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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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Missing Links of Karate: Why We Need Traditional Martial Arts

The missing links of Karate have become a research field for a community of innovative and open minded Karateka. We link Karate back to its roots in traditional martial arts from Asia. By doing so we focus on improving Karate and bring back what the art has lost through the development of modern Shotokan and Sports Karate. Therefore, missing links challenges conventional Karate wisdom and changes perceptions. By Heero Miketta

Questioning Shotokan

Practicing Japanese Karate will always bring up the question: “Which style?” – at least from those in the know. Three decades ago an answer by Hirokazu Kanazawa made the rounds in my Shotokan circles. “Martial arts,” the old master mumbled in reply, and was not willing to discuss this any further.

It impressed me at the time, because back then I had a moment of confusion myself. I had joined the instructor team of the police in the then German capital Bonn. It was a fortunate event to be welcomed in this rather elitist circle of good fighters with all kinds of martial arts backgrounds. I was a complete rookie, while all of them had tested their knowledge in more or less realistic scenarios.

My Shotokan fell short. What I had learned was too static, too focused on the long distance, and very much tuned into the rules of competition.

Shotokan Did not Meet the Reality of Fighting nor Philosophical Depth of Asia

Not an unusual story – I have met plenty of others with similar experiences, not only from Shotokan Karate. If you listen to Geoff Thompson, British author and martial artist, he describes the same learning journey. Self defense, realistic conflict, and violence prevention always question what we have learned in the dojo.

This was not the first time I second-guessed my Karate. When I started my training in Shotokan, coming from Judo and Tai Chi, I became disappointed at first. I found a sports system featuring tournament rules instead of the deep secrets I had expected. It was all sweat, mostly on my own, walking up and down a gym, hitting thin air. No Far East philosophy, nothing of the cool mystic background I imagined.

The Two Missing Links

Two missing links gave our research community its name: The actual combat content, and the deep knowledge, the Asian ways of thinking that challenge the Western mind.

The Bleeding Edge of Modern Society

This brings us straight to the core of martial arts: The connection of body and mind. What sounds like an advertising soundbite to the ears of experienced Karateka is a bleeding edge of modern society. In our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, we chose the term “debodification” to describe what is happening to humans today: An increasingly sedentary lifestyle dominated by screentime and virtual experiences. Fitness and wellness have the character of mere duties that have to be fulfilled. Looking good, being healthy, showing positive attitude is a mere part of a “personality package,” not a source of learning and personal growth.

This betrays modern people of genuine experiences that can only be made using the body. Some people aim to fill this gap in personal growth by attending Asian health systems like Yoga, Qi Gong, or meditation. Traditional martial arts offer the same philosophy in motion, and they bring even more to the table: Conflict, fear, stress, social skills, and communication.

The Depth of the Traditional Asian Styles

Modern fitness and self defense based systems offer much less depth. While mixed martial arts competition is a fantastic sport and often underrated by Karateka (also because of the testosterone-laden scenarios of competition in the octagon), it does not regard the deeper content of traditional martial arts. Do not underestimate MMA athletes, though. Many of them come from traditional systems and practice much more than what they need in tournaments. Grappling styles like Brazilian Jujitsu offer physical and mental training, as well as holistic knowledge. Nothing, however, beats the traditional Asian styles.

Shotokan Roots in China

The roots of our Karate go back to older arts from Okinawa and China, a fact that has not only been forgotten by many who think Karate is part of the traditional Japanese Budo curriculum. But it has been hidden by Japanese masters who went out of their way to rebrand Karate from “Chinese Hand” to “Empty Hand,” simply by changing the Kanji of the name.

In our Missing Link Community, we use the original character: Ko Ryu Kara Te – old style Chinese hand. The look backwards to China and old Kung Fu styles is as important to us as the focus on modern application and usability. We avoid chitter chatter about “the street” and what is useful. We care about what we can learn for everyday scenarios that actually happen in modern life.

Chinese Martial Arts as Compendium for Modern Karate

What did we find in the Chinese arts?

Flow

First and foremost: Flow. Static stances, powerful hard movements – both can be more obstacle than help for good martial arts:

  • Nothing is static in a fight.
  • A stance is just a short moment in the context of a bigger event.
  • The entire movement is much more important than the end position of a step.
  • Low stances only make sense in the context of weight shift and power development; they have no value on their own.
  • Every technique, any combination, needs to work in a flow, and with a partner.

Nothing is more important than constant partner training. It is essential to develop mental flexibility and the ability to adapt to ever changing circumstances.

Structure

Another important issue is structure:

  • Posture,
  • stability,
  • full body movements and
  • the understanding of principles

This approach is superior to learning single techniques and executing them with maximum strength.

Movements make Perfect

Understanding – and feeling – the body and its movement makes for good martial arts. Discovering the capabilities of the own body and transferring it into work with a partner is surprisingly often neglected in Karate dojos, in favor of endless repetitions of techniques that make no sense without bunkai – the deep analysis of their meaning and usage. The external form of techniques, especially at the END of the movement, is getting much more attention than the application and the internal development of strength and power.

Traditional Martial Arts Connect Mind and Body

These holistic physical experiences create the connection of body and mind mentioned above. The body is the most important gate for emotional learning, and thus for the development of social skills, communication, conflict competence, coping with stress and fear, or in short: A life lived to the fullest.

No other physical training connects body and mind like the traditional martial arts do. The individual and their interaction with others is the main concern of our practice – and the challenges are physical as well as psychological and emotional.

The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan
The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan

What kind of martial arts do you practice?

So what is in a style? Why is the question, “What kind of martial arts do you practice” so important?

The Fallacy of Tribal Structures

The martial arts community as a whole has a very tribal structure. That arose surely from the way of teaching it in family structures in the past and then became a matter of national pride. Many Westerners are trying to be more authentic than their Asian teachers – so much that it borders cultural appropriation.

No Challenging of Opinions

Hierarchy and patriarchal structures in many associations are another issue. Not questioning the “master,” worshiping belt colors and double-digit dan degrees leads to an inability to challenge opinions, ask questions or be innovative.

Last but not least, styles give a level of security. To define what you are doing (and what you are not doing) gives control over your own training and a chance to measure your ability. “I have mastered this move, this kata, the rules of Shobu Ippon – I am a master now, my education is finished. I know where I am standing.” The comfort of narrow boundaries is enormous.

New Ideas Can be Challenging

We experience this in our dojos. Our ideas attract high ranked, experienced Karateka. But far too often they also put off these senior martial artists. “I have learned more in one of your lessons than in the last five years of training in my home dojo,” an experienced competition fighter told me. She was was talented, intelligent and fast. “I don’t like it,” she went on. “I will go back to my old dojo.”

Boom! Removing limits drops students into a void and leaves them confused. Our response is a sophisticated Kyu curriculum and a proper syllabus, giving beginners a scaffolding for their learning experience.

That is not the answer for advanced practitioners, though. Training with Missing Link is uncomfortable, challenging and needs engagement. That is what we face every day ourselves.

A Research Community For Karate

We see Missing Link as a research community. Yes, we build up new martial artists. But we also build up the knowledge of the community, and take on board the ideas and new impulses from experienced teachers joining us. Our ranking system is free of Dan degrees. The Okuden and Kaiden Master Levels that we use instead are not earned in a grading, but by delivering a thesis, a new idea, an own concept to the community.

A Diverse Community

This has brought an interesting mix of people to the Missing Link Community that started as a Shotokan-based venture. Soon members of our old ShoShin Projekt – a group of martial artists from different styles working together – joined the group. By now, our dojos in Germany, England, Denmark and Finland combine a colorful bunch of Karateka with a wide knowledge and the hunger to learn and discover more. The topics we care about grew beyond the narrow definitions of a style:

Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.
Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.

Innovative and Open Minded Tradition

What connects all teachers in Missing Link is the idea of a foundation curriculum, described in our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, and the general approach to teaching and learning, also detailed in the very same book. We feel that we have left the limits for personal development behind us in the past. But it also built a strong framework in which Karateka can feel at home if they don’t want to be restrained by an association that cares more for competition sport and purity of styles. Tradition, from our point of view, has to be innovative and open minded.

The Shotokan style is still a basis for many of our members. It has enormous values as a clean, straightforward gate into the complex world of martial arts. We call it the “Japanese garden of martial arts,” pretty and with intense focus. From this garden we want to head for the jungle, though.

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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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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.

Abuse Scandal of Ayumi Uekusa and Resignation of Masao Kagawa

In March 2021, The Japan Times published an article that national team member and world champion Ayumi Uekusa accused Masao Kagawa of abusive practices and bullying. According to further articles, he should have “frequently shouted at her and admonished her about her private life.” In addition, Masao Kagawa was alleged to use a Shinai (bamboo sword) for Kumite training. Students were supposed to block and defend against the Shinai while Masao Kagawa attacked them. Ayumi Uekusa testified that the Shinai hit her in the eye leaving a bruise during one sessions. Other students also got hit in the face according to her report. Kagawa had denied all allegations.

The JKF then ordered a hearing in front of the ethics committee of the organization. Ayumi Uekusa testified on April 1, 2021. Only six days later on April 7, 2021, media stations reported that Masao Kagawa was about to resign from his positions at JKF. He was quoted saying: “I take complete responsibility. In order to bring the matter to a close quickly, I’m resigning from all my positions at the Japan Karatedo Federation.” (Nikkan Sports late Tuesday).

This incident stands in strong correlation with a video of Masao Kagawa using a Shinai against a student for corporal punishment in Teikyo University Karate Club. The video appeared on Youtube and claims to be recorded in the 1990`s. It shows Masao Kagawa who bets a student during a training session several times and uses derogative language against the same student. An inquiry by The Dojo at the JKS about the practice and whether it is still applied in training stayed unanswered.

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 still play an important role in Shotokan Karate. How these role will look like cannot be predicted after the latest scandal regarding abusive practices.


Further Reading: Masao Kagawa autobiography can be found here.

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Rei to Love: Etiquette is Healthy and Good for Fighting

Shotokan Karate

Rei has a special ceremonial meaning in Shotokan karate. It makes the transition from a casual mind into the state of budo. Most karateka, however, do not know that it is also good for ones health and for fighting. By Florian Wiessmann

Karate Dō begins and ends with rei.
Gichin Funakoshi

Every Karateka is familiar with the first precept of Gichin Funakoshi – Karate Dō begins and ends with ‘rei’. Also probably nearly every Karateka agrees about the importance of this precept, putting rei at the very centre of their Karate practice. Yet many seem to forget, that rei is not only describing a mental attitude, but also a very concrete physical practice. Paradoxically, while rei as a mental attribute is emphasized, the physical manifestation of rei is often shunned upon by the very same Karate practitioners. They see seiza and bowing as something unpleasant and antiquated, only done to fulfill some kind of Asian tradition but with no real usefulness to Karate practice, let alone fighting proficiency.

This lack of appreciation often shows in sloppy reihō. Even advanced belts are struggling while getting up from seiza, glad that the unwanted part is over and the ‘real’ Karate practice begins. But why not staying true to Funakoshis precept and starting Karate practice (yes, I mean the actual physical training) with rei and not after it? You might ask why? Seiza and bowing have no real relevance in the western world, they don’t apply to your everyday life, let alone to physical Karate practice. Guess what: you’re wrong.

Bowing in Rei

Did you ever drop something? Did you have to pick it up from the floor? Happens all the time, right? This is essentially bowing! The question is, did you pick it up correctly in a back sparing way? Or did you struggle somewhat, picking it up in an awkward position? Unfortunately many people tend to hurt their backs while picking up stuff.

We all look like really folded cashews.

Jean Couch

This is were we can learn from other cultures. Use your hips! Ever heard about using your hips in Karate training? Do it properly while bowing, too. Bending at the hips engages the hamstring muscles and takes the pressure off the back muscles, sparing your spine and possibly preventing back pain.[1]

A correct bowing will change your body!

Tatsuya Naka

Seiza in Rei

Ok, so now you might agree to the relevance of bowing. But seiza certainly doesn’t relate to your everyday life and it hurts your knees. So more modern- and practical oriented martial arts are better of without seiza practice? Sorry, you’re wrong again.

Tastsuya Naka shows how to get up from seiza correctly.

The 2012 IFA Report (Institute for Work Safety of the German Social Accident Insurance) about work-related knee-strains mentions seiza and kiza as a common posture within certain crafts while working on the knees (e.g. tilers, plumbers and painters). Laboratory screening shows, that the knee is exposed to less straining forces while sitting on the heels compared to other forms of kneeling and crouching. Seiza and hiza are identified as a recovery posture for the lumbar spine and knees, especially the knee caps. The erected upper body, a relieve of the patella exterior and the contact with soft tissue furthermore reduces the forces on thighs and knee joints.[2]

Seiza and MMA

And regarding ‘modern’ martial arts, actually most BJJ- and MMA practitioners will find themselves in seiza in nearly every training. Working from inside closed guard, a very common grappling posture, will most certainly lead to a seiza position. Therefore you often read about problems with sitting on the heels in MMA and Grappling related internet groups. So if you deem traditional seiza to be not relevant for you, think again.[3]

Seiza and bowing in MMA training

Rei: Seiza and bowing in MMA training
Rei: Seiza and bowing in MMA training

While longer periods of seiza sitting can have a negative effect on postural control after standing up because of occluding the blood flow of the lower limbs[4]and seiza at first can be very uncomfortable, especially on individuals not used to it. Seiza per se is deemed to be innocuous for the knees.[5] Of course regular training of seiza will reduce the negative effects so you can use the practice of seiza to it’s full potential.

Getting up

And there is more to seiza than to just sit on the floor. You have of course to transition from standing to the floor and get up again. While this is happening on a regular basis in every grappling- and throwing related art and is also still very present in middle east- and east asian cultures with a more floor-living lifestyle, this transitional movements are sadly very underrepresented in regular Karate practice. Transition into- and from seiza is your chance to experience this very important movement patterns.

Sitting/kneeling on the ground and transitioning to and from standing are a fundamental movement macronutrient, many are missing in their life and their natural movement training.

Ben Medder[6]

Measures

The osteopath Phillip Beach lists three common sense and clinically practical approaches to prevent musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction:

  • spending more time on the floor in archetypal positions (e.g. squatting[7], kneeling and seiza, cross legged sitting – ‘sitting on the floor in comfort is a developmental birthright’)
  • paying attention on the feet (our feet play a crucial role in our biomechanical well being and the rehabilitating of our feet is essential for reducing musculoskeletal distress)
  • revisiting the processes involved in rising from the floor to upright (‘the effort to erect oneself from the floor to standing are a way of finetuning the many muscles we use in life’) [8]

To love your reihō is to love your body! Make yourself familiar with correct bowing, squatting, seiza and corresponding transitional movements. This will improve your health, posture and after all your martial arts proficiency.

Florian Wiessmann: Practising Karate since the mid 1990s, I am currently a Nidan at the Nihon Karate-dō Shūshūkan, which is headed by Sugimori Kichinosuke (9.Dan) and its german branch is lead by Stephan Yamamoto (6.Dan). https://shushukan.com/

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/26/587735283/lost-art-of-bending-over-how-other-cultures-spare-their-spines

[2] https://www.dguv.de/ifa/publikationen/reports-download/reports-2012/ifa-report-2-2012/index.jsp, p.70

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGeB7oS_Qa4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfH9JP8GDdk

[4] http://www.humanergology.com/old/jhe2005p/p13~23-Demura2.pdf

[5] http://drbillsclinic.com/seiza_position.html

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z1bPbLyr8I

[7] s. also https://www.shushukan.de/squatting-as-a-general-karate-skill/

[8] Beach, Phillip: Muscles and Meridians – The manipulation of shape, Elsevier Ltd. 2010, p. 3-4 and Foreword

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What can Karate teach us? By Shinji Akita

What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta

What can Karate teach us? Follow me on my quest through Japan to answer this question. By Shinji Akita

The Shotokan Times asked me this interesting question a few month ago. I wanted to pursue it further during my recent trip to Japan. When I addressed different Karate Sensei, they all gave me a very similar answer. They all indicated how much the values we learn in the Dojo also characterize Japanese society. In Japanese language we have a term for these values. They are called: Reigi.

The Foundation: Reigi

The term has a major significance in the various Japanese arts, at school, work, within the family, in public etc. Reigi means etiquette and courtesy and should be reflected in one´s behavior and actions. It is not only the respect towards others but also towards the Dojo, the environment and nature.

Reigi also characterizes the relationship between Senpai and Kohai – senior, older graduate and junior, less experienced. This concept exists in the Dojo as well as in school or between colleagues.

What can Karate teach us? Watch Akita Sensei on his incredible journey through Japan.

Shin-Gi-Tai: The “Mind of a Beginner”

Matsuda Hisashi Shihan, under which I started practicing Shotokan in my hometown Gifu, also mentioned the term Shin-Gi-Tai. The term describes the connection between mind and heart on the hand, and technique and body on the other hand. It is not easy to translate “Shin” with one word as it has a deep meaning for Japanese people. The mind or heart (“Shin”/“Kokoro”) amongst others stands for the attitude of a person. According to Matsuda Shihan, students must wish to learn something and get better. This “mind of a beginner” is the precondition for “Gi” (technique) and “Tai” (body). Good techniques and the benefits for the body will come naturally based on that kind of attitude.

Greetings, responses, and lining up quickly, for instance, reflect shin. These things appear simple. However, they are not that easy and need to be taught properly.

  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Karate: A Path to Self-discovery

I had the chance to interview Richard Heselton Sensei during the Summer Gasshuku of the Takudai Karate Club this year. I also asked him about what karate can teach us. He said that “Karate is a path of self-discovery, teaching us many different things.” This could also be modesty and acceptance, making one´s expectations and physical abilities match.

After all, nobody is perfect. There is always something we can learn and improve. This is what makes Karate so interesting. It is something one can do for life.

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How to do a Choku-Zuki? Use your Hip and Pelvis!

Our friends from Karate Dojo WaKu in Tokyo allowed us to share the following video. This time, they explain how to do a choku-zuki.

How does it work?

A choku-zuki is a punch in an upright stance called heiko dachi. Although, it belongs to the most basic punches, it poses many difficulties for beginners to execute it with a maximum of power and speed. No forward body-movement supports the punch. Therefore, the secret to the choku-zuki lies in the utilization of the hip and pelvis rotation. Both have to move slightly back and forth in order to initiate the movement and to create a whiplash-effect. Without the hip and pelvis rotation only the shoulders and arms generate power. That limits the efficiency and effectiveness of the punch.

Basic Posture of Choku-Zuki

The starting position comprises the front hand in a zuki position while the back hand rest in hikite position between the hip and the rips. Do not forget to pull the hikite hand as much back as position. As a result the arm muscles create some tension. That makes it possible to release the arm like the arrow from a bow. When the fist reaches it target, the arm will have accelerated to maximum speed and thus power.

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki.
Hirokazu Kanazawa doing a choku-zuki.

Basic Movement of Choku-Zuki

When you move your fist an arm forward focus on a straight motion. Your arm should not rotate towards the target. Keep it straight without tensing up. Therefore, the elbows must stay inside. If the move outside you lose a lot of energy and disrupt your joints. During the whole motion stay relaxed. Only a few millimeters before your arm has fully extended use kime for a split of a second.

What to Consider

Do not forget to use a slight hip-rotation in order to initiate the punch. However, do not leave your hip at the front. Create a tiny counter motion by pulling it back before your fist reaches the target. Once you have mastered this you will experience the so called “whip-lash-effect“. You then create power and tension without using to much of your muscle power. Thus, your punch will become way more efficient.

You must also focus on you knuckles (seiken). Only the inner two (index and middle finger) should hit the target. The physical idea behind that is to maximize energy on a very small spot. The effect of the impact will then much stronger.

How do you do your choku-zuki? Critical comments are welcome!

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What does Kata mean to you?

The picture shows Miki Nakamachi performing kata during a tournament.

What does Kata mean to you? Many karate practitioners interpret it in different ways. This article will attempt to bring some clarity and explain how a Karate-ka can benefit from performing kata. By Derick Kirkham

The Meaning of Kata?

What is the meaning of Kata? What’s it all about? What’s the point of it? Many people have asked me these questions over the years. Among them were

  • members of the general public,
  • novice students,
  • advanced students,
  • teachers of the subject,
  • kumite specialists,
  • kata specialists,
  • sport-only karateka,
  • self-defense enthusiasts,
  • petty politicians in karate,
  • pundits, who are deliberately trying to be controversial,
  • heads of other associations,
  • practitioners of other style of martial arts,
  • mean spirited individuals, who are just looking for loop holes, who have an axe to grind,
  • candidates for a promotional exam,
  • Japanese cultural enthusiasts,
  • karate historians,
  • traditionalists and
  • modernizers.

I have gone into print and given a wide range of answers to the same question. Not because I constantly change my opinion. But my answer was dependent upon the recipient of the message, their motivation for asking, their area of interest and what is their level of experience.

What Does Kata Mean to You?

However, I believe, that many of them meant to ask: “What does Kata mean to you?” If they had asked that question then they would have got a completely different answer.

I feel whatever the person believes to be true about Kata, is as valid of an explanation as every other persons interpretation. As long as a practitioner gets something in exchange for them holding their particular belief of what it is, then I think that this is a good thing. However, the return on investment must enhance their experience of, their practice of, and their performance of the kata.

But What Does Kata Mean in General?

It is part of the physical culture of Karate. The Japanese term means shape or form. All Kata have individual names. They comprise of a set number of prescribed basic techniques and performed following a specific route Embusen. Although different styles of Karate use different names to describe the same Kata, one can recognize them as being from the same root.

The picture shows the Embusen of Kanku Dai. The Embusen is one way to answer the question: What does kata mean?
The Embusen of Kanku Dai.

Kata can be seen as a martial war dance, similar in nature to the New Zealand “HAKA”. They hold similarities to shadow boxing or gymnastics floor routines, as the student practices them individually. Aesthetics play a major role in the appearance of it. But they are definitely Martial and warlike by nature.

Kata as Library of Basic Karate Techniques

Kata can be viewed as a library of rehearsed fighting routines. While in reality they do not portray an actual continuous fight scenario. That does not mean that individual techniques or mini sequences of techniques in it would not work in a real fight, because they do work. It holds self-defense nuggets of gold, but not necessarily in the format they are often presented when cumulatively performed in Traditional Bunkai. As a result, every kata depicts a library of basic Karate technique put together in a series of combinations. They are misleadingly represented a series of continuous techniques against four or eight imaginary opponents instead.

Despite some kata having been invented only 50 years ago, the roots of the majority date back several hundred years. Some people gain great strength and enjoyment during practice when they think about the history and tradition of the it. It creates great pleasure to reflect how they have been handed down from generation to generation.

Kata Changes – Constantly

In reality it has been changing over the generations. The kata, which Gichin Funakoshi taught, varied slightly from how he was taught and likewise Masatoshi Nakayama, taught them slightly differently to his students.  Hirokazu Kanazawa teaches them with slight nuanced differences to the way that Nakayama taught him. Nevertheless, it links us all to the past. For me personally Kata are even more enjoyable for that very reason.

Yoshitaka Funakoshi: He changed also plenty of kata. He introduced the Kokutsu-dachi to Shotokan, for instance.
Yoshitaka Funakoshi: He changed also plenty of techniques. He introduced the Kokutsu-dachi to Shotokan, for instance.

Enjoy It!

Keep in mind: Kata is not a punishment beating for the performer. So, whatever ones motivation to practice it is: Please enjoy the experience, even if you only perform it as a means of physical exercise and perform it without any traditional appreciation whatsoever. One should still enjoy the experience.

How to Study and Perform It?

When one has chosen a kata to study, the first aim must be to achieve excellence in the delivery of the techniques. Then the secondary aim is to perform it to express the elegance of the Art and to execute Kata with martial intent. Kata practice and performance should lead to the experience of personal growth. For me it is a form of moving Zen, something that allows me to gain a focused state, albeit for the duration of the performance.

Kata is the ideal vehicle to allow one to block out the everyday worries of life and channeling ones concentration elsewhere in a positive manner. If one performs it well and the viewer understands the broader message. As a result they appreciate the effort, time, and levels of hard work that has gone into delivering that performance. Then that in itself is a bonus but that should never be the aim. Perform Kata with the initial intent of you being the main beneficiary.

Good Luck and Good Practice.

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Shinji Akita in Malta: A Seminar Report

Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinki Akita hold a seminar in Malta. The focus of the course laid on efficient technique and mindful bodywork. A seminar report by Luke Rocco

Between October 18 and 20, 2019, Shotokan Karate-do Association Malta hosted world-renowned Shinji Akita Sensei, 6th Dan, to lead a training seminar for the first time in Malta. Amongst the 100 Maltese participants, were also international guests from Belgium and Scotland. All came to Malta specifically to join us for this special event.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Focus of the Seminar

The three-day seminar focused on intriguing concepts in Kihon, Kumite and Kata. It emphasized especially on using body bio-mechanics to enhance the effectiveness of technique regardless of age or gender. Akita Sensei’s passion for deep technical knowledge was effortlessly conveyed to all students. He utilized simple, practical exercises that lead to

  • immediate improvement in effectiveness of technique,
  • a gradual progression in mindful bodywork,
  • integrating proper posture, shime and spirit to produce an even more powerful technique.
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinji Akita

Shinji Akita Sensei started his karate journey at the age of 12 under Matsuda sensei and Aragane sensei. Then he joined the famous Takudai Karate Club at Takushoku University, Japan. Here he trained under Katsunori Tsuyama Sensei. He later moved to Europe, founding the Shotokan Karate-Do Association International (SKAI). His ultimate vision for the SKAI was to create a platform for high standard, traditional karate regardless of gender, age, race and politics.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

About SKA Malta

SKA Malta always strives to seek further knowledge and promotion of true traditional Budo-Karate. We give this opportunity to all who want to grow within their martial art journey, irrespective of any political backgrounds. We would like to thank Akita Sensei for sharing his exceptional knowledge throughout the seminar. His dedication and genuine approach towards teaching traditional Karate made it a truly memorable event for all.

We also wish to thank: The Shotokan Times, ST Hotels, Media-Link, Union-Print and Chamar D Owl Photography for their outstanding support at Sponsoring this Event.

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Footage: Mikio Yahara 10th Dan Exam

Mikio Yahara 10th dan examination published.

Yesterday, it was reported that Mikio Yahara past the physical exam for 10th Dan. While most commentators found the awarding of the rank of a 10th Dan to Yahara sensei plausible. Many doubted that he had to take a physical exam.

The Shotokan Times found new evidence in the internet that shows Mikio Yahara in front of a committee performing an unprecedented Tekki Nidan.

The Leopard

The publisher of the video claims that it shows the Dan examination of Mikio Yahara. In the background one can see that the examination took place at the KWF World Conference. The KWF hold this conference from November 7 to 10, 2019 in Tokyo.

Further videos have appeared in the internet. All videos show an excellent performance of Mikio Yahara. His 73 do not hold him back to be still a very dynamic and fast karateka with a strong focus on budo. Due to his agility he got the nickname “Leopard” during his competitive career. Whether the exam consisted of more exercises than just Tekki Nidan is unknown to that point. We will report about further information.

Mikio Yahara Joins 10th Dan Club

Mikio Yahara has joined now a very exclusive club of 10th Dan holders. Beside him Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Hiroshi Shirai, and, also since this year, Ueki Masaaki had been awarded the rank of 10th Dan. However, according to our information has Mikio Yahara been the only awardee so far who went through a physical exam. This might set new expectations for the awarding of higher Dan ranks in the future. Because committees lent higher Dan rank for outstanding achievements and service to associations and karate in general in the past. Thus, Mikio Yahara has perhaps set a new mark.

Congratulations to Mikio Yahara, oss!