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Hirokazu Kanazawa: The Life of A Shotokan Legend

Hirokazu Kanazawa belongs to the group of Shotokan pioneers, who made karate what it is today. In this portrait we give you an overview about his life as a Shotokan legend. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

For many Shotokan karateka Hirokazu Kanazawa is a living legend. His supporters place him behind Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama in the hierarchy of the martial arts. However, it cannot be doubt that nobody has coined Shotokan karate like Hirokazu Kanazawa in the last 50 years. Thus, he is among the most recognizable faces of karate in general. This admiration arises from his exquisite technique and his humble approach of Shotokan.

However, who is Hirokazu Kanazawa? Why did he start Shotokan karate? And how did his karate career unfold? We are going to answer this question in the following portrait, which was co-authored with Patrick Donkor from Finding Karate.

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Early Years and First Encounter with Karate

Kanazawa was born on 3 May 1931, in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. His father was a fisherman who died young in the 1940s. Therefore, his mother, Masue, became a big influence on his life. The middle child of three, his older brother, Tatsuo, would eventually run the family’s fishing business. His younger brother, Hideo, became eventually a doctor. Therefore, his family background was rather labor class and nothing indicated his later career.

During high school, on the other hand, Kanazawa developed an interest in martial arts. For instance, he was describe to be a keen boxer and judoka. In Judo he eventually reached the rank of 2nd Dan.

Hirokazu Kanazawa first became aware of Karate in the 1940s while he was a senior at high school. The person, who got him in touch with the art, was an Okinawan friend of his brother named Yamashiro, who visited him during holidays. One night the small man from Okinawa became drunk and got into a fight with several local fisherman. Somebody called the police and Officer Kodama, a very big man and a renowned 5th Dan judoka attended the squad. After a while a fight broke out in which the smaller Yamashiro broke Officer Kodama’s nose. This was Kanazawa’s first experience of Karate in action. And it had a gigantic effect on him. As a result he wanted to become a karateka. However, there were no Karate clubs locally. Thus, he had to wait until he entered university.

Takushoku University Karate Club

In 1951, Kanazawa enrolled at Nippon University in Tokyo. He joined the university’s Karate club, but was soon disappointed with the training. In his perception the club was weak because it had only one black belt student and many white belts. Fortunately, he also had the chance to watch a training session conducted by students from Takushoku University. The performance of the Takudai´s impressed him so much, that he chose to transfer to Takushoku Unversity. This decision became formative for his later career.

Later the year, Hirokazu Kanazawa took and passed the entrance exams for Takushoku University, and transferred to the university. In addition, he also joined the university’s Shotokan karate club, which was considered the strongest in the country. Having developed close-range and ground fighting skills with boxing and Judo, he was impressed by the long-range fighting techniques of Shotokan karate.

A picture of the still very young Hirokazu Kanazawa from the 1950´s.
A picture of the still very young Hirokazu Kanazawa from the 1950´s.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Trained 5-6 Hours a Day

His passion for the art grew so much that he trained 5 to 6 hours a day beside his general studies. But Hirokazu Kanazawa also had to catch up with the other student. Some of them already studied Karate at high school. To overcome this deficit he trained by himself at night. He also used a lot of mental imagery to rehearse the techniques he practiced.

Every now and then, Gichin Funakoshi would come to the club to teach. Kanazawa had the responsibility to collect him from his home and to bring him to the club. As a result, he developed a string relationship to master Funakoshi.

Hirokazu Kanazawa in a video about karate self-defense.

How Hirokazu Kanazawa Became a JKA Instructor

In 1956, Kanazawa was promoted to 3rd Dan and graduated from Takushoku. Like many other young graduates he became interesting for the corporate world. So, the Taiyo Fisheries Company tried to recruit him. However, Masatoshi Nakayama the Chief Instructor of the JKA, wanted him to join the newly formed Instructors Course. Therefore, Kanazawa chose this option instead of becoming a corporate man. Because he already had joined the Japan Karate Association during university and felt the confidence that he wanted to become a karate instructor.

Alongside Takayuki Mikami he graduated from the grueling instructors course in 1957. Their instructors included Nakayama, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Taiji Kase and Teruyuki Okazaki. As a result, he became an instructor at the JKA Honbu dojo, at several companies, and universities. So, he gave training at organizations like Musashi Industrial University, Mitsubishi Shoji Company, and Arabia Oil Company.

Winning the First JKA Championships with A Broken Wrist and Becoming Grand Champion

On 28 October 1957, the 1st All Japan Karate Association Championships took place at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Therefore, Kanazawa had trained intensively for the championships. However, five days before the championships were due to start, he broke his wrist in two places.

The injury upset Kanazawa and he decided not to compete. But his mother had traveled to Tokyo to watch him compete in the tournament. She asked him whether he had other limbs he could use. Certainly, not wanting to disappoint her he entered the tournament. He used his good hand for blocking and his kicks for scoring, all the way through the tournament. To the astonishment of the audience and himself he won four fights by ippon. Moreover, he defeated Katsunori Tsuyama in the kumite final and became the first JKA kumite champion ever.

Hirokazu Kanazawa together with his mother after winning the first JKA championships in kumite.
Hirokazu Kanazawa together with his mother after winning the first JKA championships in kumite.

In the following year in 1958, he exceeded his success from the previous year. Hirokazu Kanazawa became the first ever Grand Champion of the All Japan Karate Championships. While his victory was clear in kata, kumite posted a bigger challenge. In a memorable kumite final he faced Takayuki Mikami. Both men fought as if it was a battle about life and death. In the end, the judges decided on a draw. Therefore, Kanazawa and Mikami shared the kumite title.

First Deployement of Hirokazu Kanazawa Abroad

The year 1961 hold many changes for Hirokazu Kanazawa. Firstly, he got promoted to the rank of a 5th dan. Secondly, the JKA send him to Hawaii to become Chief Instructor on 22 January 1961. For the next two years, he introduced the new art of Shotokan karate to the island.

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However, his first deployment was not free of problems. For instance, he had to face challenges from other instructors of other karate styles and martial arts. They wanted to test the authenticity of his karate and his strength. He managed to prevent some escalations through talking many conflicts. However, five challengers post more difficulties. Even after several rounds of talking they still wanted a physical confrontation. They all lost.

Hirokazu Kanazawa: Very old fighting scenes.

Visit of Okinawa, the Birthplace of Karate

Always eager to experience other styles of karate, Kanazawa visited the birthplace of Karate, Okinawa. While on the peninsula he traveled around in order to train in as many dojos as possible. For instance, he visited the dojos of Shorin-Ryu founder Chosin Chibana and that of his student Higa Yuchoku. I would not be his last visit to Okinawa.

Hirokazu Kanazawa and The First JKA Promotion Tour

On 29 March 1965, Kanazawa embarked from Haneda Airport, Tokyo, alongside Taiji Kase, Keinosuke Enoeda and Hiroshi Shhirai on a world tour for the JKA. The tour aimed to introduce the JKA and Shotokan karate to the global stage. The touring party visited cities in the United States, West Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, England and South Africa. The tour succeeded and led to a request for JKA instructors to teach outside of Japan.

For Hirokazu Kanazawa himself the tour also led to another major change in his life: He became the resident instructor to the British Karate Federation (BKF), which had joint JKA. However, his contract duration was only for one year. When he left the BKF in 1966 many of his students felt a huge disappointment, because Hirokazu Kanazawa had gained popularity among British karateka. The reason for him leaving the BKF laid in the split of the organization. Thus, he became the chief instructor of the newly formed KUGB. That same year the JKA promoted him to 6th Dan.

One year later, Hirokazu Kanazawa moved again. The JKA asked him to become chief instructor to the German Karate Federation in 1967. So, Keinosuke Enoeda took over his role as chief instructor to the KUGB.

During this time in Great Britain he also must had got in contact with somebody from the film industry. In 1968, he played a very tiny role as a karate fighter in the British tv series The Saint with Roger Moore. As far as we know, this was his only detour to the film industry though.

When Kanazawa left the Germany to return to Japan in 1970, he recommended Hideo Ochi to take over from him.

Hirokazu Kanazawa in the tv series The Saint with Roger Moore.

Back to Japan and Moving Up in the JKA-Hierarchy

1971 became another year of changes for Hirokazu Kanazawa. The JKA promoted him to 7th Dan and he became general manager of the international division of the JKA International Section. Furthermore, he received appointments of Musashikogyo, Kantogakuin, and Kitasato universities to become their chief instructor

For the next few years, Kanazawa worked tirelessly as a senior member of the JKA. He was the General Manager of the Japanese team sent to the 2nd WUKO World Championships, held in Paris, France. He also referred at the 1st IAKF World Championships and the JKA Asia-Oceania Championships, both in 1976.

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s “Dismissal” from the JKA and Founding of SKIF

For many years, Kanazawa occurred as one of the main faces of the JKA. Thus, it came as a huge shock when he left the JKA in 1977. What really happened at that time is only in the knowledge of the participants. But two legends exist. The first one says that Hirokazu Kanazawa sent a letter of resignation as a JKA director to the honbu dojo. However, he did not resign as a JKA instructor.

Legend I

The reasons for his resignation was that one of his major tasks was to unify all the different JKA groups around the world. He felt he had failed to do this. Therefore, he step down as director of the international division. For some people within the JKA this came as treason and a sign of weakness and the wanted to see him expelled. While on a trip to Europe he received a dismissal letter from the JKA. He was shocked, because he had never wanted to leave the JKA.

Legend II

The second legends says that Hirokazu Kanazawa had already engaged in talks with other former JKA instructors, who had left the organization. Some of them already started to setup their own karate associations in Europe. They felt treated unfair within the Nakayama dominated JKA. Therefore, they organized and approached Hirokazu Kanazawa to become their figurehead. When high ranking official in the JKA honbu dojo became aware of the talks they preempted Kanazawa´s resignation and removed him from the organizations by themselves.

Hirokazu Kanazawa found the Shotokan Karate International Federation

Independent of which legend one beliefs, Hirokazu Kanazawa formed the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation (SKIF) under his leadership in 1977. His technical prowess and international profile soon attracted many students and countries joined the organization. As a result, it is still one of the biggest Shotokan association world wide.

International Tournaments

In the 1980´s and 1990´s Hirokazu Kanazawa focused to established the SKIF on the international stage. He also acted as an international referee. In 1980, he was the referee at the 5th WUKO World Championships held in Madrid, Spain. The following year he acted as referee at the 1st World Games, held in Santa Clara, California. In 1983, the 1st SKIF World Championships took place in Tokyo, Japan. 25 countries took part. Hitoshi Kasuya of Japan won the kata title, with Aidan Trimble of England winning the men’s kumite title. H. Kumakura of Japan won the women’s kata title and Japan won the team kumite title. Two years later, the SKIF World Championships in Düsseldorf, Germany. Since then, they have become an important event in the Shotokan calendar.

In 1990 at Osamu Ozawa’s 10th Traditional Karate Tournament International, one of the biggest showcases in the world for traditional Karate styles, the organizers invited Kanazawa to demonstrate his style of Shotokan Karate. THe audience received his demonstration well. He was also invited to the 14th and 15th Traditional Karate Tournament international events, also held in Las Vegas.

Dan Promotions of Hirokazu Kanazawa

The International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF) promoted Hirokazu Kanazawa to 8th dan in 1988. Ten years later, he received the 9th Dan by SKIF. In April 2000 and at the 7th SKIF World Championships held in Bali, Indonesia, the IMAF awarded his 10th dan. Currently, he is together with Teruyuki Okazaki, Hiroshi Shirai, and Ueki Masaaki the only Shotokanka, who has ever promoted to 10th dan.

Hirokazu Kanazawa during a seminar in Germany in 1999.

Later Years and Retirement

In January 2009, Kanazawa suffered a skiing accident. He fell badly, crushing three of his vertebra. He was in his 70s. After he recovered, he continued traveling around the world conducting courses and seminars.

However, after decades of traveling, Kanazawa decided to spend more time in his native Japan in 2012. That year after the SKIF World Championships held in Sydney, Australia, he retired from active traveling and teaching. Over the course of his career he had traveled to more than 130 countries and instructed hundred thousands of students.

Two years later at a special ceremony held in Tokyo on 5 April 2014 Hirokazu Kanazawa officially passed the leadership of the SKIF to his son Nobuaki and Manabu Murakami.

Hirokazu Kanazawa together with his son Nobuaki (right) and Manabu Murakami (left)

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Life Beside Karate

Kanazawa has practiced Tai Chi for many years and credits it for his longevity in karate. He started practicing the art in 1957 under the tutelage of Mr Yang. He has also made extensive studies of Okinawan weapons such as the sai, tonfa and nunchuku. A keen historian he has also researched many of the kata found in Shotokan Karate.

Kanazawa has three sons, Nobuaki, Fumitoshi and Daizo. Unfortunately, their mother died at a young age. All three of Kanazawa’s sons are professional karateka with an exceptional skills. Hiyori Kanazawa, daughter of Nobuaki Kanazawa and grand champion of the SKIF world championships 2019, has already step into to the footsteps of her grandfather. With her the 3rd Kanazawa generation coins the global Shotokan community.

Hirokazu Kanazawa with his grand daugther Hiyori.

Noted Shotokan practitioner, Terry O’Neill, once wrote about Kanazawa,

“He is the perfect specimen of the type of person the art of Karate can develop – there will never be a finer living example of what Karate at its highest level really is.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa is considered one of the most skillful karate masters of all time. A great technician and an excellent instructor, he has built up a loyal and dedicated following of students. A gentle and sincere man, he has been able to convey the concepts of karate to many generations of students. As prolific author, he has also had many instructional books and videos produced. It could be argued that many people would not have started karate if they had not seen demonstrations from this very talented master. In any case, he is a true legend of Shotokan karate.

Opener picture by Jim Palmer

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Makiwara – The Return of the Karate Tool

The makiwara is an important tool for karateka. But most have it almost forgotten. However, it seems to on the verge to return to the dojos. By Michael Ehrenreich

The Makiwara is a piece of wood with padding. This is what a makiwara consists of: a post and some padding, which is traditionally a roll of rice straw attached to the top of the post. In addition, this is also where the name derives from, maki for roll and wara for straw.

What is a Makiwara?

The makiwara originated from Okinawa where, with very little natural resources, they do have wood or rice straw. The length and the width of the posts vary but ideally reach about head level and are at least 12 cm (about 5 inches) wide. The resistance of the posts varies also, from not giving at all (good when hitting combinations) to flexing on impact. For the post oak, cherry, maple, walnut, or just plain pine are the most common types of wood. The padding is usually foam rubber covered with leather or wrapped with duct tape. Some people still go with the traditional straw pads. The posts are than attached to a wall or driven into the ground.

My Beginnings With the Makiwara

Over time and through the length of my karate career, the makiwara had vanished from most dojos. That is true for western countries as well as Japan. At least when it comes to Shotokan karate. As a result, the makiwara became almost a myth. The first generation of karateka in Germany still hit this wooden post, but it had long disappeared when I started with karate in the late 1970s. Then one day this guy showed up at our dojo, Siegfried Trapp was his name, and he had brought with him a makiwara. His goal was to market his version of a makiwara and he gave us one to try it out. Well, that was in the mid-1980s and you can image his success rate. I never saw him again. But at least our dojo had its first makiwara.

It was the time when sport karate started to get more popular. With weight classes, protection gear all around the body, and a multiple point system, there was clearly no need for this kind of training equipment. And who needs a makiwara for belt tests anyway? As a result, the makiwara was plainly uncool. When people saw me hitting the post, they would only give me a pitiful smile. Maybe even try to get me some professional help. I kept hitting the makiwara anyway; I was hooked for life.

Limited Knowledge and an Okinawa Master

Back then I practiced the only way I knew, by throwing gyaku zukis with both sides and a lot of them. A regular karate class would run 90 minutes and so I would hit the makiwara for almost that long, after warming up a little. In the early 1990s Sakumoto Tsuguo, a former kata champion from Okinawa, was staying for one year in Cologne. Ochi Hideo, the German national trainer at that time, told me to take care of him and so I did. We practiced almost daily together at our dojo, the Sportcenter Bushido in Cologne, headed by the late Horst Handel. We lifted weights and, of course, hit the makiwara.

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First thing Sakumoto did, though, was change the padding. He bought a wooden board, about 30 cm (about 12 inches) long and wrapped a rope around it. That was our pad. Imagine my knuckles after the first practice.  (After Sakumoto had left Germany it took months to get them back into their original shape.)

Techniques From a Short Distance

However, the other thing he introduced me to were techniques from a short distance. Punches, but also strikes. I wasn’t convinced at first. You know, he was a rather short man from Okinawa, a kata guy. So, he was thankfully very patient with me. Firstly, he gave me a demonstration. He had me tightening my abs and then hit me with his flat hand from a distance of about 5cm (2 in.). Now he got my attention and for the next few days I would witness all imaginable discolorations appearing on my stomach. So, I started hitting short techniques as well.

Why I Changed My Makiwara Training

As a result, I had changed the intensity of my makiwara training. Instead of hitting non-stop for 90 minutes, I went with 10 repetitions and varying number of sets. As a sports major I took some inspiration from weight and athletic training, especially from track and field coaches. I was also competing in the shobu-ippon-system. So, I focused on punches and hit 10 gyaku zuki alternating right and left and repeated that a second time. Then I took a 1-minute break.

The idea behind the breaks were that I was able to hit at 100% until the very last punch. These two rounds made one set, with 10 sets in all. After gyaku zuki I hit tate zuki (straight punch from a shorter distance with a vertical fist) with the same structure but only in 5 sets. That resulted in a total of 300 punches for each side. I did this program 3-times a week. My goal here as a competitor was to be able to stop any opponent, also much heavier ones. I was part of the JKA-group and we didn’t have weight classes. Meaning, I would encounter heavier fighters, the biggest I faced off with was about 40kg (90lbs) heavier than me. This program worked well for me.

A Variety of Techniques

As I mentioned above, Sakumoto also introduced me to strikes. After retiring as a competitor, I added those to my program. All kind of strikes, shuto uchi (knife hand strike), teisho uchi (palm heel strike), haito uchi (ridge hand strike) etc. I also kicked with mae geri, added combinations and did some techniques gliding towards the makiwara. I added different punches, yama zuki and kage zuki for instance, hook punches from above or a different angle.

Less Repetitions But 100% Focus

Over the years I have been doing less repetitions. But I still hit the makiwara 3-4 times a week. I still go with the 10-repetition structure but usually only with 3 sets. With 7-8 different techniques each time, that makes 200-250 punches or strikes with each side. Working on my hitting power is still my goal, so I hit each time with 100%. But I also want to include more muscle groups in my workout with the makiwara. Training in a more balanced way. So I hit from different distances, angles, and with a bigger variety of techniques.

How do we get the most out of our makiwara training? The characteristic of the makiwara is the increasing resistance on impact. That means, the best way to use this karate tool is to hit with thrust techniques. Techniques that go deep into the target. We would therefore hit from a distance that allows us to hit deep.

Makiwara Gives You Direct Feedback

The makiwaras’ big advantage is its direct feedback. It tells us immediately if there is anything wrong with our techniques. Positioning of the joints, hitting with the wrong body part (hitting too much with our fingers instead of the basic joint when doing haito uchi), unstable stance, etc. To make use of this immediate response of our wooden coach, we stay a little longer than usual on impact. This gives us the necessary time to control our posture. With more experience we shorten this time on impact. With more experience we also look behind the target, in the distance. This prevents us from looking only at the target and helps us make use of a more peripheral vision. Adjusting the vision behind the target will further help us hitting deeper into the target.

The most important aspect of a karate technique is that it must hit an opponent in order to eliminate him, the opponent who doesn’t want to get hit and even fights back. If the opponent sees our technique coming, we are not fast enough! So, we always focus on an explosive acceleration first and a strong technique at impact. This is important, also when working with the makiwara! We need to stay sharp! Until the last strike.

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Always start with lightening speed and then hit with a strong impact! We call this power, speed and strength. Don’t fall into this rhythm that works with an even, rather slow speed. Sadly, that is the one we often witness. That is a rhythm that relaxes us more than it forces us to work harder. So, stay sharp and stay focused the whole time! Use speed and strength to increase your hitting power. Especially when working with the makiwara.

Hitting From a Fighting Position

Most beginners will go through the whole range of movement and start their techniques from the hips, as in basics. There is nothing wrong with that. But eventually we should advance from that starting position and hit from a fighting position. When doing so, and especially when hitting from a very close distance, make sure to hit directly towards the target, do not wind up.

Some advice for more experienced karateka. Hit the makiwara with the intention to do some damage. Hit target oriented, don’t be concerned with technical issues. If you do punches, think about your knuckles and the target. Knuckles – target, knuckles – target…Then get the knuckles as fast and as strong as possible into the target. That also means starting the attack from your fist, not from your hips! This is an important point. The fist starts first, and the rest of the body needs to catch up and unites at impact. If you start with a hip motion you will give the opponent more time to react.

The Focus Must be to Eliminate an Opponent

Remember, the makiwara is only a training tool to increase our hitting power in order to eliminate an opponent. The makiwara is a means to an end. It doesn’t help us to hit hard if an opponent sees it coming and is able to react. What I said here about punches is true for all techniques.

Further, add hitting while out of your ideal position, or when off balance. For instance, when you have a wooden floor, put on socks. Add movement to your strikes. Strike from an angle that might not allow the perfect support of your body. Change the time of day when working out. Hit the makiwara after your normal class, just when you’re exhausted. And if you are a competitor, add short punches. Even when you are not using those in competition. But as with sprinters who practice a lot of 10-30m (10-30 yard) sprints, your long punches will benefit from practicing short punches as well when you make sure to focus on a rapid acceleration.

Makiwara Will not Lead to Arthritis

Let me also touch here very briefly on a reappearing myth in karate. “Makiwara training is dangerous and will lead to arthritis.” This is nonsense! Makiwara training is no more dangerous than other work out programs. Just use common sense. Move forward progressively, start slow and easy with an increasing intensity over time. That way you will maximize your hitting power and toughen the body parts you hit with, without getting injured.

In my first book I also have a chapter about makiwara training. When working on it, I talked to several physicians, all karateka, about makiwara and arthritis. Turns out, there is no correlation between these two! There is a strong genetic correlation though. If your parents and grandparents have or had arthritis, you are more likely to suffer from it too. There is also a correlation between joint injuries and arthritis. That is why it is so important to work out in a progressive way and stay focused throughout our workout. But this is true for all different kinds of workouts.

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The Renaissance Of The Makiwara

For a long time and for the past few decades, the makiwara was a tool that the karate world would despise. As mentioned before, it was considered uncool. I am not saying that working out with the makiwara is being regarded as cool now. We are not quite there yet. But the makiwara is being taken seriously again as an important training tool. I don’t know of any other tool to strengthen our hitting power as effectively as the makiwara. In addition, the makiwara increases our overall strength, without damaging the joints (like when hitting without impact).

The Makiwara Is a Honest Tool

In Japan, they say that hitting the makiwara will increase the density of our bones. If lifting weights increases our bone density, than it is likely that makiwara training does the same. The makiwara is an honest tool. It gives immediate and blunt feedback about the quality of our techniques. If we ask the right way. Maybe we karateka are ready for this kind of honesty again. The makiwara is a simple tool, just a piece of wood with some padding. It is a solid tool. In this time of rapid changes and constant stream of information, it is maybe this simplicity and solidity that will make a comeback for the makiwara. The makiwara is loyal. It is always there for us when training partners are absent. Honest and loyal, simple and solid – the makiwara, a traditional karate tool for our modern times!

More and more dojos are adding the makiwara to their equipment. I was even invited to teach a clinic solely on makiwara training the other day. People may still look at us confused (like my neighbors do) when they see us hitting the makiwara, but they don’t laugh at us anymore. So let’s keep hitting!

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Hikite: More than just the pulling hand

Addison and Eleanor with a strong focus on Hikite!

Hikite has been criticized in the last few years to be ineffective and actually solely for the purpose of pulling an opponent. I will show in this article its actually bio-mechanical purpose as a counter-motion for the creation of speed and power. By Thomas D. McKinnon

The Hikite Critics

I have heard many so called experts criticizing the hikite as a pointless exercise. It makes no sense, they say, that pulling one hand in the opposite direction, to the one that is punching, will generate power to the punching hand. They usually go on to say that the original purpose of hikite is easily seen in the older, Okinawan forms of karate. They operated at a closer range between the attacker and the defender. Karate was originally, purely for self-defense. It was used when attacked by an adversary, and not for sport, where two karateka are facing off.

So, in those experts’ opinion, the hikite – originally meant for destabilising the opponent, grabbing limbs, clothing or hair, to assist in a throw or takedown – is a waste of time unless used for those reasons. In fact the free hand would be put to better use as a cover, for the face say, while the opposite hand is punching et cetera.

A young Hirokazu Kanazawa demonstrates how a Choku Zuki with a string Hikite has to look like.
A young Hirokazu Kanazawa demonstrates how a Choku Zuki with a string Hikite has to look like.

What is Hikite about?

Hikite is another of those Japanese terms that means more than it says. Hikite: the pulling hand. Firstly, the hand that is the counter-piece of any given hand technique is not just pulled back per se. But we’ll get back to that. The difference between karate and let’s say boxing is simple. Karate doesn’t use a shoulder and or a lean in or a swing to generate power in the technique. Power generated in that manner makes the weight of the initiator a major part of that power generation. The (switched on) Shotokan karateka uses the rotation around the central pivot, or Hara (the core), of the body. Utilising the whole body, not just the side that is punching, the karateka is in fact employing more mass.

Furthermore, the slingshot effect generates more explosive speed. And, as everyone knows, this is instrumental in both power output and payload delivery: Force = Mass x Velocity (Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion). In the David and Goliath scenario: do you think that David would have slain Goliath if he’d simply thrown the stone?

Counter Pivot Around the Core for Maximum Speed and Power

I stated in that last paragraph that the hikite is not pulled back per se. Let me clarify. The hikite is used to counter pivot the energy from one side of the body to the other via the central pivotal core. Thus, pulling the opposite side of the body not back but, spiraling through the core adding more mass. Therefore it generates more speed and lends more power to the strike. This works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home. Force = Mass x Velocity. This action does not necessarily mean that the hikite hand ends up at the hip. However, when teaching this power transference, it is generally thought easier, initially at least, to demonstrate the action this way.

Thomas D. McKinnon (author): He puts a lot of emphasize on Hikite. It "works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home."
Thomas D. McKinnon (author): He puts a lot of emphasize on Hikite. It “works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home.”

I stated in that last paragraph that the hikite is not pulled back per se. Let me clarify. The hikite is used to counter pivot the energy from one side of the body to the other via the central pivotal core. Thus, pulling the opposite side of the body not back but, spiraling through the core adding more mass. Therefore it generates more speed and lends more power to the strike. This works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home. Force = Mass x Velocity. This action does not necessarily mean that the hikite hand ends up at the hip. However, when teaching this power transference, it is generally thought easier, initially at least, to demonstrate the action this way.

What The Experts get Wrong

I do not disagree in regard to those other uses for the hikite. However, in my humble opinion, those so called experts don’t see the whole concept. They totally miss or misunderstand, the other side of the equation. To talk about pulling and pushing is somewhat redundant. Pulling one hand back is not going to power up the pushing or punching side… that’s obvious. That is where most of the power generation naysayers get their nickers in a twist. At the risk of repeating myself: the hikite is not pulling back, it is pulling the opposite side of the body into the equation by powering it through the central pivot or center axis. This action enables the karateka to utilise the power of the entire body. And not just the side that is delivering the strike.

Hikite Creates Physical Force

There is an equation for this power generation. Centripetal force (defined as, “The component of force acting on a body in curvilinear motion that is directed toward the center of curvature or axis of rotation”) is equal and opposite to the Centrifugal force. Centrifugal force (defined as, “The force, equal and opposite to the Centripetal force, drawing a rotating body away from the center of rotation, caused by the inertia of the body.”) then adds to the Mass and the Velocity already in motion. Again, we have a measurable: Force = Mass x Velocity.

Addison is 12 years of age, and the Tasmanian State Champion in both kata and kumite in her age category; plus, she is part of the National Australian Squad.  Eleanor is 17 years of age, the Tasmanian State Champion in kata and kumite in her age category, also runner-up in the Ladies Open, and she too is part of the Australian National Squad. Both focus a lot on Hikite!
Our Two young ladies of the opener picture: Addison is 12 years of age, and the Tasmanian State Champion in both kata and kumite in her age category; plus, she is part of the National Australian Squad.  Eleanor is 17 years of age, the Tasmanian State Champion in kata and kumite in her age category, also runner-up in the Ladies Open, and she too is part of the Australian National Squad. Both have a strong focus on Hikite!

All the other possible constituents of the hikite – destabilising the opponent, grabbing, pulling and assisting a throw or takedown et cetera – actually become even more relevant. Power generation, on its own, is a very real component of hikite. However, in addition, the supplementary power element makes all the other mechanisms of hikite even more practicable.

Hikite: more than just the pulling hand.

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Tekki Shodan for Self-Defense: Okinawa Strikes Back

Tekki Shodan belongs to the foundation of Karate katas. Its purpose was to prepare Karateka for real-life conflicts.

Tekki Shodan belongs to the Shotokan katas with the most commonalities with Okinawa katas. First of all, this does not come as a surprise. Because Karate was developed in Okinawa. Therefore, all Shotokan katas share a certain amount of commonalities with Okinawa katas.

However, the Tekki katas are by far the closest to the Okinawa originals. One can grasp this relatedness by considering the Bunkai of Tekki Shodan. It is a close-range Kata. Above all, no high kicks take place during the kata. On the other hand, the focus lies on a very complex hip rotation. Such an refined application of the hips is needed in close combat situations with limited space for maneuver. This relationship becomes more obvious, if one stands a little bit higher than in a regular Shotokan kiba dachi. Then the hip can rotate even more freely. As a result, the whip-lash effect, which is fundamental for Okinawa Karate, becomes emphasized.

Tekki Shodan in Okinawa Karate

The Okinawa Karatekas call Tekki Shodan Naihanchi. The name means “internal divided conflict”. Gichin Funakoshi, however, changed the name to Tekki, which means “iron horse”. The name refers to the “horse stand” (kiba dachi). The kiba dachi builds the foundation of Tekki. While some authors claim the use of the stance focuses on leg training, this argument seems unplausible. Its advantage in close-combat situations might has justified its use more than considerations of physical fitness.

Choki Motobus Favorite Kata

This fact also made Tekki Shodan/Naihanchi the most favorite kata of grand master Choki Motobu, who was a specialist in self-defense. Many Karateka know Choki Motobu because of his famous quote:

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

For him, Karate aimed at self-defense in the first place. He considered the other aspects as minor important. The legend says, that his strong focus on self-defense derived from his career as a “bar brawler”. According to rumors, he used to had regularly fights in the streets Naha the capital of Okinawa. Therefore, his sense for self-defense emerged during real-life conflicts.

From his point of view, Naihanchi was a perfect routine to prepare Karateka for such situations. Another quote of him says, for instance:

“Twisting to the left or right from the Naifuanchin stance will give you the stance used in a real confrontation. Twisting one’s way of thinking about Naifuanchin left and right, the various meanings in each movement of the kata will also become clear.”

To make this thinking process a little easier and inspiring for you, we have selected several excellent application videos for you. You can find them at the end of the article.

Tekki as Foundation of Karate

Choki Motobu also argued that the heart of traditional karate lies in kata, especially Tekki (Naihanchi). Above all, Tekki served as the main and only original training forms. Many different versions of the Kata exist in other Karate styles. Shotokan also distinguishes between Tekki Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan. Thus, no other Shotokan kata has three variations. Hence, Karateka must study Tekki in oder to get a feeling for the physical foundation of Karate. In short, to focus on hip rotation to generate speed and power.

Selected Tekki Shodan Bunkai Videos

1. Don Came – Origins seminar ep 1 – Naihanchi/Tekki-Shodan part 1

2. Iain Abernathy – Practical Kata Bunkai: Three Bunkai Drills for Naihanchi/Tekki Shodan

3. David Gimberline – Tekki Shodan Orientation Intro

4. Drobyshevsky Karate System – Tekki Shodan-Combat Bunkai-First Six Combinations-Kuro Obi Fight

5. Iain Abernathy – Practical Kata Bunkai: Naihanchi / Tekki Basic Clinch Bunkai & Drills

6. David Gimberline -Tekki Shodan