The Düsseldorf Special with Koichiro Okuma has become a fix event in the annual European Shotokan Karate calendar. Here we report from the 2nd special in Düsseldorf. By Jeffrey Evers
One year after the outstanding success of the 1th Düsseldorf Special, 130 karateka from all over Germany and beyond visited the Dojo Yamato. They all attended the joint Seminar with Sensei Koichiro Okuma and a get-together with friends during the long Pentecost weekend.
From Kata to Kumite: The 1st Day of the Düsseldorf Special
From Taikyoku Shodan to Kanku Sho
The first training session began 10 am on Saturday. Koichiro Okuma Sensei started the seminar by sharing an anecdote of his karate career with the junior Kyu grades. Concentrating on kumite for the majority of his early competitive career, his focus moved to kata as time passed. Yet, never losing the aspiration to improve his kumite skills. This essence, improving kumite through kata, was the pivotal topic of the 2nd Düsseldorf Special.
The Saturday morning session aimed at body-shifting. Okuma Sensei used Taikyoku Shodan and Heian Shodan to teach the junior kyu grades how to move their balance point. Instead of concentrating on minor details, he emphasized the overall feeling while performing the katas. His means of choice was Kanku Sho. Okuma Sensei pointed out, why this Kata is the best preparation for kumite. Above all, the great number of direction changes fosters the feeling for shifting the bodyweight. His several demonstrations showed impressively what great impact this basic skill can have on speed and power.
From Heain Nidan to Hangetsu
After a brief lunch break, the 3rd and 4th sessions took place. The junior grades sessions emphasized the Heian Nidan to Godan. Okuma Sensei used several kata sections to emphasize that the main intention for performing Kata was Kumite. In the senior grades’ sessions, he focused on the deeper meanings of Hangetsu. The dynamic switches from slow and smooth movements to fast and devastating techniques can be utilized as tactical elements of Kumite. Okuma Sensei showed how the tension from nervous movements will lead to a frantic confrontation. On the other hand, smoothness will calm down our opponent’s suspense. This creates the opportunity to strike, surprise and overwhelm opponents.
The first day closed with a joint Dinner at a
From Kata to Kumite: The 2nd Day of the Düsseldorf Special
The Mirror of Tekki Shodan
On Sunday morning, the junior and senior groups trained together. Okuma Sensei introduced the junior grades to Tekki Shodan. To leverage the learning experience, he instructed the Dan grades to be a mirror for the colored grades. Both groups faced each other, so that they learnt the kata much faster through observing their counterpart. Okuma Sensei emphasized the divergent movements of the kata in order to underline blocking and simultaneous counter attacking.
Legwork and Bassai Sho
The senior grades focused on legwork. In particular, Okuma Sensei taught the right pushing and pulling of the body. Starting with the Kata Bassai Sho, he used the sessions stress and repeat push and pull movements many times.
In last session of the seminar, all grades trained together again. The focus lied mainly on Zuki combinations with a partner in the final class. All the different topics of the before kata classes came coming merged in this session. It was the last step in preparation for kumite. Okuma Sensei began with Oi-Zuki-Gyaku-Zuki combinations. He remined all participants that the fists are important since they hit the opponent. However, it is all about leg work and the usage and feeling of the hips eventually. Okuma Sensei added to the Oi-Zucki-Gyaku-Zuki combination also a Kizami-Zuki-Gyaku-Zuki sequence, and later a Gyaku-Zuki-Gyaku-Zuki combination. The major aim was to increase speed and will power of the participants. The Seminar ended at 4 pm on Sunday.
Okumas Sensei Enjoyed the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
Sensei Koichiro Okuma stressed after the seminar, that all participants spent much effort and showed a strong will to learn during the classes. The atmosphere during the breaks and the dinner was warm and welcoming. He enjoyed his time in Düsseldorf a lot and met plenty of old and new friends.
Dietmar Vetten and Keigo Shimizu about the 2nd Düsseldorf Special
Dietmar Vetten, head of the organizing committee, and Sensei Keigo Shimizu, head instructor of the Dojo Yamato, also expressed their satisfaction with the event. “The atmosphere among the participants was just fantastic. Many wished for a 3rd Düsseldorf Special next year”, said Dietmar Vetten. “We are very glad to have welcomed such an esteemed and excellent JKA Instructor in Düsseldorf for the second time. Okuma Sensei is an excellent Karateka and an outstanding personality” commented Keigo Shimizu. Koichiro Okuma and Keigo Shimizu relates a long friendship that dates back to their time at Dokkyo University. Both studied in the University´s Karate Club under the guidance of Osaka Sensei and Naka Sensei.
Gratitude to the Volunteers
Okuma Sensei, Dietmar Vetten, and Keigo Shimizu expressed their gratitude to all the volunteers who made the event exciting and pleasant for everybody. A special thank you goes to Sandra „Sandy San“ Brenscheid, who conducted the warmup before the sessions.
3rd Düsseldorf Special?!
The planning for a 3rd Düsseldorf Special in 2020 has already began. As the people in Düsseldorf like to say: After the 3rd time, everything becomes a tradition.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But you also
travel abroad a lot during the year, right? How many days do you travel?
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Shotokan Times is happy to announce that Sensei Keigo Shimizu, 5th Dan, has joined its Advisory Board.
Practicing Shotokan Karate since 1987, Keigo was educated at the Dokkyo University. Here, he received his Masters degree in economics and was Captain of the Karate Club. For many years, he was a student of Sensei Tatsuya Naka and Sempai of Sensei Koichiro Okuma.
Since 2014 he is Chief Instructor of Dojo Yamato in Düsseldorf, Germany. He is also a regular guest instructor at national and international seminars.
Picture: Dokkyo University Karate Club in 2017
Picture: Sensei Okuma at Dojo Yamato in Düsseldorf, Germany
Although he lives in Germany since 1999, he still maintains strong ties to Japan and the JKA. In Germany, he has mainly been trained and educated by Shihan Hideo Ochi. His style of Karate is coined by the very dynamic but also straight forward JKA school. The center of his teaching is the most efficient and fast transmission of power over long distances. Like Naka Sensei, he also emphasizes the whiplash effect, that is created by a refined hip-rotation.
Picture: Gyaku-Zuki by Keigo Shimizu
“I am very proud to join the Advisory Board of The Shotokan Times. The platform has proven that it constantly produces unique and educative content about traditional Shotokan. It fosters exchange and discourse among international Shotokanka. I am happy to support and advise the management and the editor with my experience and knowledge” says Keigo Shimizu. Beside his role as member of the advisory board, he will also create own content for the platform in the near future.
Picture: Keigo Shimizu together with Koichiro Okuma and Tatsuya Naka
“I am very honored that Keigo is going to advise The Shotokan Times. He has lived in Germany for 20 years now and still has strong connections to Japan and fosters the tradition of the JKA. Thus, he is an excellent bridge builder who helps us to understand Japan and the Japanese way of Shotokan better. He is also always informed about the latest developments in Japan. The Shotokan Times and the global Shotokan community will benefit immensely from his invaluable advice”, says Dr. Christian Tribowski, Managing Director and Chief Editor of The Shotokan Times.