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Miki Suetsugu – Women of Shotokan

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu doing a Shuto Uke.

Miki Suetsugu is a real powerhouse. As karateka she prefers kumite and has won the kumite title at the All Japan Championship 2001. She likes shobu Ippon because it comes close to self-defense. On the other hand, Miki-san has an incredible intellectual and academic record. She holds a position as associate professor at the sports and health department at Komazawa University.

However, although her successes suggest that she never faced any difficulties in her life, Miki Suetsugu experienced challenges. As a child she was “introvert and never succeed[ed]”. She first had to learn to “not give up, good things would come.” Later in her karate career and after she became a mother she suffered an injury. The outlook to never practice karate like before caused a mental depression. But she overcome all setbacks and has grown stronger than before.

Today, she fights for equal rights of men and women in karate. To do so she uses her academic skills to conduct a survey about the “Current Situation of Women Involved in Karate”. The results shall shed light on the difficulties women face who practice karate during different life-stages. Miki Suetsugu is currently looking for international participants in the survey. The Shotokan Times supports the study.

We invite you to let yourself become inspired by this very personal and enriching portrait of Miki Suetsugu. She is not just a champion and great academic, she is also a very humble, thoughtful, and dedicated role model for karate men and women alike.

Portrait of Miki Suetsugu

The picture shows a portrait of Miki Suetsugu.
Miki Suetsugu
  • Name: Miki SUETSUGU (Miki INOKOSHI) 
  • Age: 40
  • Karate since: 1985
  • Origin and residence: Saga/Japan
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank: 
  • 6th Dan certified by JAPAN KARATEDO FEDERATION
  • Dojo: KOMAZAWA UNIVERSITY & SEIKUJUKU (My husband’s dojo)
The picture shows Miku Suetsugu and her husband Yusuke Inokoshi.
Miki Suetsugu and her husband Yusuke Inokoshi.

Additional information (member of a national team, coach, board member of a Dojo, highest achievements, etc.):

  • Associate Professor, Department of Sport and Health Science of KOMAZAWA UNIVERSITY 
  • A member of Japan Society of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences
  • Member of Japanese Academy of Budo
  • Member of Japan Society for Sport and Gender Studies
  • Representative of JAPAN KARATE ASSOCIATION (Representative of a head office direct control group) 
  • KOMAZAWA UNIVERSITY Karate Do Club Coach
  • Triple 1st  place Kumite Women, Team Kata, and Team Kumite at the 44th National Championship Tournament 2001 
  • 5th place Kumite Women, 45th National Championship Tournament 2002 
  • 7th place Kata Women, 45th National Championship Tournament 2002
  • 2nd place Team Kumite, 47th National Championship Tournament 2007 

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Miki Suetsugu: When I was six years old, a friend of my mother visited our home with her child. They wore dogi uniforms and showed me Heian Shodan. This was the impetus through which my older sister and I began karate at a nearby dojo. The dojo was of a high caliber, with many national champions among its members. For this reason, I was able to start my life as a karate practitioner in an excellent environment. The sensei of the dojo emphasized kihon. The fact that I was taught the kihon at that time still serves me well today.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the 44th All Japan Championship 2001.
Miki Suetsugu at the 44th All Japan Championship 2001

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Miki Suetsugu: I like the emphasis on shobu ippon in kumite matches. The rules at the WKF were amended when karate-do was adopted as an Olympic sport. Together with this, the concept of ippon was greatly altered. Within the present kumite match rules at the WKF, points are added based on the variety of the waza instead of the strength of the waza:

  • jodan geri, etc. are three points – ippon,
  • chudan geri, etc. are two points – waza ari, and a
  • tsuki waza is one point – yuko.

As the Olympics take into account the interest of the audience, it might be said that these rules were devised to be understood more easily by amateurs (easy in terms of determining the basis for superiority and inferiority). But for me as an experienced practitioner of karate, the current WKF matches are not very interesting. I feel that the ippon concept that emerged from budo has changed, and the strength and maneuvering of the waza, the zanshin, the beauty of the form, etc., has weakened. The rules of judo have changed in a number of ways, but not in the same way as karate-do where the points change based on the type of waza.

The ippon judgement standard, which is based on the strength of the waza, has not changed. One can say the system of point alteration based on waza is a unique feature of the WKF. Thus, karate-do became a sport. The important rei aspect in budo has become a shell of its former self. I will speak more on this later. While I think the WKF decision to turn karate into into a sport is fantastic for the future of the discipline, I am more intrigued by the shobu ippon of the JKA, an organization that places importance on tradition.

In addition, I support the fact the JKA has not introduced weight divisions. From a self-defense perspective, I think the shobu ippon of the JKA is more practical. The fact that it places emphasis on shobu ippon matches in the same manner as other martial arts (kendo and judo), based on a comprehensive evaluation of considerations such as the strength of the waza, balance and zanshin, is to me interesting and appealing.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu and the Komazawa University Team after the 57th All Japan Championship 2014.
Miki Suetsugu and the Komazawa University Team after the 57th All Japan Championship 2014.

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

Miki Suetsugu: This is not limited to Shotokan. Limited activity on the part of women and limited activity spaces for women are a problems across karate-do. I am engaged in child-rearing and experience mental conflict every day. I cannot be as active as I was when I was single. My husband, Yusuke Inokoshi, and my parents-in-law have an understanding of karate. Therefore, I am blessed with an environment where I can be active. Nevertheless, I have a limited amount of time to be active. I wondered if other women experienced even greater difficulties, so I conducted a survey targeting women involved in karate-do.*

Recently, we created spaces where women play a central role, such as seminars and other events. But we have made very few appointments of women to decision-making bodies. Upon analyzing my own experiences and the results of the survey I felt the karate-do system as a whole to be male-centric. Women, who cannot coordinate their time in the same way as men, face significant difficulties. While one might say that the number of female competitors is increasing, the overall environment is not improving. We still need to address issues in fostering female executives, instructors, referees, etc.

* I have included a copy of the “Summary of Results for the Questionnaire Targeting Japanese Respondents” for your reference.

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

Miki Suetsugu: My best experience was in 2001. In my fourth year at university, I won the individual kumite and team kata and kumite events at the National Championship Tournament. In particular, at the finals held at Nippon Budokan many people supported me. I was very happy to see those people celebrating my victory. When I was in elementary school, I was an introvert and never succeed. However, this was also the time in which I taught myself that if I did not give up, good things would come. Most of the national level group I learned karate with at the dojo quit. But I continued steadily training, all the while thinking, “Am I not suited for karate?”.  I attribute my success to this.

My worst experience came three years after I became a mother. When I restarted my keiko (training) and injured myself. I constantly trained six years old until I became pregnant. However, I could not conceptualize the deterioration of my physical strength following the period without training. This was the cause of my injury. I was impatient with the difference between my personal ideal and my actual performance. In my all-out drive I tore a muscle performing a mae geri.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.
Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.

While I had experienced injuries before, this injury was due to the reality that my physical strength had deteriorated. Realizing this I fell into a mental depression as well. However, I learned many things as a result of this injury. I realized I was no longer at an age at which I could achieve the impossible, that there were levels to things, and that my physical strength and endurance had deteriorated. As a result of this injury I was able to once again come face-to-face with myself.

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

Miki Suetsugu: I was planning to participate in competitions and undergo a rank promotion examination in 2019. But I had to abandon this plan due to an injury. Since then I have been preparing myself a little at a time. When I was injured, my husband said, “While you won’t return to normal immediately after the time off, you resolutely practiced the kihon for many years. You won’t just all of a sudden get bad at it.” While my body did not move as I envisioned, and I came close to faltering many times, these words allowed me to regain my confidence.

My old teacher, Takeshi Oishi, is now more than 70 years old. But he still hits the makiwara and kicks the sandbag. I learned the importance of this, not through words, but with my own eyes. Shihan Oishi taught me the importance of continuing keiko without saying a word. This has become my motivation when I engage in karate-do.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the Komazawa University Gasshuku  in Miyagi in 2004. Together with her on the picture: Oishi Shihan, Kurihara, Okuie, Sugiyama, Inokoshi.
Miki Suetsugu at the Komazawa University Gasshuku in Miyagi in 2004. Together with her on the picture: Oishi Shihan, Kurihara, Okuie, Sugiyama, Inokoshi.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person? 

Miki Suetsugu: From an early age, I was an introverted person, who did not continue educational activities for long. The exception to this was karate, which I have continued learning non-stop for over 30 years.  I cannot explain why this was the case. If one were to ask me if I like karate, I would not have an answer. However, there must be some reason why I have continued until now. I suppose almost everyone at the dojo where I began karate thought I lacked talent in this area. And I was aware of this more than anyone.

As a result of my decision to practice karate, I continued without a break. I learned what it means to not quit, to not answer immediately, to continue, and to believe in myself. Because of this I believe I have achieved considerable growth as a person. In addition, I was able to come to understand the fun of keiko with my fellow practitioners. Keiko also taught me to overcome difficulties. Those experiences serve me well today. And I also still have many personal relationships in and through karate.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu doing a Shuto Uchi.
Miki Suetsugu doing a Shuto Uchi.

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

Miki Suetsugu: One thing I learned in karate is “Rei.” When I first started learning karate, rei was mandatory in the dojo. I always performed rei (the bowing motion) as part of my conduct. At graduate school I conducted research about rei in order to answer why it has been so important in budo.

From the Confucian text Book of Rites: “The rei was established in ancient China, and it possesses a lubricating effect that harmonizes human relationships. People have used the rei from days long past to rectify order within society.” The format of the rei is not only an outward expression of bowing. It also possesses a meaning of placing importance on wa, the concept of joining personal demeanor in a space occupied by multiple persons.

In budo there is a maxim, “Do not be prideful of winning, or resentful of losing; always maintain a moderate attitude.” Within karate-do we have many instances where people come into contact. Without rei, personal feelings would throw the space into disorder. In some matches, the tsuki and keri can become violent. I learned that the rei is the strict observance of the standards, rules and manners that exist within the one-to-one personal relationship of “opponent and self,” and the practical application of the mental strength to continually preserve a feeling of respect for one’s opponent.

While it is difficult to remain in the same state regardless of losing or winning (to not express one’s emotions outwardly), I was able to learn this attitude through karate-do. My personal interpretation of the reason that so tradition places importance on rei in budo and karate-do has helped me in building personal relationships in my daily life. Rei places importance on the wa of human relationships. Putting the rei to practical use has helped me in a wide range of circumstances. But I am still lacking in my training. In particular it is difficult to practice the rei toward my husband and son. In this I am quite self-reflective. As communication skills are necessary in life, I hope to further develop the rei I learned in karate-do and enable myself to develop as a person.

The Picture shows Miki Suetsugu doing a Choku-Zuki.
Miki Suetsugu doing Choku-Zuki.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

About 20 years ago, I studied tai chi on the recommendation of Shihan Oishi. In my keiko training to that time I was cognizant of how to move my upper body with speed and strength. But in encountering tai chi I became cognizant of my lower body. Tai chi is very slow-paced and has no kime. The unique body movements in tai chi are very difficult, and if your lower body in particular is not balanced you will quickly totter when trying to adjust your weight.

When I first began learning tai chi I understood it to be a discipline separate from karate. When I performed a kata with the kiko of the slow tai chi manner it was quite difficult, and I discovered I could not perform as I had to that point. When moving from zenkutsu to zenkutsu, moving slowly results in my upper body faltering and I cannot perform the finer parts that were being tricked by the speed.  As a repeated the keiko training in which I was cognizant of my lower body I realized my upper body, especially my posture, was in balance. In kumite keiko training as well, I am constantly cognizant of my lower body. Especially during kumite the strain in my upper body has disappeared. The initial motions have lessened considerably, and I sense increased sturdiness in my body trunk.

I can perform the quick motions with relative ease, but now that I can slowly move my upper body without wavering, I have even come to think I may have mastered a waza.

Through my experiences in tai chi I have come to gain an awareness of the importance of the lower body and the difficulty of moving slowly. The scope of my keiko training has broadened considerably and I have rediscovered the deep complexity of karate.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu showing the kumite glove.
Miki Suetsugu showing the kumite glove.

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

Miki Suetsugu: As I am currently on parental leave, I cannot attend keiko at Komazawa University. My short-term goal is to return to teaching and keiko as soon as possible. I also want to get myself back into a condition that allows me to train together with the students. It will become increasingly important to consider how to make time for my physical strength, conditioning, and keiko in daily life. Consulting with my husband and family, I would like to block time for this and get back to work quickly.

My long-term goal is to continue keiko throughout my entire life like Shihan Oishi. Shihan Oishi taught us not only with words, but also through actual movements. Now that I am in a teaching position, I can tell how difficult this was. In Shotokan, we have many elderly sensei who instruct through movement. Moving forward I would like to train my body to be able to move together with the students, with the goal being “lifelong keiko.”

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Miki Suetsugu: JKA has many members, even those only within Japan, and even more globally. This is proof of Shotokan Karate’s attractiveness as a method for personal refinement. Karate-do has been selected as an Olympic event, which has created a great deal of enthusiasm. My expectation is that after the Olympics there will be a growth in interest in karate-do as it relates to tradition.

The picture shows Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.
Miki Suetsugu at the 4th COLUMBUS 1492 Friendly Karate Competition 2019 Italy.

I hope we will have an increase in the number of enthusiasts involved in karate-do who view it not as “sport karate,” but rather as a lifelong pursuit that conveys knowledge built up by our predecessors. At the same time, I am hopeful for the construction of a keiko and match system that can accommodate people in a wide variety of environments.

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

Miki Suetsugu: Of course I would recommend it. Shotokan Karate is dynamic and symmetric in its approach to teaching tsuki, keri, and other aspects. For that reason, it is ideal as a training method for improving leg, back, and torso strength, as well as one’s posture. 

I know of a recent public university course called, “Karate Classroom for Women.” Some of the women that first encountered karate-do through that course continue keiko today. Some women began after turning 40. Some women continue keiko even after getting their black belt. Their comments included the following:

“I can participate without overexerting myself.”
“Karate releases stress.”
“I don’t have any goal in mind.”

While we have a tendency to think of karate as an activity performed alone, we have opportunities to interact with people we train with at the dojo, as well as people you meet at competitions and other events. These interactions are some of life’s treasures. I also think it is nice that you can return after a off-period. I have many acquaintances who left karate after having a child. But we promised each other to start keiko together again after things settled down. Shotokan is like a home, and you can always come.

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Masao Kagawa: The Competitor and Teacher

The picture shows Masao Kagawa. In the 1990´s he bet students during training with a Kendo Shinai.

Masao Kagawa belongs to the most prominent Shotokan karate instructors of today. Two things made this prominence possible: Firstly, his media presents. A myriad of explanatory videos on YouTube and Facebook have introduced him to a global audience. Secondly, he is without exaggeration one of the best technicians and competitors of his generation, who came out of the Japan Karate Association (JKA). As winner of numerous titles and graduate of the JKA instructors course he has developed into one of the best instructors in the world. By Patrick Donkor, Dr. Christian Tribowski, and Dr. Jeff Christian

In addition, he is also one of the most influential personalities in the karate world. Executing influence in the realm of traditional karate and sports karate. He bridges this gap by being head of the Japan Karate Shoto-Renmai and as Chair of the technical committee of the WKF.

Early Life of Masao Kagawa

Masao Kagawa was born June 8, 1955 in Osaka, Japan. His older brother, Masayoshi, was eleven years older and would eventually become like a father to him. In 1965 at only 10 years old, Kagawa’s father died. Five years later, his mother passed away as well. It was then that his brother Masayoshi who became his guardian and his role model for starting karate.

Masayoshi Kagawa teaching kihon in Osaka.

Years later in 1972, Masao Kagawa traveled to Tokyo to watch his brother compete at the Budokan, the home of Japanese martial arts. This was the first time he had left Osaka. While his brother practiced karate and took part in competitions, he preferred to play baseball instead. This preference changed, however, when he saw his brother became victorious in the Budokan.

The tournament held in the Budokan was nothing but the 15th All Japan JKA Championships. In the final kumite bout his brother fought against nobody less than Yoshiharu Osaka, one of the best technician Shotokan karate has ever produced. The victory of his brother made him want to train karate. So, he gave up his pursuit of a baseball career and started to learn Shotokan.

Beginnings in Karate Training

His brother became the first teacher of Masao Kagawa. Masayoshi taught in the JKA branch in Osaka and his training could become very tough. This hardness took a toll on Masao Kagawa. During the years, his brother trained him he suffered several injuries, including a broken nose and broken teeth.

But he was dedicated to become an excellent karateka. Therefore, he enrolled at Teikyo University in 1976 to study Law. In the first place, however, he enrolled at Teikyo University because it Karate Club had a reputation for its traditional Karate program. It also had a long history producing champions, especially for the national team. The Chief Instructor was Keigo Abe, who had been a senior to Kagawa’s older brother. Abe had gained fame as an exceptional karate technique.

Joining the JKA Instructors Program and Becoming Champion

After graduating with a degree in Law, Kagawa stayed at Teikyo University in 1980 to pursuit a postgraduate degree. Three years later in 1983, he, however, decided to become a professional karate teacher and enrolled on the JKA Instructors Course. As a result he received training from Masatoshi Nakayama,  Tetsuhiko AsaiMasahiko Tanaka, Masaaki Ueki, and Keigo Abe.

Masao Kagawa in the JKA instructors program

Kagawa had started competing around 1974. At university he competed at the Kanto University Championships for Teikyo University and won several medals. But his excellence came to light in his professional career because of the influenced of Tetsuhiko Asai and Mikio Yahara. He always watched them during training sessions, learning from their relaxed, dynamic techniques. Between 1983 to 1991 he always featured in the top three positions of all competitions he entered. In 1985 Kagawa emulated his older brother, Masayoshi, by winning the individual kumite title at the 28th JKA All Japan Championships. He also won the kata event, becoming Grand Champion. He retired from active competition around 1991 eventually.

Major Tournament Successes of Masao Kagawa

His major tournament successes include:

  • IAKF World Championships, Team Kata – 1st place (1983)
  • Shoto Cup, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • World Games, Individual Kata – 1st place 1990)
  • World Games, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place (1985, 1990, 1991)
  • JKA All Japan Championships, Individual Kumite – 1st place (1985, 1989, 1990, 1991)
  • Grand Champion of the JKA All Japan Championships – (1985)
Masao Kagawa during the JKA All Japan Championships 1985 against Ogura Sensei

Masao Kagawa´s Separation From the JKA

After Masatoshi Nakayama´s Death in 1987 the Tokyo businessmen, Nobuyuki Nakahara became Chairman of the JKA. As a result some instructors, led by Tetsuhiko Asai, disagreed with the appointment. The JKA split into two opposing fractions. One was the Matsuno and the other the Nakahara fraction. The Matsuno supported Asai and included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Mikio Yahara, and Kagawa. Nakahara fraction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Masahiko Tanaka. Both fractions referred to themselves as the JKA.

The picture shows Masao Kagawa.
Masao Kagawa

This dispute about the true heirs of the Nakayama JKA caused a ten-year legal battle. The Nakahara fraction received the right of the sole use of the JKA name in 1999, following a Japanese High Court ruling. As a result, the Matsuno fraction left the JKA and soon split into three groups:

  • The Japan Karate Shoto-Renmai (JKS) led by Tetsuhiko Asai
  • Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
  • The Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Mikio Yahara

Kagawa joined the group led by Asai.

In 2006 former JKA Chief Instructor, Tetsuhiko Asai, died. Kagawa was eventually asked lead Asai’s JKS. Under his guidance the organization has grown into one of the biggest and most influential.

Successes as Coach

Beside his engagement with the JKA Kagawa also became the Chief Instructor of the Teikyo University Karate Club. Using the knowledge, he gained from being a top competitor, he began producing the next group of Japanese world beaters. The crop of new talent included Koji Arimoto, Takato Souma, and Takumi Sugino.

With a wealth of experience, he became a coach in the Japanese National Team. At the 2004 World Championships, held in Monterrey, Mexico, he coached Shinji Nagaki kumite gold, in the 70 kg event.

Kagawa’s coaching success continued at the 2012 World Championships held in Paris, France. He coached the Japanese Men’s kata team to gold medals consisting of his proteges Koji Arimoto, Takato Souma, and Takumi Sugino. In the final they performed the kata Unsu.

Watch the full performance of the Japanese Team.

Masao Kagawa´s Relationship to the JKF and WKF

Masao Kagawa continued his close association with the Japanese National Team as a coach. Consequently he became the Chairman of the National Coach Committee of the Japan Karate Federation. In this capacity he also developed a close association with the World Karate Federation (WKF). In 2014 he became Chairman of the Technical Committee of the WKF. He took over from Tsuguo Sakumoto.

Kagawa’s aim as Chairman of the WKF Technical Committee was to see Karate become an Olympic sport. Consequently he has been at the forefront of pushing this to happen. On August 3, 2016 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Karate would be one of the new sports making their Olympic debut at the 2020 Games to be held in Tokyo, Japan. This has divided opinion in the karate world.

As a result, some see this as a slippery slope, a sign that karate is losing its budo soul. However, proponents of karate’s inclusion feel that it may lead to an increase interest in karate. To clarify, Kagawa firmly believes that Olympic recognition should not have an impact on traditional Karate.

Masao Kagawa: A Competitor and Teacher

In general, he sees Karate as a mentoring tool for young people. His educational engagement was awarded with an Mizuno Sports Mentor Award in 2013. Apart from being the Chief Instructor at Teikyo University, he is also a board member of the Kanto Area University Student Karate-Do Federation.

Their cannot be any doubt that Masao Kagawa is one of the best technicians to come out of the JKA. Although people recognize him more as a phenomenal competitor, he is a traditionalist at heart. This can be seen by the bunkai he demonstrates at the numerous seminars and courses he conducts around the world.

Above all he is an example to all karateka that karate is a lifelong pursuit and not just a competitive sport for the young. Now in his 60´s he is still a formidable opponent. Due to his highly influential position we can be sure that he will guide and govern the development of karate in general and Shotokan in particular for at least another decade. This will give him a place between grand master of Shotokan.

Further Reading: Masao Kagawa autobiography can be found here.

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Ayano Nakamura: The New Queen of Kata

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

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

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

Ayano Nakamura

Ayano Nakamura: The Kata Prodigy

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

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

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

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

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

Secret of Ayano Nakamura: Mental Strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ayano Nakamura´s Value of Shotokan Karate

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

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

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

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

Karate-Do Representative for All Nippon Airways

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

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

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

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

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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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Miki Nakamachi – Women of Shotokan

The picture shows Miki Nakamachi in a bamboo forrest.

Miki Nakamachi has both: An strong sense of budo and a splendid posture. She also teaches both in an admirable way. Although she has suffered one of the greatest losses, a human being can experience, she did not give up and fought her way back. Today, she is a mother of two, runs her own stretching studio, promotes Karate for women and children, and strives to become the next JKA World Champion. Karate has been giving her the strength to stand the downs and to set course for new ups in life. Read this wonderful, insightful, open, and moving interview with Miki Nakamachi – a true woman of Shotokan. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

“Karate continues to teach me the meaning of life.”

Miki Nakamachi

Brief Portrait

  • Name: Miki Nakamachi
  • Age: 32
  • Karate since: 5 years old
  • Origin and residence: Born and raised in Kobe. Presently residing in Yokohama
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank: 4th dan
  • Dojo: Houkukan Shibuya dojo

Additional information:

  • JKA National team 2011
  • JKA National team 2014
  • JKA National team 2019
  • Funakoshi Gichin Cup 13th Karate World Championship Tournament 2014 Woman’s Individual Kata First Place
  • 55th, 56th and 57th (2012, 2013, 2014) JKA All Japan Karate Championship Women’s Individual Kata First Place
  •  Coach of the Keio University Karate club (2012- present)

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Miki Nakamachi: I remember my brother and my father going to karate practice wearing their karate dogi.

My brother’s belt kept changing colors.

First, it was just curiosity. I wanted to do what my brother was doing. I remember doing my first punches in my parent’s bedroom with my father. He said, “if you really want to start, I will take you to the dojo, but once you start you can not quit until you get your black belt.”  My father has always been a great sensei to me.

  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi with her siblings and her father.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi doing kata as a little girl.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi with her father.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Miki Nakamachi: I like the simplicity, the powerful “Kime” and the hip movement.

 I think Shotokan Karate teaches us how to use our body while keeping it relaxed.

Also, because of our wide stances, it pushes us to really use our core, think about our breathing and posture. The basic movements are both beautiful and powerful at the same time because we are using our whole body weight to make “Kime”.

Miki Kata training under the guidance of Sensei
Kobayashi Kunio

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

Miki Nakamachi: I used to not like practicing in the winter. In Japan, we usually practice in school gyms.

During the winter, the floor feels like ice, and we basically lose all feeling in our feet.

I used to get blisters all the time and it was horrible because you don’t notice it until the end of the practice when you are just getting warmer.

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

Miki Nakamachi: The Shoto world cup 1998 in France was one of the most eye opening experiences for me. I was 11 years old and it was my first overseas tournament. I remember the colorful flags and people from different ages all warming up. And even though Karate is a Japanese martial art, it was so amazing to feel the connection of people from around the world. It was so nice to see how Karate brings everyone together. As a young girl, I remember being so moved by the idea that all the “Karateka” practiced the same Japanese martial art and that we all understood each other through the non verbal language of karate.

  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi performing kata during a tournament.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi in front of a JKA flag.

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

Miki Nakamachi: Training is always challenging. When I was young, I used to think about how I could take more breaks during practice. Sometimes I used my Asthma as an excuse to get out half the practice.  Now in my busy schedule with taking care of my daughters and working at my studio, I treasure every moment that I can get to practice. I give my all in every punches and kicks because I appreciate my family and friends for watching my daughters while practicing. My motivation is my daughters, and the idea about showing them the importance of finding your passion.

  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi after winning the JKA All Japan Championships together with her daugther.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi together with her daugthers.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi´s daugthers.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi together with her daugthers.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Miki Nakamachi: Compared to my sister and brother, I would say I was less of a challenger. I was always shy. 

I think karate has made me braver and stronger so that I could push and challenge myself.

As an adult Karate continues to teach me the meaning of life. Karate helps me to see myself objectively and it has helped me control my emotions and my actions.

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

Miki Nakamachi: Karate has always been there for me. When I need to be focused on what is in front of me, I was able to do this because Karate helps to focus on the “now”.  Three years ago, I lost my middle child two days after he was born.  It is hard for anyone to go through a lost of a child and everyone has their own time to mourn. I know for me, having a goal and thinking about all the people supporting me in karate was my strength and motivation to overcome my loss and move on. Two months later I was back at my karate practice and six month after losing my son, I opened my stretching Studio. 

  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi in a bamboo forrest.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi in a bamboo forrest doing a mawashi geri..

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Miki Nakamachi: After I graduated from university, even though in my mind I knew karate was a way of life, I think karate was a way to challenge myself to the next level. I always wanted to win and prove myself that I could do better. After going through pregnancy and being a mother, and going through the changes in my body, I realized that karate was helping me through finding myself as a woman. Because all my Sensei’s were men, I always thought being good at karate meant being muscular and mannish. Now I find karate as being a way to find my womanly side. 

  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi assisting Ueki Masaaki Shihan during a seminar.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi assisting Ueki Masaaki Shihan during a seminar.

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

Miki Nakamachi: My short-term goals would be winning the JKA All Japan, the Asian tournament, and the World tournament. I do not think winning is everything, but I do want to show that there is no limit to improvement. I also keep competing because I want to prove that improvement of karate can lead to improvement of health, especially for women. Women are more likely to retire from karate because a lot of women still think that giving birth and becoming a wife and a mother means putting yourself after everyone else. I believe health is the most important thing you can have. Without your health and strength, you cannot take care of others.

The picture shows Miki Nakamachi performing an Empi-uchi.
“Without your health and strength, you cannot take care of others.” – Miki Nakamachi

My long-term goal is to spread Shotokan Karate to women as a way of learning about self-control, especially focusing on posture and breathing. Posture is the key to a healthier body and mind, and I believe karate is one of the greatest ways to achieving this.

  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi after winning the All Japan Championship.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi receiving a certificate from Kobayashi Sensei.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Miki Nakamachi: I want everyone to know that karate can be for everyone.  As it did for me, karate can help you to be better at different sports but also help with the little things in life, such as opening a jar, picking up something heavy or how to control your breathing after running to catch the elevator.

I think it is a “must learn” for elementary age children as many children today have bad posture from looking down at their games, iPads, and tablets. If children and their mothers can be aware of their own body and health, it can help prevent all kinds of health issues in the future.  Lastly, karate is something that I hope women would want to start after giving birth, something that is not only physical training but also gives hope and psychological strength for facing tough times in life.

“Many children today have bad posture from looking down at their games, iPads, and tablets.” – Miki Nakamachi

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

Miki Nakamachi: Yes, I would definitely recommend karate to my female friends because I believe it makes life better by helping with self-control, especially focusing on posture and breathing. Posture is the key to a healthier body and mind.  Once you have a good posture and your mind is positive, it will help you respect yourself and others.

Another reason I would recommend Karate to women is because woman are more likely to have to changes their life style. I myself went through giving birth three times and it was not easy mentally and physically because of the changes in my hormone level and my body. I actually gained 20kg each time and it sometimes took away my self-esteem. Karate was my way of feeling accomplishment and growth. The beauty of Karate is that everyone is always a student, no matter what level you become. You never stop learning and you can start at any age.

  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi how she helps a client to find her posture.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi how she helps clients to find her posture.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi how she helps clients to find their posture.
  • The picture shows Miki Nakamachi how she helps a client to find her posture.

Photo credit: Oshima Ringo, Hiraga Akari