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Mikio Yahara: Unsu is my Life! Interview

There have been many very dynamic Shotokan karatekas. Today, we would like to introduce you to Mikio Yahara, chief instructor of the KWF. Like most karateka he has a signature kata. For Mikio Yahara it is unsu. In the below incredible interview he reveals his passion and the challenges of the kata.

Unsu: A reflection of Life

His incredible jumping power and his flexible body movements are leopard-like. Especially in kumite, he utilized his flexibility and became a very unpredictable fighter. Even by the age of 71 he is still quick and sharp as ever.

Like no other kata unsu trains dynamic movement. The deep stances, long techniques, quick changes of direction, and the signature unsu-jump require an extraordinary physic. Speed, balance, precision, and power must come together in order to master the kata. Its constantly changing pace gives it a unique rhythm. Pure hectic accompanies silence and meditative motions.

Therefore, Mikio Yahara concludes: “In a way, the kata is a reflection of life itself.”

Mikio Yahara: Killing with One Blow

Unsu also fits to Mikio Yaharas general attitude toward Shotokan karate. In a recent interview with Oleg Larionov he said:

I know karate as a martial art, but now karate seems like dancing. I would like to return to the original karate, to its sources. Budo karate, according to my opinion, is when I may finish my opponent definitively by one killing blow.

The strong and dynamic passages in unsu, therefore, prepares the karateka for the budo karate. Because in order to kill with a single blow the fighter must put all his commitment into the action. Only fully concentrated and ready to deliver the final technique unsu can be mastered.

The kata is therefore a perfect routine for the practice of ikken hissatsu as the kill with one blow is called in Japanese. Like no other principle it defines the Shotokan spirit and mind set.

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Women of Shotokan: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes

“There is something magical about Shotokan Karate!” says Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes, SKIF Kumite World Champion Masters 50+ of 2019. We could not agree more. However, Sandra lost this magic once. After being a very successful competitor in very young years, she felt a lack of sense in her karate. To many competitions gave her the feeling of “being driven by results, rather than my heart.” Thus, she stop training. 28 years later, she found her way back into the dojo. Today, she is more committed than ever. And her commitment pays of and gained her the title of a world champion. Read this inspiring and insightful portrait about a woman, who fought her way back on the tatami: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Portrait: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes
Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes
  • Age: 50
  • Karate since: 1977 until 1989 stopped for 28 years and started again in September 2016
  • Origin and residence: Dutch since 1996 living in Schilde Belgium
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank: 2nd Dan KBN (WKF/EKF), 3rd Dan SKIF
  • Dojo: Honbu Dojo Mortsel Belgium

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

  • From 1985 until 1988 member of Dutch National Team WKF
  • 1986 Silver Dutch Championship -53kg  KBN/WKF
  • 1987 Bronze European Championship Santander -53 WKF
  • 1988 Bronze European Championship Sopron Dutch Women Team
  • 1989 Gold Open Dutch League WKF
  • 1989 Silver  Dutch Championship Women All categories WKF
  • 1989 Bronze Open English Championship Birmingham Dutch Women Team WKF
  • 2019 Gold SKIF Kumite Masters 50+
Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during the SKIF World Championships 2019

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: As a young girl, I was quiet, shy, and I cried easily. That is why, even before I turned six years old, my parents advised me to take up judo to increase my confidence. Two years later, I joined a new karate school.

Because I suffered from chronic asthmatic bronchitis, I found it challenging to train in small spaces. My Sensei, Jim Hubner, from “Seibukan Dojo” taught me how to breathe the right way during training, and as a result, my self-confidence grew quickly. Suddenly I could enjoy the fun and educational karate lessons, just like all the other children.

Almost every night – after my father and I came back from work and school – we went to the dojo where he worked as a sports instructor, and I could take karate classes every evening. And so the dojo became my second home. 

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: There is something magical about Shotokan Karate! It is a perfect art of self-defense and an excellent way to achieve overall fitness and unparalleled control over body and mind.

Kumite is and remains my favorite part of karate, but the basic kihon and kata are also fascinating and very interesting.

During the training, I am always looking for “perfection” because something always remains to be improved. Even simple kihon exercises are never truly perfect. I am always looking for the right positions, timing, kime, balance, and breathing.

I think that it is essential to keep control of all these aspects. And for kumite, I think the more versatile you are, the better you can determine your strategies.

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

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: No, I like every aspect of karate. Except maybe the blisters I have all the time, haha.

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

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: My most significant experience was returning to karate after 28 years.

Three years ago, I took a karate trial lesson with my friends in the Honbu Dojo in Mortsel, Belgium. My friends didn’t know anything about my experience with karate because I had closed that chapter a long time ago. During the first training session, as soon as I took my first kick, my Sensei Stephane Castrique realized that I had done this before. I was surprised about how quickly my desire grew to do this more and more often. Very soon, I was allowed to participate in the black belt lessons, and I came to the dojo almost every day.

There was something magical about the dojo, and I was inspired by the great passion and knowledge with which Sensei Stephane Castrique taught his classes. I realized more and more that karate was still flowing through my veins!

After a year of hard training, I got my 2nd dan confirmed by SKIF, and a year later I got my 3rd dan.

In these 2.5 years, I reconnected with old karate friends. I increasingly felt that all the pieces of the puzzles were coming together. It gave me a sense of complete satisfaction and purpose. The last piece of the puzzle and the most beautiful highlight was winning the gold at the World Cup in the Czech Republic.

In terms of the worst experience, there is nothing that comes to mind.

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during training

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

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: I like challenges. I see them as new opportunities and take them with both hands.

On the one hand, I get my motivation from the fact that challenges make a person better and stronger. And on the other hand, they force me to think about things differently. And when you deliver excellent performance, you get more appreciation. That is also a major motivator.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: Karate has shaped me as a person. I was in the Seibukan dojo almost every day from the age of nine to the age of nineteen. At that time, I was surrounded by loving people who all shared my passion for karate. I had weekly training sessions with the best Senseis of that time, including Ludwig Kotzebue (kumite) and Jaap Smaal (kata). They taught me not only to work hard but also to stay sharp and focused on achieving my goals. In the national team led by national coach Otti Roethof and Raymond Snel, I trained with the greatest champions of that time!

My friends sometimes ask me whether I truly enjoyed my childhood. They wonder if I ever missed going out with friends. I can only answer that loving, caring people surrounded me, and so I never experienced it negatively. They were my karate family, and I am grateful that they shared not only the passion for karate with me but also some valuable life lessons.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: Karate has had a significant influence on me in every aspect.

I quit karate when I was twenty years old because I lost my passion for it. I felt like I was being driven by results, rather than my heart. Around that time, I also met my husband, with whom I traveled around the world, got married, and have two beautiful children. My husband had his own company, and he worked around the clock. I wanted to stay at home with our son and daughter. I made that choice wholeheartedly without any doubts or regrets. Because of it, I now have a great connection with my children, and I love being a mother.

When my daughter left home at the age of nineteen to study at the UVA in Amsterdam, I felt lost. I had everything my heart desired, and yet I was miserable and anxious. I felt like crying a lot of the time, and I was driving myself crazy.

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during training

So I focused all my attention on our son. When he came home from school, I bombarded him with questions. According to the doctor, I was suffering from empty nest syndrome. He even prescribed light antidepressants for me, but I refused to take them. I had to do something for myself. So as I mentioned before, karate came back into my life at the perfect time. I rediscovered my old passion in which I could always set new goals, and as a result, I flourished. Also for my family it is nice that I have my own goals and they know that I am always there for them when they need me.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: When I was younger and a member of the Dutch national team Kumite, I trained every day. At that time, especially in the later years, karate was more of a sport to me, and so I only trained to achieve good results. That was also what people expected from me.

Now, 28 years later, I train with much more passion and depth. I am also fortunate that, in the SKIF family, I get to train with the best and most inspiring senseis and karatekas. They ensure that I stay sharp and focused.

My goal is to become an even better karateka. But I also want to enjoy every minute on the tatami with people who share the same passion!

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: I hope that Shotokan karate remains the way it is. I hope that the traditional style of karate continues to be practiced with all its strict etiquette, depth, and respect for each other.

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

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes: Yes, it is through my female friends that I have found my way back to the dojo. We have a nice club of ladies who train together every Monday morning. We want to get the most out of each other, both as a karateka and in our friendship. In recent years, I have not only seen them evolve from a white belt to a purple one, but I have also seen them grow as a person. They have more self-confidence and they have become stronger, both physically and mentally. And while doing karate, you make friends for life!

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Women of Shotokan: Mirjam Widmer

Mirjam Widmer knows only too well that with passion also comes – sometimes – pain. Karate is her passion and she pursues it with willpower and commitment. For her karate means: “a combat against myself that makes me stronger.” That is the essence of Do. Karate, she says, keeps her going. But for Mirjam karate is not just a matter of fighting spirit. It goes deeper. Karate is about the way we all live together. For her “manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude.” Being humble and thoughtful belongs for her to the central traits of a good karateka. Have fun reading this insightful and moving interview with Mirjam Widmer. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Mirjam Widmer

  • Age:                                  48
  • Karate since:                   13. September 1991 … it was a Friday
  • Origin and residence:    Zurich, Switzerland
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank:            3rd Dan
  • Dojo:                                 Seikukan Karate Do Zurich

Additional information:

  • JKA Instructor C / JKA Examiner D /JKA Judge D
  • I opened my own Dojo called Seikukan Karate Do in Zürich in 2011

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

When I was 12, I had a neighbor who was doing Karate. He taught me the first Kata heian shodan. We played a lot of Karate outdoors. The next dojo, however, was too far away and I was not allowed to go there for training. So, unfortunately I did not start as a child. Only at the age of 20, I finally turned up at the dojo and joined the Karate Club. I still had the kata heian shodan in my mind. After the first class I knew this was what I really want to do.

The reason why I started at that time, were some problems in the office. I needed something that distracted me, on the one hand, and, on the other, reduced my aggression. So, my kime was straight away very good!

I was very keen about learning Karate. As an 8th Kyu I went to London to learn English and ended up in Enoeda Sensei’s Marshall Street dojo. It was the time when I became really addicted to karate.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I love the fact that it takes all my concentration. Therefore, I have to focus my mind and train hard to get better. I like to work on myself, but in a group together with other people. And it is very important for me to follow a master and show my loyalty by doing my best. Shotokan karate is very structured what I really like. I need this. I could never do expressive dance, for instance. ☺

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

It is a pity that, beside to fantastic seminar with outstanding instructors and amazing friendships all over the world, politics in Karate always plays a big role. In my opinion, we all have our master, our source that we follow. Maybe other people have other ideas. Why should one not just respect them? Manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude. By the end, I decide for myself what is best for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the best for someone else.

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

The greatest experience has been, of course, my time training with Enoeda Sensei and Ohta Sensei at Marshall Street in London. Enoeda Sensei formed my fighting spirit and Ohta Sensei was definitely the best for teaching the technique. I feel honored as well that I had and still have the chance to train with many charismatic instructors. I admire them with my whole karate heart.

However, there have also been sad moments. After I returned from London back to Switzerland, I got kicked out of the dojo at home. I would have changed too much, they said. Of course, I did change after all the training I did in England and maybe I also had just not enough time to arrive back home. Or my teacher at the time had not enough patience to let me settle.

However, it was my destiny. As I had no other Dojo to go and my loyalty to the JKA was so strong that I did not want to go to an other organization. Therefore, I stopped Karate for several years. But I came back – even stronger!

Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri
Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri

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

As I train for myself because I don’t have a teacher here in Switzerland I have had many ups and downs. To have a sensei, who is looking after me, is very important. Even though, there is no one in my own dojo, there are many great senseis around the world that helped me a lot. My motivation is not to disappoint them by giving up. To show them that I can do better the next time, I see them in England, Berlin, Japan or any other country on a visit of a gasshuku. This motivation keeps me going.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

It is difficult to say what I would have done different in my life without karate. But I think it gave me a structure in difficult times. Even though difficult times were often related to karate. Karate gives me the opportunity to deal with myself. It is a combat against myself that makes me stronger. However, only for a short time and then the struggle starts again. In short: it keeps me running!

Why gave Karate you a difficult time?

In one way, I had this issue when I got kicked out, followed by the struggle to start again. Today, I have my own dojo. Which is great. But, when I started to work part time to be at home early in order to teach the children classes, the financial struggle began. In addition, the place where my dojo is will be closed for two years soon. I do not have a solution yet.

For me Karate is something which just cannot be perfect. However, I must also admit that I maybe need this kind of challenges.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

Since I started karate, it has been influencing me a lot and by I have built my life around karate eventually. But I think: if I had done something else, it would have been the same. I do something it 100% or I do not do it at all. I put a lot of effort in it. However, I am never happy with the result.

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Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Karate is the straw to catch when things are difficult, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is pure joy when I achieve something. I guess my emotions are the engine of my karate.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

At the beginning, I wanted to be very strong. Then, I found out that a good technique is more important. Right now, I try to become more relaxed about everything. Due to the fact that I have not started as a child I never competed in tournaments a lot. My focus was always my technique and this reflects the way I teach in my dojo. I belief I became much better, since I teach. But due to the fact that I do not have have partners for kumite and there is no instructor around I cannot tell whether this is really the truth.

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

I go to Japan to the JKA Autumn Course in October and I would like to take exam for the 4th Dan.

A long-term goal is to stabilize my dojo. I hope to have enough members to keep it up without having to a financially struggle. My dream is a small dojo with a good standard and people that not just consume and come only if they feel like. I would like people that appreciate the training and have ambition.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

I hope that young people not just practice karate to win competitions and that elderly people recognize the benefit of karate as a whole-body workout. Karate should be practiced as an art and with together as a family: Young people, older people – but always with the mindset of killing with one blow.

I hope people stay interested in the history of karate and appreciate to learn from the legends that are part of this history.

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

I wished I had more female karateka in my dojo. Many women are afraid when it comes to punching and kicking. However, karate is a workout that not only strengthens the body but also builds confidence. The weapons of everyday life are not the fists. They are patience, respect, diligence, and willpower. The path of karate do is not just the physical aspect it is also the development of mental strength. Karate helps to focus on the essential values.

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Karate as Self-defense: Andre Bertel’s Shotokan

The pictures shows Andre Bertel doing a mae geri.

Andre Bertel has a very elegant style of karate. However, for him his karate focus not on aesthetics but on his self-defense. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

We admit: We like Andre Bertel´s style of Karate. His refreshing understanding of Shotokan Karate as self-defense and its application to real fighting situations deserve more attention.

Real Fights are Different than Shobu Ippon

While ShōbuIppon (勝負一本) is the first step in order to check once own fighting ability. The rules of this type of competition differ extremely from a street fight, a bar brawl, or if somebody becomes molested. Therefore, the modus operandi must be different in self-defense. Andre is a great example how to alter your training to become more realistic in training Karate as self-defense.

In the following Interview with Andre Bertel conducted by Oliver Schömburg, you can find a detailed description of Andres approach.

Interview with Andre Bertel about his Karate

Andre Bertel was Educated by Tetsuhiko Asai

Under the guidance of the late Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai Andre Bertel developed a versatile and very dynamic way of fighting. Above all, his Shotokan style comes close to the origins of Karate. In Okinawa, the developers of Karate understood it as a martial art for the defense in real-life fighting situations. Choki Motobu, an Okinawa Karate Master and contemporary of Gichin Funakoshi, said:

“Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defense.”

Such an attitude led to a training regime that always focused on the defensive value of Karate. Until today, Okinawa Karate distinguishes itself through a variety of short-range techniques, low kicks, and an emphasis on kote kitae (toughening of hands and bones). Morio Higaonna, who carries on the Goju-Ryu tradition, depicts this qualities of Okinawa Karate.

Sensei Tatsuya Naka visited an trained together with Morio Higaonna Sensei. The difference of the styles become immediately visible.

Karate as Self-Defense instead of Bunkai

From our point of view, Andres Karate follows this tradition. So, he utilizes the full variety of techniques that one can find in the 26 Shotokan Kata. One should not confuse this approach with Bunkai, which is a very formal application of Kata. Instead of training them within Kata, he learnt from Shihan Asai how to train them in a free and conflict-like way. Hence, the Kata is executed in a more realistic situation and less formalized.

If you have the chance to visit a seminar with Andre Bertel, don´t miss it. Oss!

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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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“Shobu Ippon is not a game like Sport Karate.” Thomas Prediger about Kumite

Shobu ippon and sport karate could not be more different. Thomas Prediger, however, knows both because he won the Shoto-Cup and was kumite head coach of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. In this interview he illuminates the difference between both systems and why he thinks that sport karate is a game. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Kumite Boot Camp is the regular column of Thomas Prediger in which he will discuss crucial topics for Shotokan Karate. This time, he spoke with Dr. Christian Tribowski about Shobu Ippon and Sport Karate.

What are the Difference Between Shobu Ippon and Sport Karate?

Christian: Where is the difference between the competition you have descript and the one´s that foster Do?

Thomas: You can see the difference when you look at the big associations: The WKF with its 8-point system and the JKA with the 1-point, Shobu Ippon system. The JKA also renounces weight-classes. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages, because they are man-made. But we have to consider the aim of the competition. The 8-point system of the WKF does not lead to situations that foster Do. It is more like a process-oriented sport where power and speed are paramount.

The idea behind that system is, that over the course of a match the fastest and more powerful will win. Athletic determines the outcome of the match. While the JKA Shobu Ippon system creates way more uncertainties one has to deal psychologically with. The outcome of the match is not determined by your physical traits but rather through your mental state.

Just compare the fighters in both systems. WKF fighters are very athletic. The JKA fighters are less athletic but they have a splendid attitude, are very honest, and do not avoid dangerous situations.

The 8-Point WKF System is flawed

Christian: Does that also mean that the 8-point system offers more options to take advantage of it?

Thomas: Yes! You can see that every year because the WKF constantly adjusts the rules. This goes also for World Championships. Right after the tournament the WKF alters the rules.

For example, some competitors do not tie their Gi very well. The reason is simple: if the Gi opens the referee has to stop the fight. That buys them time when they are under pressure. Because they can pull the Gi a bit and it opens. Before the last World Championship, the WKF changed the rules so that the ties at the Gi must be closed. Athletes could steer the fight with such measurements.

However, when you do not have a rule for such things like it is in the Shobu Ippon system then a fighter cannot take advantage. They would not gain anything by having lose ties at their Gi. That is something I find immensely important about Shobu Ippon: The rules force you to specific actions.

Shobu Ippon as an Educational Situation

Christian: Does that mean that Shobu Ippon has a different educational effect then the 8-point system?

Thomas: Exactly! The 8-point system leads to an inconsequential attitude. Because after the first point you get 7 more points to make-up your mistakes. Such a system does not reflect the seriousness of a real-life situation where you usually do not have more than one opportunity to defend or attack. Shobu Ippon is not a game like Sport Karate.

On the other hand, the execution of the technique has no decisive effect whether you get a point in Sport Karate or not. When you touch your opponent with your fist or your foot you will receive a point. In Shobu Ippon power and clean techniques are serious categories. If your technique is to weak you won’t get a point.

Keisuke Nemoto has been 5 times JKA All Japan Karate Kumite Championship. He is an shobu ippon expert.

Educational Goals of Shobu Ippon

Christian: But what educational goals does Shobu Ippon exactly want to achieve?

Thomas: Very provocative speaking: To learn to loss! You must have the ability to loss. That sounds simple. But it is a different way to loss than in an 8-point system. In Shobu Ippon losing is always possible and sometimes you do not have much influence on it. In a single blow a fight could be over.

Thus, you need a completely different awareness and tolerance. Due to the fact that the power of the punches and kicks is judged you might get hit but the referee does not give a point. These punches can still hurt und you have to stand that. The pressure of the situation is, therefore, very high. Your task is to stay capable to act and react. That requires inner balance and strength.

Christian: And focus, right?

Thomas: Under pressure you need the coolness to focus on your one technique that finishes your opponent. For instance, if you want to use a Gyaku-zuki then you always face the danger that you also get hit. Thus, you have to put everything you have into this one punch.

Christian: But let’s assume that we have a Shobu Ippon tournament and the winner will receive 100.000 US-Dollar. The incentive to fight and to win is now completely different than usually. Do you not think that such an incentive would lead to cheating as well?

Thomas: Some incentives are good. But I agree. Extreme prize moneys will again pervert the system. The competitors will then rather be motivated in a financial way. However, if we keep the rule system lean, we will still generate the learning effects. The motivation is less important for learning than the modus of your learning. Shobu Ippon is the more honest system. Competitors just do not have that much options to exploit the system.

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“I beat the Makiwara 5.000 times per day”: Koichiro Okuma About his Daily Life and Favorite Hobby

We all admire Karate Instructors like Koichiro Okuma. Their excellent technique, fighting spirit, and charisma give them a superhuman aura. But who are Karate Instructors? How much do they train? Do they have other jobs beside Karate? How does a regular day in the life of a Karate Instructor look like? The Shotokan Times had the chance to interview one of the most renowned and world-wide known JKA Instructors: Koichiro Okuma. We talked with him about his morning routine, the long days of traveling, and his most favorite hobby. Learn more about the life of a Karate Instructor. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Morning Routine

Today, we would like to talk about your daily life as an JKA instructor, Okuma Sensei. May we start at the beginning: What do you do when you start your day?

Koichiro Okuma: I usually wake up at 5 am. In bed, I already begin with my preparation. I stretch and twist my body. I do little Mae Geris and relax my shoulders. After that, I go jogging.

How many kilometers do you run?

Koichiro Okuma: Not so many. My running starts more like walking into the park. That is not so hard. Then, I do intervals of 300 meters – fast, slow, fast, slow. I always speed up a little bit from interval to interval. In the end, that sums up to round about 3 kilometers. It is just a way for me to start the day, to wake up, and fix my body. It has no specific training purpose.

After that, I walk home. Back home, I have breakfast and drive to the JKA headquarter.

How long does it take you to go to the headquarter?

Koichiro Okuma: It is only 20 kilometers to the headquarter. We live a little bit outside of Tokyo. But you know, the heavy traffic in Japan. So, that is why it takes me one hour and a half by car. However, I do not want to take the subway (laughs). It is just too crowded with too many people.

Arriving at the JKA Headquarter

When do you arrive at the headquarter and what do you do then?

Koichiro Okuma: I arrive at 8:30 am. I open the headquarter because I am usually the first to arrive. Immediately after that, I start beating the Makiwara. Now, we have the hot season in Japan. Usually I beat the Makiwara 5.000 times every morning. 1.000 Ura-Ken, 3.000 Choku-Zuki in Kiba-Dachi, and 1.000 Gyaku-Zuki in Zenkutsu-Dachi. That is my Makiwara training.

JKA Headquarter in Tokyo: Okuma Sensei is usually the first in the morning to arrive.
JKA Headquarter in Tokyo: Okuma Sensei is usually the first in the morning at the headquarter.

You said, you do 5.000 punches in the summer. How many do you do in the winter?

Koichiro Okuma: More than 10.000 every day. Because in Japan, the summer season is very hot and wet with a high level of humidity. Even doing only 5.000 Zukis causes me to sweat a lot. I have also a big event every day, where I must attend: the instructor training. Therefore, I have to stay energetic and cannot exhaust myself.

  • Okuma Sensei: The myriad years of Makiwara training have made his knuckles hard like stone
  • Koichiro Okuma relaxes in a Cafe in Düsseldorf after the interview.

But between punching the Makiwara I also do snap routines for Mae Geri. I do 200 to 300 repetitions. Of course, not continuously. I always do sets of ten and squeeze them between the Makiwara punches. Because I have a knee problem. When I stay to long in one stance during the Makiwara routine, for instance, Zenkutsu-Dachi, my knee becomes very stiff.

Right after the Makiwara training, I also punch the heavy bag and do some Kata training. Some days, I practice Tekki Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan. On other days, I do the 15 mandatory basic Katas. Or I practice all Katas with a Dai and a Sho version like Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho. I decide about the Katas on a daily basis. I do not have a fixed routine.

Finally, I do a Kata with a stick sometimes. My master, Sensei Tatsuya Naka, gave me some instructions about stick fighting. That is why I also practice the Kata Shushi No Kon. Sometimes I also add a little bit of Kumite movements into my routine.

In sum, my whole morning routine, including the Makiwara and everything, takes 90 minutes.

Although he requires a lot from his students he also likes to have a good time during training. Koichiro Okuma in Germany.

10 am: Office Begins

What do you do after that?

Koichiro Okuma: Office starts at 10 am. I start to beat the Makiwara at 8:30 am. Right after my workout, I have to be in the office. The instructor training starts at 11 am. Before the instructor training, I need to finish some work. Thus, I need to go downstairs to the office.

I am in charge for the Department of International Affairs of the JKA. That is why I need to check emails and give instructions to the staff members. I have to advise them how to solve problems and how to execute tasks.

Okuma Senseis profil on the JKA website
Koichiro Okumas profil on the JKA website

Do you also have to take part in meetings etc.?

Koichiro Okuma: Yes, of course every now and then. If we hold a big event like a big tournament, I will take part in the planning. For instance, this year we are going to organize the Asia tournament. Therefore, I have to gather all the lists and we need to create a tournament program. We have to setup a schedule. But this goes not only for the tournaments. We have to come up with a schedule for the Gasshuku, too. So, we must create a system to execute these events. Of course, I cannot do all that by myself. That is why I give the orders to my employees in the department. One clerk and one young instructor support me with all that.

Instructor Training

And at 11 am, the instructor training start, right?

Koichiro Okuma: Yes! It takes between one and one and half hours. If it is shorter, then it will be even more intensive.

Ueki Sensei teaches the class sometimes. Sometimes, Imamura Sensei, Kobayashi Sensei, or Taniyama Sensei do it. They become appointed by the Chief Instructor.

Koichiro Okuma training at the Hobu Dojo

All the instructors, who are in Tokyo at that time, must take part in the training. The only reason for not joining the training is, if somebody is abroad. So, we train together every day. On average we are 15 to 20 people.

The training, by the way, is very hard. Very tough. Sometimes we only do Kihon, Kata or Kumite but it is always very tough.

Giving Karate Lessons

What do you do afterwards? It must be lunch time then, right?

Koichiro Okuma: After the instructor training, I take a shower, have lunch, and sometimes I take a nap. Then, I go back to the office.

At 3:30 pm I leave the headquarter to teach at Dokkyo University Karate Club, my alma mater, or at my own Dojo. My week goes like that: On Monday, I go to my University Dojo. On Tuesday, I teach in the headquarter. Wednesday, I teach at my Dojo in Tokyo. On Thursday, I am again in the University and on Friday I teach in my Dojo. Saturdays and Sundays are off. But sometimes I go to the University or I must judge at a tournament.

  • Okuma teaching the bunkai of Kanku Sho in Germany
  • Okuma Sensei The Ashi Barrai hits unexpected
  • Traveling abroad can become exhaustive but is also enriching
  • Okuma Sensei right in the middle of the training
  • Okuma Sensei: Constantly explaining techniques and educating his students
  • Okuma Senseis emphasize lies on quick techniques
  • Okuma Sensei shows the differents between Zukis
  • The Tekki Katas are among Okumas Senseis favorite Katas
  • Okuma Sensei with a some participants of the seminar.

When do you get back home on a regular day?

Koichiro Okuma: May be around 10 pm after the instructions. After the University, I will be at home at 8:30 pm. If I give training at my Dojo in Tokyo, I will be at home at 10 pm. Then, I have dinner and chat with my wife. And at 5 am I wake up again.

Traveling Abroad

But you also travel abroad a lot during the year, right? How many days do you travel?

Traveling abroad also means to meet good old friends: Koichiro Okuma Sensei with Keigo Shimizu Sensei.

Koichiro Okuma: Usually, more than 100 days per year. For instance, I was in Miami in January, in Greece in April, now Germany, right after that Morocco, Spain, and Belgium. Next month, I will be in Czech Republic. In August, the Asia tournament will take place in Thailand. From end of September to the beginning of October, I will be in South-Africa. In November, I will be on Mauritius and the Indian Ocean Islands. At the end of November, I will be in the Netherlands, too. After a short break in Japan, I will immediately fly to Mexico in November. That is the travel schedule for this year.

Do you have a golden frequent traveler card?

Koichiro Okuma: Maybe I will get it this year. But sometimes I get very cheap tickets. Thus, I cannot collect a lot of mileage. But this year, I will get the star alliance golden card! (smiles)

His Most Horrible Trip

As I can imagine the traveling is very exhaustive, right?

Koichiro Okuma: Yes! But I have a very funny story about my most horrible trip. 5 years ago, I had to travel around the globe. I had to travel to Norway first, then to Kenya and South Africa and finally Australia in one trip. So, I requested a world-tour ticket. Because they are cheaper than the single tickets. But the problem was that the ticket itinerary did not send me directly from Johannesburg to Australia. Instead, I was supposed to go first to John F. Kennedy Airport, New York. That took 15 hours from Johannesburg. Then, I had 3 hours transit until I had to catch a flight to Los Angeles. The flight was 6 hours from NYC to LA. But I had 11 transit in LA.

Look, my destination was Melbourne. Instead of going to Melbourne directly I also had a stop-over in Sydney. However, the flight from LA to Sydney was the most terrible one. I was seated in the last row. Left and right of me, were two very massive guys chatting and eating chips. I was squeezed between them. In order to survive this, I did the whole flight the beginning of Tekki Shodan. (laughs) That was my worst flight ever. In the end, it took me 2 days to go from South-Africa to Australia.

Koichiro Okuma teaching Heian Shodan in Germany.

Portable Makiwara

I can imagine that it is very difficult to maintain your daily schedule under such circumstances. What do you do in order to keep it at least a little bit?

Koichiro Okuma: Eventually, it is impossible. When I travel too much and start the Makiwara training again at home, my fists have become week in the meantime. Therefore, I cannot execute 5.000 punches at the Makiwara. Because of that I like to use a portable Makiwara. Either I punch the knuckles of both hands together or I use a stone. I have a small flat stone that I carry with me. I hold it in my palm while doing punches. Maybe I should get a Lava stone in the future! (laughs)

Fishing for Recreation

I guess that even an internationally renowned JKA instructor has spare time every now and then. What do you do then?

Koichiro Okuma: If I do not have any appointments, I will go fishing! (smile) My hobby is fishing. I am crazy about fishing. I have a small inflatable boot with a small engine. Of course, I will stay at the shore-line. I do not go very far out to the ocean. But I very enjoy to be on the ocean.

Aji (あじ) or Japanese horse mackerel is the favorite catch of Koichiro Okuma

I haven caught many fish so far. However, not the big fishes. I focus on Aji (Japanese horse mackerel), as we call the fish in Japan. Aji means “taste” in Japanese and the fish tastes very good. The fish is not that big – maximum 30 centimeters. That is why I use a very sensitive line and fish with a rod. All fish, I catch, I put into a cooling box with ice and seawater. I do not touch it. I use special equipment and put it right into the box. So, then the fish stays very fresh.

Sometimes, I prepare the fish for myself and my family. I turn it into Sashimi. If I catch a lot, I give them to my mother in law or University friends.

We wish you to catch many more fish in the future. Thank you very much for the interview, Koichiro Okuma Sensei!

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Miki Nakamachi – Women of Shotokan

The picture shows Miki Nakamachi in a bamboo forrest.

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

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

Miki Nakamachi

Brief Portrait

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

Additional information:

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

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

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

My brother’s belt kept changing colors.

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

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

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

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

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

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

Miki Kata training under the guidance of Sensei
Kobayashi Kunio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Oshima Ringo, Hiraga Akari

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“The Center of Gravity”: Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Hirokazu Kanazawa

“The Center of Gravity” is the title of a very rare Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa. Right from the beginning the viewer gets the feeling to be very close to someone and to attend a once in a life-time event. In 2012, the youtube channel Adeyto Industries run by french but Japan-based artist Adeyto Rex Angeli published an extraordinary interview with legendary Hirokazu Kanazawa. It comprises four parts that give a very close, precious, and unique look into the life and thoughts of the greatest living Shotokan legend.

Content of the Interview with Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa

In this first three parts Soke Kanazawa talks about his early years as a student at Takushoku University, his win of the national championship with a broken hand, breaking boars, his time as an young instructor in Hawaii an Europe as well as about challengers, who wanted to fight him and test his strength.

The 4th part deals with his understanding of Shotokan and the insights he has gained as a Shotokan-teacher. For him Karate is “a center of gravity” around which his live revolves. After 40 years of traveling the world he has learnt that the earth is is a tiny place. “The entire world is a family. Countries fighting each-other is a saddening nonsense.” Oss!

Part 1 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Part 2 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Part 3 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Part 4 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Picture by Jim Palmer – Oss!
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Women of Shotokan: Valentina Zucchetto

In our today portrait we are going to introduce you Valentina Zucchetto from Italy. Valentina started Karate at the age of 7. Most of her life has been coined by the art of Shotokan. In our interview she reveals that her passion has not faded. The opposite is the case. She constantly discovers new aspects about Do and still seeks new challenges in Karate. Valentina is on a journey to a deeper understanding of the beautiful art of Shotokan Karate. Join her journey for a bit of time and enjoy this fantastic portrait. Oss! By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Portrait of Valentina Zuchetto

  • Age: 25
  • Karate since: 2000
  • Origin and residence: Sicily, Italy
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank: 1th Dan
  • Dojo: Fudoshin Karate Favara

Additional information:

  • Assistant chief instructor of Fudoshin Karate Favara,
  • sports technical assistant of Fudoshin Karate Favara,
  • SKI-I kata and kumite regional and national champion.
The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto training Jion.

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Valentina Zucchetto: I’ve always liked to think that I didn’t choose Shotokan, but that Shotokan chose me first and that I continue to choose it every day. My dad is a karate Master and started teaching karate 25 years ago.

In the 70s he moved to Turin to pursue his dream of becoming a karate teacher and had the opportunity to train with several Japanese Masters who came to Italy to expand Karate-Do like Master Kase, Master Shirai, Master Miura and Master Naito. Once back in Sicily, he opened his dojo. Among his first students was my brother. Thus, at the age of seven, I joined the family myself.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Valentina Zucchetto: I believe it is a discipline rich in beauty in all its facets. I like that it has such deep roots and that it is an art with meaning in everything. It’s a journey where you never stop learning.

  • The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto after a tournament.
  • The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto in the gym.

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

Valentina Zucchetto: Precisely, because I love Shotokan Karate. Among the various reasons: for its long history. I do not like that there is also a practice without foundations or where its principles are totally ignored. Like everything else, Shotokan karate also evolves and the motivations may change over time that lead to its practice. It is a completely natural thing and I am not against it, but the fact remains that one must not easily fly over what makes a Karateka a martial artist.

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

Valentina Zucchetto: I have many good experiences. If I had to find the common denominator of the most memorable ones, it would be in the various trips and in training sessions outside the city. On those occasions, I was able to appreciate more and more my karate companions, take our karate skills out of the dojo and get involved as a real team. The worst experience concerns the period in which I attended university because, since it was very far from my home, I trained very little.

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

Valentina Zucchetto: When the training becomes challenging, I try to keep my mind clear. I remind myself that I can do more and that I want to go home satisfied with my performance once I finish the training.

If the mind is clear and has a clear goal, the body will follow. If the body is not able to follow, it must be trained and put in step with the mind. I draw motivation from the multitude of Karatekas who have honed their technique through constant practice.

  • The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto with Masaru Miura.
  • The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto with Masaru Miura.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Valentina Zucchetto: As I said, I started practicing karate as if it were something natural: my dad is my Sensei, my brother is a training partner and my mom also practiced karate for a while. More than changing me, I believe that Shotokan has formed me. It is something I always refer to. The twenty principles of karate written by Gichin Funakoshi are the constant reminder of what kind of person I want to become, it is a great challenge.

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?

Valentina Zucchetto: Karate continually conditions my life. It influences my decisions in a personal context and helps me to face the challenges of everyday more decisively. Also, I am Sempai in my dojo and I must be an example for the younger students. It is not always easy but remembering that I am a karateka and that it is more the years that I lived practicing karate than those I lived without practicing it, has developed in me a sense of belonging to something really big. Therefore, I must apply it in my everyday life with courage and humility.

The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto with the SKIF-Italy logo on her Karate uniform.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Valentina Zucchetto: On a physical level, I noticed substantial changes. When I was little, I exercised consistently but I didn’t understand many things, such as the applications of katas, or the correct way to perform them. I thought I was doing well. But when I started competing, I noticed that something was wrong.

What I understood through constant training was that karate is practiced with the whole body, that arms and legs move in reaction to the center of the body and that everything should be done with harmony and awareness of one’s movements. It took me a long time to really understand it and, even if I see myself improved, I know that there is still a long way to go. And that’s okay.

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

Valentina Zucchetto: My short-term goal is to continue practicing karate, hoping to never have impediments in doing it. As for the long-term goals, I’ve always dreamed of training in Japan and study karate with great masters, similarly to how my dad did.

  • The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto after winning a tournament.
  • The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto during a tournament.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Valentina Zucchetto: I think there is a fundamental element that should never be missing in the dojo and that should never be lost, and it is the humility of the soul. I have always found a great source of inspiration in a serious, confident attitude, always open to dialogue and rich of humility of a karateka, regardless of the color of the belt or the grade.

This must start from the dojos. Every Master should maintain a pure mental attitude, free from pride and always respectful towards his students. Only in this way a student can understand the importance of the Do. I have competed several times and I am also sports technical assistant. But, even if competitions are something sporty, they are very useful for the promotion of karate and for understanding how we react towards pressure and judgments.

Paraphrasing Funakoshi, each participant should show how the mental attitude, the spirit, comes before the technique. I hope that this aspect will develop more and more and that karate will have more and more admirable representatives.

The picture shows Valentina Zucchetto showing us her knuckles.

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

Valentina Zucchetto: Of course, I would recommend it! I grew up in a dojo with a low number of female karatekas and, unlike how a non-practitioner might think, it is a place where you don’t make big differences in age or gender. The only yardstick is the color of the belt. I often see girls fighting only among themselves and I find it a great loss because boys can learn from girls and girls can learn from boys. All you need is to be open-minded and ready to learn a beautiful art without prejudice and without comparing yourself with anyone.