in 2004, assuming everything goes as is planned. I hope to pass on my work in this field to the younger generation so that they can take over and I can devote my time to other things.
I was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1928. My father was a fun loving man who enjoyed life to the full. He loved to cook, and owned a large restaurant. It was often hired by businessmen and local dignitaries for private parties where they could eat, drink and be entertained by Geisha.
T his all came to and end when we were forced to move to the country to avoid American bombers during the war. School life was hard, and senior students would often beat the younger children for no reason. It was very militaristic, we looked upon our teachers as gods, I suppose it was just like the Samurai and his Lord.
I desperately wanted to become a soldier but was too young. I tried to join a naval academy but was rejected due to an eye problem. In hindsight I was actually quite lucky as they were all training to be Kamikaze pilots but at the time I was devastated. I was raised with the Bushido code, to die for my emperor and country would have been a great honour .
I t was while at school that I had my first taste of martial arts. We practiced Kendo every day. When I was 14 years old I met one of my school friends older brother. He had studied Wado Ryu Karate while at university; from then on whenever he came home I would ask him to teach me. Eventually he agreed, it was all fighting - nothing technical.
A fter the war my family moved back to Yokohama. The Americans were occupying Japan and despite my hatred of them I ended up working at one of their army bases as a cleaner. Government propaganda had turned Americans into demons that killed our men and raped our women. Through working at the base I came to realise that this was a lie. At that time food was scarce, we were living off insects and rice. The Americans gave us food, chocolate and of course Coca Cola. I loved it, it was all I ever wanted to drink, now I hate the stuff!
I decided to learn English and went to the local YMCA where they held classes. Once there I discovered that they also taught Karate. I knew that it was Karate that I wanted to do and soon forgot about learning English. The instructor there was a man called Mr. Kimura. He was one of Professor Ohtsuka's best students. Professor Ohtsuka was the founder of Wado Ryu Karate.
T he Americans had banned all martial arts so we had to call Karate, Japanese boxing. I trained at the YMCA for about 6 months before we had to move on. We would train wherever we could, in gardens or fields, in the rain and snow, anywhere the American's could not find us. Kimura was a very intelligent man with a very sharp technique. He was a 5th Dan at the time the highest grade in Japan.
I was fascinated by the way of the warrior and the samurai code. I read books on Budo, Bushido and Hagkure. As a boy I dreamt of being a samurai hero. After the war we were not allowed swords, so I looked for a martial art without weapons. In Judo it was always the big guy who won, but Karate was different. With speed, timing and good spirit I could defeat any opponent large or small.
P ost-war Japan saw the Japanese people embrace everything American, baseball, coke, Elvis. I wanted to give the world something Japanese. I decided to become a great martial artist so I could teach the world about the Japanese spirit.
W hen I first started I was only training four hours a day that eventually increased to 10. Everyone thought I was crazy but I believed that to be the best I had to work longer and harder than anyone else. I would train in a shrine garden near my home until well into the early hours of the morning. By wearing my gi (the white Karate outfit) I inadvertently started a rumour of a ghost who stalked the shrine at night.
A t the end of every year I would go up to a temple in the mountains for two weeks. There I would train every day from morning until night, only stopping for one small meal. To eat any more would make me sick. My day would start with a run, followed by Zen meditation. After that I would practice my punching by extinguishing a candle flame with just the force of my punch. Next I would work on my kicks by wearing iron boots. This built strength and speed. My favourite technique was the sokuto (side kick), Ohtsuka sensei would tell students, if you wish to practice sokuto go see Mr. Suzuki.
T hat would be followed by three hours of fighting with my fellow students. By the end we would be physically exhausted. To end the day I would practice kata (set moves against imaginary attackers). I would perform each kata three times. When finished my body would feel great all the days aches and pains gone.
I would travel to Tokyo several times a week to train with Ohtsuka sensei. He was a truly great man. Away from Karate he was a gentleman but inside the dojo he was like a true samurai. He would train with us as well as teach us. Many of his senior black belts had returned from the war, they were tough both physically and mentally. The fighting in those lessons was extremely hard.
I n the old days fighting was different than it is today. There were no rules, any technique was allowed; kicks to the groin, strikes to the eyes or throat. Contests would be organised between the various universities. We would visit with a team of 10 fighters - to us they were the enemy, especially if they practiced a different style. Nowadays most styles fight pretty much the same way, but back then I could tell a person's style of Karate from the way he fought. Shotokan fighters were very stiff and liked lots of room, whereas Goju Ryu liked to get in close - Wado Ryu would be somewhere in between.
T he home crowd would be crying for blood and would often try to hit us with sticks or whatever they could lay their hands on. The senior students would referee but would rarely stop a fight unless it looked as if one of us was about to be killed. We would end up fighting on blood-soaked floors. No pads or guards were worn, it was all bare fists. Many people lost teeth or broke noses or other bones. Eventually the heads of all the styles got together to devise competition rules. They were concerned that potential students were being put off.
I n 1963 I and two other students traveled the world demonstrating Wado Ryu Karate. This resulted in offers from several countries to come and teach. I narrowed it down to either Britain or America, as English was the only other language that I could speak. I was offered a sponsorship deal by some American businessmen, but a leading Shotokan instructor, Ohshima, was already teaching there so I declined.
I moved to England in January 1965. It was hard to settle at first. My English was very basic, I had to take a Japanese/English phrase book to lessons to try to explain my teaching. As I was the only Japanese instructor in England everyone wanted me to teach them. Demands on my time were so great that I had no time to do any other work.
A t first I thought that it would be difficult to teach westerners an oriental martial art. Back in Japan I had been told that Westerners could not move as we did because they sat on chairs as opposed to the floor, as a result they had no hip power obviously this was wrong.
I missed Japan, I was living in a bed-sit that would get so cold that it would be impossible to sleep. I would have to train to warm-up before going to bed. There were no Japanese shops and I longed to eat some Japanese food.
T he whole profile of martial arts in the west took a great leap forward during the so-called 'Bruce Lee boom'. I found myself on TV and in the papers all of the time. This kind of attention always attracts people out to prove themselves. None of them were any good. There was once a Hungarian man who claimed to be one of Bruce Lee's top students, after one month's training with him, a student would be able to beat any opponent. I was outraged by this claim so I contacted the paper that ran the article and challenged him to a fight under any rules that he cared to set. I waited but heard nothing, so eventually I rang them back. He had told them that he had already beaten me and saw no reason to fight me again. I laughed, he was obviously scared to face me man-to-man. Over the years I have proved myself and gained people's respect. I still like a good fight though. Most days I spar with Kevin, an instructor at my London dojo, it helps to keep me sharp.
I had several jobs while I lived in Japan, which sometimes required me to use Karate, including nightclub bouncer and bodyguard. There was often friction with the yakuza (Japanese gangsters). I once found myself up against a local yakuza gang. I was alone but there were about 20 of them. I backed up to a wall and picked up a large rock. If I stepped forward they would move back, if I moved back then they would move forward. Luckily one of my friends was passing by on his way to buy some sake and saw what was happening. He run back to our house and returned with help. Even though there were only 5 us of against 20 of them, the yakuza were terrified. One of their gang had recently lost an eye in a fight with a Karate man. I dropped the leader with a blow to the groin and knocked out another one who came at me with a knife. The rest of them eventually managed to run off. I realised that I had lost my university cap - I would be in serious trouble if it were to be found by the police. I searched everywhere for it and eventually found it under the body of a yakuza. The next day I scoured the papers for reports of a dead body but found nothing - I guess no one was seriously hurt.
Fear with regards to fighting can be overcome by mental training. It's a vital aspect of Karate training. It is important when fighting to have a strong spirit and a brave heart. When attacked you must never be scared or startled. You must believe in yourself this is difficult to achieve. A famous samurai was once asked what he would do if he were attacked in the street. He replied that he would move towards his attacker so that he could not strike down with his sword. To back off or freeze would mean death. I would often go to monasteries to learn Zen meditation from the monks. A samurai would not fear death before battle, this was the state of mind that I aimed to reach. I am always careful though, and will never change in believing that I am invincible. You must be wise and careful.
These days too many people stop training once they pass 2nd or 3rd Dan, they don't realise that belts are not important. Grades mean nothing, all that matters is to train hard. Many people call themselves 10th or even 12th Dan, but most of them are rubbish.
W hen I was awarded my 5th Dan no university student had ever been graded so high. I did not want this and asked Ohtsuka sensei not to give it to me but he insisted. It was the same for my 8th Dan. Over the years I have been offered 10th Dan but refused it. It would mean nothing to me, the only man worthy of giving me a grade was Ohtsuka sensei and he is dead.
I t is still important for me to train regularly. It can be difficult though, demands on my time have increased tremendously over the past few years. As well as my own training I teach twice a week at my London dojo. I am also the head of a very large Karate federation, the W ado I nternational K arate-Do F ederation ( W.I.K.F ) , I travel extensively both here and abroad holding courses for my members.
I have sensed a definite shift towards the more traditional aspects of Karate recently. There has been an increased attendance from non- W.I.K.F students at my courses. This pleases me because I feel very strongly that all clubs should have a thorough grounding in the traditional aspects of their style, eve if their bias is towards sport Karate.
A s a response to this I have re-organised my federation in the UK. Large clubs and organisations can now affiliate with the W.I.K.F and enjoy all the benefits of our courses, competition (both in the UK and abroad) and our guidance, but still keep much of their financial independence. I feel now that it's time for all Wado groups to work closer together whether it be through courses or competition. The fact that we all practice Wado Ryu Karate means that we are all brothers and sisters.