Interviews With The Masters
A series of interviews with some of the great masters of Shotokan karate. Conducted by SKCE Chairman, Gerry Grey.
In May 1981 Sensei Nakayama visited this country along with the World Champions the Japan National Kumite Team. On the Thursday before the KUGB National Championships, Sensei Nakayama gave a special course at the Crystal Palace Sports Centre for which the support was so astonishing that just the black belts alone absolutely packed the vast main hall area. Before this course I was very honoured to be able to conduct a unique one to one interview the great man through special arrangements kindly made by the late Enoeda Sensei.
When the Shotokan Karate Centres England was established a few years ago, I felt that the advice and sentiments Master Nakayama had given to me over 30 years before was so important even today to SKCE Karateka, many of whom may not even be aware of this great leader, that I wanted to republish the interview as I hope it will inspire as you practice the art of Shotokan Karate. The following are extracts of the original 1981 interview giving some of Professor Nakayama’s philosophy towards Karate with some slight changes in emphasis brought about by subsequent alternative philosophy that we now adopt.
Sensei you have now been Chief Instructor for the JKA for about 25 years and travelled all over the world. What would you say has been the most noticeable improvement in Karate and what has been the most disappointing ?
The greatest improvement is the worldwide support I have received, including that from Enoeda Sensei and his British and European students has been most helpful towards world Karate expansion. My two worries are:-
- A lot of people adopt only one style of fighting and there is not enough competition with other styles of fighting to learn some of their ways.
- To judge the winner or loser of a competition now requires greater skills because it has become more difficult to be able to judge the subtle difference between competitors with their improved techniques and skills.
Sensei, the sports media are of the opinion that there are already too many Olympic sports. Do you think Karate will ever achieve Olympic status ?
If we could join the Olympics we would be happy and we must all therefore strive towards this.
Sensei, is there a special message that you would give the British Instructors and Karateka ?
Trust everyone according to Mr Enoeda’s way, examples and standards in all Karate can be learnt from him and this will ensure a good future for Karateka of Britain. Great Britain and other nations in Europe are very respectful towards him. Also it is now most important not just to ask JKA but to seek options and advice of all the organisations in Europe and the world to ensure the correct progress of expansion. Each organisation must help others in all ways.
Sensei, for you what are the most important aspects of Karate ?
It is important is to practice Kata, Kumite and Kihon (basics) equally and not to concentrate on just one. Without all three there is no Martial Art.
Sensei, would Karate be better off without sports Kumite ?
Sports Karate has now been going for about 25 years and I well remember many years ago when I decided to allow competition, people disagreed with me and many said that competitors would lose their spirit in order to get points, and lose control. There are important aims we must observe to keep Karate as a Martial Art:-
- Practice movements and physical exercise.
- Practice Martial Art as a means of self-defence.
- Competitors must exercise the full spirit of Karate without losing control.
Sensei, what are the basic principles for Karateka to follow in their training?
Concentrate on learning and improving your Kihon, Kata and Kumite. To develop any one of these without the others is to lose the true meaning of Karate.
Sensei, in this violent world what would you say karate should teach young people because it is a Martial Art requiring great control ?
Ultimate aim in the Art lies not in winning but to build the character of the individual and Karateka should never fight outside of training and competition.
Every day before performance or training we should chant and absorb; ‘Cultivate the spirit of perseverance, respect propriety, refrain from impetuous and violent behaviour’.
Sensei, what are the basic principles to follow in learning Kata ?
In Kata it is most important not to learn advanced Kata too quickly because the knowledge learnt from lower grade Kata’s will greatly help your performance of high grade Kata’s.
For example, first learn Bassai Dai for strength followed by Jitte for stance and balance. The two Kata’s will help you understand and perform Sochin.
Sensei, what are your feelings regarding competition or sports Kumite ?
It is important for Karateka to remember that correct sporting Karate spirit can never be achieved without first learning properly your Kihon, Kata and basic Kumite.
Kihon will help you to improve your Karate techniques, Kata your flow of movement and combination of techniques and Kumite your timing and distance.
Do not try sports Karate until you have trained sufficiently in these very important aspects of Karate.
Taiji Kase, 8th Dan is one of the most senior and respected JKA instructors in the world. For many years Sensei Kase has visited England as one of the special instructors on Sensei Enoeda’s special European Summer Courses at Crystal Palace, London.
It was there that Sensei Enoeda kindly arranged this interview for me with Sensei Kase during the lunch break between training.
Sensei, welcome once again to England. When and where were you born ?
I was born 9th January in 1929 in Tokyo.
When did you first take up Karate and what were your reasons ?
I had practised Judo and at the age of 15 in 1944 I read a book by master Funakoshi. I was simply absorbed and fascinated by what I read and, at the same time, I was astounded to realise that Karate was then utterly beyond my comprehension, even though I was involved in Judo. I was attracted by the infinite challenge and I resolved to try Karate.
With whom did you start training ?
It was with Master Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka at their dojo in Toyko.
Which teacher influenced you most and why ?
Of course Master Funakoshi was very influential but in respect of the old ways, however, it was his son who influenced me most. It was he who taught me the modern approach to training and teaching.
When did you decide you wanted to become a full time instructor and where did you first start teaching ?
I thought about this a great deal at University and I realised then that it would be necessary to take up a profession which would enable me sufficient spare time for my karate. It was then that I decided to start teaching.
Do you think that modern Karateka are as dedicated as they were in your earlier days ? If not, what is the greatest difference between their approaches ?
There is a slight difference because in those days there was no Sports Karate and the only competition was with yourself. Like climbing a great mountain you had to train very hard in a totally committed way in order to gain endurance. The greatest difference is that with Sports karate the emphasis is now on fighting only to win competition, but in our case it was a fight to the death and a matter of winning in order to survive.
By fighting in this way we not only won on the battlefield but we also found out more about ourselves, like Solomon. We practised to learn what we were doing wrong and not just to make points by using some winning technique. Through our minds and spiritual approach we can create and develop. For example, when you practice Kata you may not be able to master a particular movement, but if you think deeply, the reason for this may become more apparent by observing other persons, and this will enable you to practice more effectively to overcome the difficulty.
When you first visited Europe with Sensei Enoeda, Sensei Kanazawa and Sensei Shirai in 1965 how did you find that Europeans responded to the tough traditional Karate training ?
We knew from the experience of the Judo Masters some time before, that Europeans could accept the teachings of Eastern ways and this gave us confidence that Karate would also be accepted. Also, Japan and England both have long histories and similar traditions, and we knew this would help.
Were you disappointed or surprised by the way the European Karateka accepted Karate in those days ?
I have no particular memory of finding it difficult to teach because the Europeans readily accepted the traditions on which Karate was founded.
I strongly believe it is not a question of race or nationality if you share the common bond as found with Karate or other Martial Arts. This is not true of many other sports in the world today.
Have you always been resident in Paris, France ?
Yes, since I first came to Europe nearly 20 years ago.
How does Shotokan compare in France with other styles and is it the dominant style ?
About 80% practice Shotokan. (Sensei’s natural modesty prevented him from voicing an opinion on the question of ‘dominance’ but I suggest the figures speak for themselves).
During the past 10 years we have seen many political struggles in the Martial Arts, what are your personal views on this ?
I prefer to dedicate myself as an instructor whose only aim is to teach anyone. Difficulties do arise through nationality which sometimes affect me as a Japanese, but, I understand and accept this. I wish therefore to be considered a pure instructor by divorcing myself from these political problems.
What changes would you like to see adopted to bring unity in the Karate organisations in the world ?
We are all involved in karate and we should therefore stick together, not fight. Karate should be like a pyramid and with everyone getting together. It is not necessarily a question of ‘styles’, each should be allowed to continue with their own beliefs and free to choose their preferred style. It is not necessary to criticise others for their chosen way.
The JKA regularly send to all countries their young instructors. Do you notice any particular difference between these young instructors and those of say 20 years ago ?
Generally the instructors are really similar except that the young instructor of days gone by perhaps trained harder.
You are the Technical Director of ESKA and along with Sensei Enoeda the Chief Instructor, and, other senior instructors you have been largely responsible for the development and expansion of Shotokan Karate in Europe. Many of the European nations have produced fine champions but do you think a European team or individual will break the JKA dominance at World Championship level ?
We all strive to produce champions at world level and, I am sure this applies to any JKA instructor resident in a foreign country. As I said previously Karate is not a question of nationality.
What is your opinion of modern Sport Karate ?
I accept that some changes are inevitable and Sports Karate is one, providing modern day instructors do not depart from the basic Karate concepts and beliefs. The modern approach is to use quick movements and techniques. Although these are of importance in competition, the competitor will benefit his Kumite more by practicing steady and precise basics rather than ‘speed’ of movement alone.
Are there any changes you would like to see which may improve Sports Karate ?
Sports Karate has many skilful techniques which are impossible to master in a short period. In order to master these important techniques it is vital they are not shortened like in boxing. Competitors should continually train over long periods to improve both speed and power of their technique.
What training methods do you personally adopt to retain your fitness ?
I have no particular secret but whenever I have some spare time even if only for a few minutes I practice and this helps me stay loose. Sometimes this may involve only using my eyes when sitting to catch the movements of others and help to keep my mind sharp.
What is your personal philosophy towards Karate ?
Try to move your body. (Authors Note: This is a simple but most profound statement requiring careful thought to appreciate the significance of what Sensei means).
What advice would you give the great many club instructors and Karateka throughout Europe ?
The longer you practice the more you will gain. It will take 10 years to master your basics and 10 years your Kumite, then another 10 years your Kata. There is no limit and therefore keep practicing throughout your life.
What has disappointed you most during your life as a Master, and, conversely what has given you the greatest satisfaction ?
During my long experience I have observed one significant different between Japanese and European Karateka which has disappointed me. In Europe often one finds a very promising student who dedicatedly applies himself for a while. Then he may find a girlfriend or get married, and, this often affects him and a promising student is lost to karate. In Japan this would not happen so easily because of the different cultural traditions. (At this stage Sensei declined to expand further in case he upsets Western Feminists !!).
By now we had unfortunately exhausted time and Sensei needed to return to the many Karateka waiting for the afternoon session at Crystal Palace. I thanked him for providing use with a very stimulating and enlightening interview.
The author would like to thank Sensei Enoeda’s secretary Mrs. Cheiko Buck who kindly acted as interpreter during the interview.
Authors Footnote 2012: A few years after this interview Kase Sensei broke away from the JKA quite possibly because of the politics and power struggles at the JKA and he established his own karate organisation World Shotokan Karate Academy. Sadly, he died in 2004 at the age of 75 and at this time he was Shihan 10th Dan.
How were you first introduced to the martial arts, was it through one of your relations ?
Yes it was my father who practiced Kendo because in Japan most people practice one of the martial arts.
I believe that you first chose to practice judo, how old were you when you started ?
I was 6 years old and I chose judo because a friend of my fathers was the instructor at a police training school.
When did you decide to change to karate and why ?
When I was a High School before I graduated to University, I saw a demonstration by a Senior Karate Instructor. I was very impressed because never before had I seen karate and in my opinion it demonstrated the true martial arts spirit.
When did you start practicing karate ?
This was when I went to university because in Japan university students practice a martial art.
Who recommended that you should attend the Japanese Karate Associations Instructors Course ?
This was Nakayama Sensei my main instructor at the University, and, some of the other instructors from whom I had received instruction.
What grade were you when you started at the JKA Instructor School ?
What is the JKA Instructors Course really like ? We hear so many stores in this country of it being extremely hard training.
It is 3 years of very hard training but it is not just this alone, it also includes the dynamic, scientific and detailed medical study of karate. In addition, we studied Zen for its mental training.
At the JKA Instructors Course you received instructions from many famous karate masters and this must have been very important in your karate training and development ?
Yes it was but it must be remembered that my basic foundation in karate was during training at the University under the guidance of Nakayama Sensei. I was at the University for 4 years during which time I was also honoured to be Captain of the University Team and this was very important to me and helped tremendously when I eventually went to the JKA School.
Without this good basic foundation it would not have been possible to develop my karate further.
Who were your contemporaries at the JKA and who impressed you most at the time ?
There were very many now famous instructors, far too many to single out, but I particularly remember Shirai Sensei because in 1961 at the JKA Championships, I was third losing in the semi-finals, in 1962 I won through to the final against Shirai who beat me. The following year in 1963 we again met in the final but this time I won. I always considered him one of my good rivals.
When did you first enter competitions ?
Major competitions had only just started when I joined the JKA and up until this time karate had not been about competition. It was whilst I was at University that it really started for me. At about the same time the All Japan Karate Championships started, but it was a few years before I first took part in this event.
What would you say has been the greatest noticeable change between competition then and now ?
Yes there is a very big difference. I believe that in the early years it was very difficult for the competition judges but after a few years with good rules the competitions soon improved. In the early days Kumite was very much one kick or one punch and the variation of techniques has since changed. However, in those days it was also an extremely strong and very serious competition, and the emphasis on control was quite different. A really good solid technique would often finish the match !
It is completely different now, it is still serious but now there is far less emphasis on the necessity for blocking, more on making winning techniques. In the early days failure to block properly would result in injury. The fighting then was perhaps more traditional and blows were generally solid like big hammers to the body. Today I think we must keep power in the techniques, otherwise if we only think of sports karate it will destroy the real meaning of karate.
For instance, we always practiced to make good punches on the makiwara, hundreds every day. Before every championship I used to punch 500 or more times the makiwara to make my punches strong and to build my confidence, so that I could use these strong techniques in competition, but now this does not apply.
What grade were you when you left the JKA Instructors Course ?
After completing the JKA Instructors Course I believe that you were sent to various countries in the world. Could you explain the purpose of this ?
At the time very few people throughout the world knew about karate and therefore the JKA sent us out to investigate throughout the world, which countries would be good to start expanding karate. Sensei’s Kase, Kanazawa, Shirai and myself were sent on a years tour to various continents to demonstrate to the world that there was a real purpose and meaning to karate, and not just breaking wood, bricks etc as most people supposed.
Did you go to America with Nishiyama Sensei ?
Yes but only for a short while and mainly to demonstrate at one of the big tournaments there.
Who decided that you should return later to England ?
After the year of travelling around the world the JKA in consultation with the four of us decided that we should return to Europe otherwise we would soon lose the opportunity to introduce and expand good karate. This is when it was decided that I would stay in England.
Europe is probably now the strongest karate continent. Did you ever think this would be the case when you first visited ?
Yes this is true, but had we not decided to stay in Europe it would not have produced so many strong nations. Shotokan is now particularly strong and expansion has been successful. We are all very pleased that we decided to stay and help with the development of karate.
Also, it has not just been due to the instructor for the particular country, and over the years we have regularly visited each others country to instruct. For example, Sensei’s Kase, Shirai and Ochi come to my Summer Courses at Crystal Palace in London, and I return the compliment as we all do. This close co-operation has been very important over the years.
Originally when you first took up residency in England you stayed in Liverpool which is now considered the strong hold of karate in the country. The fact that many of our leading instructors and current champions now come from Liverpool is a testimony to the instruction you have given them. What were your first impressions of karate in England ?
In those days karate in England was very small and the KUGB consisted of only a few clubs mainly in Liverpool, London and other major cities. I believe that the foundation of the KUGB comes from the influence of Senior Instructors from Liverpool, and because of this the KUGB has expanded to one of the largest and best organisations in the world.
Can you remember any amusing stories of the now famous British instructors who started training with you in those early days in 1965 ?
Oh yes, I remember Terry O’Neill was only a young kid at the time but I particularly remember Andy Sherry who was so keen and never ever missed any training when I was living in Liverpool. In fact he was so keen that early morning he would knock at my door and ask for some extra special training, but then that is why he has now reached a very high standard. I am pleased that we are now very very good friends but this is not just due to training, it is because we both feel the same way about karate.
In those days did you find that the British karateka had a totally different attitude from that you had experienced in Japan, and did you have to modify your training to suit them ?
Yes, when I started in Liverpool this was the case, but, I decided that they should train exactly as we had done in Japan so that this would give them a good karate foundation. I believe this has helped them and the KUGB to adopt the correct attitude towards good karate.
Do you approve of sports kumite and do you think it is good for karate ?
Yes this is good for publicity and in particular as we are now joining the Olympics. I am worried, however, that sports kumite could be having the wrong influence on karateka and giving rise to poor attitudes and discipline.
It is right that people should enjoy competitions but this is only one small part of karate and that is why in the Dojo we must always practice hard all aspects of karate training, particularly kihon, kumite, kata, self-defence and sports kumite.
Now that WUKO and the IAKF had reached agreement on unification, do you think that karate will be included in future Olympic Games ?
Of course, I hope it will be in 1992 but this will involve a lot of hard work by all the World Organisations, KUGB included.
What is your opinion regarding Boys kumite ?
I think that sports karate is alright for boys but there may be a need to use special protection, and perhaps some special rules.
Do you think there should be a minimum age for boys to enter kumite competitions ?
Yes, I believe this should not be too early, perhaps 12 or 13 years old.
What are your views regarding Ladies kumite ?
I do not greatly favour ladies kumite for obvious medical and physical reasons and think there is a need for some special protective clothing etc, for use in kumite competitions. I believe that ladies are best for kata competitions and for pre-arranged fighting such as semi-free kumite but not really full competition kumite as we know it. Perhaps we should consider a special form of kumite for them ?
Do you think that England will win the World Championships this year and who do you see as their main rivals ?
I remember the first IAKF Championship it was good fighting and we just lost, at the next in Tokyo we just missed by half a point and came third, but at the third one in Germany, we nearly won the Championships but it was very very close. At that time three countries Japan, Germany and England were all very close. I think these will again be the main rivals.
Although we did not win the European team kumite championships last year, we had won the previous 3 years and I hope that we can also be successful in this years European Championships.
How do you see the future of the KUGB ?
Yes the future is very good for the KUGB but we must now be thinking about helping with world unification and working hard towards the Olympic Games. There is to be a special world competition in about a years time and we must help towards this.
There are many many styles of karate throughout the world and Shotokan is the biggest. Why do you think this is ?
In the world approximately 65% to 70% practice Shotokan karate and I suggest this really answers your question.
What advice would you give to the many Club Instructors throughout the Britain and Europe ?
It must be emphasised that karate is not just sports karate but we can obtain unity through our international championships.
There is a need in the dojo for mental training and for greater self-discipline. In the early days discipline was always very good but recently this is changing as I have previously said.
Always teach your students the correct way of karate and by example instill in them proper attitudes as outlined in the dojo code :
- Exert oneself in the perfection of character.
- Be faithful and sincere.
- Cultivate the spirit of perseverance.
- Respect propriety.
- Refrain from impetuous and violent behaviour.
Authors Footnote 2010 – You will find in your SKC England licence book a small reproduction of the original dojo code that Sensei produced for me a few years before this interview.
You are now 47/48 and yet you are extremely fit and have a suppleness that most men half your age would envy. Do you do any special type of training for this ?
No I just practice hard my basic karate training and that is all. When I think my body can no longer work or my mental attitude is weak, I try to overcome this by pressurising myself and saying ‘You can do it, you are not too old’ and always to try to overcome this feeling. There are many famous karate masters who live to a very old age and this is largely because of their karate training. I believe that if you do good karate for the physical and mental exercise this can automatically help to keep you in good health.
You have just finished your new series of kata books which has just been published by the Sakura Trading Co, London, what made you decide to write these ?
My main reason is that the KUGB has become very large and it is important to make sure that all instructors and karateka follow exactly the same standard of kata. This is why I produced the books which I hope will help their foundation in karate.
What are your favourite katas ?
Sochin, Bassai-dai, Bassai-sho, Jitte but then I like all katas.
Finally Sensei, is there any special message you would like to give ?
It is important that now the whole world of karate is under one umbrella we must seek a common foundation for our karate between styles.
We must always keep in our training the real meaning of the whole of karate.
Also, I cannot stress this enough but it is very very important that all referees and judges must remember that they themselves must train very hard, including kumite, to ensure that they are adequately able to judge the very high standard of good techniques which we now see in competitions. They must also settle the differences between the major world bodies competition rules immediately, in readiness for the time when karate is included in the Olympic Games.
If they do not do this, then it will result in poor competition and this would not be good for karate.
I was born in Japan province of the Nagasaki, about 60km from Nagasaki National Park in July 1937.
I hope you don’t mind me asking you that but I think it’s important to establish the length of time masters like yourself have been involved in karate. When did you first start karate ?
I started my karate when I was 18 years old at University and Nishiyama Sensei was the teacher at my university karate class.
During your childhood what sports were you keen on ?
Any kind of sports but mostly I was keen on swimming because the southern part of Japan has a very nice climate and beautiful seaside. I also practiced athletics and I started baseball at high school. In winter times I also did Rugby, and sometimes Judo as a school lesson. I was not serious about Judo and I did it just for the physical exercise. I tried Kendo because my uncle was a master of Kendo so I went club training with him for about 2-3 years.
Presumably that was your first serious introduction to martial arts ?
Had you tried karate at all before you went to University ?
One time at school I saw a film which included Enoeda Sensei, produced by the JKA as promotional information for high schools and this gave me some idea of karate. I liked it but when I started university 3 years later I still really preferred athletics. However, at this time one of the karate coaches called me to join the karate team of university under the guidance of Nishiyama Sensei. So I really started without much idea or choice! Although on reflection I took to it naturally.
You were literally thrown in the deep end as we would say.
You said Nishiyama Sensei was your instructor at University but how long was it before you decided to go to the JKA instructors school ?
I practiced in the University team for 4 years and in the fourth year I was placed 3rd in the all-Japan Championships which I later won in 1962. At that time, very few students were successful in these championships and Nishiyama Sensei asked me to attend the JKA school where Nakayama Sensei was the Chief Instructor. I was rather young, only 21 years old, but I decided to take the JKA instructors course.
How long were you at the instructors course ?
Two years then I followed with the masters course where I continued the study for another year and after a while I became a shihan (master) 5th dan. Others considered me master but I did not !
During those early days Nishiyama Sensei was your main influence but can you tell how he influenced you ?
Yes, he always practiced very standard basics, strong but very correct and always very serious and hard. Personally, he was also very correct and sincere and I always remember his teaching and his attitude to life. I still contact him regularly and often I visit him. I am always delighted to go and join him at his national course in America and I will be going again shortly.
Was it when you went to the JKA school that you first came under the influence of Nakayama Sensei ?
Yes. At this time he was and still is I think directly responsible for teaching on the instructors course. There were also many other famous instructors teaching there and I was taught by many really top masters, I was really lucky.
You obviously enjoyed your time at the JKA was it there that you first met Enoeda Sensei ?
Yes, almost the same time we attended the instructors course Mr Enoeda had left University and had gone to Kyushu to help develop karate there, before joining the JKA course, but I came directly from University to the JKA instructors course. That is why I was 2 years later than Enoeda Sensei at University but I started 1 year before him on the JKA course. We both became instructors of the JKA at the same time but after that first year we were always together for about 5 years in practice and also in life as well as competiting together.
During those early days you won the All Japan Championships in 1962 against Enoeda Sensei but the following year the result was reversed. What are your memories of those days ?
I always want to keep my memories of the karate competition and training we shared together and although we are good rivals, I always have good recollections of Mr Enoeda but at the same time I feel he is more senior and more master than me. Not only is he my friend but he is also my teacher.
Can you still remember those competitions you used to have together ?
Oh yes, he was 80 kilo grams weight and I was 72 kilo grams. His potential techniques were very strong and he had tremendous fighting spirit. I knew this but he was also more advanced than me, and I was young and afraid, and, I knew it would be very serious to give him too many chances. My style was very quick so I decided the best tactics rather than engage in strong fighting would be to get in quick and get out even faster!! This worked in 1962 but not in 1963 !
Obviously, you remained very good friends over the years, in fact, you came over with Senseis’ Kase, Enoeda and Kanazawa in 1965 to Europe. What do you remember of your impressions when you first arrived ?
In February 1965 we arrived in Belgium and we did 2 or 3 demonstrations and a small course. I have a very clear impression of every country we visited, people were very keen and they wanted to learn a new Japanese martial art or sport. But I also felt there could be a revolution away from Judo which was already well established in Europe. We knew from Judo that to start teaching karate was one thing but it was important to urge the karateka of these countries to start their own organisations preferably based on the long standing JKA traditions. Suddenly the karate people began emerging and starting their new organisations and we were happy.
You justifiably feel proud that you were involved in those early days of European karate development but when did you actually go to Italy and become resident ?
In 1965 after we had been here to London, Manchester and Liverpool we then went to South Africa for 6 months all four of us. However, after a while Kanazawa returned to Europe and England, and at the end of the 6 months we called Kanazawa to South Africa and together we preformed some demonstrations and introduced competitions. Then we talked in October 1965, I think, because at the time, some of European karate associations had asked the JKA for instructors. I should have returned to the JKA but in view of the interest shown the JKA decided that I must go to Italy. The four of us then went to Milan and that’s when I started teaching karate in Italy.
You are based in Milan at the moment but can you tell me a little bit about the development of Shotokan karate in Italy during the past 20 years ?
Yes, we started when I arrived in November 1965, and I had 120 members. About 20 of the members had already started before but in November 1966 we formed an association. In 1972 we wanted to start a new organisation because membership had grown from 120 to 10000. I had started a special instructors course in April 1966 which had produced many good instructors who in turn had started their own classes and that is why we expanded quickly. That’s why we formed Federazione Sportina Italiano Karate in 1972 as members of EAKF and IAKF but not WUKO. We continued this federation until 1978 always active in the EAKF, IAKF and JKA with membership of 30,000. We asked the organisers and committee for Olympic sport in Italy and they decided that both karate federations that existed must be together. Although we were the larger of the two groups, the other federation were members of WUKO and based in Rome, and, politically, we thought this could be advantageous to us both but it was important to progress slowly. That is why we have now established a nice organisation. We had a bad time in 1979 to 1981 when we couldn’t participate in EAKF and IAKF championships and in 1982 we decided to join WUKO. In 1983 we also resumed membership of EAKF and IAKF plus WUKO.
This new federation ‘Federazione Italiano’ contains Karate, Tae-kwando and other disciplines and regularly we study together. We knew that Judo, weightlifting and wrestling federations slowly became recognised for Olympics but although we are still not ourselves recognised, if we are patient, it will happen for us.
In Italy at the moment of the those who practice karate are there more following the Shotokan style than the other styles as we had here in Britain ?
We have about 65,000 members of all styles and I think most are Shotokan based although from several separate organisations but all styles are members of the one Official Federation.
We have noticed in recent years that Italy has done very well in major International Championships, like the EAKF championships, and this must give you a lot of pleasure. What you would like to say about the improvement shown by the Italians ?
We have only one national team and these are mostly drawn from Shotokan and Wadoryu. We have a good competition team because we use the national sports centre provided for the armed forced, police and also government financial departments. Also the sports sections of the government bodies only do karate. Therefore, whenever a good nice young competitor is found, and, they then have to do national service but are fortunately still able to continue karate training. That is why we are very lucky because we can choose from all sections to produce our international team. I am President of National committee to co-ordinate and select members of the team. This is not the same for other national teams who are often split between different organisations and styles.
Do the government in Italy help to finance karate ?
Not directly from government but from the Olympics committee we have help for international competition. If we did not have this money it would not be easy to continue with the high cost of travelling abroad.
In the KUGB we are working to try to bring IAKF and WUKO together to work towards Olympic recognition, but what are your feelings about this ? Would you like to see karate progress as an Olympic sport or do you think karate would be better to keep out of the Olympic games ?
I do karate as a discipline of the Budo Japanese. I do this, but from an overall wider point of view it is better that karate become another Olympic sport. Also good karate remains the Budo sport and any other just physical exercise. Therefore, continuation of nice karate so somebody big practices more budo and someone very small just likes to practice basics and kata as he wants. To some others we can also give them the chance for competition.
Preparation for everyone is the same but from this we learn how you use karate for self defence, how to understand your opponent in completion, the requirements by strategy and tactics, and how to fight to get points in completion. Therefore I think it is important to keep the correct quantity of heavy or light techniques in your training programme. I think it is better this way but I still help the Italian Karate Federation towards the Olympics which has now become a nice organisation, and I stay in this federation to help co-ordinate the competition technical requirements but myself I always do Budo karate.
Do you consider that a lot of young people instead of following the correct way of karate are often too anxious to get into competition ?
Yes, but competition is not easy for everybody and there can only ever be one winner. Provided we put the correct emphasis on basic teaching ways is should also be possible to give the chance for those we are able to start competing.
We should stress to young people that not all will be suitable for good competition, only a very few, but it is most important that they try to perfect their basic karate first.
Yes, but we should also learn from defeat in karate, and we then learn more about ourselves when we are defeated.
Would you agree that from this point of view completion karate is good for everybody to experience and not just the select few ?
Yes I think so but if a good karateka shows potential, and their control, kime and their respect for opponents is good, then it is better try competition. In competition you must not say I am better than you because you have fast techniques as they may also be weak techniques and then you will lose. So if you have good technique you still also have to learn fluent movement, to adopt good defence and show tactical ability.
Do you have any views on women karateka competing in sports kumite ?
Women are technically very correct and precise and I have already said it is better to do good karate, basics and kata, and self defence than sports karate. I don’t think quite so many women should enter competition. Many girls/women do have nice techniques so I think now there is better chance for their competition to be good.
I asked you this question because in the KUGB we have recently introduced Women’s Kumite into our championships and initially there were many injuries. However, each year the technical standard improves considerably and at the 1985 championships we had no real injuries at all.
Yes that is very good and they will continue to improve as their fighting ability and experience increases in just the same way as I described for men.
Children like karate but what are your views about boys competition kumite ?
Yes, I like to see them very much and in Italy we have very many children they are very keen. We do not have many schools which take this up but, most children go to private dojo’s . We give chances to boys in competition but next year we want to start boys from 10 to 13 years in competition. This may not be kumite as a real fight but as preparation towards competition in harmony together with using their technique as combat, and, they will be awarded points purely for their technical ability. Together they may perform kata and combat, and we have started to study this new concept whereas before they only had kata competition.
Do the boys perform pure self-defence as a competition ?
No, the demonstration is combat so they do basic kick, block, punch, body shift and many kinds of combination of techniques using attack and defence and anticipation, in this way altogether it gives them a better understanding of competition. When they get older and with the experience they have gained they will perform competition kumite better.
What is your basic philosophy towards karate ?
Harmony! Harmony of the body with balance, mental understand and technique. This means if I wish to learn from karate I must not only be very strong or very hard but sometimes different, very soft, very gently. The Shotokan system is sometimes very hard but I accept it must be this way to gain harmony with myself. This way I realise that to practice karate is very hard on my body and is physically and mentally demanding. To be very hard but also very soft then very explosive with speed and power is to learn very hard resistance to technical difficulties and develops very nice enthusiasm. So now I become so enthusiastic with this spirit that I feel by the correct use of spirit, power, speed, control of my technique and with good timing, I become more tranquil and at peace with myself. This is my way of karate. If you are suited I teach you self defence but if you are not suited I teach you different karate. I do not like to take the narrow vision of some but I want to try to make very beautiful karate, correct block, correct punch using my body more dynamically with speed power and spirit. I am happy to practice and my body becomes more soft as I get older. (Authors Note : In this context soft does not mean weak but gently controlled and flexible).
You mention becoming older, it comes to all of us, but how, as you get older, do you think your karate will change ?
Karate at one time, when I was young, came easy so I tried many ways. Now I realise that with age it has become very simply karate, it is not so difficult, if it is correctly approached and your attitude is correct. Now I practice simple but correct form, correct mind and my teaching becomes more simple. Correct ways will become easy when the going is very hard the more I want to practice the more my progress becomes simple.
For example at one time I found mawashigeri hard but by trying to get correct use and with determination it has become an easier technique for me to use. Now I want to perfect better organisation and resistance in my stance and defence and so I concentrate and practice this. I feel by adopting this way it becomes more simple because it is not necessary to try and find so many other things, and you can still continue to progress.
Amongst karateka we have the very young, the middle group of 20 to 30+ and we have the older generation. Karate means different things to each of those groups. For example the man of 40 who chooses to start karate would expect quite different achievements etc than say a 20 or 10 year old. What advice would you give to each of these age groups ?
I always think this way, when the ages differ widely you should if at all possible split the class. My system of teaching for young people is to concentrate on their preparation before they start traditional karate. This preparation should be to concentrate on nice form and sometimes it is also necessary to play. Do not give too many difficult and technical combinations so that gradually they learn to accept the routine of training, and, they are able to concentrate more easily and they can then enjoy karate. Up until say 5 kyu do not give them too many kata’s but concentrate on performing Heian Shodan very correctly, but best of all plenty of good correct basics.
Young adults (20 to 30 years) want to become more strong as their physic develops and maybe they wish to enter competition karate. They quickly become bored with basics and they leave, so we must give them more interesting combat techniques. We must of course still teach correct basics and kata, but again, not too many katas too quickly, and of course practical self defence karate and all types of kumite. You will then find more young people will gain interest in this way. Also, they naturally feel very sure and confident of themselves at that age, and therefore it is better to use this and encourage them to frequently practice against opponents. As a result some will gain more in confidence and these are the people who should be encouraged to enter competition. For those who do not then they will still benefit greatly from the self defence way.
With the older man I think slowly they can start karate but we must not give exercises which are far too physical and we must give help to each person to correctly use techniques even though they may be difficult.
They will understand more quickly than the younger person the various techniques and application, and basically this is because they are more patient with themselves. Sometimes we put young men with and older man and the training is not so aggressive and this is not good for either. I think we can teach good karate to the older person provided we can show them practical approach towards more traditional karate. Generally the older person is probably keener to learn about real karate than younger persons.
It’s quite obvious that you believe that karate can be for anyone regardless of any age ?
Yes most definitely.
I wonder if you have ever tried to teach karate to people with physical disabilities ?
Yes I once taught someone with a paralysed leg and he become black belt in 3 years!
We see paraplegic Olympics games and its quite incredible the determination the athletes display. We all tend to think karate for the fit person but perhaps we should also consider these people who unquestionably can teach us a lot about real dedication and determination.
Yes many times I have taught people with one arm or other disabilities. I admit though it is sometimes very difficult to teach them karate but I always try in my mind to relate to them as the average person. For example. I don’t tell him to do karate in my position but I make a body position suitable for him, then his body become harmonious with his own way of executing the karate technique. Gradually I correct him to try to direct him towards my style and bring him to correct techniques. They are very keen and determined but if they make mistakes I am firm because their mind must not think of the handicap.
What is your favourite kata at the moment ?
I have many; Unsu, Sochin, Hangetsu and Gankaku because I define kata in two ways;
- the dynamic movement of the body with many different techniques performed very quickly, and the wide variety of the techniques.
- the other side of kata is very dynamic, strong and stable.
Therefore, Hangetsu, Sohin, Jitte is one kind of kata and I always practice this type, but at other times I use Gankuku, Nijushiho and Unsu for the kind of kata correctly performed with dynamic power, speed and variety of techniques, helps me towards Hangetsu. I like Sochin because it’s very expressive, very strong requiring only correct stances and expansion of the body. That is why I only practice 5 or 6 kata different types in a night because the harmony of one helps the other.
This way you learn to go from one extreme to the other. I choose a particular kata because the use of many different dynamic techniques against an opponent makes it very easy to understand practical self defence methods.
As karateka approach a new kata what advice would you give them ?
Kata must always have your fullest mental attention to enable you to imagine your opponent. This is why it is most important to learn correct direction of the eyes, correct position of the upper body, correct position of techniques and this is the whole way of kata. I teach this but if someone does not have the correct form for kata they will continue to struggle for 1 or 2 years and it is then very hard to correct their mistakes. Once you achieve the correct form it is very easy to understand the practical explanation and very easy to get the correct breathing to help make the kata dynamic.
When it is not easy obtaining the correct form this is usually because the human body is not prepared to work because the movement may be unusual and feels so uncomfortable, and it then takes a lot of mental effort to overcome this ?
We all must train our body to enter this form, so if stiff we must make it soft otherwise we cannot enter this form. I think out Shotokan style requires form which our bodies must enter and therefore we must adapt and accept this because if you don’t your body will limit your style. That is why I first think of mind, correct form of the body, and then correct position combined with proper use of techniques. Then you can understand how to make greater dynamic power for each technique, and when the speed is right you will learn to strike quickly, directly and effectively. When you always make slow combinations you become poor at fighting. Use your kata to help practice all types of movement then try it’s practical use many times with opponents. Believe me you will find this way of applying kata to combat application will help, and conversely, the combat will help your kata timing. Kata after this will become very nice but be patient it takes a long time, and, even if you start with a nice form you can go on even if you don’t fully understand because you are still practising karate.
What has been your greatest disappointment and conversely what has been your greatest joy from karate ?
In Italy from 1978 we took our time (6 years) to become a nice Federation of Karate organisation. This year we have become a better Federation because we have a national assembly in February. Before this I was disappointed by some people who did not work for karate but for themselves and politics, and this is especially true with non-karate members. This causes situations where you have very nice high grade members who want to help develop karate but cannot because of those non-karate people driven by self interest. This type of problem appears to occur frequently unfortunately !
I have been very satisfied because I started karate and I liked it very much, and although I am now a master, I still lead my life as a karate practitioner. Also I have made many nice friends in karate and this pleases me greatly.
At this stage my tape unfortunately ran out and we had to bring the interview to a conclusion. It was for me, and I hope you also, a very enlightening, informative and encouraging interview, which I feel sure will help us all towards better understanding in our training, and, to appreciate the true meaning of karate. It may also help the common bond between Shotokan karateka and karateka of other styles I trust you will all appreciate reading the views of one of the great karate masters of the world.