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Women of Shotokan: Elpida Christodoulou

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.

Elpida Christodoulou

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!

Portrait of Elpida Christodoulou

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
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou after her victory.
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou During Kumite
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou With Kancho Kanazawa

Highest achievements:

  • 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
  • Etc.
Elpida during competition

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.

  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou medailes
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou after her victory.
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou after her victory.

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.

Elpida during competition

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.

  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou with Ildiko Redai.
  • Elpida hristodoulou with other women of Shotokan
  • The picture shows Elpida hristodoulou with Nobuaki Kanazawa, Manabu Murakami,and team mates.

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!


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Shotokan in New York City – Classic Documentary

A vibrant city like New York needs a location to calm down and ground oneself. Sensei Masataka Mori provided this place. In his dojo the, New York Karate Club Inc., which was located on 72nd and Broadway, he brought a little piece of Japan to the city that never sleeps. Thanks to Tim Danielson, who trained in the 1970´s under Sensei Mori, you can get a first hand glimpse into the New York Karate Club. Tim send us link to the fantastic documentary called Tokyo on the Hudson. It depicts Sensei Mori, his teachings, and the life in the dojo. Our opener picture shows the dojo in the 1970´s when Tim was training there (standing in the back third from the left).

Tim sent us this very personal and moving note:

“This video is about Sensei Masataka Mori. After four years of study, he romoted me to shodan in 1976 at this same dojo in New York City. Thank you Mori Sensei, for all that you taught me, it went well beyond Karate.”

Oss!


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Karate Do as a Martial Art: War or Peace?

Girl doing Oi-Zuki

Karate Do means for some being constant in a war. For others, however, it means peace. By Marco Sanna

The Origin of Karate Do as Martial Art

Back in the days, martial arts prepared warriors for hand-to-hand combat. Self-protection was paramount. In such a system was little room for art, spiritualism, moral, ethical formalism, and the pursuit of mental and physical perfection. Martial arts were perceived as “arts of war” that were based on the logic of “kill or be killed”.

Karate Do: A Martial Art?

Karate Do is also a martial art. But can we say it is an art of war? No. But that has not always been the case. Until the 1980´s, training focused on toughness. Masters during that time were less aesthetic, less athletic, less explosive than they are today. On the other hand, they were very strong and trained like that.

The stories about that period are numerous. My father (VII Dan, class ’53) told me:

“The training sessions in the 70´s were characterized by strong physical training. The conditioning of the body included an indefinite number of flexions on the arms and abdominal bending. Followed by hundreds of repetitions of basic techniques. I remember having performed the first kata with a training partner on my shoulders, I performed the positions and he the techniques of arms . When Master Hiroshi Shirai arrived on Sardinia, it was a great honor for us despite the hardness of the training and the inflexibility towards the smallest mistake”.

In the first years of Karate development in Europe, students were all adults. Being all big and strong they had no problems with hard training sessions like in Japan. Thus, the numbers of athletes grew very fast and reached 150.000 Karateka during the ’70s that.

The Change of Karate Do during the 1980´s

The euphoria of the early years, however, slowly faded away. The reason for the decrease was that Westerners understood Karate Do as a sport and a sort of workout. For the most Karateka rigors training sessions like in Japan were just too tough.

Marco Sanna During Karate Practice
Marco Sanna during Karate Practice

Plenty Karate masters realized that training routines had to change or their Dojos would be empty in the future. Karate had become more soften without losing its physical component. This urge to alter Keiko (jap. for “training”) was also fostered by the fact that children became more present in Dojos. Their physical features do not allow for tough training. Due to this causes Shotokan Karate Do has been losing its “art of war”-character.

Instead, of welcoming this development many Karateka complain that Shotokan has lost its soul. It should become tough again in order to foster the mindset of warriors. That would be the true spirit of Budo.

Shotokan as an Art of Peace

From my point of view, the true meaning of Shotokan Karate as Budo was never related to an “art of war”. Budo, like Gichin Funakoshi has taught us, has nothing to do with physical violence. He said:

 “The ultimate goal of Karate  is not winning or losing but perfecting the character who practices it”.

Gichin Funakoshi founded the style of Shotokan Karate Do
Gichin Funakoshi founded the style of Shotokan Karate Do

While Karate comprises striking and blocking these actions are embedded into a bigger system of

  • ceremonial rules,
  • ways of behavior,
  • sets of techniques and predefined movements (kata),
  • ethical programs,
  • moral convictions,
  • mindset,
  • attitudes, and
  • structures of relations.

One must learn all these aspects and repeat until they are perfect. Only then one becomes a true Karateka.

Control over Body and Mind lead to Peaceful Subjects

The purpose of this system is to gain control over one´s body and mind. Control is the prerequisite for happiness and a fulfilled life. When affects, impulses, and negative emotions dominate decision making, it becomes unpredictable whether one can reach happiness. It also leads to more selfless and call personalities that do not seek violence. Once one reaches control over his body and mind, tranquility, balance, and resilience emerge. Opponents can become friends then. Conflicts can become opportunities of mutual understanding. Jealousy changes into sympathy. In order to reach this state of mind performing Kata is more important than fighting an opponent.

In fact, by losing its tendency towards toughness, Karate Do became what it always was supposed to be: an art of peace.

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Karate Combat and the Commercialization of Karate

Karate Combat promotes itself as the only full contact karate league world wide. This claim made us curious and we had a closer look. What we found was commercialization in the first place. A commentary by Dr. Christian Tribowski

If some of you have thought that Karate in general has become very commercialized in the past two decades, you might be surprised by the latest step on the capitalistic ladder. Karate Combat, a full contact Karate League, was launched this year.

Format of Karate Combat

It follows a pretty simple format: Two Karateka fight in a pit-like ring for a few minutes. The referee does not stop the fight: if one of the opponents scores a point – the fight goes on. At this point, it clearly distinguishes itself from Shobu Ippon kumite. Even on the ground the fighters can attack each other for five seconds. The rules prohibit hooks and elbow strikes. Gloves  are mandatory. The opponents should use long tsukis and keris like in Shobu Ippon kumite.

What was most astonishing for me about Karate Combat was the excessive and conspicuous presentation of status and economic power. Big cars, incredible venues like the Acropolis, naked bodies, and apparently an exclusive audience are part of the production. The main sponsor, as you can see on the ground of the pit, is Bitcoin. To get an own impression have a look at their YouTube channel.

Karate Combat as Retro-Futuristic Spectacular

Vice Sports called it “retro-futuristic” because it shares similarities with some 80´s martial arts movies. This similarities led me to the following association: The general setting and aesthetics of the scenery reminded me about the movie Lionheart with Jean-Claude van Damme. The movie depicts a wealthy upper-class that organizes illegal bare-knuckle fights for their entertainment in Los Angeles. JCVD takes part in these fights to raise money to help his brothers family.

Focus on Monetization

Karate Combat, on the other hand, follows the law and is not a fight to death. Although, the similarities with Lionheart cannot be overlooked it shares more traits with the modern boxing industry. Like professional boxing it focuses on entertainment and commerce. Bitcoin as the main sponsor must have paid a considerable amount of money, because Karate Combat streams the fights on the internet for free. The “domain name Karate.com, which we can only imagine costs more than all the fighter’s purses combined”, as Vice Sports noted, must also been paid. A non-profit could not effort this production. In addition, the website lists a variety of partner companies like amazon prime, YouTube, Dailymotion etc. Hence, the commercialization of Karate has gone a tremendous step further.

Shotokan Serves a Different Purpose than Karate Combat

Everybody is free to watch and visit Karate Combat events. However, everybody should be aware that making money is not the true value of Karate in general and Shotokan. To put the Do into practices it is. While money serves as a necessary means in any professionalized system, even in Karate, e.g. professional instructors must make a living and associations need money to develop professional structures, the maximization of profits as a major purpose contradicts with the values of Shotokan Karate Do.

Shotokan cultivates humility, solidarity, perfection of one’s character, truth, respect for others and etiquette, endeavor, and impetuous courage in the first place. Everybody who puts money and entertainment in the center of their Karate loses the positive outcomes of this life-long journey: mental freedom and balance, empowerment, humility, enlightenment, empathy, friendship, a sense of belonging, solidarity. Karate Combat, instead, encourages the satisfaction of egoistic short-term goals like immediate consumption and spectacular.

The Shotokan Karate Do community, thus, should work harder than ever before to stress and foster the traditional values and positive effects Shotokan has on individuals and societies.

What do you think? Please comment below the article and discuss with our author.

Note: The boxing ring picture of this article was shoot by Joel Muniz on Unsplash.