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Masao Kagawa: The Competitor and Teacher

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

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

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

Early Life of Masao Kagawa

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

Masayoshi Kagawa teaching kihon in Osaka.

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

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

Beginnings in Karate Training

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

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

Joining the JKA Instructors Program and Becoming Champion

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

Masao Kagawa in the JKA instructors program

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

Major Tournament Successes of Masao Kagawa

His major tournament successes include:

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

Masao Kagawa´s Separation From the JKA

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

The picture shows Masao Kagawa.
Masao Kagawa

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

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

Kagawa joined the group led by Asai.

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

Successes as Coach

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

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

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

Watch the full performance of the Japanese Team.

Masao Kagawa´s Relationship to the JKF and WKF

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

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

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

Masao Kagawa: A Competitor and Teacher

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

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

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


Further Reading: Masao Kagawa autobiography can be found here.

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What does Kata mean to you?

The picture shows Miki Nakamachi performing kata during a tournament.

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

The Meaning of Kata?

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

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

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

What Does Kata Mean to You?

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

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

But What Does Kata Mean in General?

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

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

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

Kata as Library of Basic Karate Techniques

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

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

Kata Changes – Constantly

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

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

Enjoy It!

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

How to Study and Perform It?

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

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

Good Luck and Good Practice.

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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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“Learn to Move”: Kata as Movement Based Learning

Kata belongs to the three k´s of karate: Kihon, kata, kumite. But although it has an elementary function most karateka do not use it as a trainings tool. Although it teaches to move. By Florian Wiessmann

Before you do a kata, ask yourself what you can learn from the kata.

Manabu Murakami

What can we learn from kata?

This quote was published on The Shotokan Times a while ago with the friendly permission of Jeff Christian. So, let us take it seriously and ask: What can we learn from kata? Before we give an answer let us assume that most people (Karate practitioners, too) are average Joe´s rather than top-athletes. They won’t become highly trained experts in utilizing kata because they have daily jobs, families, and other duties.

However, they like to train. To be beneficial for them, one must reduce complexity, build focal points, and find a practicable approach to use kata as a learning tool. For me this works best by understanding kata as universal movement principles about how to generate power and to organize one’s body. This leads to more efficient movements and a better utilization of the body. Especially, efficiency cannot be stressed enough. Because it is the foundation for any martial application.[1]

What Kata for Movement means and what it not means

“Kata for movement” does not mean to stand in deep kiba dachi to build up leg muscles. It also does not mean doing kata with maximum kime for developing a strong punch. To become strong, it is better to punch a heavy bag or makiwara. Fighting off air will not create the same results.[2]

The movement-based approach of kata is a holistic way to train the whole-body movement and the underlying movement principles.[3] The following quote by Dr. Perry Nickelston expresses that idea very well:

“The goal is not to learn a movement; the goal is to become a mover”[4]

Dr. Perry Nickelston

Power generation, aligning and connecting your body, structure and how to manipulate it – these elements are key in martial arts training. Kata proves to be an excellent tool for experiencing and developing that in a structured way. From kata can be learnt:

  • whole body movement and re-positioning,
  • transitional movements,
  • initiating movements,
  • shifting your center of gravity,
  • adjusting your posture,
  • connecting your joints,
  • harnessing certain muscle groups,
  • experiencing different ways of generating power,
  • motion economy etc.

The Benefits of Slowing Down

To achieve this beneficial effects one should not to go full force or think about certain applications for ‘imaginary opponents’ while practicing kata. One should rather slow down, turn inwards and listen to the body. There is much truth in the following quote by Ram Dass:

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear”.

Ram Dass

By slowing down you can thoroughly dissect and observe movements and transitions, getting aware of how you initiate a movement, shift your weight and resettle in a stable structure, feel how different stances affect your alignment and what joints and muscle groups come to play in certain movements. Eventually you will get to know yourself better. Then you can start to analyze and improve this step by step.[5][6]

A brief Example: Naihanchi (Tekki) Shodan

This progress can be very subtle. For instance, the first and most important kata students learn in our school is naihanchi shodan.[7] The first sequence after “yoi” is a falling step to the right into naihanchi dachi, then haishu uke and mawashi enpi. Rather than just stepping, one could start by moving the eyeballs in the direction of the first step. That will give the head a first movement tendency and initiates actual head movement.

In turn, it will initiate further body movement and a falling tendency in the direction of the planned moving-direction. When the body begins to fall sideways, one does a step and transition/re-position into naihanchi dachi. Before one starts the next action, one should take time to feel the own stands. How are the feet planted on the ground? Are the joints aligned properly? Can the body rest and settle effortlessly into the structure of naihanchi dachi? Does the stands feel unstable and uneasy? Is muscular force required to maintain the stance? Then one should take the time to re-adjust the body to a comfortable, natural and connected position.

The Benefits of Kata Kitae

Kata kitae (hardening the body through assisted training) done by a partner can support finding weak points and help the body and structure to re-adjust into a connected state. This will also allow a teacher to individually focus on the points that must be corrected at a student. This is important, because connections are also the foundation for power generation and -delivery. If one is not properly connected, actions will also be weaker. One will be more prone to be unbalanced by the opponent. One will need to use more energy and force to compensate for unbalance.

The importance of kata kitae cannot be overemphasized. On the contrary, general commands like “stand deeper” or to adjust the foot in a 45-degree angle do not help anyone. They just satisfy a superficial and general sense of outer appearance, rather than focusing on the individual needs of a student. Because everybody moves a bit different and needs individual adjustment.

While the next sequence of the naihanchi routine, one has to take note

  • how the chest opens up and then closes for mawashi enpi,
  • the movement of spine, core and hips,
  • how the arm extends up into the fingertips,
  • how the wrist rotates,
  • which connected muscle groups like abdominal muscles come into play,
  • which are contracted and which are relaxed etc.

Then one resets into a neutral position while moving both hands into hikite and start the next movement sequence to the left in a similar fashion. One can do it even more meticulous and e.g. just concentrate on how the feet while moving through the kata. Later, more parts can be changed or added one wants to focus on.

Brief Excursus

For arranged partner exercises like kihon kumite I also advise not to block full force, because this will reduce the possibility to actually feel what is going on. Rather engage into a bodily dialogue with the partner. One should connect to his structure and feel how oneself and he are aligned. This gives the opportunity to learn how to work with his structure. It is also hard to learn if one´s partner applies full resistance from the beginning. One can start to gradually add resistance and variation with more experience. At the beginning it is counterproductive though.

The Benefits of Kata as A Movement

Gradually one will become more fluent and connected. With more coordination and a growing understanding for utilizing and moving the body can start to integrate applications and turn one´s ideas into practice. Sgt. Rory Miller, an expert in real world violent encounters, defines kata as the coordinated movement of hands, shoulders and hips simultaneously with dropping the center of gravity for power generation. He finds the body mechanics developed by kata practice to be identical to violent encounters and advises “learn to move” with kata practice. Digging too much into the “deeper secrets” of kata movements is rather counterproductive.[8[

Simply put, become a mover, kata will provide you with an excellent method to this end.

About Florian Wiessmann: Practicing Karate since the mid-1990s, he holds a nidan at the Nihon Karate-dō Shūshūkan, which is headed by Sugimori Kichinosuke (9.Dan) and its German branch is lead by Stephan Yamamoto (6.Dan). https://shushukan.com/


[1]Also take a look at this worth reading article from the Budo Bum: http://budobum.blogspot.com/2015/09/organizing-body-for-budo.html

[2] http://andrebertel.blogspot.com/2007/11/air-karate.html

[3]Asai Tetsuhiko and Ōtsuka Hironori were also known for using kata as a mean for fostering certain movement principles.

[4] https://www.facebook.com/StopChasingPain/, also take a look at his youtube channel for excellent movement tutorials: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0SfqMJk11czuwp-YB_6v5w

[5]Driscoll, Jeff 2010: Ultimate Kempo, North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing, P. 65-166.

[6] https://shushukan.com/todd-hargrove-why-slow-movement-builds-coordination/

[7] My teacher substituted Tekki with Naihanchi, because it better fits our needs.

[8]Miller, Roy 2008: Meditations on Violence, Boston: YMAA Publication Center, P. 14-115.


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What is Mushin? And How to Achieve It?

Mushin belongs to the central concepts of budo. In this article we present you what it is and how to achieve it. By Thomas D. McKinnon

What is Mushin?

Mushin: the term is a shortened form of, ‘Mushin no shin’ (無心の心). This Zen expression means, basically, ‘mind without mind’. It refers to the state of ‘no-mindness’. Or the state of mind that is not fixed, not cluttered by thoughts or emotion. Therefore nothing will get in the way of the self as it acts and reacts according to its training and exactitude’s. In combat or in any part of life where much preparation has been undertaken.

What is Mushin in Practice?

Mushin is achieved when a karateka’s mind is free of random thoughts, free of anger, free of fear, and particularly free of ego. It applies during combat, and or other facets of life. When mushin is achieved during combat there is an absence of loose or rambling thoughts. It leaves the practitioner free to act and react without hesitation. He reacts according to all of the study and training that has brought the karateka to this point. Relying on, not what you think should be your next move, but on what your trained, instinctive, subconscious reaction directs you to do.

The Zen Foundation of Shotokan

This Zen mind state is just one of the esoteric accoutrements which complement the consummate, experienced and well-practiced martial artist. Legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō is reputed to have said,

“The mind must always be in the state of flow, for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it could mean death. When the swordsman faces an opponent, he is not to think of himself, his opponent, or of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The swordsman deletes his rational mind from the situation as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

This documentary about Kendoka Naoki Eiga shows in excellently his way to mushin.

No Doubt, but Belief!

Belief is the ally of the highly trained karateka, soldier, police officer, or high-risk security operative. Belief is the supporter of mushin, and will have your back. Doubt, on the other hand, the enemy of mushin that could cause your downfall. It will save your life in the worst case scenario. However, make sure you have put in enough time, training and dedication to dispel any doubts. Because doubt can destroy your mushin. In that worst case scenario mentioned, doubt is the backstabber that could get you killed.

Kata and Mushin

Although it is difficult for the inexperienced, inept or novice kata judge or instructor to identify. Mushin can be and must be demonstrated during the performance of kata. Without it, kata becomes just a sequence of moves strung together in a kind of karate dance. When practicing kata, practice mushin also.

Keinosuke Enoeda was a master of mushin.

Similar to many of the esoteric concepts utilised by the martial arts, it is by no means exclusive to them. Mushin, in Japanese, or wuxin, in Chinese, could be termed as a light, Zen meditative state. All arts can recognize and utilize it: painters, actors, singers, dancers, sculptors, poets, writers, and much, much more.

Mushin Means to Trust Yourself and Let it Flow

So, for the advanced karateka, all of the training, all of the drills, and all of the countless repetitions of all the various computations of combinations that the karateka has performed over the months, years and decades are like money in the bank. The more you put in the less you have to worry about. All you have to do is ‘trust’ that you have enough in the bank.

Operating on that level you must be confident that you have done more than enough to be ready for anything that might occur. Having complete trust in your skill-set, you do not have to think about exactly what it is that you will do. You just have to know that you will react to whatever occurs, in the most appropriate way, at that moment of necessity. That is mushin.

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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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Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi Shot Movie for Olympics 2020 together

Rika Usami & Miki Nakamachi

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi took part in the shooting of a film about karate for the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo last week. We talked with Miki Nakamachi about the shooting and her experiences on the set. Read our exclusive report. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi performing shoto uke on the film set for the "karate game instruction movie".
Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi performing shoto uke on the film set for the “karate game instruction movie”.

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi Part of the Karate Introduction Movie for the Olympics

According to Miki Nakamachi, the movie introduces the discipline karate. On the one hand, it introduce karate to the media corporations and broadcasting stations, which will broadcast the discipline during the Olympic Games in Tokyo. On the other hand, the movie will introduce karate to a wider audience. Therefore, it will serve as an explanatory video for viewers who watch the discipline but have no relationship and knowledge about karate.

The team behind the “karate game instruction movie” found Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi via YouTube. After watching several kata videos, the crew decided to approach both karateka and to asked them to perform in the movie. Although neither of them will take part in the Olympics both agreed to the shooting. While Rika Usami ended her career as an active WKF competitor a few years ago, Miki Nakamachi still competes. However, she only starts at JKA tournaments, which has no affiliation with the WKF dominated Olympics 2020.

Here you can watch the full video.

The video by the JKF serves as an introduction for viewers of the Olympics who have no background in karate.

Support for Olympics in Tokyo in the First Place

For Miki Nakamachi her participation in the shooting of the movie was not an support of the discipline karate in the Olympics. On Instagram she stated that she supports that the Olympics Games in Tokyo, her hometown, in the first place.

Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Araga took also part in the shooting of the film. They performed the kumite introduction because both are national team members of the Japan Karate Federation representing Japan in 2020. Both athletes are string candidates to win Olympic Gold in their weight classes.

Rika Usami, Miki Nakamachi, Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Arago cheering for the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo.
Rika Usami, Miki Nakamachi, Ken Nishimura and Ryutaro Arago cheering for the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo.

Miki Nakamachi: “Rika Usami and I have a lot in common”

For Miki Nakamchi, however, the encounter with Rika Usami was the greatest pleasure. She wrote us: “It was such a great honor to meet Usami san. Even though she does not practice Shotokan, her kata are coined by very clean and strong techniques. Beside that: I have always loved her punches.”

Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi together on the film set.
Rika Usami and Miki Nakamachi together on the film set.

Both karateka have even more in common. Rika Usami is also a mother like Miki Nakamachi. And both share the same passion. Miki Nakamachi stated about this: “It is always great to get involved with different karatekas and different organizations. Because have so much in common and we realize eventually: we all love karate.”

Watch Rika Usami performing Kata in the finals of the 2012 WKF world championship. Her performance gained her the 1th place against Sandy Scordo of France.
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Koji Arimoto: Unsu Jump and Bunkai

Koji Arimoto is a Shotokan prodigy. The world champion of 2012 has displayed his excellent skills in several Kata videos lately. One of the most astonishing is his explanatory video of the Unsu jump which was published by Andre Kok. He not just explains the right motion. He also shows its Bunkai.

Koji Arimoto About his Technical Education

Hi tremendous technical level comes stems from the rigorous education of his Sensei Masao Kagawa. In a recent interview with Karate-K.com he described what it means to take part in Masao Kagawas master class and instructor program: “Normally, it lasts two years. But for me, it lasted three years. After the first two years, Kagawa Shihan felt that I was not enough ready to teach yet. I then worked harder for another year to get my instructor exam. It is a training that requires a very high technical level and an outstanding will.”

The Difficulty of The Unsu Jump

However, the jump in Unsu confronts every Karateka with a challenge. The rotation takes place, on the one hand, around the horizontal axes. At the same time, the body is slightly diagonal. So the body also rotates around the vertical axes.

For some Karateka this move already poses a challenge to envision it. But Koji Arimoto does an excellent job in the video to explain, what the jump is about. In addition, he also shows its bunkai. It requires very advanced skills to execute such a jump without hurting or missing the opposite Karateka. Whether the bunkai comes close to reality or not, can be deemed as secondary. Above all, the control of the body and to master the movement are more important.

We in the editorial office of The Shotokan Times cannot remember that we have ever seen such a precise Bunkai of the Unsu jump? Have you? Then send us the video!

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Ayano Nakamura: The New Queen of Kata

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

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

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

Ayano Nakamura

Ayano Nakamura: The Kata Prodigy

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

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

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

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

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

Secret of Ayano Nakamura: Mental Strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ayano Nakamura´s Value of Shotokan Karate

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

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

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

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

Karate-Do Representative for All Nippon Airways

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

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

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

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

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The Relation Between Kihon, Kata, and Kumite

The picture shows karateka during a seminar in malta. They did kihon, kata, and kumite.

Last week, our reader Giuseppe from Italy raised some questions about the relationship of Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. For him it seemed as if their is no direct connection between the three. Due to that he asked several questions and our author, Florian Wiessmann, answers him in this article.

Florian´s Answers

Giuseppe raised some wide spread points. Many Karate practitioners (and practitioners of other martial arts as well) ask them. So, I think it is important to answer his questions.

Kihon Stances

Karate is not a static affair. Stances are mostly just a momentarily expressions while moving (if you could just halt a movement at one point and your feet touch the ground, you have a stance). Don’t think to much about all the formal stances but more about, where your weight is distributed or how feet, knees, hips, pelvis and spine are aligned. Where the center of gravity is and how to shift your center of gravity.

And then you have the characteristics of many stances in all kind of movements, be it in your daily life or in kumite. Karate stances give us an opportunity to experience and learn correct alignment and body shifting in a structured way. In addition, take a look at classical European swordsmen – they probably have never heard of all the Karate stances and do them all the time while moving freely. Because movement and weight distribution inevitably leads to a certain structure.

Classical European fencing: The commonalities with Kendo are obvious. But when it comes to stances they intuitively apply stance like in Shotokan.

Uke Waza

As with stances, just think more about general movements and how to use both hands in a concerted way and not just about the standard blocking (and besides, uke translates to ‘receiving’ – this can be offensive as well). I recommend to experience a bit more the movements of certain uke waza in kihon. Use both hands, do not stop at the end of a technique (try a flow drill by connecting movements instead of just block & punch). Think a bit about characteristics and directions of uke waza movements. I can show you an uppercut punch I do 100% exactly as a basic soto uke. Age uke is also quite common as a kind of flinching reaction e.g. A look at self defense expert, Lee Morrison, and what he teaches as ‘flanking’. He does a quite basic gedan barai (and probably doesn’t even know the term).

Lee Morrison uses gedan barai for “flanking”.

Hikite

I’m not fond of explaining hikite for adding power to your punches but there are certainly reasons for hikite to be found in Karate practice.

An obvious explanation for hikite is already given by Funakoshi Gichin. He describes hikite as grabbing the opponents arm, pulling and twisting it, to unbalance the opponent. Of course this is not limited to grab the arm – hikite is basically bringing the grappling range into Karate practice.

Tatsuya Naka explains the importance of Hikite during Kihon clases at a seminar in Munich.
Tatsuya Naka explains the importance of Hikite during a seminar in Munich.

Hikite and Weapons

Hikite is also very present in weapon based training. Look at a bo swing, a spear thrust or a sword draw (saya biki) and what function hikite has there. Please don’t believe ‘Karate is empty handed’ or ‘I don’t carry a bo along when getting into a street fight’. Martial arts usually include weapons training, Funakoshi also included weapon training into Shotokan and being ’empty handed’ also means you have the opportunity to just grab a weapon. You might not carrying around weapons but it’s not so uncommon to be confronted with blunt- or bladed weapons or have them readily available in your environment. So, it doesn’t hurt to make yourself familiar with some basics. Moreover, beside many movement principles of weapon training translate very well into weaponless applications (and vice versa). Weapons are a great training tool for your body as well.

Hikite and Other Body Parts

Hikite furthermore helps connecting body parts. While the shoulder of the punching arm moves forward it helps that the other shoulder opens up a bit, e.g. with hikite. But, of course, this doesn’t have to be at the hip, you could also pull back your hand to a guard position. Just try it in kihon and extend one arm into a tsuki and do a tsuki with the other arm without pulling back the arm already extended. This will feel somewhat awkward, right? Or just do a hikite with one arm while the other arm just loosely hangs down. Hikite will initiate a pendulum movement in your hanging arm, if you are really loose).

A nice explanation is also seen in the following video. Hikite as shown there is about creating the necessary space to punch in an infight situation.

Kihon and Kumite

I agree somewhat that sanbon– and gohon kumite are a sub-optimal affair. You certainly need some kind of pre-arranged sparring to build up experience and confidence for free sparring. But sanbon- and gohon kumite also teaches much wrong stuff, in my opinion. Therefore, we don’t do it in my school (wrong stuff is moving back all the time, moving only back with too much a distance and not teaching how to close distances, enter the opponent or how to angle the attack and so on, only focusing on somewhat unrealistic counter gyaku zuki, nothing else, only blocking with one arm, nothing else…).

So, do pre-arranged sparring. But beside absolute beginners people probably can do better as with sanbon-/gohon kumite. This is also true for a standard block-counter uke waza approach, where people certainly could to better.

Gohon and Sanbon Kumite are just one step on the ladder to Jiyu Kumite - but necessary.