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“There will be changes”: Stephane Castriques about Future of SKIF

The picture shows Stephane Castrique SKIF Belgium.

Stephane Castrique, Chief-Instructor of SKIF-Belgium, sent us a detailed answer about the analysis our managing director and chief editor, Dr. Christian Tribowski, published on Monday. You can find Christian´s analysis here: Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately Needed. Following we have published Stephane´s full answer. Feel free to engage in the discussion in the comments.

Dear Christian, dear readers of The Shotokan Times, this is my reaction to the article “Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately needed”, The Shotokan Times published last Monday. It is important that this is my personal view and not in any way the official point of view of the SKIF HQ.

In the following answer I am going to address some of your questions, clarify some issues you have raised, and show where your arguments become misleading. Again, I only express my own and private opinion and knowledge.

Clarification of some Facts about SKIF

In your article you posted the following statement, in which you referred to the SKIF website:

“according to SKIF, 130 country organisations are affiliated combining several million members”

SKIF is indeed represented in 130 different countries. However not every branch has the same size. Like in any worldwide karate organization, some branches are big and have a big following and some branches are very small, representing just a few dojo or members.

So I agree that SKIF has the biggest worldwide representation compared to any other “single style organization” but does this automatically mean that the total combining members results in several million members? I don’t think so.

We all know that all karate organizations like to boast about their total membership (and so does SKIF), but I don’t think there is any “single style organization” that has several million members.

The WKF is not a style organization; it is a sporting organization that brings together many national federations. This is maybe (and I emphasize “maybe”) the only organization that can claim several million members through national federations in many countries around the world.

The picture shows Stephane Castrique the chief instructor of SKIF Belgium.
Stephane Castrique, Chief Instructor of SKIF Belgium

Hierarchy in the JKA

You also referred to the JKA and stressed:

“today, the JKA has a much flatter hierarchy, integrates more characters, and does not focus solely on one supreme leader.”

Yes, indeed JKA integrates more characters, because the number of HQ instructors is much bigger. This is because JKA is domestically (JKA japan) bigger than SKIF. Why? Well the reason is because JKA has longer history than SKIF, therefore it is much better represented in the many high school karate clubs, university karate clubs, and has more local branches. Anybody who knows the Japanese karate world is aware of this. So, while JKA is still big in Japan it has become smaller over the years due to the big split in the 1990’s.

Obviously I’m not a JKA member but from my info, it is not correct to say that JKA in its management has a flatter hierarchy. I think like most karate organizations it is organized with a strong vertical hierarchy.

SKIF succession secured

“A dispute of succession, would lead to a collapse of the federation and seems very unlikely”.

This statement is very true; a dispute seems very unlikely. Nobody can say that the current leadership is against Kanazawa Soke’s will. It is this new generation that has the responsibility to keep SKIF going.

The field of Shotokan and why we need a strong SKIF

“The loss of the figurehead has damaged the aura of SKIF. Many members came for Hirokazu Kanazawa. But will they stay for Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami?”

My feeling is that almost everybody will stay. Because in any karate organization the number of members that practice karate as a lifelong discipline is not usually a large number.

I use SKIF-Belgium as an example. While still many of our dojo leaders have had frequent exposure to Kanazawa Soke, many of our most motivated young members, dojo leaders and national team members have had much more exposure and actual training time with Murakami Shuseki Shihan and other SKIF HQ instructors. So their loyalty is much more towards this generation.

When dojos or members leave SKIF (or any other organization) the reasons are seldom because there is a problem at World leadership level. When people leave it is mostly because they have issues with domestic policy.

Do we need a strong SKIF? As representative of SKIF in Belgium I think it is important. When there are strong and big SKIF groups in other countries it gives more credibility to my own group and what we do. It also gives more opportunities for international exchange (courses, competitions, etc.).

You, however, derive at the following conclusion:

“However, SKIF has now considerably been weakened”

I don’t think so. Anybody who has attended the last SKIF World Championship in the Czech Republic will testify that the opposite is true. After April 5, 2014, the date of the succession of Kanazawa Soke, the size nor the activities of the federation have changed.

An international technical seminar has been created and held yearly in Tokyo since 2014. This year’s seminar and Kanazawa Soke’s memorial have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak, but over 500 representatives from many different countries had already registered.

The five challenges for SKIF

Changing global Karate environment and need for strategy

“Budo and values play a minor role in the WKF system”

Like I said before, WKF is a sporting organization. Their purpose is to create a platform to allow karate athletes to compete under a certain set of rules. For some the side effects of this “sportification” is indeed public recognition and fame, as well as income and a career. But still more people make an income or extra money by “teaching” karate than “competing.” There will always be people interested in learning “karate-do.” WKF can do nothing for these people, but organizations like SKIF (and others) are still relevant for this big majority.

“attentive observers have already noticed that some national SKIF teams already compete at WKF events”

I don’t see the problem. First of all, each country has organized karate in its own specific way. In some countries SKIF is a part of the national style federation/governing body. In some countries like my own, SKIF is totally outside of the national governing body. In some countries SKIF representatives hold important positions within the national governing body.

Stephane Castrique demonstraton his skills

Let’s not forget that Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho was himself a member of the JKF national team in the past. (JKF= governing body for karate in Japan). All I can say that all competitors in a major SKIF tournaments must register with their SKIF dan diploma number. This has been done so that a major SKIF tournament is really a 100% SKIF event.

“We wrote an e-mail to Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho and Manabu Murakami about the official strategy of the organization in October 2019. We never received and answer.”

First, it is up to them to answer to your request or not. But if they answer they should find the time to formulate an answer together, since the questions were asked to both of them. As it happens I can confirm that at that specific time both were not together in Japan for several weeks. Soke was hospitalized from mid-November and passed away on December 8. I think they had a lot on their mind at the moment so it is a little difficult to sit together and discuss a common answer to your question. Once more if they felt it was important to answer you.

With my limited knowledge of Japanese culture, all I can say that after the passing away of the figurehead of the organization it is custom in Japan to have a one year of silence. For example, there were no big changes in the management and/or positions of the JKS, after Asai sensei’s passing for over one year.  And the same can be seen in many organizations that have their HQ in Japan.

From my conversations with Murakami Shuseki Shihan, Nobuaki Kancho and several other HQ instructors there will be changes in the future. But now it is too early, out of respect for the huge work Kanazawa Soke has done over the years.

My guess is that there will be changes in the future (i.e. examination program, organizational structure, instructor accreditation, etc.). But it will always be centered around Kanazawa Soke’s specific brand of karate and the syllabus he designed.

“The Takudai seminars”

From my understanding, these seminars were organized by the impulse of Nagai Shihan, SKIF representative in Germany. Many Takudai Karate club old boys have a big pride in the fact that they were members of this great Uni karate club. The incredible amount of karate masters and leaders that came via this lineage is recognized by everybody in the Shotokan Karate world. Some people even go as far to say that Shotokan Karate as we know it is “Takudai karate.” All I can see is that there was a lot of JKA activity in Germany the week before the last Takudai seminar and even on the same weekend. So if this initiative has stopped maybe we should look more towards the JKA than SKIF.

“But the problem is: Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho did not attend Takushoku University”

That Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho has not attended Takushoku University is not a problem in my view. Anyway, when he reached the age of going to university, the Takudai karate club was closed, so it was impossible for him to join. Kancho joined the Taisho University Karate club. As an old boy from this also famous karate club he now has his own connections within the Karate world. Many famous karate instructors graduated from Taisho: Iida Norihiko, Sawada Kazuhiro, Ogura Yasunori, Hanzaki, Koh Iwamoto, and also some very good female karateka like Baba and Takahashi Yuko.

Founding instructors of SKIF about to retire

“The loss of the founding fathers of SKIF will considerably weaken the federation overseas”

First of all, I think that SKIF is a strong federation overseas. It is 100% true that Asano Shihan, Nagai Shihan, Miura Shihan, Koga Shihan and Kawasoe Shihan (deceased) have built SKIF in Europe. They are a special generation of pioneers that have faced many adversities when they first arrived in Europe. It takes a special kind of man come to Europe, without knowing the language, the customs and survive here just by teaching karate. When they faced problems within the JKA, Kanazawa Soke stood up for them. This got him into trouble in Japan, and the rest is history as they say.

For about eight years now there is also a board of directors of SKIF in Europe. The founding instructors of SKIF have their voice in this board trough their senior students that are part of this board. So slowly but gently some changes have taken place.

Let us not forget that in their own countries a lot of students became members of SKIF because of their charisma and karate skill. The loyalty towards SKIF and Kanazawa Soke was thought to these students by following the example of their Japanese instructors.

But we must also face the truth. As I said before, it takes a special kind of man to come to  Europe, without knowing the language, the customs and survive here just by teaching karate. The founding fathers were successful because of their hard character. With all respect, but I would not describe them as “normal” Japanese men. This has also over the years created some fall out. There are also people who have left SKIF with pain in their hearts. But cooperating with founding fathers became impossible for them. Therefore, a generation change might well be a window of opportunity for future growth and old members returning to SKIF.

The need for an instructors Program

We cannot compare JKA to SKIF too much. It is a fact that JKA employs 25 instructors at their HQ in Tokyo. But as I said before the domestic workload inside Japan is bigger for them. JKA is a government recognized institution. Therefore, I would not be surprised that there is also some government funding for the JKA. SKIF is a non-profit organization. The structure is very different.

JKA has a constant influx of university graduates because a lot of university karate clubs are JKA style and use JKA instructors. The pool of young people that are crazy enough to pursue a career in karate is much bigger. Same for JKS, because Kagawa Shihan is the main shihan at Teikyo University. To my knowledge only two or three university karate clubs have a connection to SKIF. Also, these Karate clubs are part of universities with a higher academic status. The members of these clubs practice karate mostly as a hobby and these clubs do not attract young Japanese karateka that look for a hard training environment to improve their karate and of course their tournament skills.

I am almost sure that SKIF management is aware that it should have an influx of new young instructors but the pool to find them is smaller. A career as a SKIF HQ instructor is not all roses. For many young Japanese people a job as a karate instructor is not attractive, neither financially nor status wise. Even Murakami Shuseki Shihan’s own mother asked him until 2006 when he would quit and get a “real” job.

There is an instructor’s program also at SKIF HQ. At this very moment, my own student, Mr. Huglo Paul, will probably graduate from this course beginning of April. Hiyori Kanazawa will probably also graduate, but I’m not sure whether she will be a “full” instructor or a “junior” instructor as their training program and training volume was not the same. From my conversations with Murakami Shihan and Kanazawa Kancho the course is basically 2 years. Until now it was modeled after the JKA course. Of course, I cannot speak for SKIF HQ, but my thinking is that they will try to make a different system or way to get this accreditation more in harmony with the reality of today’s world. I don’t know about specific details at this moment.

Media visibility and presence

I agree with the analysis made in this article. But we must not forget that the instructors have to be first of all: “karate professionals”.

Meaning that their core activity is teaching karate. Like a skilled craftsman, who is also able to teach his craft. On top of this they need to do administration and sometimes even do politics. That is already 3 skills for one and the same person. To ask them to also be an internet influencer or a Youtuber is maybe asking a little too much.

Let’s not forget that the Kuroobi World Media is Mr. Nishi’s fulltime job. He’s not a karate instructor. Of course, JKA has the beneficial effects of being in the public spotlight via Naka Shihan and Kuroobi World. But Kuroobi World is not an official communication channel of the JKA.

It is a fact that SKIF has to make a bigger effort when it comes to internet visibility and social media.

What distinguishes SKIF?

I think this question would best be answered in a completely different article. If I find the time in the future I will try to give an answer.

Just two important points:

  1. As far as technical matters are concerned it is characterized by Kanazawa Soke’s “unique” development and ideas of the Shotokan style. But this does not mean that everything is rigid. Future generation of SKIF instructors and various members will naturally influence the art.
  2. Organizationally, I think the name sums it all up: “JAPAN” karate association vs. Shotokan Karate-Do “INTERNATIONAL” Federation.

These are my personal comments on the article “Quo Vadis SKIF?” It is important that readers understand that my comment on the article should not in any way be interpreted as the “official SKIF HQ” reaction.

Oss!!!

Stephane Castrique Chief-Instructor of SKIF-Belgium

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Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately Needed

The picture shows the emblem of the SKIF with the word future and a question mark.

How will the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (SKIF) evolve after the sad passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa in December 2019? Will SKIF maintain its position as the second biggest Shotokan association in the world? In which direction will and should Kancho Nobuaki Kanazawa and Shuseki Shihan Manabu Murakami lead the organization? An analysis by Dr. Christian Tribowski

The unexpected passing of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa on December 8 was one of the saddest events in the Shotokan year 2019. It shocked the whole karate world. Even beyond that, practitioners of other martial arts expressed their condolences. The Shotokan community fell into deep sorrow and mourning. It lost one of its greatest mentors, instructors, minds, spirits, and charismatic leaders. Without a doubt Hirokazu Kanazawa belonged to the most influential figures in Shotokan karate in the 20th Century.

SKIF after the death of Hirokazu Kanazawa

While the Shotokan world mourns, SKIF has been hit by the passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa. It lost its founder and figurehead. His loss has torn a huge whole into the aura of the organization. Since its establishment in 1978, SKIF has become one of the largest Shotokan organizations in the world. According to SKIF, 130 country organizations are affiliated combining several million members. But its leadership centered on Hirokazu Kanazawa.

Such a system also dominated the JKA under Masatoshi Nakayama. However, JKA learned its lesson in the aftermath of the passing of the supreme leader. Several groups of high-level instructors claimed the leadership over the organization. They all saw themselves as the rightful heirs of Nakayama, and they were ready to fight for it.

The turmoil erupted because Masatoshi Nakayama did not declare an official successor. Thus, a legal dispute broke lose that took almost ten years until it finally got settled. Several renegade associations emerged and the JKA lost a huge portion of their best instructors and branches.

Today, the JKA has a much flatter hierarchy, integrates many more characters, and does not focus solely on one supreme leader. Masaaki Ueki is surrounded by a huge group of capable instructors that all play a valid role in the success of the association.

SKIF: Succession Secured

Hirokazu Kanazawa, on the other hand, observed the self-destruction of the JKA in the 1990’s. He established his own organization ten years earlier. But he learned from the JKA experience.

On April 5, 2014, SKIF held a special ceremony in Tokyo where Hirokazu Kanazawa officially passed the leadership of the association to his son Nobuaki and Manabu Murakami, his longest disciple. Both belong to the most talented and successful karateka of their generations. Since then, Nobuaki Kanazawa holds the title of Kancho (director). Manabu Murakami has become Shuseki Shihan (chief instructor). Together they manage the organization. Both have known each other for several decades, and have even fought against each other during world championships.

A legal dispute about the succession of Hirokazu Kanazawa, which could damage and lead to a collapse of the association, seems more than unlikely.

The Field of Shotokan and why we need a strong SKIF

Yet, the future of SKIF and its position as the second biggest Shotokan association worldwide is not secured. The loss of the figurehead has damaged the aura of SKIF. Many members came for Hirokazu Kanazawa. But will they stay for Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami?

This question is open. But both must find some valid answers. Because currently SKIF builds together with the JKA the center of the traditional/budo karate field. This center helps to stabilize Shotokan especially against the powerful and growing faction of sports karate represented by the WKF. But it also keeps Shotokan dynamic. Because both associations wrestle and distinguish from each other like in a market oligopoly.

The competition increases due to the abundance of smaller associations, which surround and challenge them in the periphery. Some of them offer slightly different approaches to Shotokan, other organizational structures, or charismatic and highly skillful chief instructors. This leads to a healthy competition within the field of Shotkan karate and members can choose which association suits them best.

The picture shows the currently karate/Shotokan landscape. The SKIF builds together with the JKA the center of the traditional/budo Shotokan field. They are opposed to the WKF, but are surrounded by several other Shotokan associations in their periphery.
The picture shows the current karate/Shotokan field. Note: Due to the high amount of smaller Shotokan associations we could not all accommodate, if you think that your association should be in the picture, please write us an email.

However, SKIF has now considerably been weakened. And in the upcoming years it will face some serious external and internal challenges. If the leadership of the association will not manage to deal with these challenges, SKIF might migrate from the center to the periphery. The consequence for the Shotokan community would be not desirable. Because the JKA would then become – like the WKF – a monopolist. Its position would be weaker than its sports karate counterpart, but it would still could highly influence and dominate the field of traditional/budo karate. Therefore, a strong SKIF works as a corrective and is hence highly desirable. But the future of the association is open and it will depend on the management how they cope with the future challenges.

The Five Challenges for SKIF

What are these challenges? SKIF has to face five internal and external trends and drivers in the upcoming years:

  1. Changing Global Karate Environment and Need of Strategy
  2. Founding Instructors of SKIF About to Retire
  3. The Need for an Instructors Program
  4. Media Visibility and Presence
  5. USP: What Distinguishes SKIF?

1. Changing Global Karate Environment and Need for a Strategy

The global karate environment has changed considerably since the 1980s. Sports karate dominates the public perception and attention. It is going to debut at the Olympics – at least for one event. However, due to the attention and money the WKF will generate through this event, it will put the traditional/budo field of Shotokan under pressure. The WKF will define the future of karate, mainly driven by fun, entertainment, competitions, media needs, and customers/viewer interest. Budo and values play a minor role in the WKF system. Thus, it will also attract plenty of young karateka and offer them something traditional/budo associations have not managed to deliver: public recognition and fame as well as income and a career.

JKA already positions itself as keeper of the traditions

Under such circumstances traditional/budo karate organizations must develop strategies how to position themselves. The JKA markets itself as the keeper of the tradition and as the “only independent karate entity legally and officially recognized by the Japanese government as an association of members (Shadan Hojin) for the promotion of karate.” Through its large group of instructors, who constantly travel the globe, it manages to be present in all their member countries on a regular basis. Through this the JKA manages to maintain strong ties into the countries. Instructors like Tatsuya Naka have also created a high media visibility and popularity to promote the JKA.

Many Karateka came for Hirokazu Kanazawa

The popularity of SKIF in the past stemmed from the popularity of its figurehead, Hirokazu Kanazawa. Many karateka entered the association to learn from him, because of his charisma, wisdom, and personality. But now after his death the question arises: What will they stay for?

Attentive observers have already noticed that some national SKIF teams already compete at WKF events. So, for some young SKIF karateka the WKF does not seem to be off-limits. As mentioned: It offers them many attractive and lucrative opportunities. Hence, the erosion of the member base has already started within the younger generations.

SKIF strategy desperately needed

Thus, SKIF needs a strategy to cope with the changing global karate environment and how to react to the popularity of sports karate. However, the leadership of SKIF has not presented such a strategy since it entered office in 2014.

That is the reason why we want to know from SKIF directly what their strategy will be. In October 2019, The Shotokan Times inquired at SKIF. We wrote an email to Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami about the official strategy of the organization. We posed several thoughts. However, we never received an answer neither from the management nor from the SKIF HQ. We can only speculate what that means.

However, high-level SKIF instructors and Manabu Murakami have organized the Takudai seminar series in Germany in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Here they brought together Takushoku University Karate Club alumni from different associations to teach an open seminar. That initiative might indicate that SKIF is about to join forces and to collaborate with other associations stronger in the future in order to strengthen the traditional/budo Shotokan community. The Takudai Club seems to be a good vehicle for such exchange because it links instructors from the whole spectrum of Shotokan. But the problem: Nobuaki Kanazawa did not attend Takushoku University. That raises the question which role he will play within this collaboration? In addition, SKIF is not going to organize a fourth Takudai seminar in 2020. Has this initiative stopped?

The silence of SKIF and the lack of a visible new orientation of the association forces us to make the conclusion that a strategy is needed. Without a strategy SKIF might migrate to the periphery, which weaken the traditional/budo Shotokan community as a whole.

2. Founding Instructors of SKIF About to Retire

The need for a strategy becomes even more relevant because of the upcoming generational change in the leadership of national SKIF branches. Important, charismatic, powerful, and well-connected instructors in Europe, the stronghold of SKIF, like Shiro Asano (England), Akio Nagai (Germany), Masaru Miura (Italy), and Rikuta Koga (Switzerland) are about to retire. All of them are in their 70s and 80s.

As “founding fathers” they built and established the association alongside Soke Kanazawa. Thus, SKIF will lose these important pillars when they retire. Together with them, many resources, knowledge, and connections will leave.

Therefore, the question arises: Who will follow them? Fortunately, SKIF has very talented and engaged national chief instructors and presidents like Stephane Castriques from Belgium and Tony Racca from Switzerland. However, the karate background and connections of an instructor, who has been educated at a Japanese University karate club and later attended an instructors program, is hard to match.

At the same time, JKA and JKS flood the globe with weekend seminars by Japanese instructors. Associations like KWF, WSKF, FSKA, JSKA etc. also compete with their Japanese instructors for the attention of the Shotokan karate public. The loss of the “founding fathers” of SKIF will considerably weaken the association oversees.

3. The Need of an Instructors Program

The void, which will emerge in the upcoming years in Europe, could be filled with young instructors from Japan. But that requires a prerequisite: young instructors. Unlike the JKA or JKS, SKIF has not set up an instructors program. Currently, only six instructors including Nobuaki Kanazawa, Manabu Murakami, Ryusho Suzuki, Shinji Tanaka, Fumitoshi Kanazawa, and Daizo Kanazawa are listed on the website. Occasionally, Hiyori Kanazawa teaches Shotokan karate oversees.

The JKA, on the other hand, employs 25 instructors in the honbu dojo in Tokyo. Through their instructors program the organization has a constant influx of highly qualified karateka that it can send abroad.

Why SKIF has never established a similar program is beyond my knowledge. An organization with “several million members” could (and should) create such an educative infrastructure.

The negligence of the past might block future developments. According to insights from SKIF officials, the travel volume of Manabu Murakami exceeded 300 days per year. As chief instructor he must maintain a high technical standard among the members within the global federation. Therefore, his position requires traveling and constant education of its members.

However, such a high amount of travel-time comes with costs. His absence makes it impossible to set up an instructors program and to educate young instructors in the honbu dojo. As a consequence this leads to a dilemma that a German proverb captures nicely: “I have no time to build a fence, because I have to catch chickens.”

To strengthen the association in the upcoming years an advancement of the instructors group and the implementation of an instructors program is recommended.

4. Media Visibility and Presence

Another way to resolve this dilemma would be a higher media visibility and presence. Hirokazu Kanazawa understood the power and necessity of media like books and films to spread karate and to convey his style of Shotokan. He wrote at least eight books, which all became breakthroughs in the teaching of karate. In addition, he produced several educational video series about Shotokan. His sense of the visual dimension and presentation of Shotokan was splendid. In this regard he followed Masatoshi Nakayama, who also understood the importance and opportunities of media for the spread of Shotokan karate.

Today, Tatsuya Naka follows the in footsteps of Masatoshi Nakayama and Hirokazu Kanazawa. He gained a huge audience through his performances in several popular karate movies like Kuro Obi (2007) and High-Kick Girl (2011). Together with Fuyuhiko Nishi, the owner of Kuroobi World Media, he has produced a myriad of educational and entertaining Shotokan videos. Therefore, Tatsuya Naka has become the public face of Shotokan karate.

Unfortunately, neither Nobuaki Kanazawa nor Manabu Murakami show significant engagement with media. Neither of them has a considerable social media channel. The official SKIF facebook channel seems to be abandoned. Most media promotion of SKIF comes from the national branches. They are active in social media and beyond.

Luckily, SKIF has Hiyori Kanazawa. She has shown considerable activity and interest in media visibility. She runs a solid Instagram channel and seems to have a sense for the necessity of promotion. For instance, she produced a video, which shows from a female perspective her understanding of Shotokan Karate. She also gave The Shotokan Times a comprehensive interview about her life and vision of Shotokan.

Today, however, social media and an excellent internet presence must become a high priority for every organization – it is mandatory. Both determine the visibility and hence the success of an association in the competition of attention and public perception.

5. USP: What Distinguishes SKIF?

The final challenge SKIF has to face, is its “Unique Selling Point” (USP). What distinguishes SKIF from other associations? Why should somebody join or stay in SKIF?

Every company, every club, every party, every association, and every rock star must find an answer to this question. Some members might stay because of pure loyalty. But others need legitimate reasons and arguments in order not to leave. The passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa could have created a reason to reconsider the membership in SKIF. Other reasons like the lack of strategy, the upcoming retirements of other founding fathers, the low visibility and engagement in media by the leadership could cause some to reconsider, too.

Therefore, SKIF has to position itself and distinguish its portfolio from the other associations. One proven way to do that would be a joint book publication by Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami about their understanding and vision of SKIF Shotokan. A video serious could support such activities.

In comparison to the JKA, for example, SKIF offers a different concept of Shotokan that can be observed in their approach to kihon. While the JKA has deliberately streamlined its technical repertoire and focuses on combinations with maximum 3 to 4 techniques. SKIF still offers the whole versatility of Shotokan. That means long combinations with several changes of direction and the whole set of techniques Shotokan. The same can be observed during a comparison of SKIF and JKA kihon and jiyu ippon kumite.

For both approaches one can find valid arguments. And the practitioners should decide which path they want to follow. But before they can decide, the associations have to make clear what kind of path they offer.

A Strong SKIF Needed

This analysis has shown that the unfortunate passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa has created several challenges for SKIF in order to hold its position in the center of the field of Shotokan. From a systemic perspective and for the individual Shotokan practitioner it would be beneficial if SKIF recognizes this challenges and starts to find appropriate strategical solutions. A strong SKIF offers more advantages for the global Shotokan karate community than a weak one.

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Breaking News: Mitsuru Nagaki will be new Chief Instructor of JSKA

A few minutes ago, we received a press release from the JSKA Shihankai about the successor of Shihan Keigo Abe, who unfortunately passed away in December 2019. According to the announcement Mitsuru Nagaki will become new chief instructor of the JSKA. Find the full announcement bellow:

IMPORTANT NOTICE

Keigo Abe, Chief Instructor of our association, passed away at 6:45 on December 21, 2019 at the home of Mr. Mitsuru Nagaki in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture.

Sensei Keigo Abe was born in Ehime Prefecture on October 28, 1938. He began practicing judo and karate as a boy and joined the Japan Karate Association upon entering the Engineering department at Nihon University in Tokyo. Many stories were born from his samurai appearance and brave fighting, and the Budokan was filled with his presence. He was also famous for raising so many famous karate-ka. Abe Sensei was also well known as a master of Iaido (the art of drawing swords) and was one of Japan’s leading sword collectors.

Following the breakup of the Japan Karate Association in 1990, he set his own ideal and established the Japan Shotokan Karate Association in 1999. From that point, he had been working hard to lead and teach around the world and together with instructors from many countries, he created today’s JSKA. When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, his doctor told him he could die at any time, but for him nothing changed, and he continued to be passionate about his karate to the end.

“May his soul rest in peace”.

In accordance with the wishes of Abe Sensei, Mr. Mitsuru Nagaki will take over as the chief instructor of the JSKA. It will be officially approved by the JSKA Shihankai Board during the 10th Karate World Championship in October 2020 In Lubeck, Germany.

Sensei NAGAKI Mitsuru, who was born in 1950 in Ehime Prefecture (The same prefecture as Abe Sensei), was regarded as having a promising future in judo, which he had worked hard on since his childhood. Later, when he entered the Nihon University, he studied karate under Abe Sensei’s guidance. Since then, he has devoted his life to karate. At present, he is an 8th dan, and with accuracy of technique, he is also a rare karate expert who can do both Kata and Kumite. His leadership is highly regarded in the world of karate, and Nagaki sensei has successively produced many world-class karate experts, including world champions. He also never fails to practice hard and is breaking an unprecedented record of winning 27 consecutive master class championships. In addition to his great achievements and earnest

His effort in karate, his spirit and attitude regarding the care of his elderly instructor, who despite being unrelated and without children, was welcomed to live in his home. Nagaki sensei and his family members took care of him as family until the end without telling anyone and this tells us all we need to know about him. I thank him from the bottom of my heart!

The 10th Karate World Championships, which will be held from the 15th-17th October 2020 in Lubeck, Germany, will be inmemorial of Keigo Abe, the founder of the JSKA and will mark the start of the JSKA under the leadership of Nagaki Mitsuru. We look forward to your participation.

Japan Shotokan Karate Association

Chairman, Yasuhisa Shiozaki

Former Minister of Health, National Diet”

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WUKF Professional: A New Karate League to Counter the Olympics

The WUKF has started its new professional karate league called WUKF Professional. While the focus lies on making points, fighters are allowed to knock out their opponent. Hence, the fighters go full contact. The WUKF, therefore, offers a third way between the WKF-based Olympic Sports karate and Karate Combat.

According to its president, Pawel Bombolewski, WUKF Pro seeks to make karate respectable again as an efficient martial art. Thus, the league also includes Kata as a discipline. We wanted to know more about WUKF Professional. Therefore, our distinguished author, Jonas Correia, interviewed Pawel Bombolewski about his career as a competitor, why he created WUKF Professional and what we can expect from the format in the future.

1 – Oss, Sensei Pawel Bombolewski! It is a great pleasure to interview you about your karate career and WUKF Professional Karate. Sensei, why and when did you start practicing Karate?

Pawel Bombolewski (PB) – Oss, it is a pleasure for me, too. I started Karate when I was 7. I was very inspired – like many people at that time – by martial art movies. Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme were my idols and first heroes. However the biggest influence on the beginning of my Karate-Do was my first Sensei Paweł Golema 7th Dan. He was and still is a big businessman in Szczecin. I always admired his remarkable way of applying Karate principles in life, especially in business. You need to wok hard, not giving up, being reliable, not afraid to taking risks etc. I think he had a big impact on me. I am very grateful to him for bringing my mind to the state where it is today. 

Pawel Bombolewski´s best Shobu Ippon fights

2- How has your training routine been lately?

PB – I use to conduct classes almost every day, from Monday to Saturday. The last class of the day was usually a advance group or squad training, where I train with my students. From training 6 days a week, half was orientated on traditional, budo Karate training and other half on Sports Karate. However, even in the sports classes we still started with mokuso and finished it with the Dojo Kun. I think we all need to remember what is most important in Karate. For me it is self development. In my opinion following budo principles is like using great tools to develop yourself. 

3 – You have been Shobu ippon WUKF World Champion several times. You teach Karate. You organize tournaments regularly, including the 2020 WUKF World Championship, which you organize for the 2nd time. And you are also responsible for WUKF Professional Karate events. How do you reconcile your competitive career with all these activities?

PB – It is actually very hard, especially that I divide my time between 5 governing bodies. I am lucky enough to lead the EUKF as Vice-President, WUKF Professional as President as well as UWK Poland, BKA Poland and BKA Sri Lanka. To be an athlete in addition to this becomes very difficult and requires a wise plan of training. The biggest issue is having no time for recovering. As a result that means a high chance to get injured. So I have to train physical strong only when I know I will be able to recover afterwards.

Pawel competing in Shobu Ippon Division on WUKF World Karate Championships
Pawel competing in Shobu Ippon Division on WUKF World Karate Championships

This was one of the reasons why I decided to finish my career as a competitor. I focus on working for international and national Karate organizations. Now I will have more time for my students. Competing and coaching at the same time had always been very hard to manage. My participation at the WUKF European Championships in Odense, Denmark was my last performance as a competitor. 

4 – And now you also organize WUKF Professional. How did you come up with the idea of creating this league and what is it about?

Pawel Bamboleski competing in Kata division
Pawel Bamboleski competing in Kata division

PB – I remember this day clearly. It was January 1, 2017, first day of New Year. The idea came during a flight from Qatar to Sri Lanka, where I traveled to conduct seminars. For some time, I had been thinking about some common patterns in all sports. One question, which bothered me the most, was, what can we do to beat the Olympic version of Sport (Karate)? I couldn’t find an answer until I watched the “Steve Jobs” movie on the airplane. I don’t know why and how, but after watching this movie, all the pieces fell into the place.

When I started to explore the topic, I found out that in the majority of sports in the Olympic version, even if it is highly respected, is still called “amateur”. Therefore, it holds not importance for many big sport stars in the world. They put much more effort in their professional performances and careers.

WUKF Professional promotional video

Then I asked myself another question. How should a professional Karate look like to make it respectable like in the old good times again? I decided that it must be a point system with full contact. The events have to be quite short and focused on delivering a remarkable show. A point system guarantees a style of fight approximately similar to sports Karate.

This is what we got used to in the last 30-40 years. Allowing athletes to make techniques with full contact, creates the possibility of winning by knockout. As a result it becomes much simpler and more understandable for spectators. Saying that, after 2 editions of WUKF Professional I see that we still didn’t fully achieve my aim. After every event we make changes in the rules, making it simpler and simpler. Learning is never an ending process and I’m happy that we improve every time.

See the full fight of WUKF Professional between Daniele Spremberg and Tamer Mourssy.

5 – Do you think WUKF Professional will change the history of Karate? How is to be part of this important moment?

PB – I strongly believe WUKF Professional is a turning point in the world of Karate. I feel honored and proud to be part of it. Especially that this platform really counterbalances Olympic Karate. WUKF Professional is something totally new and creates opportunity to go to another direction in sports Karate. What really amazed me in WUKF Professional is that we connected modern formula of presenting and conducting matches with the rules that were based on the old, great times. Back then Karate was truly respected by all martial art fans, because of it’s effectiveness. 

WUKF Professional 1 in February 2019 - Poland
WUKF 1 in February 2019 – Poland

6- Do you intend to fight in WUKF Professional?

PB – No! (laughs) Too many people say I would always win because I organized the rules most suitable for myself. I also think it is better if I focus on managing it, because it is a very responsible task. 

WUKF Professional 2 in November 2019, Poland
WUKF 2 in November 2019, Poland

7 – How has been the public reception regarding WUKF Professional?

PB – It was fantastic! We had over 30 000 viwers of WUKF 1 in social media channels and a majority of positive feedback. People praised the high quality of streaming (7 cameras, video review system) and the quality of our promotional videos. In WUKF Professional we are using 2 Polish companies: See TV and MA Vision. They are absolute amazing in what they do. The level of streaming is so good.

Soon we will start cooperating with a big TV channel, fully dedicated to martial arts. I’m sure that will also have great impact on WUKF Professional development. Every day, we have a lot of new people, who visit our websites karateprofessional.com and professional.wukf-karate.org. In addition, our social media channels have more and more followers every day. This is making me happy to see the fruits of our hard work.

The figthers at the WUKF professional aim for the KO.
The figthers at the WUKF professional aim for the KO.

8- I attended the first WUKF Professional event in Szczecin, Poland. I was impressed with the organization. Are you responsible for all the details, or is there a team in charge of that? What is your role within WUKF Professional today?

PB – Our team takes the responsibility for organizing events. I am the head of this group. That means to make plans and motivate them to work hard for the success of the event. In 2014 we organized WUKF World Championships in Poland. At that time, it was the biggest and the best WUKF event. On the Opening Ceremony we had opportunity to host the living legend, former President of Poland, and Nobel laureate Mr. Lech Wałęsa.

That event was such a success that after 6 years the WUKF Executive Committee decided to grand us the right to organize the WUKF World Championships 2020. Szczecin is therefore the only City in the WUKF history, which will host this event for the second time. This is a big honor for us, but also a big responsibility.

The entrance of  fighters at WUKF Professional - Athlete: Danielle Spremberg from Italy
The entrance of fighters. Athlete: Danielle Spremberg from Italy

We know that people expect only the highest level of competition, including accommodation, transport and catering. We will do our best to make the best Karate in the world.

Within WUKF Professional I am responsible for the Professional Karate formula. Our Professional Karate Commission includes me as a Chairman, Sean O’Brien from Ireland, Noel Mantock from England, Rajat Chakraborty from India and Valeriy Kusiy from Ukraine. We create the rules basied on feedback from the WUKF Professional Referee Commission. We also set the policy and media direction of WUKF Professional.

While WUKF Professional also wants to deliver a good show it does it with more humility than Karate Combat.
While WUKF Professional also wants to deliver a good show it does it with more humility than Karate Combat.

9- You strive to make Karate more professional like football, basketball, and mma. You also included Kata at this level. Do Kata competitions work under the same rules as regular competition?

PB – I believe that the Kata rules we created are as simple as possible. It is a one flag system. Free choice of kata, tokui, any style you like. There are some proposals to make 2 rounds, random choice of katas etc. We consider all options, as I believe we have to be open for the feedback of people.

Kata at WUKF Professional

10 – Could you simply clarify the rules of WUKF Professional in Kumite for us?

PB – In the shortest possible way: it is a point system in a shobu ippon spirit with full contact. The duration of a match is 3 rounds with 3 minutes each. There are 3 type of points: 

  • Yuko: 1 point normal type of action, which we are used to at a amateur competitions
  • Wazaari: 5 points awarded for a knockdown
  • Ippon: 10 points awarded for knockout
  • Awasete Ippon: awarded by referee for having 10 points lead on the opponent
  • Senmonteki Ippon, which is a technical knockout, awarded for creating situations where you opponent is clearly unable to fight
WUKF Professional: The fighters know what is expecting them.
WUKF Professional: The fighters know what is expecting them.

11 – In most karate competitions, there are weight divisions. Does WUKF PRO also have weight divisions?

PB – Yes, we have weight divisions. They are divided every 5 kg: from – 60 kg to +90 kg in male category and from – 50 to +65 kg in female category.

12 – How are the athletes selected to compete and what should they do if they are interested in competing?

PB – At first, athletes need to register on our website and pay the annual license fee for the WUKF account. During registration they fill out all the information about their amateur career, add contact data about their manager if they have one, etc. When competitors have registered they must wait until selection. They can also be active and try to persuade organizers to organize a contest for them. If a competitor is famous this will be easy, proposals are coming all the time. For not so famous fighters it is important to stay active and to have a skilled manager, who can arrange fights.

13- In the first event, despite the rules allowing the knockout, I had the impression that there were still remnants of traditional arbitration in the manner in which the points were scored. Already in the second event, I realized that the referees were stricter regarding the scores. The result was more intense fights. Breaks were not as frequent as in the previous event, increasing the possibility of knockouts in the fights. Will there be any changes to the rules for the next event worth sharing with us?

PB – Yes, after WUKF 2 we worked to change the points system. We will most probably remove the Wazaari for a knockdown. So, there will be no middle way between simple point and knockout. Another proposal is to make 2 types of points: 1 point and 2 points. We also consider awarding more points for using advanced techniques or for perfectly good actions.
Coming back to WUKF 2 and WUKF 1: During the first event the referees too easily awarded fighters with Yuko. On the WUKF 2 it went the other way: the points were not given when they should, in my opinion it was too strict.

Pawel Bombolewski in action during a Shobu Ippon match.
Pawel Bombolewski in action during a Shobu Ippon match.

It is important to find a balance and to understand what we are looking for in WUKF Professional Karate. But it is a process and we all learn. Rome wasn’t build in a day. For me it is obvious that the development will take some time.

But people in WUKF know very well that I am always looking for improvement and that I’m not afraid to test new technological solutions. I just want to mention some ideas for devices I invented this year like remote controls for rotation kumite used on the WUKF World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. I also invented a Video Review System used for the first time at the WUKF 1 in Poland.

14- We are all curious to know where and when the next event will be. Is there a date and place already established?

PB – WUKF 3 will be most probably held in Dublin on May 24, 2020. Mr. Sean O’Brien will be in charge for the event. He proved that he is a great organizer, managing a very succesfull WUKF World Championships in 2016. Now, he is looking for sponsors. After he has found them we will officially publish the poster of WUKF 3. Great news is also that we plan to conduct the first fights for a Professional World Champion title in Dublin. We are all excited to see great professional bouts in Ireland. And we are curious who will win a Champion’s belt!

WUKF PRO 1: Barry McAnulty vs David Carter

15 – Many Karate practitioners especially in Okinawa training Kata without the jacket. Does the fact that WUKF professional competitors do not wear the top of the uniform in Kumite have any special reason?

PB – It is obviously to show how muscles work. Of course we are not the pioneers here, being influenced by other sports, mostly by professional boxing.

16- What are your expectations for the future of Professional Karate?

PB – I expect that this modern formula will keep delivering to spectators a big show. It will be entertaining to watch the bouts. All kind of martial arts enthusiasts will enjoy it. I also predict that soon we will be able to pay even higher rewards to our best competitors. Also, I don’t out rule a Pay Per View option for WUKF Professional events in the future.

Full contact and knockouts are allowed at WUKF Professional.
Full contact and knockouts are allowed at WUKF Professional.

17- Sensei, thank you so much for sharing some of your time. If there is something you would like to share with us that is the right moment.

PB – I would like to invite all of you to watch the upcoming WUKF Professional gala and the biggest event in WUKF history: the 9th World Championships in Poland, July 1-5, 2020. I have to admit: organizing World Championships one month before the Olympic Games is quite a challenge. But I can assure you, you will not be disappointing. WUKF currently delivers the highest organizational level of competition and our competitors are not only great athletes. For the majority of them Karate is a way of life. This makes WUKF special. We are one big family!

Take downs are awarded with 5 points at WUKF Professional.
Take downs are awarded with 5 points at WUKF Professional.

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So Bad Do Shotokan Associations Treat Their National Team Members

To be a member of a national team for a Shotokan association is a honor. However, for some it also becomes a struggle and a burden. In the last few month, we talked to national team members and officials from different European associations about problems and how their superiors and the management body treats them. The stories we have heart indicated the existence of arbitrary decisions, exploitative behavior, and mental abuse in some Shotokan associations. Most of them involved abuse of power, enforcement of economic and politic interest or just show a lack of responsibility for the well being of national team members.

We do not know how widespread these problems are. However, we heart them from different, unconnected people with different backgrounds. In many cases we could not investigate further whether the stories hold water. But the similarity between the narratives suggest systemic flaws in a few European Shotokan associations. Thus, it is in the public interest to make this cases transparent, so that changes can take place, karateka raise their voices, and call for reforms.

Following we are going to present a list of incidences, which people reported to us.

Bring Your Own Money

National squad members, by definition, represent their country on a transnational and international level. Therefore, they have to travel. Especially, intercontinental flights and accommodation in hotels can become highly expensive. For some national squad members this can lead to a heavy financial burden.

Amateur League

Unlike in the WKF the vast majority of national squad members in “traditional” Shotokan associations belong to the group of amateurs. As a result, they do not receive any payment for their activities. This leads in some cases to financially difficulties when, for instance, unpaid vacation days have to be take for travel. In many more cases the karatekas have to cover all the expenses to represent their country abroad, too. And a World Championship can easily generate costs of up to 3000 USD or even more. The costs for the preparation like national team training camps etc. are excluded from this calculation.

Some members cannot effort such amounts. Thus, they depend on the support of their associations. But some refuse to help.

In one case, which was reported to us from a central European country, team members had to beg in the streets of their hometown for donations in order to finance their attendance at a World Championship. Both team members studied at that time. Therefore, money was a scares. However, the association denied any financial help. It also prohibited any external sponsoring because they deemed it as a corruption of the Do. Eventually, the team members ended up asking strangers for money to finance their trip. Because the cost were so high that even their families were not willing to pay all of it.

When Money becomes Retracted

In another case an association retracted its financial support two days before the members had to book their flights. Some team members asked their families and friends. Other used their savings.

Different peoples from different countries reported stories like that. All of them also reported that the associations did not have financial problems at that time. The opposite was the case. In one case they estimated that the national Chief instructor earned up to 150.000 Euros annually since he started this position in the 1970´s.

Actually, Money is not the Issue

In another case the association received financial support from government sources and the National Olympic Committee because it also wanted to let its team start at the Olympics. However, the money drained within the body of officials and the management. Even the national head coaches had to pay for airfare to international tournaments.

For some karateka this not just creates a financial but also mental burden. Shame and stress can occur. To have to decided between representing ones country or whether using the saving for the next notebook, car, or vacation causes tremendous stress. And the team members feel left alone with this problem. That has a huge effect on their performance during tournaments but also on their mental well-being and relationship to the association. Because it undermines their sense of fairness.

Arbitrary Decision Making and More

Another topic in the reports we received revolved around arbitrary, nontransparent, and politically motivated decision making. In some cases this can also become some sort of mental abuse.

Changing Decisions Randomly

For instance, one karateka told us how he traveled to the World Championship with the expectation to start both in kata and kumite. On the day before the competition, the coach told him he would not start in kata although he focused on this discipline during his preparation. No reason was given. For the karateka the whole situation felt more than stressful because he competed also for the first time on an international level.

Too Much Alcohol

Other team members also reported about alcohol abuse of national head coaches and members of the management board. Their superiors forced them to drink alcohol to excess. The coaches also drunk to excess and forced them to do kumite with them. Even stories of drinking games, which head coaches initiated, reached this editorial office. The most disturbing case apparently took place in a hotel room. One of the coaches forced his athletes to hit him as much as they could. According to the witness he wanted to prove the toughness of his generation and that they could stand more pain than the younger karateka.

Others reported how the national head coaches forced them to entertain them during parties. They had to perform kata and kumite on tables and under the influence of alcohol. Not taking part in drinking games meant exclusion from the team.

All of the team members, who reported to us, felt coerced, used, and in some cases abused. They also expected retaliation and other negative consequences if they did not comply to wishes of their coaches and superiors. For some the experiences they made regarding alcohol during their time a team members lead the to the conclusion to never drink alcohol again.

The Case of Roisin Akimoto

The most disturbing case of weird behavior against a national team member took place this summer. It happened between Roisin Akimoto and the technical committee of JKA England. We use the names of the people involved in this case because an email conversation between Roisin and Tony Cronk, Head of JKA England, has been made public on Facebook in July 2019. It can also be found on an anonymous google drive. The email conversation is also available to this editorial office.

To give a brief background: Roisin had been a very successful competitor on an national and international level for JKA England. Her mother was also part of the management board of JKA England but retired this year.

The Email of Dismissal

On May 8, 2019, Tony Cronk wrote an email to Roisin informing her that she will not be considered for further deployments at international tournaments. She was also dismissed from her duties as a national team member. The technical committee decided to remove her. As a reason Tony Cronk mentioned:

When attending competitions squad members are representing our Association
and must remain professional and courteous to everyone regardless of any
personal feelings they may hold. In addition, whilst on the tatami we demand
that our members perform to the best of their ability and uphold the spirit of the
competition.

He referred to Roisins alleged behavior during the last JKA European Championship in Stavanger, Norway, 2019. On the first glimpse this statement indicates that the demeanor of Roisin must have been extremely out of place.

No Explanation Given

However, the head and assistant coach of the team provided a letter that praised her professionalism and friendliness during the whole tournament. Even more disturbing is the fact that no hearing took place. Roisin did not have the chance to comment the allegations and to explain herself. The technical committee reached a decision without considering her side of the story. They used Tony Cronk as intermediary to convey the dismissal to Roisin. Even on her repeated request for an explanation, she did not receive one:

After 15 years of an impeccable competition record for JKA England may I ask why such a brutal decision was made about me without a detailed explanation, an avenue of defence or a formal process? May I also ask why, when the grounds for my dismissal were not because I had broken any rules, which Sensei Ohta stated in our conversation, that I was dismissed? It is difficult for me to understand how this conclusion was reached given that so many squad members before have flagrantly broken squad and JKA England rules without any repercussions.

We inquired. We contacted Roisin and the technical committee. While Roisin replied to us she could not comment on the incident any further. Too stressful and painful was the whole issue for her. She just wanted to leave it behind her and to move on with her life – a life after karate.

The Issue Seems to be Bigger

The technical committee did not reply on our inquiry in July 2019 at all. Therefore, we can only speculate what drove them to their decision. As Roisin in one of her emails to Tony Cronk stated, the retirement of her mother might have been of bigger influence as expected:

I had heard, but neither in detail nor at the time it happened, that my Mother had retired from her role in JKA England. Sensei Ohta said to me during our conversation that her decision to retire from JKA England was a deciding factor in my dismissal. As you know, I’ve lived in Japan for almost 9 years and my distance from the UK often means that my Mother doesn’t tell me about what is going on. After hearing briefly about her retirement and the subsequent tensions that ensued, I was not in a position to be able to fully comprehend the sensitivity of the situation within the Association. Therefore, in order not to appear to be trying to cause further tension, I felt it appropriate to maintain a low profile at the JKA European Championships by focusing on instruction from Squad coaches and supporting other squad members given the position I was in.

According to her tensions between one member of the technical committee and her, which date back to 2014, might also had an influence.

Without having all the facts it seems to be an odd behavior by the technical committee of JKA England to dismiss one of the most accomplished national team members. Regardless of what really happened it shows the asymmetry of power between officials and team members.

Power Asymmetry and the Need for Reforms

The cases presented to us have one thing in common: The karatekas had almost no options to defend themselves against the associations and behaviors of superiors. Ombudsman or procedures for complaints were not in place. In opposite to professional athletes they did not have managers and attorneys who could defend them. Their motive to represent their countries, to challenge themselves, their will to be loyal and to obey, and to become famous made them easy victims for exploitation and abuse.

While the mentioned cases are only anecdotal evidence they should sharpen everybody’s perception for the problem. In some associations a need for reforms has emerged. Other associations are managed well, national team members have a voice, and a system of checks and balances is in place. The first step, however, is to become aware that the problem exist.

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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.

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Who got Promoted in the JKA? The Official List

The JKA held its annual Spring Camp on April 11 to 14, 2019. During the event, the official award ceremony for the promotion of higher Dan ranks took place. We reported about the promotion of a 10th Dan to Ueki Masaaki.

Beside Ueki Masaaki several other instructors were promoted. Due to fact that the names of the awardees were not announced publicly we inquired at the JKA HQ and received the following list from the press office. The Shihankai Meeting on February 16, 2018 decided to award:

10th Dan

  • Ueki Masaaki

9th Dan

  • Sakai Ryusuke
  • Kano Tadahiko
  • Koyama Shojiro

8th Dan

  • Kawasaki Isao
  • Mera Junichi
  • Machida Yoshizo
  • Inoue Mitsuo
  • Kawazoe Masao
  • Aoki Osamu
  • Ogura Yasunori

Congratulations to all awardees, oss!

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Video of Ueki Masaaki´s 10th Dan Promotion

The Facebook page, The Martial Way, published footage from the 10th Dan promotion ceremony of Ueaki Masaaki. According to rumors did the ceremony take place on April 10, 2019. The video was published 12 hours ago on Facebook.

Link to the video!

Videos an pictures of other Promotions also appeared on the internet. Yoshizo Machida, for instance, was awarded the 8th Dan. The Shotokan Times will keep you updated.

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Official Answer of the JKA-HQ about Ueki Masaaki´s 10th Dan

Ueki Masaaki Shihan might had become the the first 10th Dan holder in the history of the JKA, as we have reported last week. We came to this conclusion because the website of the JKA indicated the award. However, no public announcement was made.

Speculations About Awarding of 10th Dan to Ueki Masaaki

Right after our report speculations occurred. Some supposed that it was high time for Shihan Masaaki to receive the award because Hirokazu Kanazawa and Teruyuki Okazaki already had been awarded 10th Dan. They are the same generation like Ueki Masaaki. Thus, the award was only consequential.

Others asserted that the award was given because of internal promotions within the Shihankai of the JKA. Takeshi Oishi, for instance, was awarded the 9th Dan. In order to maintain the hierarchy within the organization the promotion of Shihan Masaaki was a necessary step.

Message to JKA HQ: Why Did Ueki Masaaki Received the 10th Dan?

We wanted to know it directly from the JKA-HQ. That is why we wrote an email to the headquarter and asked about a statement. Yesterday, we received the short answer. The JKA-HQ wrote:

“Shihan Ueki was awarded 10th dan by recommendation of Shihankai. The first and second chief instructors were given the award too.”

As the most of you have speculated, it was an internal decision. Why the JKA did not report about it, is still up for speculation. But it seems theoretically plausible that such a forced promotion due to hierarchical and/or seniority reasons is not deemed as prestigious and honorable by the JKA in comparison to a granting of a 10th Dan by the Kokusai Budoin like Hirokazu Kanazawa received.

Why Was Decided This Way?

One would expect the JKA to utilize and explain this huge step. Because it is an important selling-argument for such an organization and a decision that only takes place every few decades. In the history of Shotokan, only a handful of people have hold a 10th Dan. The awarding should therefore be something special and highly valued. Under those kind if circumstances it seems odd that the JKA did not announce the award. We again requested an official press release by the JKA in which they might explain the decision and to prove all speculations wrong. The answer is still pending.

However, for many JKA members this might also been sad. The social media response on our report showed that many had wished to celebrate the award with Shihan Masaaki. Some might also be disappointed because the JKA did not inform its members about the decision. That reveals a gap between the Shihankai and the members. Some members might have felt left out although they are strongly committed to the organization, its values, and their chief instructor. We hope the JKA finds a way to solve this issue.

If we receive further information we will report immediately.