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How to Move Forward in Kokutsu Dachi?!

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa doing a Kokutsu dachi.

Today, we present you another video if our friends from waKu Karate in Tokyo. They show in detail how to move forward in kokutsu dachi. Due to the backwards orientation of the stance it can become a little bit tricky to move forward. So, let yourself become inspired by the video.

We would also like to know your approach. How do you move forward in kokutsu dachi? Do you use a specific technique? Let us know!

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Ayano Nakamura: The New Queen of Kata

Ayano Nakamura is the new queen of Kata and a amazing Karateka

Ayano Nakamura belongs to the most gifted karateka of her generation. She has won the All Japan Championship kata title several times. But not her athletic achievements make her the “queen of kata”. For her, karate is a means for self-cultivation and -development. Therefore, karate is more for her then a martial art. It is budo. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Karate starts and ends with courtesy. It´s important to observe courtesy and compassion in your heart.

Ayano Nakamura

Ayano Nakamura: The Kata Prodigy

On the first glimpse, Ayano Nakamura appears to be an average twenty-something Japanese woman. That is to say, if one does not know Ayano, she can be easily underestimate. Her humbleness and reserved behavior create such impression. But behind her inconspicuous facade hides one of the most successful and most extraordinary Karatekas of the world.

Ayano Nakamura on the Facebook page of Kuuyuukai Dojo where she trains. The picture is an advertisement for Karate Stretching.

Like no other, she has dominated the JKA Individual Kata competitions for the last five years. Among her victories are:

  • 61st JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2018
  • 60th JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2017
  • Funakoshi Gichin Cup 14th Karate World Championship Tournament, 2017
  • 59th JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2016
  • 58th JKA All Japan Karate Championship, 2015
  • JKA 1st Asia Oceania Junior, Senior Karate Championship Tournament, 2015

By doing so, she took over the reign as Queen of Kata from Miki Nakamachi, who paused her competitive career for a longer maternity leave.

Secret of Ayano Nakamura: Mental Strength

To understand what makes Ayano Nakamura´s style so special and so successful, one only has to watch one of the plenty videos of her on Youtube. Her katas are characterized by very crisp and sharp techniques. Once on the Tatami, she carries an aura of true fighting spirit. But this does not come for free. Therefore, it requires tremendous effort to reach such a stage. In an interview for an All Nippon Airways (ANA) promotion video she revealed her rigorous trainings regime. So, to execute an excellent kata, one has to understand it. But:

“We have to practice them before we can understand them.”

Therefore, only a vigorous kata training leads to deeper insights.

Moreover, it also generates an other effect that Ayano Nakamura deems as highly important: an increase of mental strength. For her, this is one of the most relevant aspects when it comes to competitions. Without mental strength success is unthinkable. But why is that the case? Ayano Nakamura explains:

“It has a lot to do with mental strength. You must have a clear image of your goal.”

Everybody, who watches the following video about Ayano Nakamura at the JKA All Japan Championship 2018, can see that in practice. Above all, she she maintains an unprecedented precision and focus throughout all her katas. In short, she displayes all characteristics of a true Queen of Kata.

Ayano Nakamura´s Value of Shotokan Karate

However, Karate means more to Ayano Nakamura. It is more than mental strength, kata, and competitions. It is an ethic and a way to civilized behavior. She explains:

“We try to always exchange greetings and respond to others properly.”

Therefore, Ayano Nakamura takes the etiquette within a Dojo very serious. In her understanding, moral behavior and acknowledgment of others must be learnt. They do not emerge by themselves. Karate actively fosters this attitude. Both aspects combined – mental strength and a morally attitude – build the core of her Karate. She expressed this conviction in one of the most beautiful sentence ever said about the true nature and value of Karate:

“Through Karate, we learn compassion and the courage to overcome obstacles.”

Karate-Do Representative for All Nippon Airways

We already mentioned Ayano Nakamura´s interview with ANA. In 2017, ANA launched a new marketing campaign called Dou: Is Japan Cool? The campaign assembled eight masters of Japanes martial arts (Judo, Kendo, Kyudo, Iaido, Karate Do) and arts (Sado, Noh Theater, Nihon Buyo, Shodo). Ayano Nakamura represented Karate-Do. Above all, she did an excellent job. ††

Her work as a Karate-Do representative for ANA created to major results. Firstly, is the above mentioned video interview. Secondly, comes result with a more extravagant artistic twist. ANA produced with all representatives of the Japanese arts 4D video, as you can see below. These videos are also used on the ANA campaign website as a technical study of the karate motions.

  • The picture shows Ayano Nakamura as representative for Karate Do in the All Nippon Airways campaign: Dou: Is Japan Cool?
  • The picture shows a 4D animation of Ayano Nakamura.

In conclusion, we are pretty sure to see more stunning projects of Ayano Nakamura in the future.

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The Relation Between Kihon, Kata, and Kumite

The picture shows karateka during a seminar in malta. They did kihon, kata, and kumite.

Last week, our reader Giuseppe from Italy raised some questions about the relationship of Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. For him it seemed as if their is no direct connection between the three. Due to that he asked several questions and our author, Florian Wiessmann, answers him in this article.

Florian´s Answers

Giuseppe raised some wide spread points. Many Karate practitioners (and practitioners of other martial arts as well) ask them. So, I think it is important to answer his questions.

Kihon Stances

Karate is not a static affair. Stances are mostly just a momentarily expressions while moving (if you could just halt a movement at one point and your feet touch the ground, you have a stance). Don’t think to much about all the formal stances but more about, where your weight is distributed or how feet, knees, hips, pelvis and spine are aligned. Where the center of gravity is and how to shift your center of gravity.

And then you have the characteristics of many stances in all kind of movements, be it in your daily life or in kumite. Karate stances give us an opportunity to experience and learn correct alignment and body shifting in a structured way. In addition, take a look at classical European swordsmen – they probably have never heard of all the Karate stances and do them all the time while moving freely. Because movement and weight distribution inevitably leads to a certain structure.

Classical European fencing: The commonalities with Kendo are obvious. But when it comes to stances they intuitively apply stance like in Shotokan.

Uke Waza

As with stances, just think more about general movements and how to use both hands in a concerted way and not just about the standard blocking (and besides, uke translates to ‘receiving’ – this can be offensive as well). I recommend to experience a bit more the movements of certain uke waza in kihon. Use both hands, do not stop at the end of a technique (try a flow drill by connecting movements instead of just block & punch). Think a bit about characteristics and directions of uke waza movements. I can show you an uppercut punch I do 100% exactly as a basic soto uke. Age uke is also quite common as a kind of flinching reaction e.g. A look at self defense expert, Lee Morrison, and what he teaches as ‘flanking’. He does a quite basic gedan barai (and probably doesn’t even know the term).

Lee Morrison uses gedan barai for “flanking”.

Hikite

I’m not fond of explaining hikite for adding power to your punches but there are certainly reasons for hikite to be found in Karate practice.

An obvious explanation for hikite is already given by Funakoshi Gichin. He describes hikite as grabbing the opponents arm, pulling and twisting it, to unbalance the opponent. Of course this is not limited to grab the arm – hikite is basically bringing the grappling range into Karate practice.

Tatsuya Naka explains the importance of Hikite during Kihon clases at a seminar in Munich.
Tatsuya Naka explains the importance of Hikite during a seminar in Munich.

Hikite and Weapons

Hikite is also very present in weapon based training. Look at a bo swing, a spear thrust or a sword draw (saya biki) and what function hikite has there. Please don’t believe ‘Karate is empty handed’ or ‘I don’t carry a bo along when getting into a street fight’. Martial arts usually include weapons training, Funakoshi also included weapon training into Shotokan and being ’empty handed’ also means you have the opportunity to just grab a weapon. You might not carrying around weapons but it’s not so uncommon to be confronted with blunt- or bladed weapons or have them readily available in your environment. So, it doesn’t hurt to make yourself familiar with some basics. Moreover, beside many movement principles of weapon training translate very well into weaponless applications (and vice versa). Weapons are a great training tool for your body as well.

Hikite and Other Body Parts

Hikite furthermore helps connecting body parts. While the shoulder of the punching arm moves forward it helps that the other shoulder opens up a bit, e.g. with hikite. But, of course, this doesn’t have to be at the hip, you could also pull back your hand to a guard position. Just try it in kihon and extend one arm into a tsuki and do a tsuki with the other arm without pulling back the arm already extended. This will feel somewhat awkward, right? Or just do a hikite with one arm while the other arm just loosely hangs down. Hikite will initiate a pendulum movement in your hanging arm, if you are really loose).

A nice explanation is also seen in the following video. Hikite as shown there is about creating the necessary space to punch in an infight situation.

Kihon and Kumite

I agree somewhat that sanbon– and gohon kumite are a sub-optimal affair. You certainly need some kind of pre-arranged sparring to build up experience and confidence for free sparring. But sanbon- and gohon kumite also teaches much wrong stuff, in my opinion. Therefore, we don’t do it in my school (wrong stuff is moving back all the time, moving only back with too much a distance and not teaching how to close distances, enter the opponent or how to angle the attack and so on, only focusing on somewhat unrealistic counter gyaku zuki, nothing else, only blocking with one arm, nothing else…).

So, do pre-arranged sparring. But beside absolute beginners people probably can do better as with sanbon-/gohon kumite. This is also true for a standard block-counter uke waza approach, where people certainly could to better.

Gohon and Sanbon Kumite are just one step on the ladder to Jiyu Kumite - but necessary.
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Ueda Daisuke, Sen no sen, and Ikken Hissatsu

Ueda Daisuke applies Sen no sen and intercepts the Kizami-Zuki of his opponent.

Ueda Daisuke is an extraordinary Karateka and easy to underestimate. The reason for this assessment is his physic. He is a little heavy for a fighter with his speed. For his opponents his quickness must come as a surprise. And he knows how to take advantages of that. In 2018, he displayed one of the best Sen no sen applications of the last decade. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Ueda Daisuke: Ashi-Barai at All Japan Championship 2018

At the All Japan Championship 2018, Nishimura Nobuaki had to fight against Ueda Daisuke. Both fighters faced each other in a bout, which ended with a spectacular defeat. After about a minute, Ueda Daisuke stunned his opponent with a well-timed Ashi Barai. Although, Nishimuar himself initiated the action through an Kizami-Zuki. He was not capable to protect himself against the wipe. As a reult, Hishimura landed on the ground and Ueda Daisuke finished the match with a Zuki to the head.

Ueda Daisuke vs. Nishimur Nobuaki at the All Japan Championship 2018

Honorable Mention for Sen No Sen

We are not the only once, who were impressed by the skills of Ueda Daisuke. Although he did not win the competition the tournament committee awarded him a honorable mention.

The skill, he displayed during the fight, goes beyond pure speed. He applied the strategy of Sen no sen (jap. 戦の戦). This strategy aims on the interception of the opponent. That means, in the very moment, an opponent attacks, the other opponent steps into the attack in order to intercept it. In addition, the counter-attack is usually not supported by a block. The counter-puncher tries to avoid the at all. This can either happen by being faster or bob and weave techniques.

In any case, Sen no sen requires a lot of training, and a calm mind with a clear focus towards the target. However, within the Shobu Ippon fighting system it is often use. Above all, the Shobu Ippon Kumite focuses on the one finishing blow. This principle is called Ikken Hissatsu (jap. 拳必殺): To kill with one punch.

Sen no sen and Ikken Hissatsu

During an attack, two factors come together that make Sen no sen attractive. Firstly, the attacker is already in motion and has difficulties to react. Secondly, the forward energy of both attackers add up. If the Sen no sen attacker hits his target, he utilizes his and the force of his opponent. In conclusion, a Sen no sen attack is even more devastating than a regular punch. That is the reason why it becomes a means of choice in a Shobu Ippon fight.

Ueda Daisuke became 2nd in Kata

While he did not reach a medal in Kumite, Ueda Daisuke became 2nd in Kata. In his Kata performance one can see the source of his speed. Although he carries a few pounds to much he is lissome like a tiger. In conclusion, Kata training makes also good fighters.

Ueda Daisuke performing Sochin at the All Japan Championship 2018
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2nd Düsseldorf Special 2019 with Koichiro Okuma

The picture shows Koichiro Okuma teaches the application of Kanku Sho at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special. Kanku Sho is a kata of Shotokan Karate Do.

The Düsseldorf Special with Koichiro Okuma has become a fix event in the annual European Shotokan Karate calendar. Here we report from the 2nd special in Düsseldorf. By Jeffrey Evers

One year after the outstanding success of the 1th Düsseldorf Special, 130 karateka from all over Germany and beyond visited the Dojo Yamato. They all attended the joint Seminar with Sensei Koichiro Okuma and a get-together with friends during the long Pentecost weekend.

  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special

From Kata to Kumite: The 1st Day of the Düsseldorf Special

From Taikyoku Shodan to Kanku Sho

The first training session began 10 am on Saturday. Koichiro Okuma Sensei started the seminar by sharing an anecdote of his karate career with the junior Kyu grades. Concentrating on kumite for the majority of his early competitive career, his focus moved to kata as time passed. Yet, never losing the aspiration to improve his kumite skills. This essence, improving kumite through kata, was the pivotal topic of the 2nd Düsseldorf Special.

The Saturday morning session aimed at body-shifting. Okuma Sensei used Taikyoku Shodan and Heian Shodan to teach the junior kyu grades how to move their balance point. Instead of concentrating on minor details, he emphasized the overall feeling while performing the katas. His means of choice was Kanku Sho. Okuma Sensei pointed out, why this Kata is the best preparation for kumite. Above all, the great number of direction changes fosters the feeling for shifting the bodyweight. His several demonstrations showed impressively what great impact this basic skill can have on speed and power.

  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special

From Heain Nidan to Hangetsu

After a brief lunch break, the 3rd and 4th sessions took place. The junior grades sessions emphasized the Heian Nidan to Godan. Okuma Sensei used several kata sections to emphasize that the main intention for performing Kata was Kumite. In the senior grades’ sessions, he focused on the deeper meanings of Hangetsu. The dynamic switches from slow and smooth movements to fast and devastating techniques can be utilized as tactical elements of Kumite. Okuma Sensei showed how the tension from nervous movements will lead to a frantic confrontation. On the other hand, smoothness will calm down our opponent’s suspense. This creates the opportunity to strike, surprise and overwhelm opponents.

  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special

The first day closed with a joint Dinner at a Chinese buffet.

From Kata to Kumite: The 2nd Day of the Düsseldorf Special

The Mirror of Tekki Shodan

On Sunday morning, the junior and senior groups trained together. Okuma Sensei introduced the junior grades to Tekki Shodan. To leverage the learning experience, he instructed the Dan grades to be a mirror for the colored grades. Both groups faced each other, so that they learnt the kata much faster through observing their counterpart. Okuma Sensei emphasized the divergent movements of the kata in order to underline blocking and simultaneous counter attacking.

  • The picture shows members of the Dojo Yamaton at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows members of the Dojo Yamaton at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special

Legwork and Bassai Sho

The senior grades focused on legwork. In particular, Okuma Sensei taught the right pushing and pulling of the body. Starting with the Kata Bassai Sho, he used the sessions stress and repeat push and pull movements many times.

  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
  • The picture shows Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special

In last session of the seminar, all grades trained together again. The focus lied mainly on Zuki combinations with a partner in the final class. All the different topics of the before kata classes came coming merged in this session. It was the last step in preparation for kumite. Okuma Sensei began with Oi-Zuki-Gyaku-Zuki combinations. He remined all participants that the fists are important since they hit the opponent. However, it is all about leg work and the usage and feeling of the hips eventually. Okuma Sensei added to the Oi-Zucki-Gyaku-Zuki combination also a Kizami-Zuki-Gyaku-Zuki sequence, and later a Gyaku-Zuki-Gyaku-Zuki combination. The major aim was to increase speed and will power of the participants. The Seminar ended at 4 pm on Sunday.

Okumas Sensei Enjoyed the 2nd Düsseldorf Special

Sensei Koichiro Okuma stressed after the seminar, that all participants spent much effort and showed a strong will to learn during the classes. The atmosphere during the breaks and the dinner was warm and welcoming. He enjoyed his time in Düsseldorf a lot and met plenty of old and new friends.

The picture shows the Dojo Yamato with Keigo Shimizu and Koichrio Okuma at the 2nd Düsseldorf Special.
Koichiro Okuma and the Dojo Yamato

Dietmar Vetten and Keigo Shimizu about the 2nd Düsseldorf Special

Dietmar Vetten, head of the organizing committee, and Sensei Keigo Shimizu, head instructor of the Dojo Yamato, also expressed their satisfaction with the event. “The atmosphere among the participants was just fantastic. Many wished for a 3rd Düsseldorf Special next year”, said Dietmar Vetten. “We are very glad to have welcomed such an esteemed and excellent JKA Instructor in Düsseldorf for the second time. Okuma Sensei is an excellent Karateka and an outstanding personality” commented Keigo Shimizu. Koichiro Okuma and Keigo Shimizu relates a long friendship that dates back to their time at Dokkyo University. Both studied in the University´s Karate Club under the guidance of Osaka Sensei and Naka Sensei.

The picture shows Keigo Shimizu and Koichrio Okuma 2nd Düsseldorf Special.
Keigo Shimizu and Koichrio Okuma

Gratitude to the Volunteers

Okuma Sensei, Dietmar Vetten, and Keigo Shimizu expressed their gratitude to all the volunteers who made the event exciting and pleasant for everybody. A special thank you goes to Sandra „Sandy San“ Brenscheid, who conducted the warmup before the sessions.

The picture shows Jens Förster und Anke Schulle-Vetten, who helped to organize the 2nd Düsseldorf Special.
Jens Förster and Anke Schulle-Vetten

3rd Düsseldorf Special?!

The planning for a 3rd Düsseldorf Special in 2020 has already began. As the people in Düsseldorf like to say: After the 3rd time, everything becomes a tradition.

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“I beat the Makiwara 5.000 times per day”: Koichiro Okuma About his Daily Life and Favorite Hobby

We all admire Karate Instructors like Koichiro Okuma. Their excellent technique, fighting spirit, and charisma give them a superhuman aura. But who are Karate Instructors? How much do they train? Do they have other jobs beside Karate? How does a regular day in the life of a Karate Instructor look like? The Shotokan Times had the chance to interview one of the most renowned and world-wide known JKA Instructors: Koichiro Okuma. We talked with him about his morning routine, the long days of traveling, and his most favorite hobby. Learn more about the life of a Karate Instructor. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Morning Routine

Today, we would like to talk about your daily life as an JKA instructor, Okuma Sensei. May we start at the beginning: What do you do when you start your day?

Koichiro Okuma: I usually wake up at 5 am. In bed, I already begin with my preparation. I stretch and twist my body. I do little Mae Geris and relax my shoulders. After that, I go jogging.

How many kilometers do you run?

Koichiro Okuma: Not so many. My running starts more like walking into the park. That is not so hard. Then, I do intervals of 300 meters – fast, slow, fast, slow. I always speed up a little bit from interval to interval. In the end, that sums up to round about 3 kilometers. It is just a way for me to start the day, to wake up, and fix my body. It has no specific training purpose.

After that, I walk home. Back home, I have breakfast and drive to the JKA headquarter.

How long does it take you to go to the headquarter?

Koichiro Okuma: It is only 20 kilometers to the headquarter. We live a little bit outside of Tokyo. But you know, the heavy traffic in Japan. So, that is why it takes me one hour and a half by car. However, I do not want to take the subway (laughs). It is just too crowded with too many people.

Arriving at the JKA Headquarter

When do you arrive at the headquarter and what do you do then?

Koichiro Okuma: I arrive at 8:30 am. I open the headquarter because I am usually the first to arrive. Immediately after that, I start beating the Makiwara. Now, we have the hot season in Japan. Usually I beat the Makiwara 5.000 times every morning. 1.000 Ura-Ken, 3.000 Choku-Zuki in Kiba-Dachi, and 1.000 Gyaku-Zuki in Zenkutsu-Dachi. That is my Makiwara training.

JKA Headquarter in Tokyo: Okuma Sensei is usually the first in the morning to arrive.
JKA Headquarter in Tokyo: Okuma Sensei is usually the first in the morning at the headquarter.

You said, you do 5.000 punches in the summer. How many do you do in the winter?

Koichiro Okuma: More than 10.000 every day. Because in Japan, the summer season is very hot and wet with a high level of humidity. Even doing only 5.000 Zukis causes me to sweat a lot. I have also a big event every day, where I must attend: the instructor training. Therefore, I have to stay energetic and cannot exhaust myself.

  • Okuma Sensei: The myriad years of Makiwara training have made his knuckles hard like stone
  • Koichiro Okuma relaxes in a Cafe in Düsseldorf after the interview.

But between punching the Makiwara I also do snap routines for Mae Geri. I do 200 to 300 repetitions. Of course, not continuously. I always do sets of ten and squeeze them between the Makiwara punches. Because I have a knee problem. When I stay to long in one stance during the Makiwara routine, for instance, Zenkutsu-Dachi, my knee becomes very stiff.

Right after the Makiwara training, I also punch the heavy bag and do some Kata training. Some days, I practice Tekki Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan. On other days, I do the 15 mandatory basic Katas. Or I practice all Katas with a Dai and a Sho version like Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho. I decide about the Katas on a daily basis. I do not have a fixed routine.

Finally, I do a Kata with a stick sometimes. My master, Sensei Tatsuya Naka, gave me some instructions about stick fighting. That is why I also practice the Kata Shushi No Kon. Sometimes I also add a little bit of Kumite movements into my routine.

In sum, my whole morning routine, including the Makiwara and everything, takes 90 minutes.

Although he requires a lot from his students he also likes to have a good time during training. Koichiro Okuma in Germany.

10 am: Office Begins

What do you do after that?

Koichiro Okuma: Office starts at 10 am. I start to beat the Makiwara at 8:30 am. Right after my workout, I have to be in the office. The instructor training starts at 11 am. Before the instructor training, I need to finish some work. Thus, I need to go downstairs to the office.

I am in charge for the Department of International Affairs of the JKA. That is why I need to check emails and give instructions to the staff members. I have to advise them how to solve problems and how to execute tasks.

Okuma Senseis profil on the JKA website
Koichiro Okumas profil on the JKA website

Do you also have to take part in meetings etc.?

Koichiro Okuma: Yes, of course every now and then. If we hold a big event like a big tournament, I will take part in the planning. For instance, this year we are going to organize the Asia tournament. Therefore, I have to gather all the lists and we need to create a tournament program. We have to setup a schedule. But this goes not only for the tournaments. We have to come up with a schedule for the Gasshuku, too. So, we must create a system to execute these events. Of course, I cannot do all that by myself. That is why I give the orders to my employees in the department. One clerk and one young instructor support me with all that.

Instructor Training

And at 11 am, the instructor training start, right?

Koichiro Okuma: Yes! It takes between one and one and half hours. If it is shorter, then it will be even more intensive.

Ueki Sensei teaches the class sometimes. Sometimes, Imamura Sensei, Kobayashi Sensei, or Taniyama Sensei do it. They become appointed by the Chief Instructor.

Koichiro Okuma training at the Hobu Dojo

All the instructors, who are in Tokyo at that time, must take part in the training. The only reason for not joining the training is, if somebody is abroad. So, we train together every day. On average we are 15 to 20 people.

The training, by the way, is very hard. Very tough. Sometimes we only do Kihon, Kata or Kumite but it is always very tough.

Giving Karate Lessons

What do you do afterwards? It must be lunch time then, right?

Koichiro Okuma: After the instructor training, I take a shower, have lunch, and sometimes I take a nap. Then, I go back to the office.

At 3:30 pm I leave the headquarter to teach at Dokkyo University Karate Club, my alma mater, or at my own Dojo. My week goes like that: On Monday, I go to my University Dojo. On Tuesday, I teach in the headquarter. Wednesday, I teach at my Dojo in Tokyo. On Thursday, I am again in the University and on Friday I teach in my Dojo. Saturdays and Sundays are off. But sometimes I go to the University or I must judge at a tournament.

  • Okuma teaching the bunkai of Kanku Sho in Germany
  • Okuma Sensei The Ashi Barrai hits unexpected
  • Traveling abroad can become exhaustive but is also enriching
  • Okuma Sensei right in the middle of the training
  • Okuma Sensei: Constantly explaining techniques and educating his students
  • Okuma Senseis emphasize lies on quick techniques
  • Okuma Sensei shows the differents between Zukis
  • The Tekki Katas are among Okumas Senseis favorite Katas
  • Okuma Sensei with a some participants of the seminar.

When do you get back home on a regular day?

Koichiro Okuma: May be around 10 pm after the instructions. After the University, I will be at home at 8:30 pm. If I give training at my Dojo in Tokyo, I will be at home at 10 pm. Then, I have dinner and chat with my wife. And at 5 am I wake up again.

Traveling Abroad

But you also travel abroad a lot during the year, right? How many days do you travel?

Traveling abroad also means to meet good old friends: Koichiro Okuma Sensei with Keigo Shimizu Sensei.

Koichiro Okuma: Usually, more than 100 days per year. For instance, I was in Miami in January, in Greece in April, now Germany, right after that Morocco, Spain, and Belgium. Next month, I will be in Czech Republic. In August, the Asia tournament will take place in Thailand. From end of September to the beginning of October, I will be in South-Africa. In November, I will be on Mauritius and the Indian Ocean Islands. At the end of November, I will be in the Netherlands, too. After a short break in Japan, I will immediately fly to Mexico in November. That is the travel schedule for this year.

Do you have a golden frequent traveler card?

Koichiro Okuma: Maybe I will get it this year. But sometimes I get very cheap tickets. Thus, I cannot collect a lot of mileage. But this year, I will get the star alliance golden card! (smiles)

His Most Horrible Trip

As I can imagine the traveling is very exhaustive, right?

Koichiro Okuma: Yes! But I have a very funny story about my most horrible trip. 5 years ago, I had to travel around the globe. I had to travel to Norway first, then to Kenya and South Africa and finally Australia in one trip. So, I requested a world-tour ticket. Because they are cheaper than the single tickets. But the problem was that the ticket itinerary did not send me directly from Johannesburg to Australia. Instead, I was supposed to go first to John F. Kennedy Airport, New York. That took 15 hours from Johannesburg. Then, I had 3 hours transit until I had to catch a flight to Los Angeles. The flight was 6 hours from NYC to LA. But I had 11 transit in LA.

Look, my destination was Melbourne. Instead of going to Melbourne directly I also had a stop-over in Sydney. However, the flight from LA to Sydney was the most terrible one. I was seated in the last row. Left and right of me, were two very massive guys chatting and eating chips. I was squeezed between them. In order to survive this, I did the whole flight the beginning of Tekki Shodan. (laughs) That was my worst flight ever. In the end, it took me 2 days to go from South-Africa to Australia.

Koichiro Okuma teaching Heian Shodan in Germany.

Portable Makiwara

I can imagine that it is very difficult to maintain your daily schedule under such circumstances. What do you do in order to keep it at least a little bit?

Koichiro Okuma: Eventually, it is impossible. When I travel too much and start the Makiwara training again at home, my fists have become week in the meantime. Therefore, I cannot execute 5.000 punches at the Makiwara. Because of that I like to use a portable Makiwara. Either I punch the knuckles of both hands together or I use a stone. I have a small flat stone that I carry with me. I hold it in my palm while doing punches. Maybe I should get a Lava stone in the future! (laughs)

Fishing for Recreation

I guess that even an internationally renowned JKA instructor has spare time every now and then. What do you do then?

Koichiro Okuma: If I do not have any appointments, I will go fishing! (smile) My hobby is fishing. I am crazy about fishing. I have a small inflatable boot with a small engine. Of course, I will stay at the shore-line. I do not go very far out to the ocean. But I very enjoy to be on the ocean.

Aji (あじ) or Japanese horse mackerel is the favorite catch of Koichiro Okuma

I haven caught many fish so far. However, not the big fishes. I focus on Aji (Japanese horse mackerel), as we call the fish in Japan. Aji means “taste” in Japanese and the fish tastes very good. The fish is not that big – maximum 30 centimeters. That is why I use a very sensitive line and fish with a rod. All fish, I catch, I put into a cooling box with ice and seawater. I do not touch it. I use special equipment and put it right into the box. So, then the fish stays very fresh.

Sometimes, I prepare the fish for myself and my family. I turn it into Sashimi. If I catch a lot, I give them to my mother in law or University friends.

We wish you to catch many more fish in the future. Thank you very much for the interview, Koichiro Okuma Sensei!

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What is Kime? Some Remarks About an Often Misunderstood Concept

Kime is the central concept of Shotokan Karate

Kime is the central concept of Shotokan karate do. However, many practitioners misinterpret it with a esoteric force. But what is it really? By Thomas D. McKinnon

Kime (jap. 決め): where mind, body and spirit meet with intent, from the core of your being to the point of delivery.

Definition by Thomas McKinnon

Depending on the dictionary, it may be defined as decide, focus of power, or finish. Literal translation is a ‘decision’ or ‘commitment’; also, concentration of spirit, mind and physical body at an intended, particular point.

It’s not unusual to find that a word can mean many things, and it is even less unusual to find that a term in Japanese doesn’t translate smoothly into English. Outside of the martial arts, the word kime is ambiguous at best. However, within that esteemed enclave, the meaning of it becomes even more abstruse.

How Westerners Try to Explain Kime

I have heard various instructors (usually westerners) trying to explain the concept:

Thomas McKinnon training kime with Gyaku-Zuki.
Thomas McKinnon training kime with Gyaku-Zuki

1. “Accelerating into your target, where your kime focuses the energy.”

2. “is the ability to rapidly deliver power into the target.

3. “a destructive force that, once mastered, transforms the student into a master.

4. Even the almighty Wikipedia says kime means “power, and/or focus.

These are but a few of the many I’ve heard. I’ve also heard those who would debunk kime:

5. It “is merely a physical contraction that happens when, in traditional karate in particular (because most of its practice is done against an imaginary target), the antagonist muscles (that is the opposing muscles to those used to initiate whichever technique) are used to stop a technique; denoted by the snapping of the gi.

Those who subscribe to 1, 2, 3 or 4 are merely trying to verbalize a feeling that is so elusive it escapes purely physical, logical explanation. And those who subscribe to number 5 simply don’t grasp the concept and never actually feel kime. I find that some of the sport karate or freestyle orientated styles, with no traditional roots, those who, instead of the Japanese term, use words like fixate, or phrases like, ‘Deliver vigorously, and pull the punch,’ fall into this category.

Frank Nowak´s view on the Concept

One of my favourite metaphors, concerning the term, I heard from Frank Nowak Sensei, sadly now deceased. Originally from Germany, after completing the legendary Nakayama Sensei’s JKA Instructors Course, Nowak Sensei immigrated to Australia in 1971. Nowak Sensei was the very first recipient of the “Best Referee Award” by WUKO, at the World Championships in Taiwan in 1982:

“Imagine an antitank weapon firing, first of all, a missile without a warhead at a tank; the missile would surely rock that tank but would probably not stop or incapacitate it. Now picture that missile, fitted with an explosive warhead, hitting that same tank… That is the difference between hitting with and without kime!”

Masatoshi Nakayama and Hirokazu Kanazawa

Shotokan legend, the late Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei, founder of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, and Chief Instructor of the JKA until his passing in 1987, said:

“The essence of karate technique is kime. Kime may result from striking, punching or kicking, but also from blocking. A technique lacking kime is never true karate. “

Shotokan legend, Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei, founder of the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (SKIF) in 1977, is still Chief Instructor of SKIF. As a younger man, while traveling the world, an emissary for the JKA, he would demonstrate how it can work by taking a stack of four or five boards and – after asking which of the boards the observers wanted him to break – striking the stack, breaking only the required board.

The picture shows the master of kime Hirokazu Kanazawa.
Master of kime doing an Oi-Zuki: Hirokazu Kanazawa

My Experience with Kime

While in the army I was a useful boxer; I was fast but not heavily muscled, with no concept of kime. No matter how hard I tried, and I stopped several opponents with my ferocious onslaughts, I could never manage that one punch knock-out. That changed after beginning my Shotokan training and, thanks to kime, half a century later I’m still renowned for my knock-out blow capacity.

Everyone has their own special relationship with, and understanding of, kime; regardless of opinions to the contrary, kime is a very real phenomenon. Kime is fundamentally an essential, qualitative part of any martial art. Without kime, any technique in any art – a boxing punch, Jujitsu throw, Muay Thai elbow, Iaido cut, or any of the precision strikes of Shotokan ‒ lacks the necessary quality to give said technique its full potential.

For the martial arts fraternity, Shotokan Karateka in particular, kime is an internal function that can be observably demonstrated during the practice of kihon, kata and kumite. I know it when I feel it; and, as an instructor, I recognise it when I see it.

About the Author

Writer and author Thomas D. McKinnon is a lifelong karateka, a multi-accredited international Martial Arts Specialist in Boxing, Karate, Kung Fu, Bushido, Muay Thai and military Close Quarter Combat with combined experience of more than 55 years’.  He is also a former British Parachute Regiment soldier and international Close Personal Protection Specialist (Bodyguard), and was a tactical and self-defence instructor for the Australian security industry for a period of twenty-five years. He is Chief Instructor of Torakan, Shotokan Karate-Do, and Technical Advisor to the Karate Union of Australia.

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Karate Do as a Martial Art: War or Peace?

Girl doing Oi-Zuki

Karate Do means for some being constant in a war. For others, however, it means peace. By Marco Sanna

The Origin of Karate Do as Martial Art

Back in the days, martial arts prepared warriors for hand-to-hand combat. Self-protection was paramount. In such a system was little room for art, spiritualism, moral, ethical formalism, and the pursuit of mental and physical perfection. Martial arts were perceived as “arts of war” that were based on the logic of “kill or be killed”.

Karate Do: A Martial Art?

Karate Do is also a martial art. But can we say it is an art of war? No. But that has not always been the case. Until the 1980´s, training focused on toughness. Masters during that time were less aesthetic, less athletic, less explosive than they are today. On the other hand, they were very strong and trained like that.

The stories about that period are numerous. My father (VII Dan, class ’53) told me:

“The training sessions in the 70´s were characterized by strong physical training. The conditioning of the body included an indefinite number of flexions on the arms and abdominal bending. Followed by hundreds of repetitions of basic techniques. I remember having performed the first kata with a training partner on my shoulders, I performed the positions and he the techniques of arms . When Master Hiroshi Shirai arrived on Sardinia, it was a great honor for us despite the hardness of the training and the inflexibility towards the smallest mistake”.

In the first years of Karate development in Europe, students were all adults. Being all big and strong they had no problems with hard training sessions like in Japan. Thus, the numbers of athletes grew very fast and reached 150.000 Karateka during the ’70s that.

The Change of Karate Do during the 1980´s

The euphoria of the early years, however, slowly faded away. The reason for the decrease was that Westerners understood Karate Do as a sport and a sort of workout. For the most Karateka rigors training sessions like in Japan were just too tough.

Marco Sanna During Karate Practice
Marco Sanna during Karate Practice

Plenty Karate masters realized that training routines had to change or their Dojos would be empty in the future. Karate had become more soften without losing its physical component. This urge to alter Keiko (jap. for “training”) was also fostered by the fact that children became more present in Dojos. Their physical features do not allow for tough training. Due to this causes Shotokan Karate Do has been losing its “art of war”-character.

Instead, of welcoming this development many Karateka complain that Shotokan has lost its soul. It should become tough again in order to foster the mindset of warriors. That would be the true spirit of Budo.

Shotokan as an Art of Peace

From my point of view, the true meaning of Shotokan Karate as Budo was never related to an “art of war”. Budo, like Gichin Funakoshi has taught us, has nothing to do with physical violence. He said:

 “The ultimate goal of Karate  is not winning or losing but perfecting the character who practices it”.

Gichin Funakoshi founded the style of Shotokan Karate Do
Gichin Funakoshi founded the style of Shotokan Karate Do

While Karate comprises striking and blocking these actions are embedded into a bigger system of

  • ceremonial rules,
  • ways of behavior,
  • sets of techniques and predefined movements (kata),
  • ethical programs,
  • moral convictions,
  • mindset,
  • attitudes, and
  • structures of relations.

One must learn all these aspects and repeat until they are perfect. Only then one becomes a true Karateka.

Control over Body and Mind lead to Peaceful Subjects

The purpose of this system is to gain control over one´s body and mind. Control is the prerequisite for happiness and a fulfilled life. When affects, impulses, and negative emotions dominate decision making, it becomes unpredictable whether one can reach happiness. It also leads to more selfless and call personalities that do not seek violence. Once one reaches control over his body and mind, tranquility, balance, and resilience emerge. Opponents can become friends then. Conflicts can become opportunities of mutual understanding. Jealousy changes into sympathy. In order to reach this state of mind performing Kata is more important than fighting an opponent.

In fact, by losing its tendency towards toughness, Karate Do became what it always was supposed to be: an art of peace.