In this month’s ‘Karate Essence’ column, as I answer the question, ‘what makes a Budōka?’ I will be revisiting some of the philosophical Budo themes I have previously examined in depth. While I allude, briefly, to an aspect of a Budōka I will reference a previous article or column for those readers not fully conversant with that characteristic. By TD McKinnon
Budōka: The Etymology of the Word
Budo (武道), of course, is a Japanese term; literally translated, it means the ‘Martial Way’, and may even be thought of as the ‘Way of War’. Budo is a compound of the root Bu (武:ぶ ), meaning War or Martial; and Dō (道:どう) meaning, the way or the path. However, in this modern era, it has become a reference, describing the spiritual foundation of most Japanese martial arts. In that perspective Budo becomes an idea. Modern Budō needs no external enemy. The enemy is within; it is the ego that must be defeated.
The suffix, ka (家), with its kanji character meaning ‘family, house, home’, is recognised in Budōka (as in Karateka) as meaning ‘student’ or, perhaps more accurately, a devotee of the aforementioned, Budo. The Budoka follows a path of self-improvement, formulating propositions and subjecting them to philosophical critique.
What is a Budoka?
According to the hypothesis that Budo is the spiritual foundation of Japanese Martial arts, and that Ka is a student or devotee of said spiritual foundation, then a Budoka is, quite literally, one who studies or practices the art of war. In other words, it could be said that it is a warrior.
For the Budoka, it is not about winning or losing a competition, as in Sport Karate for instance. I am not saying that the Budoka cannot also be a sportsman, just that the Karate sportsman is not necessarily a Budoka.
Originally, for the Budoka, the idea was to safely learn techniques that would lead to victory on the battlefield, or in any hostile encounter. The trophy on offer, of course, was surviving; as opposed to being killed or maimed by an adversary.
In everyday living in today’s environment, the practical importance of technique has become less vital for actual physical survival. However – while other aspects, including spiritual, aesthetic or competitive may come to the fore – it is still essential to the Budoka that there remains a realistic practicality to their training and teaching.
So far, I have talked about Budoka as an exclusively Japanese concept. I would like to add here that, the more I have learned about the meaning of the term, the more I realise that I have been a Budoka for most of my life. You do not have to be a Karateka, as such, to be a Budoka. I have already stated that not all those who practice Karate (Karateka) are Budoka; being a one involves a certain spiritual element, which not all Karateka embody.
In my humble opinion, those who merely go through the physical motions (as an exercise or for sport) may be Karateka but they are not Budoka. Those Karateka who embrace Karate-Do (the way/path) as a way of life, to be better each day (holistically) than they were the day before, are Budoka.
I have trained in the art of war (of fighting in all of its aspects) since my earliest memories. My rational was not to be able to hurt and dominate others; my goal has always been to defeat the fear, in me, of being hurt and dominated.
The true Budoka does not strive to be undefeatable but to be fearless. True fearlessness is a spiritual quality that the one acquires, eventually, through the acquisition of Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, Fudoshin and Senshin.
1. Zanshin (残心): ‘the lingering mind’ is aware of everything, without distractions.
2. Mushin (無心): ‘the uncluttered mind’, without judgement and emotion, deals with situations from the moment point.
3. Shoshin (初心): ‘the open, eager mind’, with its lack of bias, sees all options.
4. Fudoshin (不動心): ‘the peaceful, determined and courageous mind’ provides the confidence to endure, no matter the odds.
5. Senshin (洗心): ‘the enlightened mind’, striving to protect and be in harmony with all life, completes the five spirits of Budo.
Embracing the five spirits of Budo – the full Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior – endows the advanced Budoka with fearlessness; thus rendering that him, virtually, undefeatable.
Long before I had heard of the philosophical terms, of Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, Fudoshin and Senshin, I was on the path. And, while walking the long and winding road of the spiritual warrior, I have had the great honour and pleasure of the company of others; some were Karateka and some were not. In fact many of them, and at one time that would have included myself, had never even heard the term. Let alone the above Japanese terms for the five spirits of Budo.
So, what does make a Budōka?
I do believe that a thorough understanding of the five spirits of Budo can help the devotee on his path to enlightenment. However, I personally, firmly believe that an innate knowing and empathetic appreciation of the philosophies behind the labels is much more important than an intellectual verbatim of the philosophical labels themselves.
I will finish with a quote from lifelong martial artist and prolific writer, 88 year old, Bujinkan Soke Masaaki Hatsumi: “There are three kinds of Budoka: ones that try to look strong, ones that try to perfect there technique and ones that try to gain a good heart.” For me, being a Budoka, is about what is in the heart.
Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic practitioners of Shotokan Karate to come out of the Japan Karate Association. Early on, Masatoshi Nakayama described him as the best fighter of his generation. To this day, traditional Karate is his passion, a former JKA Grand Champion. As a result, he is first and foremost a martial artist, a practitioner of traditional karate obsessed with returning Karate back to its budo roots. Yahara has a no-nonsense approach to his Karate.
Early Life of Mikio Yahara
Yahara was born on 4 April 1947 in the fishing village Namikata-Machi, Ehime Prefecture. He was the fourth son of a prominent family with samurai roots on his father’s side. His mother’s family were descended from pirates.
Growing up, he was a boisterous child who loved to fight. Therefore, at an early age, he became interested in Karate as his older brother practiced it. In an effort to calm him down, his brother taught him Karate, from the age of seven.
A few years later in 1954 Yahara went to junior school. However, he had a heart attack and was diagnosed with a heart condition. As a result, doctors thought he would not live past the age of twenty.
Almost ten years later, while a high school student, Yahara joined the school’s Judo club in 1963, refusing to be limited by his condition. Even in his youth he displayed what would come to be known as his characteristic strong will. He wanted to get stronger, which he did. Eventually, he reached the rank of second Dan in Judo.
How Mikio Yahara Discovered Karate
While excelling in Judo, Yahara joined a local Karate club affiliated with the Japan Karate Association. His teacher was Yagi Sensei, an instructor who came from the JKA Honbu in Tokyo. As with his earlier life in Judo, Yahara advanced quickly in karate. By 1964 he had been promoted to first dan. It was not long before he soon dreamed of becoming an instructor.
At that time, JKA instructors were normally selected from the best university graduates. Knowing this and wanting to be near the JKA Honbu, Yahara enrolled at Kokushikan University, Tokyo, in 1966. He soon joined the university’s Karate club.
By this time, his childhood condition was no longer an issue, and he had grown into a strong young man. Yahara’s instructor at the club was Kenji Yano. Training sessions were hard, and in some cases frightening. Many students left the club. Yahara was one of the few students to remain.
Through his dedication, Yahara became one of the best Karateka at the club. For example, he practised at the JKA Hombu, which helped develop his approach to traditional Karate. He sometimes practised at the Karate clubs at Komazawa, Nodai, and Nihon Taiku Daigaku universities. But, his seniors at the Kokushikan University Club soon avoided him due to his toughness.
From Student to Instructor
By 1971 Yahara had graduated from Kokushikan University and joined the JKA Instructors Course. Masatoshi Nakayama, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and Hideo Ochi were his main instructors on the course, while Kenji Yano was his Sempai (Senior).
As previously stated, Yano had been Yahara’s instructor at University. Nicknamed the “Destroyer,” Yano took sadistic pleasure in intimidating and beating up students. Moreover, he looked for ways to hurt his opponent during sparring sessions, especially grades below him.
As his kohai (junior), Yahara usually faced the worst of Yano’s aggressiveness. But he frequently had to go to hospital because of injuries he sustained. However, his pride would not let him quit. He would attend the next training session even though he was injured. In time he earned Yano’s respect for never backing down. By his own admission, he hated Yano. However, he respected is aggressiveness and strength.
During this time, another instructor who had a profound influence on Yahara was Keigo Abe. Abe was known for his exceptional technical ability.
Yahara tried to model himself on Abe’s technique and Yano’s spirit. Even from these early days of his training, Budo was at the forefront of his training, even in kata. For him, kata based in traditional karate was not for competition or grading but for making his kumite stronger.
Life of Competition
In 1972 Yahara’s international competitive career began in
Paris, France. Two years later he graduated from the Instructors Course and
started actively competing and teaching.
Subsequently, Yahara taught at the JKA Honbu. He had achieved his goal of becoming a JKA Instructor. But, he also taught at several dojo is on the outskirts of Tokyo. Teaching at these dojos sometimes meant he was involved in “dojo-yaburi,” dojo challenges between different Karate styles.
At the JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Yahara was a phenomenal competitor in both kata and kumite. He always featured in the top three positions in each event. During these years from 1975 to 1984, he faced some of the top competitors of the time, that included Masahiko Tanaka, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Toshihiro Mori.
In 1984 Yahara became JKA Grand Champion. He won the kata event defeating Masao Kagawa in the final. He came third in the kumite event won by Hideo Yamamoto.
Yahara also competed in three IAKF World Championships. At
the 1977 Championships held in Tokyo, Japan, he finished second behind
Yoshiharu Osaka in the kata event. At the 1980 Championships held in Bremen,
Germany, he lost to Osaka in the final. He faced Osaka again in the final of
the 4th IAKF Championships, losing to him.
Mikio Yahara: From Competitor to Teacher
In 1984 Yahara retired from competing. As a kumite
competitor he was known for his dynamic and innovative techniques. He was a fan
favourite and had many memorable matches. As a kata competitor his main kata
was Unsu. He always performed the kata as if he was in a life or death
situation. His major tournament successes include:
IAKF World Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1977,
JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Grand Champion (1984)
JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place
JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place
(1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983)
JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 2nd
place (1975, 1998)
JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 3rd
place (1976, 1979, 1982, 1984)
Yahara featured in Masatoshi Nakayama’s Best Karate series published in 1979. He appeared in the following books:
In 1987 the Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, died. His death led to rival factions vying for control over the JKA. The Nakahara Faction was led by businessman Nobuyuki Nakahara. This faction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Masahiko Tanaka. The rival Matsuno faction was led by Tetsuhiko Asai, and included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Yahara, and Masao Kagawa. What followed was a 10-year legal battle between the two factions.
Mikio Yahara’s Personal Life
By the 1990’s Yahara had established a personal security company. As a part of his business he had many run-ins with the Yakuza. He had to regularly move house to avoid being killed. These encounters made in value the importance of the Budo approach to traditional Karate. The core principle of Ikken Hisatsu, “one killing blow” became a fundamental part of his training.
Over time the Yakuza came to have a healthy respect for
Yahara. There is a famous story in Japan of Yahara fighting 34 Yakuza members,
who had targeted him and his company. He survived the encounter.
From JKA to KWF
In 1999 the Nakahara Faction of the JKA won the legal
battle between them and the Matsuno Faction. A Japanese High Court ruling
awarded them the sole rights to the JKA name.
Following the court ruling, the Asai Faction left the JKA.
The Faction split to form the following groups:
Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) led by Tatsuhiko Asai
Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Yahara
In 2006 Yahara was promoted to 8th Dan, aged 59. During his
grading he broke three ribs of an opponent with a single punch.
The last several years has seen Yahara build the KWF into one of the biggest Shotokan associations in the world. Apart from running his business, he travels the world giving training courses and seminars in traditional karate. Away from Karate he practices Iaido. He is a fan of classical music, especially that of Russian composer, Tchaikovsky. Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic fighters to come out of the JKA. His unique fighting style made him a fan favourite. However, it is his exploration of Budo Karate that has made him one of the most important Karate Masters today.
Senshin (洗心) means the purified spirit and enlightened mind. It is the fifth element of the karate and budo spirit every karateka should cultivate and strive for. In his monthly column Shotokan EssenceThomas D. McKinnon examines how Senshin is related to the other four budo spirit and how one can achieve it.
During the last several months, we have explored a number of concepts. Four of which are elements of the full Mantle. Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, and Fudoshinmake up four fifths of the seamless, shining armor of the advanced karateka or budoka.
Zanshinraises your total awareness, enabling you to see everything, not missing anything. Mushinreleases you from anxiety. Acting and reacting without emotion allows your training, skills and abilities to function at maximum proficiency. Shoshinfrees you from the frustrations that often accompany learning, giving you the sight to see what you may have missed. Fudoshinprovides the confidence to stand your ground in the face of overwhelming odds.
Senshin to Complete the Mantle
The fifth element, Senshin, has no exact, literal translation. However, in line with the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei, Founder of the Japanese art of Aikidô, Senshin takes on the Budo meaning of the ‘enlightened’ or ‘purified’ mind/heart or spirit. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is the location of the mind, which is probably why the most common translation for Shin is mind or heart. So, concerning the Karateka/Budoka, Senshin might be said to be ‘the state of the enlightened mind’. Senshin completes the five spirits of Budo, or the full Mantle, of the advanced Karateka/Budoka: the Spiritual Warrior.
Senshin transcends and harmonizes the first four elements in a spirit of compassion to reconcile discord and hold all life sacred. Fully embracing Senshin is to become enlightened.
You can learn as many physical arts as you want, and I’ve studied a few. But unless you take on the full Mantle you will only skate across the surface. The physicality of the arts will only be a sequence of moves. Consequently, in combat, whomsoever is most inspired on the day will be the victor.
This Mantle I speak of doesn’t just find you when you train, study and learn the physicality of your art. You must actively seek it out. Prior to beginning my traditional Shotokan training, I had been a British Parachute Regiment soldier and so, quite naturally, Zanshin was the first constituent of the Mantle that I cognitively understood.
Zanshin (残心): Lingering Mind
‘Zanshin: being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings and totally prepared, for anything. Zanshin is a state of totally calm alertness; a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness before, during and after combat.’
Intellectually, I understood, quite early in my Karate-do, four of the five elements of the Mantle. However, my cognitive knowing of Mushin, Shoshin and Fudoshin took a little longer to realize. Following a particularly adverse situation, avoiding a potential disaster, I would suddenly realize that I had done so by exhibiting one of the Mantle’s features.
For instance: while employed in high risk security, it was my habit to size up a situation and plan several, rational, contingencies so that I might not be taken by surprise in an unfolding situation. I was in actual fact limiting my options by overthinking the situation. A completely unexpected situation arose one day, which I came through smoothly, reacting in the most appropriate manner at several twists and turns. I then understood, cognitively, the concept of Mushin: trust and live in the moment.
Mushin (無心): No Mind
‘Mushin: not over-thinking things, being open and ready to receive whatever might come. Without the clouds of judgement, driven by emotion, the uncluttered mind deals with life from the moment point.’
The element that makes most sense, and is so obvious, took me the longest time to cognitively realize was Shoshin. Again, I tended to overthink and complicate things. All I really needed to do was clear away preconceptions: simplify.
Shoshin (初心): Beginners’ Mind
‘Shoshin: beginner’s mind is the quintessential mindset for learning. In the beginner’s mind there is openness, eagerness, a lack of preconceptions. With Shoshin there are many possibilities no matter the level of study.’
The fourth element to click into place, for me, was Fudoshin. Your skill levels need to be fairly advanced but, more importantly, your belief in yourself needs to be flawless. It is important to hone your skills to the point where ‘you believe’ they will emerge when and where you need them. You must erase any doubts.
Fudoshin (不動心): Immovable Mind
‘Fudoshin: a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It is the state of a spirit that is determined to win. Filled with courage, endurance and self-confidence through self-knowledge, Fudoshin provides you with the resolve to surmount any obstacle.’
Finally ‘the enlightened mind’. What does that even mean? I never tried to intellectualize Senshin. ‘The enlightened mind’ sounded a little too airy-fairy. However, once Fudoshin slipped into place, Senshin, the final element, settled upon me like a Mantle. Henceforth, I knew the comforting surety of the full Mantle.
Senshin (先心): Purified spirit and Enlightened Attitude
‘Senshin: the enlightened mind of the advanced karateka/budoka. Holding all life sacred, you strive to protect and be in harmony with all life.’ Seeing the best in humanity, you endeavor to foster compassion even for those who would do you harm. With Senshin, recognizing the universal connectedness of life, you understand how one simple act affects every aspect of life. You see the dilemma and the worth of life with your heart, mind and soul.’
Senshin is achievable. However, not only must the mind be enlightened but the spirit must be cleansed too. Only the advanced karateka/budoka – with the enlightened attitude and purified intention – will achieve ‘the full Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior.’
Senshin: Enveloped in the Mantle
The high-pitched screech of brakes echoes through the chilly winter’s night. Piling out of two cars, they come in an angry rush.
Spaced a couple of meters apart, one hand out, palm facing them, one hand on a holstered Glock 19 pistol-grip, we stand our ground. Two against many, but they stop.
‘Hands off the guns!’ yells one, nervously. Hands under coats, their weapons are hidden but evident. Undisciplined, noisy, cursing and issuing threats, they mill together like fish in a barrel. They are gangsters, bullies…
We are professionals, and they know it. I pitch my voice to be heard over the din… ‘Get back in your vehicles and drive away!’ I don’t threaten, but the warning is implicit.
They hesitate… and one of them says, “What! Are you nuts! We outnumber you better than four to one… Do you think you’re invincible or something?!” When my response is a small, enigmatic smile his expression is priceless. But then, still verbally abusing us, they back off. Continuing to yell abuse from the cars, they speed off, as a police siren pierces the night air
Our clients are safe… for tonight anyway.
I have no doubt that – recognizing we were highly trained professionals unaffected by bullying and bluster – they knew that, had they pushed the envelope, some of them would have died. We were not invincible; simply, uncluttered by emotion (Mushin). Calm, alert, aware (Zanshin). Focused completely, confidently, in the moment (Fudoshin). No… not invincible, but securely enveloped in the Mantle.
The year 2019 ended with a tragic event for the global Shotokan community: the passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa. The Karate world mourns since then. In this personal obituary Prof. Dr. Wolf Herbert reminisces the extraordinary life and personality of Soke Kanazawa.
“If one engages in downright normal training and has a downright normal lifestyle, the opportunities of development will also be downright normal. If, however, one trains in the way of going beyond, of transcending one’s natural powers, this in my opinion means to be present with deadly seriousness in everything, even the smallest kind of things!
To exaggerate a bit, you do everything as though it were a matter of life and death. To be involved with deadly seriousness, indeed as if it were a matter of life and death, is, I think, the true and final meaning of bushido (the ethical code of the warrior). If one does everything as though one’s life depended on it, there will be nothing to look back on with regret. When the time to die comes, one can die with utter peace of mind. I think the manner of dying is a barometer of how one has lead his life. This also constitutes the way of the warrior (bushido).”
Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke: Life of a Warrior
Kanazawa-soke undoubtedly has lived and departed this life like a warrior. Kanazawa Hirokazu was born in 1931 in the Northeast of Japan, in the prefecture Iwate at a rough seashore with rocky cliffs and pine groves. He was the sixth child and had an older sister, four older and two younger brothers. The extended family, the fishery and trading company of his father and the care of his mother were the social context in which he absorbed consideration, cooperation and mutual benevolence as manners and a way to treat people. “Harmony” should later become one of the central pillars of his Karate philosophy.
Besides playing in nature and on the beach, Hirokazu practiced sumo, judo, rugby and boxing in his youth. His body was thus aptly prepared when aged 18, he seriously started with Karate in the Karate department of the Takushoku University. After graduation he and Mikami Takayuki became the first graduates of the instructor course of the the JKA (Japan Karate Association). 1957 he won the first JKA All Japan Championship. Subsequently, he twice repeated this triumph. 1960 he was sent to Hawaii as a JKA Karate instructor. His unprecedented journey into the world had begun.
A Global Instructor
Presumably no other Japanese Karate teacher has traveled as much and often around the globe as Kanazawa Hirokazu. Most of the instructors who were delegated to foreign countries by the JKA settled down and built up their national organizations. Soke stayed for a while in England and Germany, but he was the JKA International Section Chief and was often on the road. Particularly after the foundation of his own organization (1978) he was virtually permanently visiting different countries all over the world. This made him one of the best known Karateka on the globe.
The break-up with the JKA was neither initiated by Soke nor wanted. In the end it can be seen as a blessing in disguise, since it gave him the chance to develop and promulgate his very own Karate-do unencumbered. He placed the “International” (jap. kokusai) in the name of his organization (Shotokan Karate-do International Federation SKIF) intentionally on top in the Japanese version (Kokusai Shôtôkan Karatedo renmei). This was to demonstrate that Karate-dô has become a global movement and cultural world heritage.
Technical Brilliance and Charisma
Soke’s reputation was not solely based on his internationalism, but his extraordinary abilities, his technical brilliance and in particular his personality, charisma and charm. What also distinguished him was his capability to stage perfect and breathtaking demonstrations in Kumite and Kata on the spot at big events or clinics. Notable was not only his technical refinement and engaged and warm-hearted teaching style, but that he and his Karate-do was there for everyone. That really meant no distinction in regard to sex, age, race, nationality, religious affiliation, social or economic status etc.
Before Soke went to Hawaii he stated in an interview, that he wanted to help to develop and promote Karate in its three aspects: physical education, martial art and competitive sports. This also illustrates his broad approach to Karate-do: it is meant for everybody, young and old, hobbyist and top athlete, even for those with special needs.
Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke Studied other Styles of Karate
The width of his horizon was also obvious in his openness and lifelong willingness to learn from other Karate-styles and martial arts. He included old Kata (e.g. Koryu Gankaku, Niju hachi ho), which enrich the spectrum of movements beyond orthodox Shotokan, into his syllabus. He was also known for his masterly command of the weapons staff (bo) and nunchaku. He integrated them into his tutoring. Soke also cherished lifelong friendships and exchanges with teachers of other styles and also from the JKA.
Karate and Health
In one of his English publications Kanazawa-soke proposed an intriguing perspective. He postulates that Karate historically evolved as a hygienic program to boost physical fitness and was only later used as a means of self-defense:
“Without going into the history of Karate I would like to explain a facet which is usually overlooked. Karate history starts some four thousand years ago as a series of movements for health. Later it was discovered that these could be applied for fighting. In the last few years it has been developed into a sport. All other combative sports started their life as fighting techniques. Therefore, Karate is the only one which started from natural movements to promote health.”
Breathing and Ki
There originates one of the characteristics of Soke’s Karate-do: how he emphasized the importance of correct breathing. Via breathing the circulation of ki (chin. Qi, “universal energy”) is regulated. He also deemed the mental and physical concentration on the center of the body in the lower abdomen (seika tanden) as essential. There ki can be accumulated and from there ki can also be transmitted elsewhere. Ki is a central concept in Chinese cosmology and medicine. It is often translated as “inner energy” or “vital force”.
In the West, energy is primarily seen as something physical and as a quantum. Ki is also a kind of quality (qualia) and linked to consciousness. It has material and immaterial aspects. In the human body ki is mobilized by willpower. If one concentrates ki will flow into the object being focussed on. If you thrust a punch with a sharp intention ki will surge and shoot into the fist and beyond. Soke was able to split the very board that was indicated to him in a stack of boards without breaking the rest. His explanation was that he could consciously control and direct his ki. Although not many will ever reach this level, the regulation of ki was a central element of his Karate. And the positive health effects of Karate are based on it.
Ki and Taijiquan
According to the Chinese view, health means an unblocked and balanced flow of ki. From time immemorial diverse methods have been developed in order to gain an unobstructed flow of ki: meditation, visualization, breathing techniques, therapeutic interventions (acupuncture, massages, moxibustion a.o.) and physical exercises (e.g. Quigong).
Soke has practiced Taijiquan all his life and understood the respective concepts very profoundly. A crucial goal of Taijiquan is to equilibrate and balance the ki-flow. This brings about harmony and well-being, worded slightly dramatically, a feeling of being at one with the universe. This was exactly what Soke was aiming at. I know that from numerous conversations and interviews with him. It has become a guiding principle for my personal Karate practice. Soke’s Karate-do was rooted in and based on Chinese philosophy and physiological conceptions, which made it one of a kind for me.
Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke and his Spirit of Karate-do
To me Soke and his Karate-do had a spiritual dimension, though it was totally unassuming. If you tuned your antennae into this direction you had ample reception. If you were not interested you were not bothered. Soke always understood Karate as moving Zen. His ideal was to reach an egoless state of all-encompassing alertness and inner calm. To point this out, he used terms from Zen-Buddhism and the art of sword fighting which was influenced by it, such as mushin (no mind) or muga (non-self).
If one witnessed Soke, one had the impression that time and again he embodied these states of mind. He had an aura which enveloped everybody with peace and serenity. Again, I fear I sound dramatic, but being in his mere presence filled me with happiness. I have never noticed any negative emotions like anger or irritation. Many will remember his infinite patience when he signed books, t-shirts and the like with his mountain Fuji-emblem after training courses – sometimes in hour-long sessions.
Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke was Here for Everyone
By no way I want to give the impression that I had any kind of “special” relationship to Soke. Everybody had his/her special connection to him and shared unique experiences with him. Soke did not show particular preferences. He was here for everyone: the veteran black belt as well as for the beginner and the children. I met Kanazawa-soke on many scattered, but pivotal occasions. His view of Karate and the world had an indelible impact on me. In this sense he was and is a constant mentor and guiding star for me. Let me therefore add some personal footnotes and anecdotes.
Some Personal Anecdotes about Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke
“Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!”
At one of his many sojourns in the 1980’s in my home town Bregenz in the West of Austria we talked about the winter. He was amazed, when he heard that in this cold alpine region a haramaki (“bellyband”, a kind of woollen kidney belt) was not customary. In Japan, haramaki are well-liked by workers, who toil in the open or artisans in chilly workshops. Soke commented: “If the stomach (hara) is kept warm, the whole body will get warm!” For a martial artist like Soke hara of course had a much broader meaning. It is the pivot of every technique and the locus of ki-concentration. “Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!” one could venture to say.
Anyway, I had two haramaki sent from Japan, which I still wear, particularly during winter in the unheated Dojo. I owe the discovery of the haramaki to Soke. Everytime I put one on I think of him and his teachings concerning the hara and seika tanden! As a sidenote, haramaki which were seen as hopelessly old-fashioned and proletarian now enjoy a renaissance in Japan as a fashion item and protection against the cold.
The Right Diet
As a young athlete I was very health conscious. Therefore I wanted to know from Soke what he deemed to be a wholesome and balanced diet. The gist of what he said was:
“I am traveling a lot and I am confronted with a lot of different national cuisines. Most of the time I am treated by the host, thus I can not refuse the dishes coming to the table. It is like that: while I eat the dishes, I inwardly tell myself, ‘This is good for my body, it supplies me with subtle energy and makes me strong!’ Then every food is well absorbed and purposefully utilized. With this positive attitude even fast food can be ingested with salubrious results. Generally speaking, it is best to consume local products and whatever is seasonal.”
This again revealed to me that for Soke it was mind over matter, the spirit which reigns the body! As an aside: with regard to beverages, Soke in Austria professed a marked fondness of Pilsener.
He also had seriously considered to quit
Since there was a hiatus in my Karate practice I had the chutzpah to ask Soke if he had ever thought to desist from doing Karate. Without hesitation he replied that there were several critical periods in his life in which he had seriously considered to quit. However, every time he retreated to contemplate the possibility, inevitably some Kata sequences appeared before his mind’s eye. He saw himself performing e.g. Kankû dai and indubitably he knew with every fibre of his being that this was his “destiny”, his mission and his life task. Soke has always paid close attention to “imagery training”. Lately it seems to come into vogue. For Soke it obviously had positive effects. He pursued his path unperturbed by ups and downs.
The Little Gestures Matter
When I started with training again after my break from Karate I went to the Honbu dojo in Tokyo for instruction several times on Wednesdays. On this day Soke taught in person and all the instructors who were not abroad also assembled. While greeting formally, I moved the wrong foot into the closed V stance. Soke pointed out my “misstep” in his benevolent way. For a second I was irritated and thought, “why insist on such a trifle!” In a sudden intuition I understood the message. It was exactly these little gestures which should manifest the intent behind them.
The alert Mind
Soke was a keen observer. I had participated in the national championships (Kata Individual Masters II 50-59 yrs.) for the umpteenth time. Soke was already rather fragile at the time. After the championship there was a party in the evening with a stand-up buffet and drinks. The SKIF All-Japan Championship is a yearly event with over more than 600 participants. It is split up into school years for children and age classes for the adults. There are also several disciplines and the competition lasts for two whole days.
On the evening in question Soke went back home early due to his frail condition. All the party guests formed a lane and made a deep bow when Soke passed by. He walked with his cane and when he came close to me he stopped, looked at me, smiled and said: “Today you won a medal. Congratulations!” I was moved. Among all the bustle of the contest he did not miss to notice this – or, very likely, anything else for that matter.
He Cared about People
Soke cared deeply for people and had an extraordinary memory for them. In the 1980’s (my most active time in Karate) the first thing he invariably asked me when we met, was, if Fujinaga Yasuyuki (1944-1995) was doing well. I found that very considerate and acted as a messenger between the two. Fujinaga-sensei headed a JKA-Dojo in Vienna, where I was allowed to train twice a week. When Kanazawa-sôke was still in the JKA, Fujinaga-sensei had studied under him in Japan for an extended period. Even after Fujinaga-sensei’s demise, he repeatedly told me how sorry he felt about his passing on in the prime of his life. Soke knew well, how much I had adored and appreciated Fujinaga-sensei.
When he Visited Austria
In 1982, the first SKI-organisation in Austria was established. I had become one of its first members and was in the managing committee until the end of the 1980’s. I also ran a SKI-Dojo in Vienna. We intentionally put the name of the founder first in the name of the federation: Kanazawa Shotokan Kokusai Karate-do Österreich (KSKKÖ). Thanks to the selfless commitment and efforts of the pedagogue Rosemarie Osirnigg, Soke came to Vorarlberg/West Austria on a yearly basis to hold training courses lasting a couple of days. We also shot videos, which were meant to become instructional material. They show Soke at the height of his powers. The then national trainer Norio Kawasoe (1951-2013) can also be seen demonstrating his excellent techniques. The videos are now sold and distributed by VP-Masberg.
I frequently served as an interpreter for Soke. This offered me superb insights into his didactic ingenuity and systematic approach to Karate. At the beginning of the 1990’s the KSKKÖ was dissolved due to various disputes. The majority of its members joined the organization of Hidetaka Nishiyama. Although invited, I did not follow suit. Barely anything connected me with Nishiyama-sensei and everything that was Karate to me connected me with Soke. I stayed loyal to him, but due to their rampant political narrow-mindedness, I stayed away from Karate organizations for a long time.
It was almost two decades later when I visited and met Soke again in the Honbu-dojo. There was an instant rapport and bond. It was as if no time had passed since our last meeting. He could recall amazing details of the moments we had spent together. Soke encouraged me to open a Dojo for him in Tokushima. There was no SKI-Dojo at the time on the island Shikoku, where Tokushima is located and where I teach at university. Without this encouragement, I would never have been as presumptuous as to teach Karate to the Japanese.
When I was in my twenties I learned some Taijiquan from Soke. I recollected this and began to take lessons again. Now Yang-style Taijiquan is part of my daily exercises. When I related that to Soke he was overjoyed: “Taijiquan and Karate are like Yin and Yang, soft and hard, fluid and rapid, circular and straight! They are complementary and synergetic. It is good to practice both. Especially when one grows old it is commendable to move to the softer side. It is not about muscular strength anymore, but the cultivation of the ki that should become central. Carry on!”
A Personality and Karate Master Full of Dignity
Soke said this at a time, when he was no longer able to practice himself. Now I have to address something that filled me with outright admiration: his dignity in being able to let go of everything! Soke loved to ski and even had a licence as an instructor from a skiing school in Davos. When he was in his late-seventies he had an accident while skiing in Northern Italy. He broke several vertebrae and required an extended period of rehabilitation. But he returned to the Dojo nevertheless. However, his physical condition deteriorated thereafter.
A Beautiful Mind and Spirit
When he got into his eighties an illness broke out, which was medicinally subdued until his passing on: Parkinson. This incomparable grand master of the martial arts, who could control every single cell of his body had to watch how he lost command over it. And here again Soke’s spiritual greatness revealed itself: no struggle, no bitterness, no lament. He endured his advancing frailty with stoic composure. Without clinging to anything, he just let things go. To be able to observe the process of ageing and the way of the world with such calmness and non-attachment will forever be etched into my memory as an ideal. It was daoist unity with the cosmos personified.
The Light of the Buddha
Sôke once remarked, that with getting older he became convinced, that he was protected by some higher power. December the 8th is Bodhi-day, the day on which the awakening of the historic Buddha Shakyamuni is commemorated and celebrated. It is the last day and climax of an eight-day-long intensive period of meditation (rôhatsu) in Zen monasteries. Kanazawa Hirokazu crossed to the other shore in the light of the Buddha. He ist now united with the higher powers and as a guardian and protector of Karate-dô, his lifework will continue to have effects and radiate forever. Eternal thanks, Sôke! Ossu
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
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.
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?
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.
Another important issue is structure:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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 yourexpectations 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 AkitaSensei, 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.
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 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.
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.
Carol See Tai reminds us about the importance to be a warrior and to develop a strong character. However, one cannot achieve both by staying within ones comfort-zone and to dodge every bullet. Thus, she also reminds us that we have to train hard, fight tough, and except the challenges life confronts us with. Carol does this in an exemplary way. After the passing of her beloved sensei, Shigeru Takashina, she has picked up the torch in order to carry the fire of Shotokan further to the next generation. Her path has not been easy. But she has been accompanied by good fellows.Enjoy this moving portrait of Carol See Tai.
Its that warrior in you that keeps you going. The more that you train and the more that you push yourself, the stronger your character becomes.
National collegiate 2nd place 1981 Sioux Falls, SD
National Collegiate champion 1982 Denver, Co
Womens team kata 1st place 1983 Santa Monica, Ca
Womens team kata 3rd place 1985
Chief Instructor and board member of the late master Takashina’s dojo in Coral Springs, Florida.
What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?
When I was 12 years old I was enrolled in Ballet classes. My brother Larry went to the Trinidad karate association (Sensei David Chin Leung) to start taking karate lessons. After his 1st session he told me, “ you should come with me to take karate classes, you would like it.” That was the beginning of my martial arts training in Shotokan karate.
What do you like about Shotokan Karate?
I love Shotokan karate because it is a traditional martial art. It dates as far back as master Funakoshi in 1922 when he brought Shotokan karate from Okinawa to Japan and to this day, it is being taught and practiced throughout the world as a standardized martial art. It is like both education and philosophy, in that we are all teaching, learning and practicing the same techniques and developing the principles of budo and the perfection of oneself.
Is there something you do not like? What is it?
In every organization there is the struggle for power and this creates a diversion or disruption of the pursuit of the true objective. The politics destroys the ability to see the true martial art objective, which is the discipline of mind, body and spirit through the way of life, the budo.
What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?
My greatest experience was when I enrolled at the University of Miami and I realized that the karate instructor was sensei Shigeru Takashina. This was a continuous great experience for 37 great years. (Four years at college and the rest at the South Atlantic Karate Association Headquarters dojo.)
I can’t use the word “worst”. However, I can say that my “saddest” experience was the passing of master Takashina, my sensei, in September 2013. This has led me to understand what he meant when he told me “don’t get involved in politics”. I then experienced a rough political path in trying to continue the legacy of my sensei. The details I would rather put behind me. However, I have to mention that I am grateful to some very important people who stepped forward during that time and continue to do so, to contribute their time and effort to get master Takashina ‘s dojo and legacy to where it is today, six years after his passing.
What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?
Training is always challenging. Sometimes it’s the perfection of the techniques, and sometimes it’s my life outside of the dojo that’s challenging my training. Somehow I am able to find the perfect balance, because without it, I can’t find harmony. I believe that a truly good instructor motivates his/her students. My sensei, along with my classmates and my family members have also helped to motivate and encourage me in the past.
Now that I am the chief instructor, it’s the students that motivate me and who have led me to another aspect of my karate training.
How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?
Shotokan karate has taught me a lot about respect. The ranks and the ranking system teaches me to respect everyone in the dojo and that carries through to my daily life.
discipline learnt through the traditional training teaches me to be humble.
It has helped
me to develop a strong character while maintaining humility and respect for
As we say: mind, body and spirit.
How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life?
I have been
training practically my whole life, and I have gone through some difficult times
not related to karate. During these times, I used my karate training to push
myself through and find the strength to deal with my controversies.
Its that warrior in you that keeps you going. The more that you train and the more that you push yourself, the stronger your character becomes.
How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?
They are many technical aspects of Shotokan karate which haveevolved, especially over the last several years. I find that as I continue to train, I have to adapt and re learn certain basic movements.
Scientifically, the moves have evolved to become more effective as a whole.
What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?
For myself I want to keep training to improve all aspects of my karate and become an excellent instructor.
My overall goal is to preserve and continue Master Takashina’s legacy.
How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?
It would be awesome to see all the Shotokan groups in the USA come together, putting aside the politics and focusing on learning and sharing the knowledge of the Shotokan way.
As karateka, not to focus as much on the competition and winning, but to concentrate on the development of budo.
Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends?
Yes, it is good to develop awareness and for self defense as well as to develop a strong mind, body and spirit.
If we had to award a prize for the most beautiful and concise definition of the spirit of Shotokan in 2019, we were very eager to give it to Elpida Christodoulou, our today´s woman of Shotokan. While she offers many thoughtful and wise insights about Shotokan, the following has been the most striking one for us:
Shotokan karate is not just an art of punches and kicks. It is an art composed of people who upgrade your internal world. So, that you can become a better person for yourself and for your society.
Besides her deep understanding of the philosophy of Shotokan Elpida is an incredible competitor. Two weeks ago, she won a gold medal at the SKIF world championship women individual kumite U45 in Czech Republic. At the same event, she also became second with her kata team. Therefore, Elpida is a true woman of Shotokan and a huge inspiration. Congratulations, Elpida!
Additional information (member of a national team, coach, board member of a Dojo, highest achievements etc.):
Member of the national team of SKIF (individual Kumite, individual kata, team leader women kata, team leader women kumite) 2000 – 2019
Member of the national team of WKF in different categories – Greece, from 2000-2012
Coach of the National team SKIF boys/girls- men/women kata-kumite
Instructor in Shotokan Karate Club Ilision “Yamada Kan” since 2005
Gold Medal Kumite Women -60kg European Championship Oporto-Portugal SKIF
Third Place KATA Women World Championship SKIF Durban-South Africa 2003
Gold Medal Kumite Women -60kg European Championship Oporto-Portugal SKIF
Third Place Kumite Team Women World Championship SKIF Japan 2006- Team Leader
Gold Medal Kumite Women Open World Championship OKINAWA 2007 -All Shotokan Federation -In Memory of 50 yrs Gichin Funakoshi
Second Place KATA Team Women World Championship SKIF Greece 2009-Team Leader
Second Place KATA Women individual European Championship SKIF Budapest 2011
Third Place KATA Women European Championship SKIF Dresden-Germany 2014
Third Place Kumite Women -60 European Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2017
Gold Medal Kumite Women Open U45 World Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2019
Second Place KATA Team Women- Masters World Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2019
What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?
Elpida Christodoulou: Hahaha😊: I’m starting my answer laughing. Actually, because the reason was quite ridiculous. I was really angry with my sister (age 12). At that time, I used to hang out with a friend of mine who practiced karate. So, I thought to sign up to the karate school that she was going. God bless her for that! The weird thing was that I never used karate against my sister after I joined. The reason I started karate was just a childhood idea that enhanced my life in many levels.
What do you like about Shotokan Karate? Is there something you do not like?
Elpida Christodoulou: About the art of Shotokan karate, I will start by saying that I like everything from the technical point of view – kihon-kata-kumite – and mostly I prefer kata. I like the difficulty and detail which is hidden in between the variety of techniques. And also, how magically they can change your way of life in the best possible way1 When someone practices something so hard, both in the physical and in the spiritual level, as the art of Shotokan karate, he or she is able to gain his/her self-esteem, overcome many adversities in life and become a winner – a winner in life!
What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?
Elpida Christodoulou: In my opinion Shotokan karate is like “solid gold”.
Actually, the greatest and the worst experiences come from the people and situations that constitute Shotokan.
My greatest experience is that, through Shotokan, I was able to travel in many beautiful places and had the opportunity to meet many people with different cultures and ideas. So , that fact made me a more complete person, with friends in different countries. Great experiences were also all the times I won medals in championships, that made myself, my sensei and my country proud. Especially the Gold Medal in Okinawa in 2007 in the World Championship of all Shotokan Federations, in memory of Gichin Funakoshi (on the 50th anniversary of his death), a great and historical event for Shotokan. And finally, the Gold Medal that I won just a few days ago (19/7/2019) in the SKIF world championship in Czech Republic, when I heard the national anthem…
Worst experience? I cannot recall.
What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?
Elpida Christodoulou: In difficult and challenging times, I draw power from my sensei, who is unstoppable no matter whatever problems come his way. So, I think to myself: “If he can, so can I.” My sensei also gives me the greatest motivation to keep going and want the best from myself and my karate students of all ages, especially the youngest generations. I am thinking that it is a huge responsibility to transmit the correct way and knowledge of Karate Shotokan as my sensei along with the Japanese senseis did and still do with me. Keeping that in mind, I try physically and mentally to do my best. As the time passes and life’s obligations grow, I am blissful that I have all the right reasons that never let me quit.
How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?
Elpida Christodoulou: Karate has surely changed and improved me as a person. From the moment I began to realize that, if I really wanted to stand out and be the best possible in Karate, I should dedicate myself to it, without leaving my university studies at the same time. It was difficult to juggle both, but I kept in mind my sensei’s words, who always told me that my studies should be my number one priority and Karate should come second. So yes, Karate changed me in a positive way, because it offered me a special path that not everyone can follow, which meant discipline of yourself, a lot of self-esteem and the feeling that you are doing something completely different than the majority of people.
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?
Elpida Christodoulou: In a very difficult period of my life, Karate helped me find myself again.
I dedicated myself to my purpose and my long-hours of training every day. That, combined with the people that appreciated my desire and appetite for Karate and believed in me, helped me – without even knowing it – to get out of my darkness.
As I mentioned before, I believe that, when someone is practicing something as hard and special as Shotokan karate, he or she can deal with and overcome many obstacles that come his or her way. That is something I cannot forget in my everyday life.
Shotokan karate is not just an art of punches and kicks. It is an art composed of people who upgrade your internal world, so that you can become a better person for yourself and for your society.
How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?
Elpida Christodoulou: My Karate Shotokan is laid on very strong foundations and I always try to progress. Therefore, my Karate has changed and is still changing in many ways. Slowly and patiently. I participate in many seminars, both in my country and abroad, with Japanese and European instructors and I always try to learn from the best.
What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?
Elpida Christodoulou: My short- and long-term goal in karate is to have the strongest possible dojo and organization I can possibly have. With students that appreciate and love karate as much as I do. So that I can keep passing on the ideals that Shotokan pursues, such as honesty, good heart, straight way of thinking, discipline, self-esteem, politeness. And so that I give them the necessary knowledge to defend themselves and their families in the best way possible, if necessary.
Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?
Elpida Christodoulou: Of course, I would recommend Shotokan karate to my female friends!
Women are a minority in the world of Karate and nature has endowed us with less muscle strength than men, but we are for sure very intelligent, have excellent technique (in many cases better than men) and we are more capable to avoid violence compared to men. As a result, testosterone has destroyed half of our world. Furthermore, as we live in a men’s world, women must exercise as much as they can and learn how to defend themselves if necessary, believe in their physical and mental strength and be healthy and fit at all ages. Stop smoking, do karate. Oss!