Posted on 4 Comments

What is Zanshin? – The State of A Fighting Mind

The picture shows karateka in full zanshin expecting the next attack or counter.

Zanshin belongs to the central concepts of budo and Shotokan karate. In this article give you a detailed account about the fighting state of mind. By Thomas D. McKinnon

What does Zanshin mean?

Literally translated, zanshin means ‘left over or remaining heart /spirit/mind’. However, for the dedicated karateka, it means the state of total awareness. Being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings, and being totally prepared for anything.

It also conveys the fighting spirit of the individual after the fight. If victorious, the fighter needs a forward-looking awareness and should not lose focus by the victory. If by chance the fighter loses, he will carry an indomitable spirit with honor and grace. Then no real defeat of the character takes place. To encapsulate in a single sentence:

‘Zanshin can be said to be a state of total, calm, alertness. Before, during and after combat a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness.

Our friends from WaKu Karate in Tokyo give in this video a hint about the concept.

Some Western Interpretations

I’ve heard many attempts by instructors to translate the concept into English for the western student to understand:

  • being in the zone, a mental state of focused concentration on the performance of an activity; while dissociating oneself from distracting, irrelevant aspects of one’s environment.
  • a state of readiness to do again what you have already successfully done.
  • to focus intently on the moment (without emotion)… a state of sustained, committed concentration.

Other Arts also Require Zanshin

Zanshin is not the exclusive property of karate, or even the martial arts in general. It is a necessary characteristic of any credible soldier, police officer, security operative or martial artist. Also, outside of any fighting formats, the Japanese art of ikebana (flower arranging), chado (the tea ceremony) and Sumi-e (ink painting) requires zanshin: a state of being ever ‘present’.

In kyudo, the Japanese martial art of archery, it refers to the body posture after the loosing of an arrow. The posture reflects the mental aspect (zanshin) maintained before, during, and after an action.

In kendo, the concept describes the continued state of alertness, spirit, mind and body, and readiness to meet the situation maintained throughout the whole situation. Zanshin – maintained before, during, and after an action – is one of the essential elements that define a good attack.

In iaido, the practice is calm and quiet, and the most important feature of iaido is the development of zanshin (a calm, reflective mind) throughout.

Zanshin in Shotokan Karate

In Budo karate competition, shobu sanbon or shobu ippon, to score with a technique requires zanshin. Fighters must maintain the mental aspect before, during, and after the scoring technique and not just a show at the end for performance.

Our author Thomas D. McKinnon exactly knows what zanshin means. He was soldier in the British Army and operated a high-level security company.
Our author Thomas D. McKinnon

Without zanshin, kata would appear only as a number of techniques performed in a dramatic arrangement (as seems to be the case for most sport karate performers). Enoeda Keinosuke Sensei (whom I had the good fortune to have as my chief instructor in my formative karate years), for instance, performed kata like the midst of battle.

Certainly, as well as kime, one of the aspects that a Shotokan karateka should be displaying, at the very latest, in preparation for shodan (that first blackbelt grading) is a solid understanding of zanshin.

Being Aware: The Foundation of Fighting Spirit

The famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, reputedly said:

“Both in fighting and in everyday life, you should be determined though calm. Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken… Zanshin.

Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi depicts zanshin at its best.

From a personal perspective: Formerly, as the CEO of a high-end, close personal protection company, I was responsible for selecting the personal protection operatives. All trained martial arts, some were former soldiers, and some were former police officers. Most would say that we obviously engaged them for their martial skills. However, their combat ability, certainly a desirable factor, wasn’t the primary dynamic in their engagement. Each successful CPPO applicant possessed that subjective but essential, qualitative characteristic: zanshin.

Zanshin in Everyday-Life

Zanshin means always being ready to do what is needed when it is needed. Having it in your life has many merits but one of the chief benefits would be the tendency to avoid pitfalls. Think about it: is it not better to avoid disasters than, after the fact, figuring out how to survive them?

Having a sense of when something is not quite right may not be a measurable element.

However, with zanshin in your daily experience, you will fortuitously take the only route through a disaster zone that delivers you, hale and hearty, to the other side. That is part of what it can deliver for you: a more fruitful life experience.

Zanshin is a characteristic that will help and assist anyone who takes on the way of life that we call ‘Karate-do’. Regardless of what other choices you make in your life i.e. career, family, living environment et cetera, zanshin enriches all.

Posted on Leave a comment

Shotokan in New York City – Classic Documentary

A vibrant city like New York needs a location to calm down and ground oneself. Sensei Masataka Mori provided this place. In his dojo the, New York Karate Club Inc., which was located on 72nd and Broadway, he brought a little piece of Japan to the city that never sleeps. Thanks to Tim Danielson, who trained in the 1970´s under Sensei Mori, you can get a first hand glimpse into the New York Karate Club. Tim send us link to the fantastic documentary called Tokyo on the Hudson. It depicts Sensei Mori, his teachings, and the life in the dojo. Our opener picture shows the dojo in the 1970´s when Tim was training there (standing in the back third from the left).

Tim sent us this very personal and moving note:

“This video is about Sensei Masataka Mori. After four years of study, he romoted me to shodan in 1976 at this same dojo in New York City. Thank you Mori Sensei, for all that you taught me, it went well beyond Karate.”

Oss!


Posted on 4 Comments

Hiyori Kanazawa – Women of Shotokan

The picture shows Hiyori Kanazawa.

Last weekend, Hiyori Kanazawa achieved what she had dreamed of: She became grand champion (1th place in kumite and 2nd in Kata) at the SKIF world championship in Czech Republic. We think it is time to read the full interview again, we did with her in March. It shows how far determination and an the will to break through boundaries can lead. Hiyori has shown that she is an inspiring woman of Shotokan. Congratulations, Hiyori. Oss!!!

Portrait of Hiyori Kanazawa

  • Citizenship: Japan
  • Age: 21
  • Karate since: I began when I was 3 years old. But between age 15 to 19 I did not practice Karate because I was abroad for studies.
  • Rank: 3rd Dan
  • Dojo: SKIF Honbu Dojo in Japan

Additional information:

  • Manager and instructor of Akasaka Dojo in Tokyo,
  • Instructor of Narashino Dojo in Chiba,
  • SKIF World Champion in individual Kata girls between 12 and 13 years of age division in Greece in 2009,
  • member of SKIF national team Japan
  • Grand champion 1th place in kumite and 2nd in Kata SKIF World Championships 2019

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

My grandfather was President of the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation at that time. My father and my uncles also practiced and taught Karate back then for a long time. So it was natural for me to begin with Karate training.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Hiyori Kanazawa: The simple answer is: It matches my body in terms of movements and distance (dynamic movements and long distances).

In addition, I like the philosophy behind Karate in general (respect others and so on).

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

Hiyori Kanazawa: When I was younger, I did not like hard training. But I am really passionate about Karate now. So I enjoy training hard everyday!

The picture shows a part of Hiyori Kanazawas latest video (see below).
Part of Hiyori Kanazawas latest video (see below).

One thing, I think could improve, is the number of women practicing Karate. I hope that especially women in my age will become more in the future.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

Hiyori Kanazawa: About three years ago, I competed in The SKIF World Championships in Indonesia. At that time, I was in the UK for college and I didn’t have time to train much. So my level was not good enough and my focus was directed towards other things than Karate. I lost in this championship. This was maybe one of the lowest point I had in my Karate practice. But after losing, I realized that I wanted to become better and my motivation went up again.

I started practicing very hard. In the following year, I opened my own Dojo. To see my students improve week after week and to work very hard together with them, has probably being the best experience I have had with Karate so far.

The picture shows Hiyori Kanazawa in her dojo.
Hiyori Kanazawa in her dojo.

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

Hiyori Kanazawa: First of all, I push myself to go and train every day. But when it becomes too difficult I look at the people around me, my training partners, my students and I see them training hard. That gives me strength to train hard also. In addition, my teachers can be quite tough sometime. But the fact that they are always training with us and always give their best although they are all older than me (but still in very good shape) I think to myself, that I have no excuse to not train hard.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Hiyori Kanazawa: Through training, I have improved my body and have become physically stronger. This is important because being physically stronger makes me also mentally stronger and I am not scared to be alone, for instance.

And pushing myself in training every day, helps me face other problems in my life with more confidence.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life?

Hiyori Kanazawa: To give an example: When I lived in Australia I was very shy and did not interact much with other people. But one day, I gave a demonstration of Karate at my school and by showing this side of myself to other people and also the fact, that everybody was impressed, gave me a lot of confidence and made the rest of my stay there much easier.

From the time I started until I was about 19 years old, I was scared of doing Kumite. I was, of course, practicing both Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. But I did Kumite halfheartedly. At some point, I started training more with men, in particular with my teachers, and slowly my Kumite improved. I was practicing mostly with taller and physically stronger men than me (and sometimes getting injured ). So it made me stronger. Then, when I was practicing with women again, for instance in competitions, I was not scared at all anymore.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Hiyori Kanazawa: Today, I like practicing both Kata and Kumite equally.

Since I started, I have been told that a genuine Karateka has to do both Kata and Kumite. Now, many people choose one or the other in competition. But I am very happy and proud that I do both.

The pictures shows Hiyori Kanazawa with students during an international seminar.
Hiyori Kanazawa with students during an international seminar.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

Hiyori Kanazawa: My short term goal is to participate and win the next SKIF World Championship that will take place this summer in Europe. This is, of course, a selfish goal.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Hiyori Kanazawa: First of all, however, Karate evolves I think preserving Budō is very important.

Talking about competition: we see a lot more women than before, which is very good. But when I look at people practicing traditional karate, for example in seminars or abroad, I see maybe 90 percent men in classes. I wish more women would take interest in traditional Karate and I want to work to improve this aspect and get more women involved in traditional Karate.

The picture shows Hiyori Kanazawa during a tournament
Hiyori Kanazawa during a tournament

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Hiyori Kanazawa: Of course, I would recommend Shotokan Karate to female friends. Because Karate has so many positive aspects and it is a fulfilling art. I believe people can become mentally stronger which would be especially good for many women. Because women, more often than men, can feel weak sometimes. Karate can bring out the inner strength of people. I know it is true because it happened to me.

Posted on Leave a comment

Makiwara – The Return of the Karate Tool

The makiwara is an important tool for karateka. But most have it almost forgotten. However, it seems to on the verge to return to the dojos. By Michael Ehrenreich

The Makiwara is a piece of wood with padding. This is what a makiwara consists of: a post and some padding, which is traditionally a roll of rice straw attached to the top of the post. In addition, this is also where the name derives from, maki for roll and wara for straw.

What is a Makiwara?

The makiwara originated from Okinawa where, with very little natural resources, they do have wood or rice straw. The length and the width of the posts vary but ideally reach about head level and are at least 12 cm (about 5 inches) wide. The resistance of the posts varies also, from not giving at all (good when hitting combinations) to flexing on impact. For the post oak, cherry, maple, walnut, or just plain pine are the most common types of wood. The padding is usually foam rubber covered with leather or wrapped with duct tape. Some people still go with the traditional straw pads. The posts are than attached to a wall or driven into the ground.

My Beginnings With the Makiwara

Over time and through the length of my karate career, the makiwara had vanished from most dojos. That is true for western countries as well as Japan. At least when it comes to Shotokan karate. As a result, the makiwara became almost a myth. The first generation of karateka in Germany still hit this wooden post, but it had long disappeared when I started with karate in the late 1970s. Then one day this guy showed up at our dojo, Siegfried Trapp was his name, and he had brought with him a makiwara. His goal was to market his version of a makiwara and he gave us one to try it out. Well, that was in the mid-1980s and you can image his success rate. I never saw him again. But at least our dojo had its first makiwara.

It was the time when sport karate started to get more popular. With weight classes, protection gear all around the body, and a multiple point system, there was clearly no need for this kind of training equipment. And who needs a makiwara for belt tests anyway? As a result, the makiwara was plainly uncool. When people saw me hitting the post, they would only give me a pitiful smile. Maybe even try to get me some professional help. I kept hitting the makiwara anyway; I was hooked for life.

Limited Knowledge and an Okinawa Master

Back then I practiced the only way I knew, by throwing gyaku zukis with both sides and a lot of them. A regular karate class would run 90 minutes and so I would hit the makiwara for almost that long, after warming up a little. In the early 1990s Sakumoto Tsuguo, a former kata champion from Okinawa, was staying for one year in Cologne. Ochi Hideo, the German national trainer at that time, told me to take care of him and so I did. We practiced almost daily together at our dojo, the Sportcenter Bushido in Cologne, headed by the late Horst Handel. We lifted weights and, of course, hit the makiwara.

Advertisement

First thing Sakumoto did, though, was change the padding. He bought a wooden board, about 30 cm (about 12 inches) long and wrapped a rope around it. That was our pad. Imagine my knuckles after the first practice.  (After Sakumoto had left Germany it took months to get them back into their original shape.)

Techniques From a Short Distance

However, the other thing he introduced me to were techniques from a short distance. Punches, but also strikes. I wasn’t convinced at first. You know, he was a rather short man from Okinawa, a kata guy. So, he was thankfully very patient with me. Firstly, he gave me a demonstration. He had me tightening my abs and then hit me with his flat hand from a distance of about 5cm (2 in.). Now he got my attention and for the next few days I would witness all imaginable discolorations appearing on my stomach. So, I started hitting short techniques as well.

Why I Changed My Makiwara Training

As a result, I had changed the intensity of my makiwara training. Instead of hitting non-stop for 90 minutes, I went with 10 repetitions and varying number of sets. As a sports major I took some inspiration from weight and athletic training, especially from track and field coaches. I was also competing in the shobu-ippon-system. So, I focused on punches and hit 10 gyaku zuki alternating right and left and repeated that a second time. Then I took a 1-minute break.

The idea behind the breaks were that I was able to hit at 100% until the very last punch. These two rounds made one set, with 10 sets in all. After gyaku zuki I hit tate zuki (straight punch from a shorter distance with a vertical fist) with the same structure but only in 5 sets. That resulted in a total of 300 punches for each side. I did this program 3-times a week. My goal here as a competitor was to be able to stop any opponent, also much heavier ones. I was part of the JKA-group and we didn’t have weight classes. Meaning, I would encounter heavier fighters, the biggest I faced off with was about 40kg (90lbs) heavier than me. This program worked well for me.

A Variety of Techniques

As I mentioned above, Sakumoto also introduced me to strikes. After retiring as a competitor, I added those to my program. All kind of strikes, shuto uchi (knife hand strike), teisho uchi (palm heel strike), haito uchi (ridge hand strike) etc. I also kicked with mae geri, added combinations and did some techniques gliding towards the makiwara. I added different punches, yama zuki and kage zuki for instance, hook punches from above or a different angle.

Less Repetitions But 100% Focus

Over the years I have been doing less repetitions. But I still hit the makiwara 3-4 times a week. I still go with the 10-repetition structure but usually only with 3 sets. With 7-8 different techniques each time, that makes 200-250 punches or strikes with each side. Working on my hitting power is still my goal, so I hit each time with 100%. But I also want to include more muscle groups in my workout with the makiwara. Training in a more balanced way. So I hit from different distances, angles, and with a bigger variety of techniques.

How do we get the most out of our makiwara training? The characteristic of the makiwara is the increasing resistance on impact. That means, the best way to use this karate tool is to hit with thrust techniques. Techniques that go deep into the target. We would therefore hit from a distance that allows us to hit deep.

Makiwara Gives You Direct Feedback

The makiwaras’ big advantage is its direct feedback. It tells us immediately if there is anything wrong with our techniques. Positioning of the joints, hitting with the wrong body part (hitting too much with our fingers instead of the basic joint when doing haito uchi), unstable stance, etc. To make use of this immediate response of our wooden coach, we stay a little longer than usual on impact. This gives us the necessary time to control our posture. With more experience we shorten this time on impact. With more experience we also look behind the target, in the distance. This prevents us from looking only at the target and helps us make use of a more peripheral vision. Adjusting the vision behind the target will further help us hitting deeper into the target.

The most important aspect of a karate technique is that it must hit an opponent in order to eliminate him, the opponent who doesn’t want to get hit and even fights back. If the opponent sees our technique coming, we are not fast enough! So, we always focus on an explosive acceleration first and a strong technique at impact. This is important, also when working with the makiwara! We need to stay sharp! Until the last strike.

Advertisement: Kombat Karate by Michael Ehrenreich

Always start with lightening speed and then hit with a strong impact! We call this power, speed and strength. Don’t fall into this rhythm that works with an even, rather slow speed. Sadly, that is the one we often witness. That is a rhythm that relaxes us more than it forces us to work harder. So, stay sharp and stay focused the whole time! Use speed and strength to increase your hitting power. Especially when working with the makiwara.

Hitting From a Fighting Position

Most beginners will go through the whole range of movement and start their techniques from the hips, as in basics. There is nothing wrong with that. But eventually we should advance from that starting position and hit from a fighting position. When doing so, and especially when hitting from a very close distance, make sure to hit directly towards the target, do not wind up.

Some advice for more experienced karateka. Hit the makiwara with the intention to do some damage. Hit target oriented, don’t be concerned with technical issues. If you do punches, think about your knuckles and the target. Knuckles – target, knuckles – target…Then get the knuckles as fast and as strong as possible into the target. That also means starting the attack from your fist, not from your hips! This is an important point. The fist starts first, and the rest of the body needs to catch up and unites at impact. If you start with a hip motion you will give the opponent more time to react.

The Focus Must be to Eliminate an Opponent

Remember, the makiwara is only a training tool to increase our hitting power in order to eliminate an opponent. The makiwara is a means to an end. It doesn’t help us to hit hard if an opponent sees it coming and is able to react. What I said here about punches is true for all techniques.

Further, add hitting while out of your ideal position, or when off balance. For instance, when you have a wooden floor, put on socks. Add movement to your strikes. Strike from an angle that might not allow the perfect support of your body. Change the time of day when working out. Hit the makiwara after your normal class, just when you’re exhausted. And if you are a competitor, add short punches. Even when you are not using those in competition. But as with sprinters who practice a lot of 10-30m (10-30 yard) sprints, your long punches will benefit from practicing short punches as well when you make sure to focus on a rapid acceleration.

Makiwara Will not Lead to Arthritis

Let me also touch here very briefly on a reappearing myth in karate. “Makiwara training is dangerous and will lead to arthritis.” This is nonsense! Makiwara training is no more dangerous than other work out programs. Just use common sense. Move forward progressively, start slow and easy with an increasing intensity over time. That way you will maximize your hitting power and toughen the body parts you hit with, without getting injured.

In my first book I also have a chapter about makiwara training. When working on it, I talked to several physicians, all karateka, about makiwara and arthritis. Turns out, there is no correlation between these two! There is a strong genetic correlation though. If your parents and grandparents have or had arthritis, you are more likely to suffer from it too. There is also a correlation between joint injuries and arthritis. That is why it is so important to work out in a progressive way and stay focused throughout our workout. But this is true for all different kinds of workouts.

Advertisement: Kampfgeist by Michael Ehrenreich

The Renaissance Of The Makiwara

For a long time and for the past few decades, the makiwara was a tool that the karate world would despise. As mentioned before, it was considered uncool. I am not saying that working out with the makiwara is being regarded as cool now. We are not quite there yet. But the makiwara is being taken seriously again as an important training tool. I don’t know of any other tool to strengthen our hitting power as effectively as the makiwara. In addition, the makiwara increases our overall strength, without damaging the joints (like when hitting without impact).

The Makiwara Is a Honest Tool

In Japan, they say that hitting the makiwara will increase the density of our bones. If lifting weights increases our bone density, than it is likely that makiwara training does the same. The makiwara is an honest tool. It gives immediate and blunt feedback about the quality of our techniques. If we ask the right way. Maybe we karateka are ready for this kind of honesty again. The makiwara is a simple tool, just a piece of wood with some padding. It is a solid tool. In this time of rapid changes and constant stream of information, it is maybe this simplicity and solidity that will make a comeback for the makiwara. The makiwara is loyal. It is always there for us when training partners are absent. Honest and loyal, simple and solid – the makiwara, a traditional karate tool for our modern times!

More and more dojos are adding the makiwara to their equipment. I was even invited to teach a clinic solely on makiwara training the other day. People may still look at us confused (like my neighbors do) when they see us hitting the makiwara, but they don’t laugh at us anymore. So let’s keep hitting!

Posted on 3 Comments

Koji Arimoto: Unsu Jump and Bunkai

Koji Arimoto is a Shotokan prodigy. The world champion of 2012 has displayed his excellent skills in several Kata videos lately. One of the most astonishing is his explanatory video of the Unsu jump which was published by Andre Kok. He not just explains the right motion. He also shows its Bunkai.

Koji Arimoto About his Technical Education

Hi tremendous technical level comes stems from the rigorous education of his Sensei Masao Kagawa. In a recent interview with Karate-K.com he described what it means to take part in Masao Kagawas master class and instructor program: “Normally, it lasts two years. But for me, it lasted three years. After the first two years, Kagawa Shihan felt that I was not enough ready to teach yet. I then worked harder for another year to get my instructor exam. It is a training that requires a very high technical level and an outstanding will.”

The Difficulty of The Unsu Jump

However, the jump in Unsu confronts every Karateka with a challenge. The rotation takes place, on the one hand, around the horizontal axes. At the same time, the body is slightly diagonal. So the body also rotates around the vertical axes.

For some Karateka this move already poses a challenge to envision it. But Koji Arimoto does an excellent job in the video to explain, what the jump is about. In addition, he also shows its bunkai. It requires very advanced skills to execute such a jump without hurting or missing the opposite Karateka. Whether the bunkai comes close to reality or not, can be deemed as secondary. Above all, the control of the body and to master the movement are more important.

We in the editorial office of The Shotokan Times cannot remember that we have ever seen such a precise Bunkai of the Unsu jump? Have you? Then send us the video!

Posted on 19 Comments

The Olympic Dream of the WKF is Over! And rightfully so

The Olympic Dream of the WKF is over

The Olympic dream for Karate is over. And the decision by the french Olympic Committee was right. A commentary by Thomas Prediger

The Olympic Dream of the WKF is Over

It did not last long – the Olympic dream of Karate. Last Friday, the organizers of the Olympics 2024 in Paris proposed to the IOC to remove Karate from the shortlist. The Shotokan Times reported about the decision. Instead, Breakdancing and Skateboarding should be included. This is especially sad for all Karateka who sacrificed so much to make their dream come true. Karate at the Olympics will only be a brief intermezzo.

For some it appears as if the participation of Karate at the 2020 Games in Tokyo would have been an acknowledgment to the host country Japan. But it is striking that in France, the country with the largest national World Karate Federation (WKF) section, Karate was excluded. The reason for the rejection of Karate might lay deeper and within the WKF itself.

WKF does not Represent the Global Karate Community

The WKF was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1999. Since then, it is the sole representative of Karate at the IOC. Like no other organization the WKF has claimed to represent the global Karate community. However, this is not the case and it might be that the committee in Paris realized this. Too many countries and associations did not want to follow the WKF way of Sports Karate. Although it was the only way to the Olympics. Especially, more traditionalist associations had difficulties with the 8-point system, gloves, and foot-protection. Not everybody dream t the Olympic Dream of the WKF. The bureaucracy (e.g. at tournaments), the imposition of WKF rules on national competitions and associations, the stark similarities between Sports Karate and Taekwondo, and the gradual commercialization and exaggeration of competition were the straw that broke the camel’s back

For many, the WKF has become unattractive. But it did not do much to open itself to other opinions, rules, and standards. Maybe it was hubris after the recognition by the IOC in 2016. Or it was managerial dilettantism. We do not know. The rejection, however, has shown that the WKF does not speak for the global Karate community. It is just one association among many. And its future has become uncertain – since last Friday.

Opener Picture: Crumbling IOC by Elhan Numan

Posted on Leave a comment

Women of Shotokan: Kellan Lyman

Kellan Lyman during training in the Philippines.

Wisdom does not emerge with age. It emerges with experience. Although, Kellan Lyman is only 28 years old, she has practiced Shotokan now for more then 20 years. The training has had a huge effect on her as she says: “Shotokan is spirit training that’s enabled me to follow my convictions working in environmental advocacy, facing hardships of life in a rural, developing nation, or any life challenge with excitement and determination.” In this very open interview Kellan describes for us what Do means for her and how it has formed and changed her. We get deep insights about how much more Shotokan is and can be if we focus on the mental and ethical aspects. It is a way of life. Oss, Kellan! By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Portrait: Kellan Lyman

  • Name: Kellan Lyman   
  • Age: 28
  • Karate since: 1999
  • Origin and residence: Origin – Atlanta, Georgia, USA ; Residence – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
  • Dan Rank:  4th dan
  • Dojo: Louisiana Karate Association Dojo – Sensei Takayuki Mikami

Additional information:

  • JKA National Team Member (2014, 2019)
  • All South Karate Champion – Kumite (2016, 2019), Kata (2019)
  • Team Kumite JKA National Champion – (2013, 2015, 2017)
  • Collegiate Kumite JKA Collegiate National Champion – (2010)
  • Captain of The University of Georgia Budokai Karate Club (2009 – 2012)
  • Lived & trained in the Philippines (2016 – 2019)

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

At age 8, I was enthralled with Xena, Warrior Princess, so I jumped at the chance when my parents asked if I wanted to enroll in an after-school karate program. The female instructor’s spirit and elegant movement inspired me, and during the summer I moved to training at the main dojo. My dad began as well; coming up through the kyu ranks together made training fun and kept me diligent in practicing at home. I’ve been training and competing since.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

One is that Shotokan trains the body, mind and spirit all at once; Shotokan teaches us to be present, an invaluable skill for any endeavor or daily living.

Shotokan’s large, strong movements are beautiful and effective, and the training style fits well with my body and personality. I have so much fun training, and after I feel super relaxed and happy, and have better posture.

I appreciate the Dojo Kun and traditional karate etiquette. Not only is Shotokan a physical practice, but it’s also a moral one that teaches us to be more virtuous, peaceful and courteous. Hard training and striving to live by the Dojo Kun foster strong spirit to navigate life situations calmly and have the will to uphold one’s beliefs.

I enjoy competing in the one-point matches of JKA kumite competition which demands we strive for perfect technique.

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

Politics that cause division in organizations. Our shared goal to uphold the best quality karate comes from working and training together.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

One recent challenge has been developing my solo karate practice while living for two years in a remote town in the Philippines. With no classes, and training partners scarce, I was determined not to let my skill decline, so I figured out how to most effectively practice alone and developed more discipline, being accountable to only myself.

I made friends while visiting clubs and met one Shotokan karateka at the weight gym I’d joined.  We exchanged ideas and checked each other’s technique. Training with a friend was a new way of exploring karate, unlike a traditional sensei-student class setting.

Eager to catch a class wherever I can, I always pack a gi when traveling. Being welcomed at JKA clubs in the Philippines, Japan and Thailand and training in the same style at a dojo on the other side of the world gave me a greater appreciation for karate as a universal art that connects us.

Once, while visiting a small mountain town’s annual fiesta, I was surprised to find there was a local JKA club. After a vigorous workout, one member invited me to teach at a local college club the following evening. I agreed, expecting the typical number that attended my college club, 10 or so.

After finding my way across campus, to my surprise, I arrive to a gym packed with 80+ collegiate beginners warming up and am invited onto a stage to lead the class. Teaching and sharing the time with a group of enthusiastic students was energizing and fun. The regular instructor and I demonstrated kata and jiyu kumite together. That class renewed my appreciation for karate as an art that brings people from across nations together in a goodwill cultural exchange.

My worst experience would be last fall during a trip to Japan. On the first day, I did makiwara training after class. Unfortunately, I didn’t thoroughly wash my hands and got an infection that caused me to become so fatigued. I could hardly train, and lacked the energy to fully enjoy Japan. Even worse: I had no appetite for sushi.

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

During class, I gain inspiration and motivation from my sensei and fellow karateka’s spirit. When training becomes challenging, I focus on being here and now and think each repetition is a gift because it’s a chance to do my best.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Having been a constant in my life for 20 years, it’s difficult to imagine how I’d be without Shotokan. I attribute my work ethic, confidence and ability interacting with people to Shotokan training.

Karate enhances my ability to focus my mind in the moment and to practice deliberately. It’s taught me to be more humble and to more openly receive criticism. Karate teaches me how to learn, which I can apply to other areas of life as well.

I observe parallels between my focus in training and personal development. For instance, when I trained intensively with drills that focus on reaction and commitment to a technique, I become sharper in decision making outside the dojo as well.

Kellan Lyman during Unsu.
Kellan during Unsu.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life? Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Shotokan is spirit training that’s enabled me to follow my convictions working in environmental advocacy, facing hardships of life in a rural, developing nation, or any life challenge with excitement and determination.

It has forged in me a more courageous spirit; this realization did not appear so clearly until I lived in the Philippines where, in some ways, the lifestyle puts one closer to danger or death. However, because of Shotokan training, I’ve been able to face these challenges calmly and clear-mindedly. Now, I’m starting a coffee import business and applying the discipline, confidence and personal skills I’ve formed through Shotokan training.

Training clears my mind and helps me to be in tune with my body. This trains me to be in the here and now in daily life or to focus on a goal. After training, having been completely present during class, I carry this mindset to daily life. It’s taught me to be relaxed in all I do. Especially during challenging times, I still make training a priority; it helps me navigate those times more clearly.

Pursuit of strong training and a Shotokan community also led me to New Orleans where I now call home and have met many mentors and good friends.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Before, I would try to focus on generating power. Now, I‘m focusing on relaxing as much as possible.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

In the short-term, my goal is to win the kumite competition at the JKA Pan-American Championship in Columbia this August.

Long-term, I want to improve my technique to be smoother and more powerful. I’ll continue training to strengthen my spirit to have more courage and resolve in continuing my work in environmental advocacy and entrepreneurial pursuits. I hope to increase awareness in New Orleans of the positive aspects of karate, so more people here might begin practicing it.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

With so many Shotokan organizations now, I hope Shotokan karateka of differing affiliations will be able to train and compete together at more events, for the furtherance of the art.

Also, Shotokan clubs could do a better job making their local communities aware of what Shotokan is and its benefits, to encourage more students to begin. Training of mind, body and spirit is what many people need or are seeking. I think karateka should be open about their experience training with friends, so more people might try. It can be difficult to express but necessary for bringing in new training partners and would greatly benefit the new student.

Kellan Lyman with sensei Takayuki Mikami.
Kellan Lyman with sensei Takayuki Mikami.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Yes! If they want to strengthen themselves physically and mentally. Fitness, long-term health, mental relaxation, self-control and confidence are important benefits for anyone, especially women. Walking into a training hall of all men can be intimidating, but overcoming our fears to start, too, is part of forging courageous spirit, as in any case embarking on the study of an art. Like anything worthwhile, it takes time and dedication; the benefits can’t be understood until having been experienced. Gaining strength and spirit through training technique is empowering, so I hope more women pursue the Shotokan path.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Shotokan Times Supports UNICEF

The Shotokan Times proudly announces its support for UNICEF. From today onward, it is going to donate 10 percent from every item it sells in its newly opened shop to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Managing director and chief editor Dr. Christian Tribowski commented this step as follows:

“Shotokan Karate has the paramount aim to civilize mankind and to make the world a better place. Physical, mental, and ethical education, equality and justice are its core values. We at The Shotokan Times are highly committed to these values and to turning them into practice in our daily work.

However, a huge number of children worldwide live in poverty, under constant threat of war and crime, as daily victims of abuse, neglect, and discrimination. Children are also the weakest group of society and cannot protect themselves. To provide them with an appropriate education and to fight for the enforcement of their rights we are going to support UNICEF.

As Gichin Funakoshi wrote in his 20 Precepts of Karate Do: “Karate is an assistance to justice”. Therefore, we assist UNICEF in its endeavor to serve justice to children worldwide.”

The Shotokan Times opened an online shop in partnership with spreadshirts this week. It offers Shotokan clothing and merchandise. From every item it sells The Shotokan Times is going to donate 1 Euro to the German UNICEF branch. The branch supports child protection, support, and education projects world wide.

Posted on 2 Comments

Increasing Life-Expectancy Will Lead To 11th Dan

The 11th dan in Shotokan karate has been a grotesque idea until lately. But the art has been already having 4 10th dan holders. Will the increase in life-expectancy lead to a 11th dan in the future? An analysis by Dr. Christian Tribowski

This year, Ueki Masaaki of the JKA received the 10th Dan. Together with Hirokazu Kanazawa, Teruyuki Okazaki, and Hiroshi Shirai he serves as the highest ranking Shotokan Karateka in the world and in history. Before those four, no living Karate master hold a 10th dan in Shotokan Karate. And nobody has ever hold a 11th dan either. Yet.

11th Dan Becomes Probable

The likelihood for the awarding of a 11th dan has increased. A simple reason leads to this. When the Federation of All Japan Karate-do Organizations (FAJKO, the predecessor organization of the JKF) established its dan promotion system in 1970 people dies earlier. The FAJKO decided to award a 10th dan only when an awardee had reached 70 years of age or higher (see table 1).

The FAJKO established a system for the awarding of dan ranks. An 11th dan was not intended.
Table 1: FAJKO age and experience requirements for dan gradings and honory awards. Thank you Chuck Coburn for providing us with this table.

Many things have changed since 1970 and so did the life-expectancy. In 1970, the average Japanese male died with round about 72. So, the amount of people, who reached the age requirement for becoming considered for a 10th dan, was much lower. Today, however, the average has grown tremendously. In 2017, the average Japanese male can expect to live 84 years according to data provided by the World Bank (Table 2). With his 80 years Ueki Masaaki Sensei, therefore, is still below the average. Due to his excellent fitness he can expect to reach 100 years of age. We, in any case, wish him good health and a long happy life.

Life-expectancy in Japan has increased and makes the awarding of a 11th dan more likely.
Table 2: Life-expectancy in Japan since 1960. Source: World Bank.

Adjustment of System or Inflation of Dan Ranks

If the system stays like this Shotokan will experience an inflation of higher 10th dan. Because even today, the life-expectancy rises. It rises slower than in the 1960´s or 1970´s. But it rises. 8th dan holders like Nobuaki Kanazawa, who is only 47 years now, have already a life-expectancy of 90 years. Thus, Kanazawa Sensei can practice Karate for another 40 years or longer. We wish him a lucky and long happy life, too.

Posted on 5 Comments

Taiji Kase: 9 Fascinating Facts About His Life

The picture shows Taiji Kase.

Taiji Kase is one of the most fascinating Shotokan karate masters ever. In this article we are going to present you the 9 most fascinating facts about him. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

Taiji Kase lived a life of a libertine. Like no other, he chose his way of Karate dependent on his own interests and convictions. Younger generations might know him from videos as a stout elder Karate grand master with incredible fast hands. However, a look back into his biography reveals his fascinating life. We are going to present you the 10 most exciting facts about Taiji Kase.

Taiji Kase Searched for Gichin Funakoshi

Taiji Kase was born in 1929 in Chiba Prefecture. In February of 1944, the young Kase began his journey into the world of Karate. He had come across Gichin Funakoshi’s book, Karate-Do Kyohan, originally published in 1935. The book featured photographs of Funakoshi performing various techniques and kata. This was radically different from anything the young Kase had previously seen. His interest grew so strong in the new art that he contacted the book publishers to find the location of Funakoshi’s dojo.

Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi Refused to Teach Him, But Also Influenced Him

When he arrived at the “Shoto-kan” he found out that Gichin Funakoshi had retired from day to day teaching. Sensei Funakoshi was already in his 70´s. Therefore, his son Yoshitaka oversaw much of the daily classes, assisted by Shigeru Egami and Genshin Hironishi. But when Kase initially arrived at the dojo, Funakoshi’s son, Yoshitaka, refused to teach him. In the perception of Yoshitaka, he was too young for Karate. Fortunately for Taiji Kase, Yoshitaka realized his abilities after they had talked with each other. So, Kase began his his training at the original Shoto-kan dojo in the Meijiro district of Tokyo.

Kase recalled in later interviews that the younger Funakoshi’s dynamic style of Karate influenced him a lot. Yoshitaka Funakoshi had a very progressive approach to Karate.

Yoshitaka "Gigo" Funakoshi, who developed the style further, had a huge influence on Taiji Kase. He also introduced Mawashi Geri.
Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi, who developed the style further, had a huge influence on Taiji Kase. He also introduced Mawashi Geri.

Taiji Kase Wanted to Be A Kamikaze Pilot

During the war years, Kase was a cadet in the Japanese Navy. Because of the nationalistic and patriotic nature of the times he had enlisted in the infamous Kamikaze Corp of the navy. However, just before he was due to be deployed the war came to an end.

He Received His 3rd Dan With 20

Kase would train up to eight hours a day. By 1949, Kase had graded to 3rd Dan. At 20 he was the youngest to be awarded the grade. His grading had taken place in front of a panel of senior grades from Keio, Chuo, Takushoku, Waseda, Hosei and Senshu universities. The senior grades were from the Karate clubs and old boy clubs located at the universities.

Taiji Kase Worked as A Bodyguard

After graduating from Senchu University, Kase briefly worked as a bodyguard for a friend of his father whose business had run into some union troubles.

The young Taiji Kase was a tough fighter. It is said that he managed all the challenges the JKA received.
The young Taiji Kase was a tough fighter. It is said that he managed all the challenges the JKA received.

He Taught in the Infamous JKA Instructors Course

Hidetaka Nishiyama, who was the JKA’s Chief of the Instruction Committee, invited Kase to join the JKA. Kase had the the interest to teach. Therefore, joining the JKA provided a suitable opportunity. He was one of the few non-Takushoku graduates teaching at the JKA. He taught alongside Nakayama, Nishiyama and Teruyuki Okazaki, one of the originators of the JKA’s Infamous Instructors Course.

Apart from teaching at the JKA’s dojo, located in  the Yotsuya district of Tokyo, Kase also taught kumite three days a week on the Instructors Course. His students included future All Japan Kumite Champions Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, Hiroshi Shirai and Hideo Ochi.  Students knew him as a hard but fair instructor.

Kase Fought Many Challengers

Not much information exists, but people thought that he also handled any challenges made to the JKA.

When he arrived in Europe, Kase faced a number of challenges. He faced the challenge of being in a new country with its different language, cuisine and culture. In addition, he also faced the challenge from other martial artists who wanted to test the validity of his Karate. Suffice to say he successfully handled all of these challenges.

Taiji Kase was a Kumite specialist.

Taiji Kase Held a 3rd Dan in Judo

Henri Plee invited Kase to France in 1967. Plee, who had introduced Yoseikan Karate to France and the rest of Europe, would later recall the immense respect he held for Kase. Plee, who was also a Judo black belt, would like to test the skills of an invited instructor by sparring against them. He would occasionally perform a throw to test his opponent. However, against Kase nothing worked. He admitted that Kase was one of the toughest fighters he ever faced. Plee offered him a one year contract to teach at his Paris dojo.

Even in his later years, Taiji Kase was a very agile fighter.
Even in his later years, Taiji Kase was a very agile fighter.

He Founded his Own Association

Following Nakayama’s death in 1987, the JKA faced political in-fighting among some of the factions within the association. Never one for the politics, Kase founded the World Karate-Do Shotokan Academy (WKSA) in 1989, alongside Shirai. The aim of the association was to be free of the politics that plagued Shotokan Karate. It also taught Kase’s style of Karate called Shotokan Ryu Kase Ha. Kase always strived to continue the teachings of Yoshitaka Funakoshi. In his understanding the JKA seemed to had largely forgotten these teachings. In addition, he sought to explore other avenues, such as the principles of Miyamoto Musahi’s School of Two Swords. He spend much time to apply it to Karate. The WKSA broke away from the JKA.


The Shotokan Times has to express its gratitude to Patrick Donkor of Finding Karate – Journey of a Karate-ka, who provided the biggest part of this article.