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Japan´s new Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, holds 2nd Dan in Goju Ryu Karate

The picture shows Yoshihide Suga, prime minister of Japan, in a Karate Gi.

Yoshihide Suga did succeed Shinzo Abe as prime minister of Japan on September 16, 2020. He was sworn in by the Emperor of Japan Naruhito in the Imperial Palace as 99th prime minister. Before taking over office as PM Suga was the Chief of Staff of Shinzo Abe and prior to that hold several cabinet posts. In 2019, he revealed the current era of the Japanese calendar stipulated by the Tenno.

For the international Karate community PM Suga might become a godsend. Before joining politics the son of a strawberry farmer from Akita Prefecture studied Law at Hosei University. Here he joined the Goju Ryu Karate Club and became vice-captain of the karate team, according to the Kyodo News.

The picture shows Yoshihide Suga (far right) with his Karate Club members at Hosei University in 1970. Source: Kyodo News. See also Japan Forward.
Yoshihide Suga (far right) with his Karate Club members at Hosei University in 1970. Source: Kyodo News. See also Japan Forward.

In an interview for JKFan in 2014 PM Suga commented on his Karate experience: “The things I developed through karate-do have served me well after I entered politics. I am keenly aware that the mental strength to endure difficulties was forged in the karate-do club.” Even today he does 100 sit-ups every morning to stay fit.

Yoshihide Suga promoted Karate for Olympics

That he is still committed to the martial art of Karate Do shows his political engagement for it. In 2014, became the President of the Parliamentary Federation for the Promotion of Karate-do. The aim of the federation was to establish Karate as an Olympic sport.

The picture shows Yoshihide Suga and WKF President Antonio Espinós (left to him) during a meeting of Japan’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for the promotion of Karate in Tokyo in 2018.
Yoshihide Suga (standing) and WKF President Antonio Espinós (left to him) during a meeting of Japan’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for the promotion of Karate in Tokyo in 2018. Source:

Whether the new Prime Minister will still has Karate as a priority can be doubt. Japan, like many countries, suffers from the immense economy downturn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The top priority of PM Suga will be to mitigate the negative consequences of the pandemic and bring back Japan into a more stable economic condition.

However, for the global Karate community the election of PM Suga is already a great success and a fantastic promotion. To have a Karateka in the Japans highest office will give Karate a global exposure. And we are sure that Yoshihide Suga will serve as an excellent role model for the way of Karate.

By Dr. Christian Tribowski

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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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“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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Andre Bertel: His “hardest” Dan Examination!

The pictures shows Andre Bertel doing a mae geri.

Andre Bertel has had a moving karate biography. According to himself was his hardest dan examination the one for godan. Why it became so difficult is going to be answered in this article. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Everyone, who has seen or heard something about Andre Bertel, comes to the following conclusion: not much could make him lose his inner balance. He always seems to be under control over every situation. Calm and focused he masters all challenges. But such coolness does not comes for free.

The Godan Examination of Andre Bertel

In recent blog entry he confessed that his 五段 (Godan) examination was the hardest one in his career so far. This comes as a surprise. Because he has already reached the 六段 (Rokudan). Therefore, not the last grading was his hardest but the one before. This itself comes as a surprise. One would expect a constant increase in difficulty.

But why was it different in Andre Bertel´s case? What made the 五段 (Godan) examination so much more difficult for him than the previous one? The reason was Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai, his master. He announced Andre´s participation in the examination just a few minutes before it took place.

Andre Bertel´s Master: Tetsuhiko Asai

It is important to know that Andre Bertel and Tetsuhiko Asai had a special relationship. Andre trained several years under Asai Shihan as his master student. Since Tetsuhiko Asai´s death, Andre Bertel carries the legacy of his master.

Tetsuhiko Asai himself studied Shotokan at Takushoku University directly under Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama. This fundamental education made him a tough cookie. He always used sparring and 護身術 (Goshin-Jutsu/Self-Defense) in seminars and daily training. Therefore, Andre was used to challenging situations. However, everyone can imagine how surprised and shocked he must had been about the announcement.

Tetsuhiko Asai and Andre Bertel training Kumite and Goshin-Jutsu/Self-Defense

His Hardest Dan Examination

On the other hand, the surprising participation in the Dan examination was not the only challenge. Quoting Hawaii Chief Instructor, Edward Fujiwara Sensei, Andre concludes:

“this was the most complex Godan examination that he [Fujiwara Sensei] had ever seen.”

Edward Fujiwara

Several reasons made Fujiwara Sensei say this. Firstly, he had to perform Gojushiho Dai and redomly selected by Shihan Asai Meikyo. In addition, his master advised hi to perform the katas Kakuyoku Shodan, Suishu, and Hachimon. Shihan Asai developed this katas. They do not belong to the 26 official Shotokan katas. Andre stated in his blog:

In sum, it was five consecutive kata for the fifth dan, kind of appropriate I guess: four of which came completely out of the blue!!! The price of being an uchideshi!!!!!!

Secondly, Andre had to demonstrate his fighting skills. Beside jiyu kumite Tetsuhiko Asai advised him to do Goshin-Jutsu. So, one can imagine the physical challenge. Therefore, we highly recommend to you to read Andre Bertel´s incredible and thrilling report about his examination.

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Do you know Sensei Richard Heselton? You have to!

Richard is the most successful Western karateka. However, many karateka do not him. Her we give you a glimpse into his incredible karate journey. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Many Westerners have gone to Japan in order to learn the art of Shotokan Karate. However, only a handful of them has become successful on the peninsula. The most successful one is Sensei Richard Heselton. Right after he gained his high school degree in England, he moved to Japan to begin his life-long Karate journey. On his way, he studied under Sensei Tatsuya Naka and Sensei Koichiro Okuma.

First Westerner to become Captain of the Takushoku University Karate Club

But he did not stop there. He also became a student at the renowned Takushoku University and joined its world famous Karate Club. While this was already a sensation, that a Westerner joins the Takudai. Richard Heselton also exceeded this success. He became its first foreign team captain. In this position, he led the Takudai Karateka to several tournaments and successes. Even after university, he was an active competitor at several tournaments like the All Japan Championships.

Lecturer at the Takushoku University and Karate Instructor

Today, he is a lecturer at the Takushoku University and an instructor at the Takudai Karate Club. At Takudai he is an assistent to Sensei Katsunori Tsuyama and Sensei Tatsuya Naka. Beside his career as an lecturer and instructor he also played roles in several  movies like the international successful High Kick Girl.

Richard Heselton as Role Model for Spirit and Budo

From our point of view, Sensei Richard Heselton is a amazing role model when it comes to spirit. He broke trough boundaries and mastered tremendous challenges with perseverance, a strong will, and a clear focus. Therefore, he also serves as an excellent example of budo. Without the readiness to fight and to take the hits such an extraordinary biography would not have been possible.

Oss, Sensei Heselton!

The following documentary excellently portraits Sensei Richard Heselton.