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Correct Breathing in Karate: Kokyu, Techniques, and Exercises

The picture shows a woman breathing in Karate.

Breathing in Karate plays an odd role. On the one hand, every Karateka agrees on its importance for vitality, great technique, speed, and power. On the other hand, most Karateka do not know much about breathing in Karate or how to breathe correctly. Neither do they know much about how to train it and what exercise to utilize to breathe better. In this article Punito Aisenpreis is going to give an extensive overview about the Dos and Don´ts of breathing in Karate and how one can become a better Karateka through breathing.

In Karate a specific type of breathing is necessary. Then in training and in competition the same rule applies: When we lose our breath we lose ourselves.

Thus, this article deals with breathing in Karate and the many possibilities to use it consciously. I intend to give the Karateka guidance to train more efficiently, more easily, more consciously, and with more motivation through apply effective breathing techniques.

There is no first breath in Karate!

We breathe about 500 million times between our birth and our death. Since our phylogenetic ancestors came ashore, pulmonary breathing has been essential to generate energy. Our breathing is slow when we are relaxed or asleep, and fast when we are moving or become emotionally – positive or negatively – aroused.

The breathing process runs automatically. Only in thin, sticky, hot air, when we “run out of breath” during exertion, or when we suffocate we really become aware of our breath.

In Karate, on the other hand, we try to establish a consciousness for our breathing. When beginners start Karate training, they often become overwhelmed by instructions regarding breath control. Their unconscious patterns of  “stress breathing” emerge, learned early in childhood, and over steer any well-intentioned attempt at “the right” breathing in Karate.

General Breathing Mechanics and Physiology

“Understand first your own breath, then the breath of the opponent.”

Before we go into the specifics and techniques of breathing in Karate we have to clarify first some general breathing mechanics and the physiology behind breathing.

Outer and inner Breathing

When we understand, how our breathing works and how it gets out of rhythm, then we can control it more efficiently.

The outer breathing, for instance, works simplified as follows: When we inhale, special nerve cells of the breath center in the brain become activated. They stimulate peripheral nerves that initiate the contraction of our diaphragm and our deep lateral neck muscles (MM. scaleni).

The contraction of the muscular diaphragm moves it down towards the abdomen and pushes the liver, stomach, spleen, kidneys, and intestines towards the pelvis. The chest space (thorax) above it becomes enlarged. The lung fill with air due to the resulting vacuum.

From a mechanically standpoint on can say: A pump handle movement describes breathing at best. As more relaxed the fascia and muscles of the thorax are as more the lung can inhale (up to 5 liters).

The inner breathing happens as gas exchange between the pulmonary vesicles (alveoli) and the blood of the pulmonary circulation. Fewer environmental toxins, dust, and tar on the fine alveolar membranes of the lung mean better transfer of oxygen to our muscles, organs and nerves.

Cell Breathing and Energy Supply

Breathing, however, has a chemical reason. Red blood cells transport O2 molecules to cells because they require oxygen. At the cell membrane the  oxygen diffuses into the cell and is replaced with CO2, the waste product of cell respiration, which then becomes transported back to the lungs. In the cells the mitochondria, our so-called cell batteries, metabolize sugar and O2 into CO2 and water.

In doing so, energy in the form of  ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is generated. ATP is our cell fuel, which is needed  and used up in all cells. During Karate training ATP is mainly utilized in muscles, the heart and the brain. Thus: as higher the O2 uptake of the body as more energy can be provided. Nourished, regenerated and connected cells mean better body performance.

The Role of the Autonomic Nervous System

At rest, relaxation and in sleep, adults breath between 5 and 18 times per minute. If we are positively or negatively aroused or physically active or stressed, we breathe up to 30-60 cycles per minute. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls our breath rate and breathing volume, which consists of the three components:

  1. The sympathetic (activation, fight-flight),
  2. Parasympathetic (relaxation, regeneration) and
  3. the “Old Vagus system” (digest, freeze).

As more aroused we are, e.g. in a combat situation, as more the sympathetic nervous system stimulates the respiratory center. This, on the one hand, provides more energy, on the other hand, it poses the risk that we breath too fast and “get out of breath” and “lose our head”.

Breathing Disorders and Breathing Therapy

“Karate begins and ends with proper breathing!”

Understanding Breathing Disorders

In one of the basic works of traditional Karate, the Bubishi, the authors discuss vital points and the accumulation of “Ki“. Itosu Anko, the teacher of Funakoshi Gichin, warns about breathing too much “Ki” in the head, as it can result in a red head and high blood pressure. The breath should be directed down into the “field of Vermillion” in the lower abdomen (Hara).

Early childhood breathing disorders with an overactivation of the “freezing-system” of the ANS can, for example, lead to asthma and restrictions during inhalation. A Karateka, who tends to have asthma, has difficulties to exhale the air completely, because his or her bronchial system tightens.

Even a rigidly inflated chest, which looks powerful and tries to show domination, leads to movement restrictions. Especially during rotational movements it makes the throat and neck immobile. So, during the execution of a Kata the Karateka has to spend way too much effort and yet it will look strenuous in succession. Instead, of the abdominal press, without fine perception of the abdominal organs, the “lip brake” will have to be used for the accumulation of the breathing air, which does not allow for powerful techniques.

Breath Therapy

When present, a respiratory dysfunction is best treated play with a respiratory based therapy. After thorough analysis of the body structure, the fascia system, the oxygen uptake of the metabolic system in volume and frequency (spirometry) and  the respiratory mechanics of a Karateka are used in various forms in the therapy: 

Fascia therapy for diaphragm, intercostal muscles, Scaleni muscles, abdominal wall and the ancessorial breathing muscles. The ribs, the sternum, shoulder girdle and spine are treated osteopathically to create more balance and mobility. Respiratory therapy detects unphysiological breathing patterns and induced physiologically correct breathing. In the Dojo, the trainer has to perceives the breathing patterns of the students and if pre sent, can detect respiratory dysfunction. He/she should then be able to give assistance to the students, as to correct and induce performance-oriented natural breathing patterns.

Exercise: Bodhidharma Heart-Hara Breathing

Before we dive into breathing in Karate, let us do a small breathing exercise while you read this article. So, breath slowly with abdominal and chest breathing by counting to “four”. Imagine the oxygen from the breathing air entering your heart area. There you hold it approximately two seconds and then let it flow slowly over the back, counting to “six”, into your lower abdomen while exhaling. Feel how the entire abdominal and pelvic space fills up with energy. Let your center of gravity slowly sink into your Hara (belly).

Breathing in Karate

What is breathing in Karate about? The first concept, I want to describe is: Kokyu also know as breathing power.

Kokyu: Breathing Power

“Hard and soft, tension and relaxation, slow and fast, – all in combination with the right breathing”

Gichin Funakoshi

Breathing and karate are firmly interwoven. At the center stands Kokyu: breathing power. Karateka know the concept by heart. When a techniques becomes executed Karateka exhale with force. The effective use of a Karate technique depends to a large extent on the right breathing and the appropriate breathing rhythm.

In Karate inhaling leads the air deeply into the abdomen by lowering the diaphragm. When exhaling, the diaphragm arbitrarily tightens in accordance with the abdominal muscles and thus stabilizes the trunk. This stabilization creates together with the muscle groups of the back, the possibility to connect the upper and lower body to an effective and stable unit.

Through increasing the pressure in the lower abdomen it to support the acceleration of a technique with muscle strength, the weight and movement of the total body. The body, thus, becomes a “projectile” with which the Karateka strikes at the opponent. When inhaling the body should then fully relax again.

Kime and Kiai

If Karateka can coordinate all muscle groups involved in breathing they also achieve a stable posture. Another important effect is the direction of energy. If the optimal tension of the abdominal cavity is given, a Karateka can transmit the energy generated at the pressure point of the heel through all necessary fascia, bones and joints into the fist. The force follows, therefore, the intended direction.

With the snapping of the stretched fascia system, breathing also comes to an abrupt stop. Thus, it amplifies the chain of action of the body structure and stabilizes the power transfer to the endpoint. The battle cry (Kiai) naturally comes from the depth through the belly, when the air escapes at the moment of Kime. Moreover, letting flow the breath freely allows a better kinesthetic sense of all the body fascia and allows to unify the body perception into a continuation from toe to head.

Karate Warm-up Exercises for Breathing Muscles

1. Spinal Twist

The spinal twist works as follows:

  • Both sit bones touch the ground.
  • The right leg is placed on the sole of the foot over the outstretched left leg.
  • The body turns to the right.
  • From here the left elbow presses from the outside against the right knee.
  • The right hand touches the left knee while the right arm supports it in a stretched out and straight line to the ground.
  • The head turns further to the right back.
  • The spine stretches up right while being twisted.
  • The lateral abdomen and the intercostal muscles are stretched.
  • The large chest fascia is stretched in continuation with the hip and pelvic fascia.
The picture shows Punito Aisenprais doing a Spinal Twist for breathing in Karate.

2. Knee Seat

The knee seat is another warm-up exercise for better breathing during Karate training. It works as follows:

  • The body turns backwards.
  • The arms go backwards over the head and leave the lumbar spine long and uncompressed while, stretching the entire front fascia system.
  • The front chest and trunk muscles as well as the intercostal muscles are stretched as well as the anterior diaphragm attachments.
The picture shows Punito Aisenprais doing a Knee Seat for breathing in Karate.

3. Zenkutsu Dachi Hip Stretch

Zenkutsu Dachi can also be applied for a breathing warm-up. The hip has to show towards shomen. The heel is puched back and both arms are stretched up. The Lateral fascia system is stretched as well as the intercostal muscles, the lateral neck muscles and the fascia.

The picture shows Punito Aisenprais doing a Zenkutsu Dachi for breathing in Karate.

Patterns of Breathing in Karate

But Karate offers several breathing patterns and approaches:

  • slow exhalation when performing a technique,
  • slow inhalation while reaching out,
  • rapid inhalation and slow exhalation when performing a technique,
  • slow inhalation and rapid exhalation when performing a technique,
  • half breathing out with two consecutive strike techniques.

In addition, the air is exhaled either until Kime and then stopped. Or Kime takes place exactly after the complete exhalation.

However, different areas of Karate also require but also offer distinguished breathing approaches. The concepts of breathing in Jiyu Kumite differ from the ones in Kata, for instance.

Breathing Techniques in Jiyu Kumite

In Jiyu Kumite breathing can be utilized in the following ways:

  • One can attack while the opponent inhales and has thus difficulties to react.
  • One can also can breathe to be more insensitive to the impacts of the opponents attack.
  • A strong exhalation ends with Kiai to make the belly press even more effective or to irritate the opponent.
  • “Let your breath be thin,” says an unknown Chinese quote (so that the enemy cannot discover your breath and act on it).
  • In case of nervousness self-control can be restored by a long exhalation.

Find it out for yourself: Inhale, exhale, and ask yourself what makes a technique slow, what makes it fast, weak or strong? Then try to reflect about the question: What is best breathing pattern during an attack and during defense?

Breathing in Karate Kata´s

Kata´s, on the other hand, offer a different set of breathing patterns. Hangetsu, for instance, is a Kata with 41 techniques from  Naha-te, called Seisan, which originally comes from China. Actually, this is a Kata for practicing the stances (Hangetsu dachi) and unusual techniques.

However, it is also excellent for breathing training (Kokyu ho). Then it comprises different breathing patterns.

To reach a deeper understading of breathing in Kata Karateka should ask themselves the following questions:

  • How long, short, and how loud is the Kiai in the different Kata?
  • What are breathing techniques and breathing rhythm that the kata dictates through its respective techniques?

Mindfulness Breathing in and outside the Dojo

When greeting and closing (Mokuso) the conscious breathing is usually carried out too short. Our thoughts often wander around. In Kata, in Kihon and in Rei the appropriate way of breathing to the technique can be trained. Breathing while practicing combinations (e.g. Sanbon Zuki) can lead to interesting insight. Thus, breathing can be seen as the fourth factor of an effective Karate technique – Yon ten riki ho (four areas of power) – in addition to the compression of the joints, the hip rotation, and the shifting of weight.

Breathing is special in many ways. It is the only body function that can be executed both fully aware as well as unconsciously. Thus, it represents a bridge between mind and body. Such a connection between the unconscious and the conscious emerges when one contemplates about ones own breath without controlling it.

Breathing can be a key to health and well-being. Karateka have the opportunity to learn to regulate their respiratory function and to develop and improve a physical, emotional and mental well-being. However, only a few Karateka learn how to use their breathing.

In fact, breathing patterns can be controlled. Karateka with foundational breathing techniques can reduce stress, lower their blood pressure and regulate many physical systems without medication. Breathing has direct connections to the limbic system (emotions) and to the ANS (auton omous nervous system).

Following I present some breathing techniques that are prominent in different Karate styles.

“Ibuki” Breathing of Gôjû-ryû vs. Shotokan Breathing

Ibuki breathing is the name of the forceful “pressure breathing” of Goju-ryu Karate. To do so Goju-ryu Karateka close their voice box to let only a small portion of audible breath in and out at a time. This practice aims at strengthening the breathing muscles, ventilating the total lung space and leading to a high air- and blood pressure in the body.

The effect of this breathing method stimulates the vagus nerve through the pressure receptors in the aorta and the carotid sinus. However, it might also lead to a permanent high blood pressure if overdone.

Andre Bertel talks about the difference between Shotokan Karate breathing  and “Ibuki” breathing of Gôjû-ryû especially in the Kata Hangetsu:

“It is important to note here, insofar as breathing is concerned, that Hangetsu does not encompass Ibuki style breathing that is audible; like, for instance, in Sanchin Kata. Nevertheless, some instructors have incorporated this element into Shotokan-Ryu (of ten via Hangetsu). That being said, it is claimed that “…the original version of this kata, in Okinawa, did not  feature audible breathing” but, rather, the breathing was done in a stealthy manner. This method is what is maintained by the JKA. – One point, which his Master Asai Sensei stressed, was that “The breathing in the Nihon Karate Kyokai (J.K.A) Hangetsu must not be audible like that of the Naha-te Sanchin, it must be deep and  undetectable.”

Andre Bertel 2016

Buddhist Karate Breathing vs. Daoist Tai Chi Breathing

Abdominal breathing can be executed it two different ways: in the Buddhist and the Daoist one. The Buddhist way is usually practiced in Karate. The underbelly gets inflated when inhaling and deflated when exhaling.

Daoist breathing, on the other hand, works the other way around: while inhaling the underbelly is drawn in, when exhaling it is ballooned out. This kind of breathing is preferred by experienced Taijiquan practitioners. In a personal exploration the two different ways were measured with a HRV scanning device in order to detect and quantify the autonomic regulation effects. At least in my personal trial the “Buddhist” Karate breathing produced overall about 10% more autonomic nervous system response than the Daoist breathing.

Breathing, Heart rate and Regeneration after Training

Breathing and heartbeat are interdependent. The heart rate variability describes changes in heart rate over a period of time, controlled through the ANS (autonomous nervous system). As stronger the short-term changes of the heartbeat, controlled by the parasympathetic Vagus nerve, the more adaptable the organism is.

The picture shows Punitoe Aisenprais during a heart rate measurement and Karate. The heart rate has a huge influence an breathing in karate.

One could compare the overall regulation of the ANS with the “Ki”. The graphic on the left shows that slow breathing with 5-6 cycles per minute achieves the best regulation values. Breathing with 20 cycles per minute is the worst. At 5-6 breaths per minute the body relaxes fast and regenerates after a strain. Breathing and heartbeat control can be used very well with “HRV Biofeedback Breathing Training”. Both can be executed after training or after work. It also works for training and load control of competing Karateka.

I would like to add the 4711 formula. Scientists have found out that daily 11-minutes of breathing exercises with 4 seconds inhalation and 7 seconds exhalation can stimulate the vagus nerve in such a way that body and mind are immersed in a very special state of deep relaxation and regeneration. That can bee seen as the counterpart to stress responses. If this breathing exercises is performed over 9  weeks, it can lead to a change in the brain structure to more stability, relaxation, and awareness.

If the bodies oxygen uptake at rest falls below a certain value, the cell respiration can no longer function correctly. The metabolism must produce lactate even at low loads to meet the energy demand. This leads to a great loss of performance and an increasing acidification of the body, which results in pain, stiffness, and other problems.

In this case, a training at artificial height with reduced oxygen exposure comes into play. Such a training situation forces the body of Karateka to alternately breaths reduced amounts of Oxygen and intermittently breathes over saturated air. This will improve cell respiration and metabolic capacity. Even in preparation for championships, this procedure already showed in some studies its power-enhancing effect.

Breathing in Karate: Between Technique and Natural State

Breathing training has been around for centuries. It was already used in India in the Vedic Scriptures (1500  BC), the Upanishads (700 BC), and mentioned in the Yoga of Patanjali (200 BC). There, breathing exercises and  meditations are adequately described as “Pranayama” (prana = Ki (breathing). From there, the path of breathing and awareness training went to China (Bodhidharma, Chan, 500 A.D.) and came with Zen Buddhism to Japan (Dogen 1200 A.D.).

Breathing training and mindfulness training are inextricably linked throughout Asia. Through the mindful observance in Zen (Shikan Taza), a transparent and shapeless sitting, the breath-counting (Susokan) or the breath-observing sitting (Zuisokan), the body relaxes and Ki can be accumulated in the lower abdomen (Hara).

Karateka, who practice the above breathing training also outside the dojo,  sharpen their mind, improve their responsiveness, increase self-regulation and regeneration and develop their character. They learn how to be strong and happy through breathing.

That is why Karateka should take away the following five summarized statements of breathing in Karate:

  1. Conscious breathing strengthens and stabilizes the center for transmitting Kime from bottom to top;
  2. Conscious breathing strengthens awareness, mindfulness, respect;
  3. Conscious Breathing initiates and strengthens regeneration (via the Vagus nerve);
  4. Conscious breathing controls and moderates emotions – fighting spirit, penetration;
  5. Conscious breathing relaxes, sharpens and soothes the mind.

Author

Punito Michael Aisenpreis: Born in 1958, coach, therapist, researcher and trainer in Munich and Murnau, martial arts and meditation teacher. Fascia therapy since 1981. Shotokan Karate since 1975, currently 4th Dan JKA and DJKB Trainer. Ki Aikido with Koichi Tohei. Regular karate training in Japan. 1994 Founding of the German Society for Myofascial Release e.V. Since 2013 Bodhidharma Karate Dojo Murnau at DJKB. Mail keiko@bodhidharma.de; www.bodhidharma.de.

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Mikio Yahara: His Way of Traditional Karate

The picture shows Mikio Yahara aka the Leopard.

The life and practice of 10th Dan, Mikio Yahara, is an inspirational story worth knowing for any serious karateka. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Jeff Christian

Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic practitioners of Shotokan Karate to come out of the Japan Karate Association. Early on, Masatoshi Nakayama described him as the best fighter of his generation. To this day, traditional Karate is his passion, a former JKA Grand Champion. As a result, he is first and foremost a martial artist, a practitioner of traditional karate obsessed with returning Karate back to its budo roots. Yahara has a no-nonsense approach to his Karate.

Early Life of Mikio Yahara

Yahara was born on 4 April 1947 in the fishing village Namikata-Machi, Ehime Prefecture. He was the fourth son of a prominent family with samurai roots on his father’s side. His mother’s family were descended from pirates.

Growing up, he was a boisterous child who loved to fight. Therefore, at an early age, he became interested in Karate as his older brother practiced it. In an effort to calm him down, his brother taught him Karate, from the age of seven.

A few years later in 1954 Yahara went to junior school. However, he had a heart attack and was diagnosed with a heart condition. As a result, doctors thought he would not live past the age of twenty.

Almost ten years later, while a high school student, Yahara joined the school’s Judo club in 1963, refusing to be limited by his condition. Even in his youth he displayed what would come to be known as his characteristic strong will. He wanted to get stronger, which he did. Eventually, he reached the rank of second Dan in Judo.

How Mikio Yahara Discovered Karate

While excelling in Judo, Yahara joined a local Karate club affiliated with the Japan Karate Association. His teacher was Yagi Sensei, an instructor who came from the JKA Honbu in Tokyo. As with his earlier life in Judo, Yahara advanced quickly in karate. By 1964 he had been promoted to first dan. It was not long before he soon dreamed of becoming an instructor.

At that time, JKA instructors were normally selected from the best university graduates. Knowing this and wanting to be near the JKA Honbu, Yahara enrolled at Kokushikan University, Tokyo, in 1966. He soon joined the university’s Karate club.

By this time, his childhood condition was no longer an issue, and he had grown into a strong young man. Yahara’s instructor at the club was Kenji Yano. Training sessions were hard, and in some cases frightening. Many students left the club. Yahara was one of the few students to remain.

Through his dedication, Yahara became one of the best Karateka at the club. For example, he practised at the JKA Hombu, which helped develop his approach to traditional Karate. He sometimes practised at the Karate clubs at Komazawa, Nodai, and Nihon Taiku Daigaku universities. But, his seniors at the Kokushikan University Club soon avoided him due to his toughness.

From Student to Instructor

By 1971 Yahara had graduated from Kokushikan University and joined the JKA Instructors Course. Masatoshi Nakayama, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and Hideo Ochi were his main instructors on the course, while Kenji Yano was his Sempai (Senior).

As previously stated, Yano had been Yahara’s instructor at University. Nicknamed the “Destroyer,” Yano took sadistic pleasure in intimidating and beating up students. Moreover, he looked for ways to hurt his opponent during sparring sessions, especially grades below him.

As his kohai (junior), Yahara usually faced the worst of Yano’s aggressiveness. But he frequently had to go to hospital because of injuries he sustained. However, his pride would not let him quit. He would attend the next training session even though he was injured. In time he earned Yano’s respect for never backing down. By his own admission, he hated Yano. However, he respected is aggressiveness and strength.

During this time, another instructor who had a profound influence on Yahara was Keigo Abe. Abe was known for his exceptional technical ability.

Yahara tried to model himself on Abe’s technique and Yano’s spirit. Even from these early days of his training, Budo was at the forefront of his training, even in kata. For him, kata based in traditional karate was not for competition or grading but for making his kumite stronger.

Life of Competition

In 1972 Yahara’s international competitive career began in Paris, France. Two years later he graduated from the Instructors Course and started actively competing and teaching.

Subsequently, Yahara taught at the JKA Honbu. He had achieved his goal of becoming a JKA Instructor. But, he also taught at several dojo is on the outskirts of Tokyo. Teaching at these dojos sometimes meant he was involved in “dojo-yaburi,” dojo challenges between different Karate styles.

At the JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Yahara was a phenomenal competitor in both kata and kumite. He always featured in the top three positions in each event. During these years from 1975 to 1984, he faced some of the top competitors of the time, that included Masahiko Tanaka, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Toshihiro Mori.

In 1984 Yahara became JKA Grand Champion. He won the kata event defeating Masao Kagawa in the final. He came third in the kumite event won by Hideo Yamamoto.

Yahara also competed in three IAKF World Championships. At the 1977 Championships held in Tokyo, Japan, he finished second behind Yoshiharu Osaka in the kata event. At the 1980 Championships held in Bremen, Germany, he lost to Osaka in the final. He faced Osaka again in the final of the 4th IAKF Championships, losing to him.

Mikio Yahara: From Competitor to Teacher

In 1984 Yahara retired from competing. As a kumite competitor he was known for his dynamic and innovative techniques. He was a fan favourite and had many memorable matches. As a kata competitor his main kata was Unsu. He always performed the kata as if he was in a life or death situation. His major tournament successes include:

  • IAKF World Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1977, 1980, 1983)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Grand Champion (1984)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 1st place (1984)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kata – 2nd place (1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 2nd place (1975, 1998)
  • JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Individual Kumite – 3rd place (1976, 1979, 1982, 1984)

Yahara featured in Masatoshi Nakayama’s Best Karate series published in 1979. He appeared in the following books:

In 1987 the Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, died. His death led to rival factions vying for control over the JKA. The Nakahara Faction was led by businessman Nobuyuki Nakahara. This faction included Masaaki Ueki, Yoshiharu Osaka, and Masahiko Tanaka. The rival Matsuno faction was led by Tetsuhiko Asai, and included Keigo Abe, Akihito Isaka, Yahara, and Masao Kagawa. What followed was a 10-year legal battle between the two factions.

Mikio Yahara’s Personal Life

By the 1990’s Yahara had established a personal security company. As a part of his business he had many run-ins with the Yakuza. He had to regularly move house to avoid being killed. These encounters made in value the importance of the Budo approach to traditional Karate. The core principle of Ikken Hisatsu, “one killing blow” became a fundamental part of his training.

Over time the Yakuza came to have a healthy respect for Yahara. There is a famous story in Japan of Yahara fighting 34 Yakuza members, who had targeted him and his company. He survived the encounter.

From JKA to KWF

In 1999 the Nakahara Faction of the JKA won the legal battle between them and the Matsuno Faction. A Japanese High Court ruling awarded them the sole rights to the JKA name.

Following the court ruling, the Asai Faction left the JKA. The Faction split to form the following groups:

  • Japan Karate Shotokai (JKS) led by Tatsuhiko Asai
  • Japan Shotokan Karate Association (JSKA) led by Keigo Abe
  • Karatenomichi World Federation (KWF) led by Yahara

Eventually, the KWF was established in April 2000. ” Karatenomichi” means “the way of Karate.” Yahara had not been happy with the direction Karate was taking. He wanted Karate to be more Budo-orientated. His teachings were based on the principle of “Ichigeki Hissatsu” – “one strike.” Much emphasis was placed on perfecting basic techniques through repetition. He was not against Sport Karate. However, his criticism is that everyone moves in the same way to win a point. Sport Karate lacks variety or uniqueness in fighters.

In 2006 Yahara was promoted to 8th Dan, aged 59. During his grading he broke three ribs of an opponent with a single punch.

The last several years has seen Yahara build the KWF into one of the biggest Shotokan associations in the world. Apart from running his business, he travels the world giving training courses and seminars in traditional karate. Away from Karate he practices Iaido. He is a fan of classical music, especially that of Russian composer, Tchaikovsky. Mikio Yahara is one of the most dynamic fighters to come out of the JKA. His unique fighting style made him a fan favourite. However, it is his exploration of Budo Karate that has made him one of the most important Karate Masters today.

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Missing Links of Karate: Why We Need Traditional Martial Arts

The missing links of Karate have become a research field for a community of innovative and open minded Karateka. We link Karate back to its roots in traditional martial arts from Asia. By doing so we focus on improving Karate and bring back what the art has lost through the development of modern Shotokan and Sports Karate. Therefore, missing links challenges conventional Karate wisdom and changes perceptions. By Heero Miketta

Questioning Shotokan

Practicing Japanese Karate will always bring up the question: “Which style?” – at least from those in the know. Three decades ago an answer by Hirokazu Kanazawa made the rounds in my Shotokan circles. “Martial arts,” the old master mumbled in reply, and was not willing to discuss this any further.

It impressed me at the time, because back then I had a moment of confusion myself. I had joined the instructor team of the police in the then German capital Bonn. It was a fortunate event to be welcomed in this rather elitist circle of good fighters with all kinds of martial arts backgrounds. I was a complete rookie, while all of them had tested their knowledge in more or less realistic scenarios.

My Shotokan fell short. What I had learned was too static, too focused on the long distance, and very much tuned into the rules of competition.

Shotokan Did not Meet the Reality of Fighting nor Philosophical Depth of Asia

Not an unusual story – I have met plenty of others with similar experiences, not only from Shotokan Karate. If you listen to Geoff Thompson, British author and martial artist, he describes the same learning journey. Self defense, realistic conflict, and violence prevention always question what we have learned in the dojo.

This was not the first time I second-guessed my Karate. When I started my training in Shotokan, coming from Judo and Tai Chi, I became disappointed at first. I found a sports system featuring tournament rules instead of the deep secrets I had expected. It was all sweat, mostly on my own, walking up and down a gym, hitting thin air. No Far East philosophy, nothing of the cool mystic background I imagined.

The Two Missing Links

Two missing links gave our research community its name: The actual combat content, and the deep knowledge, the Asian ways of thinking that challenge the Western mind.

The Bleeding Edge of Modern Society

This brings us straight to the core of martial arts: The connection of body and mind. What sounds like an advertising soundbite to the ears of experienced Karateka is a bleeding edge of modern society. In our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, we chose the term “debodification” to describe what is happening to humans today: An increasingly sedentary lifestyle dominated by screentime and virtual experiences. Fitness and wellness have the character of mere duties that have to be fulfilled. Looking good, being healthy, showing positive attitude is a mere part of a “personality package,” not a source of learning and personal growth.

This betrays modern people of genuine experiences that can only be made using the body. Some people aim to fill this gap in personal growth by attending Asian health systems like Yoga, Qi Gong, or meditation. Traditional martial arts offer the same philosophy in motion, and they bring even more to the table: Conflict, fear, stress, social skills, and communication.

The Depth of the Traditional Asian Styles

Modern fitness and self defense based systems offer much less depth. While mixed martial arts competition is a fantastic sport and often underrated by Karateka (also because of the testosterone-laden scenarios of competition in the octagon), it does not regard the deeper content of traditional martial arts. Do not underestimate MMA athletes, though. Many of them come from traditional systems and practice much more than what they need in tournaments. Grappling styles like Brazilian Jujitsu offer physical and mental training, as well as holistic knowledge. Nothing, however, beats the traditional Asian styles.

Shotokan Roots in China

The roots of our Karate go back to older arts from Okinawa and China, a fact that has not only been forgotten by many who think Karate is part of the traditional Japanese Budo curriculum. But it has been hidden by Japanese masters who went out of their way to rebrand Karate from “Chinese Hand” to “Empty Hand,” simply by changing the Kanji of the name.

In our Missing Link Community, we use the original character: Ko Ryu Kara Te – old style Chinese hand. The look backwards to China and old Kung Fu styles is as important to us as the focus on modern application and usability. We avoid chitter chatter about “the street” and what is useful. We care about what we can learn for everyday scenarios that actually happen in modern life.

Chinese Martial Arts as Compendium for Modern Karate

What did we find in the Chinese arts?

Flow

First and foremost: Flow. Static stances, powerful hard movements – both can be more obstacle than help for good martial arts:

  • Nothing is static in a fight.
  • A stance is just a short moment in the context of a bigger event.
  • The entire movement is much more important than the end position of a step.
  • Low stances only make sense in the context of weight shift and power development; they have no value on their own.
  • Every technique, any combination, needs to work in a flow, and with a partner.

Nothing is more important than constant partner training. It is essential to develop mental flexibility and the ability to adapt to ever changing circumstances.

Structure

Another important issue is structure:

  • Posture,
  • stability,
  • full body movements and
  • the understanding of principles

This approach is superior to learning single techniques and executing them with maximum strength.

Movements make Perfect

Understanding – and feeling – the body and its movement makes for good martial arts. Discovering the capabilities of the own body and transferring it into work with a partner is surprisingly often neglected in Karate dojos, in favor of endless repetitions of techniques that make no sense without bunkai – the deep analysis of their meaning and usage. The external form of techniques, especially at the END of the movement, is getting much more attention than the application and the internal development of strength and power.

Traditional Martial Arts Connect Mind and Body

These holistic physical experiences create the connection of body and mind mentioned above. The body is the most important gate for emotional learning, and thus for the development of social skills, communication, conflict competence, coping with stress and fear, or in short: A life lived to the fullest.

No other physical training connects body and mind like the traditional martial arts do. The individual and their interaction with others is the main concern of our practice – and the challenges are physical as well as psychological and emotional.

The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan
The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan

What kind of martial arts do you practice?

So what is in a style? Why is the question, “What kind of martial arts do you practice” so important?

The Fallacy of Tribal Structures

The martial arts community as a whole has a very tribal structure. That arose surely from the way of teaching it in family structures in the past and then became a matter of national pride. Many Westerners are trying to be more authentic than their Asian teachers – so much that it borders cultural appropriation.

No Challenging of Opinions

Hierarchy and patriarchal structures in many associations are another issue. Not questioning the “master,” worshiping belt colors and double-digit dan degrees leads to an inability to challenge opinions, ask questions or be innovative.

Last but not least, styles give a level of security. To define what you are doing (and what you are not doing) gives control over your own training and a chance to measure your ability. “I have mastered this move, this kata, the rules of Shobu Ippon – I am a master now, my education is finished. I know where I am standing.” The comfort of narrow boundaries is enormous.

New Ideas Can be Challenging

We experience this in our dojos. Our ideas attract high ranked, experienced Karateka. But far too often they also put off these senior martial artists. “I have learned more in one of your lessons than in the last five years of training in my home dojo,” an experienced competition fighter told me. She was was talented, intelligent and fast. “I don’t like it,” she went on. “I will go back to my old dojo.”

Boom! Removing limits drops students into a void and leaves them confused. Our response is a sophisticated Kyu curriculum and a proper syllabus, giving beginners a scaffolding for their learning experience.

That is not the answer for advanced practitioners, though. Training with Missing Link is uncomfortable, challenging and needs engagement. That is what we face every day ourselves.

A Research Community For Karate

We see Missing Link as a research community. Yes, we build up new martial artists. But we also build up the knowledge of the community, and take on board the ideas and new impulses from experienced teachers joining us. Our ranking system is free of Dan degrees. The Okuden and Kaiden Master Levels that we use instead are not earned in a grading, but by delivering a thesis, a new idea, an own concept to the community.

A Diverse Community

This has brought an interesting mix of people to the Missing Link Community that started as a Shotokan-based venture. Soon members of our old ShoShin Projekt – a group of martial artists from different styles working together – joined the group. By now, our dojos in Germany, England, Denmark and Finland combine a colorful bunch of Karateka with a wide knowledge and the hunger to learn and discover more. The topics we care about grew beyond the narrow definitions of a style:

Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.
Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.

Innovative and Open Minded Tradition

What connects all teachers in Missing Link is the idea of a foundation curriculum, described in our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, and the general approach to teaching and learning, also detailed in the very same book. We feel that we have left the limits for personal development behind us in the past. But it also built a strong framework in which Karateka can feel at home if they don’t want to be restrained by an association that cares more for competition sport and purity of styles. Tradition, from our point of view, has to be innovative and open minded.

The Shotokan style is still a basis for many of our members. It has enormous values as a clean, straightforward gate into the complex world of martial arts. We call it the “Japanese garden of martial arts,” pretty and with intense focus. From this garden we want to head for the jungle, though.

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Money in Shotokan Karate: Insights into a Difficult Relationship

Money and Shotokan Karate have always been a difficult relationship. But they do not have to be, if money is treated right. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Money in Shotokan karate has been causing many discussions. Observers have accused associations, instructors, and dojos of exploiting the art of Shotokan to become rich. They also associated the foundation of more and more Shotokan organization in the last 50 years with greed. The assumption: Famous instructors set up their own association as cash machines. While in some cases this might be true, one can plausible doubt this assumption, on the other hand.

But I will discuss some foundational questions in this article. Because the relationship between money and Shotokan karate is more complex than many critics take into account. I discuss the following questions:

  1. Why does money in Shotokan causes popular outrage? Does it cause harm?
  2. Why is money used in Shotokan at all? Do we need money in Shotokan?
  3. How to mitigate the tension money causes in Shotokan? How can one judge, whether an organization, dojo, or instructor focuses too much on making money?

Why Does Money in Shotokan Causes Popular Outrage? Is It Harmful?

Shotokan karate is not the only art and/or value-driven system that struggles with money. The conflict between money and other values dates back to the foundation of physical currency in ancient times itself. Jesus Christ, for instance, became famous by what is called today as The Cleansing of the Temple. The bible writes:

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Matthew 21:12–13

What happened? One day, Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and became outraged about all the merchants and money changers, who strolled around the temple and tried to make money. He felt that the sacred place of God should not be humiliated with profane money. Hence, he kicked every one out of the temple, who wanted to exploited it for business purposes. Money should not have the same importance as God.

Such an understanding of a sacred sphere, which shall be protected against the harmful and disgraceful effects of money, can be found in almost every religion, philosophy, and society. Therefore, Shotokan is not an exception.

Money Corrupts Other Values

Today, the subject of social and moral philosophy deals with the relationship between money and other value systems. Especially, Michael Walzer from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and Michael Sandel from Harvard University have contributed to a better understanding why money causes popular outrage. In short, both argue that money corrupts other values.

To make this abstract idea a bit more tangible, let us imagine a medical doctor. He follows – usually – the moral principle of the Hippocratic Oath. The Oath says in the third paragraph:

I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.

Hippocratic Oath

Therefore, the Oath obliges medical doctors to increase the health of their patients under all kind of circumstances. It also consists of a very important element. Readers easily overlook it: It says “to my ability and judgment”. So, not wealth and purchase power determine the type of treatment or whether a treatment takes place at all, but the skills of the doctor. As a result, the moral value of altruism becomes superior in this understanding then making money.

Money Can Undermine Fairness and Justice

Why is that? Because it Walzer and Sandel argue: It calls to our conscience of fairness and justice. One can become sick without intention. A doctor, who takes monetary advantage of that exploits the bad luck of people. Such a behavior undermines trust, fairness, justice, and solidarity. If everybody would only strive for their own advantage one could trust no one. People would become other peoples wolf (Thomas Hobbes). As a result, society and community would fall apart.

Just imagine you would be seriously sick and a doctor, who has a cure, would withhold it from you until you pay him? And what if you do not have the money? Would his behavior clash with your sense of fairness? And what if you die because he withholds the treatment although he could have cured you? Would you feel in the moment you die that you have deserved it because you are poor? Most people would deem such a case more than a failure to render assistance. The doctor intentionally took your death. So, if money is the most important factor for a doctor the Hippocratic Oath becomes corrupted and degraded. In other words: If money becomes sacred all other values become profane. Money then turns from an means to an end.

Money Corrupts Also the Values of Shotokan

In a similar way, but less serious, this scheme also applies to Shotokan (but also to teachers, judges, police(wo)men, firefighters, scientists, social workers, soldiers, officials etc.). The agreement between Shotokanka is the perfection of character as codified in the dojo and niju kun. Thus, they agree upon to follow certain ethical rules like honesty, fighting spirit, respect, and seeking truth. Hence, every karateka should place them as priority. The reason for that lies in the conviction that following this rules leads to a more balanced character as well as civilized society and community.

But what if somebody seeks to make money in the first place? Then, all these values become corrupted. Respect is only paid to the highest bidder or potential customers. The value of honesty and truth have to go out of the window as well. Because making money works best in asymmetrical relations: One party knows more than the other. Honesty and truth mean that this asymmetry will be reduced other the time. Everybody can become a master.

In conclusion, business man or woman try to maintain the asymmetry by not disclosing everything they know (secret knowledge). Therefore, a Shotokan instructor, who strives for money more than for the Do, will withhold certain insights into the art in order to have an edge. He will also teach only what satisfies his students and not what is necessary. They will exploit every revenue stream. They do not care about character development but about wallets. As a result, McDojo´s emerge.

Opponents Fight Against the Negative Effects of Money in Shotokan

The opponents of mingling Shotokan with money try to avoid such situations. For them, the Do and all the values which come with it, shall be deemed and treated as sacred. They protect this sacred values against the profane value of money. Thus, they criticize the intrusion of money into the sphere of Shotokan when ever it takes place. This has clearly a positive effect on Shotokan. Values and their execution have still a high priority in many associations and dojos.

But the fight against money can become double-edged sword. Because a professionalizes system needs money to operate.

Why is money used in Shotokan at all? Do we need money in Shotokan?

Money has negative traits. It can push other values out of their sphere. It also offers a means to turn human beings, the nature, and animals into commodities. On the other hand, it has certain positive features. It makes relationships and processes possible which could not become reality without its existence. For instance: Professional instructors and associations.

In a world without money most members of a society have to hunt, gather, or work as a farmers. Social scientist call such a system a subsistence economy. A complex division of labor like today could not emerge. Exchange would be based on barter. To save up something in order to spend or consume it later poses a difficulty. The most people would work to stay alive. As a result, only feudal lords could effort instructors like the daimyo did with their Samurais in medieval Japan.

Positive Features of Money

In comparison to a subsistence economy a money system has some advantages:

  • Money works as a means for exchange;
  • It can be easily divided in different sizes;
  • Money stores economic value;
  • It transmits economic value.

Imagine you take part in a seminar with a instructor from abroad. Instead of paying money you barter. Somebody would bring potatoes, others pork, and so on and so forth. However, the instructor neither likes potatoes nor pork but rice and fish. Bad luck for him because they are not to your disposal. The instructors would have to carry all that stuff safely back home, too. He had to travel by ship because he would have a container full of potatoes and pork. Some of the potatoes would rot and the most of the pork he would need as payment for the cargo company because it takes 50 days from Europe to Japan on a container ship.

No instructor would go on a journey like that. All that would be way to difficult and inefficient. Therefore, no relationship would take place. With money, on the other hand, he or she just needs a bank account. The hosting party transfer the payment and many problems would be solved.

Without Money no Professionalized and Global Shotokan

While this example exaggerates and we are far beyond the 15th century it shows one thing very clear: In order to have professionalized instructors, associations, and dojos with a sophisticated level of Shotokan skills money is a necessary means. If one cannot make a living through karate the standard and skill level stays very low. Professionalized in this regard means that somebody works full time, has a certain education, works based on standards, and fulfills specialized tasks others cannot fulfill. And without such professionals Shotokan would maybe not exist or not on a global scale.

A system of volunteers, in instance, could not deliver similar services like a professional one. Because the volunteers must work most of the time somewhere else to make a living. Therefore, they can only spend a very little amount of time for practice and for their voluntary work. In addition, no volunteer could effort to travel the world to give seminars like many instructors do.

To be a global and professional system Shotokan must use money. Its features (storage, exchange, divisibility) make a certain skill level as well as international exchange possible. I sum, money works as a means to reach the end of Do.

But how can the negative aspects of money and its positive features be reconciled in a way that it only has positive effects? And when reaches money the point where it becomes destructive?

How to Mitigate the Tension Money Causes in Shotokan?

As mentioned before: Many systems have the problem to use money and must avoid to become corrupted by it. Practitioners, law makers, politicians, as well as social scientist and philosophers have tried to find a satisfying concept to solve this dilemma. To understand the solution it is sense full to go through an analytical scheme developed by German sociologist Uwe Schimank. It consists of five types of organizations and five stages of their orientation towards money.

Money is not an issue

Money comes in without struggle because of a patron, subsidy giver, or a gigantic endowment. People in this organization only follow their actual values like curing disease, producing art, teach, or practicing karate.

Losses of money should be avoided

Money comes in without struggle but losses should be avoided. This applies very often to public transport authorities. They should avoid losses. But if losses take place it is more important whether the organization offered enough services especially to citizens in need.

Losses of money must be avoided

Money comes in but the budget is restraint. Therefore, the management must avoid losses under all kind of circumstances. Schools, museums etc. are in this group. The important thing to note her is that the people working in this organization are also restraint. They must work in order to avoid losses even if it corrupts their values. For an karate instructor that could mean that he only teaches where his costs are fully covered spares poor countries or dojos out.

Losses of money must be avoided and gains should be generated

Money comes in but limited. On the other hand, the stakeholders appreciate the generation of more money. In this organization the employees are limited in their behavior in two ways: Firstly, they must work in a way that losses are avoided; Secondly, they should work in a way that their organization also generates a surplus. Applied to a karate instructor: He only teaches where the costs are fully covered or even better: He only teaches where the host pays more than the actual costs.

Gains are the only aim

Money comes in without or with struggle – it does not matter. The only purpose of the organization is to make money. Everything is an investment and should generate a maximum return. Therefore, the members of the organization will only do what sells. This stage can be called the McDojo Level.

The Trouble Begins at Stage 3

So, what can we conclude from this typology? The difficulties begin at type 3: Losses must be avoided. As a result, money can begin to unfold its corruptible effect. For instance, a dojo faces financial struggles and cannot afford to loss students. Under this kind of circumstances the instructor might become willing to let some rules slide in order to keep students. Of course, it depends a lot on how instructors deal with this situation and how many workarounds they can find. But at this stage money has become important and must be part of the equation for an instructor.

However, even at stage 4 instructors can find solutions without sacrificing the Do. Instructors can open new revenue streams like additional courses, merchandise, or getting another martial arts into the dojo in order to share costs. External funding and co-operation also workout very well. All that can mitigate the economic pressure without corrupting the Do.

Type 5, on the other hand, means: Game over for Do. Here the Do becomes pushed out of the equation. As a result, the organizations focuses solely on money making. The only reason to bring the Do back in is to sell it as a product. In other words: Do becomes a means to the end of profit-maximization.

How to Judge Whether It is Only About Money?

How can one judge whether they he or she is a member of an organization of type 5? The answer must be: It can become difficult to judge, because the organization focuses on marketing and in the creation of an illusion of true value. They know how to sell their product and attract students. They know more about this methods than about Shotokan. Therefore, the numbers of revenue streams, the demeanor of the instructors work as good indicators, and how much it adapts to the market. Some questions to investigate are:

  • Does the organization exploit every option to make money?
  • Are some sources of income off-limits?
  • Does the instructor criticizes students or does he/she only praise?
  • Is the instructor willing to put some pressure on the students?
  • How many times has the organization changed rules in the last five years?
  • What are the reasons for the rules in general and the changes in particular?

Conclusion

If one or more of these questions show an indication that justify suspicion, one should ask further questions or considering to move to another dojo. In some countries, organizations can also apply for a non-profit status. This status comes with specific guidelines and a regular evaluation. For instance, human service providers in the United States must be accredited by the Council of Accreditation (COA). To become accredited they need to comply to certain non-profit standards. In Germany, organizations can apply for the status of common public interest. That means that they also have to comply to certain rules about founding, management, and revenue streams. To watch out for such accreditation can also be a good indicator to not end up in a McDojo.

While money will always cause struggles in the field of Shotokan it does not have to be the end in itself. It can work as a means in order to reach the end of Do.

 

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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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Women of Shotokan: Elpida Christodoulou

If we had to award a prize for the most beautiful and concise definition of the spirit of Shotokan in 2019, we were very eager to give it to Elpida Christodoulou, our today´s woman of Shotokan. While she offers many thoughtful and wise insights about Shotokan, the following has been the most striking one for us:

Shotokan karate is not just an art of punches and kicks. It is an art composed of people who upgrade your internal world. So, that you can become a better person for yourself and for your society.

Elpida Christodoulou

Besides her deep understanding of the philosophy of Shotokan Elpida is an incredible competitor. Two weeks ago, she won a gold medal at the SKIF world championship women individual kumite U45 in Czech Republic. At the same event, she also became second with her kata team. Therefore, Elpida is a true woman of Shotokan and a huge inspiration. Congratulations, Elpida!

Portrait of Elpida Christodoulou

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

  • Member of the national team of SKIF  (individual Kumite, individual kata, team leader women kata, team leader women kumite) 2000 – 2019
  • Member of the national team of WKF in different categories – Greece, from 2000-2012
  • Coach of the National team SKIF boys/girls- men/women kata-kumite
  • Instructor in Shotokan Karate Club Ilision “Yamada Kan” since 2005
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou after her victory.
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou During Kumite
  • The picture shows Elpida Christodoulou With Kancho Kanazawa

Highest achievements:

  • Gold Medal Kumite Women -60kg European Championship Oporto-Portugal SKIF
  • Third Place KATA Women World Championship SKIF Durban-South Africa 2003
  • Gold Medal Kumite Women -60kg European Championship Oporto-Portugal SKIF
  • Third Place Kumite Team Women World Championship SKIF Japan 2006- Team Leader
  • Gold Medal Kumite Women Open World Championship OKINAWA 2007 -All Shotokan Federation -In Memory of 50 yrs Gichin Funakoshi
  • Second Place KATA Team Women World Championship SKIF Greece 2009-Team Leader
  • Second Place KATA Women individual European Championship SKIF Budapest 2011
  • Third Place KATA Women European Championship SKIF Dresden-Germany 2014
  • Third Place Kumite Women -60 European Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2017
  • Gold Medal Kumite Women Open U45 World Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2019
  • Second Place KATA Team Women- Masters World Championship SKIF Czech Republic 2019
  • Etc.
Elpida during competition

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

Elpida Christodoulou: Hahaha😊: I’m starting my answer laughing. Actually, because the reason was quite ridiculous. I was really angry with my sister (age 12). At that time, I used to hang out with a friend of mine who practiced karate. So, I thought to sign up to the karate school that she was going. God bless her for that! The weird thing was that I never used karate against my sister after I joined. The reason I started karate was just a childhood idea that enhanced my life in many levels.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate? Is there something you do not like?

Elpida Christodoulou: About the art of Shotokan karate, I will start by saying that I like everything from the technical point of view – kihon-kata-kumite – and mostly I prefer kata. I like the difficulty and detail which is hidden in between the variety of techniques. And also, how magically they can change your way of life in the best possible way1 When someone practices something so hard, both in the physical and in the spiritual level, as the art of Shotokan karate, he or she is able to gain his/her self-esteem, overcome many adversities in life and become a winner – a winner in life!

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

Elpida Christodoulou: In my opinion Shotokan karate is like “solid gold”.

Actually, the greatest and the worst experiences come from the people and situations that constitute Shotokan.

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

My greatest experience is that, through Shotokan, I was able to travel in many beautiful places and had the opportunity to meet many people with different cultures and ideas. So , that fact made me a more complete person, with friends in different countries. Great experiences were also all the times I won medals in championships, that made myself, my sensei and my country proud. Especially the Gold Medal in Okinawa in 2007 in the World Championship of all Shotokan Federations, in memory of Gichin Funakoshi (on the 50th anniversary of his death), a great and historical event for Shotokan. And finally, the Gold Medal that I won just a few days ago (19/7/2019) in the SKIF world championship in Czech Republic, when I heard the national anthem…

Worst experience? I cannot recall.

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

Elpida Christodoulou: In difficult and challenging times, I draw power from my sensei, who is unstoppable no matter whatever problems come his way. So, I think to myself: “If he can, so can I.” My sensei also gives me the greatest motivation to keep going and want the best from myself and my karate students of all ages, especially the youngest generations. I am thinking that it is a huge responsibility to transmit the correct way and knowledge of Karate Shotokan as my sensei along with the Japanese senseis did and still do with me. Keeping that in mind, I try physically and mentally to do my best. As the time passes and life’s obligations grow, I am blissful that I have all the right reasons that never let me quit.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Elpida Christodoulou: Karate has surely changed and improved me as a person. From the moment I began to realize that, if I really wanted to stand out and be the best possible in Karate, I should dedicate myself to it, without leaving my university studies at the same time. It was difficult to juggle both, but I kept in mind my sensei’s words, who always told me that my studies should be my number one priority and Karate should come second. So yes, Karate changed me in a positive way, because it offered me a special path that not everyone can follow, which meant discipline of yourself, a lot of self-esteem and the feeling that you are doing something completely different than the majority of people.

Elpida during competition

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

Elpida Christodoulou: In a very difficult period of my life, Karate helped me find myself again.

I dedicated myself to my purpose and my long-hours of training every day. That, combined with the people that appreciated my desire and appetite for Karate and believed in me, helped me – without even knowing it – to get out of my darkness.

As I mentioned before, I believe that, when someone is practicing something as hard and special as Shotokan karate, he or she can deal with and overcome many obstacles that come his or her way. That is something I cannot forget in my everyday life.

Shotokan karate is not just an art of punches and kicks. It is an art composed of people who upgrade your internal world, so that you can become a better person for yourself and for your society.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Elpida Christodoulou: My Karate Shotokan is laid on very strong foundations and I always try to progress. Therefore, my Karate has changed and is still changing in many ways. Slowly and patiently. I participate in many seminars, both in my country and abroad, with Japanese and European instructors and I always try to learn from the best.

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

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

Elpida Christodoulou: My short- and long-term goal in karate is to have the strongest possible dojo and organization I can possibly have. With students that appreciate and love karate as much as I do. So that I can keep passing on the ideals that Shotokan pursues, such as honesty, good heart, straight way of thinking, discipline, self-esteem, politeness. And so that I give them the necessary knowledge to defend themselves and their families in the best way possible, if necessary.

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

Elpida Christodoulou: Of course, I would recommend Shotokan karate to my female friends!

Women are a minority in the world of Karate and nature has endowed us with less muscle strength than men, but we are for sure very intelligent, have excellent technique (in many cases better than men) and we are more capable to avoid violence compared to men. As a result, testosterone has destroyed half of our world. Furthermore, as we live in a men’s world, women must exercise as much as they can and learn how to defend themselves if necessary, believe in their physical and mental strength and be healthy and fit at all ages. Stop smoking, do karate. Oss!


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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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Traditional Shotokan Karate: What is traditional about it?

By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Many masters, associations, and Karateka claim to practice traditional Shotokan. They usually do this in order to distinguish their Karate from what is called Sports Karate. A precise definition what traditional Shotokan Karate exactly means is mostly not give. The questioner is left in the dark about the “tradition” that makes Shotokan traditional most of the time. If one keeps asking what traditional Shotokan is many respondents have a tendency to use a rhetorical loophole. According to their opinion, traditional Shotokan is exactly all that, what Sports Karate is not. In other words: It is the exact opposite.

For some questioners such an answer might be sufficient because the have a vague understanding what distinguishes both types of Karate. Or they do not care much about the differences. They just want to practice.†

Definition of Traditional Shotokan?

For the community of practitioners and the art of Shotokan itself, however, a definition ex negativo is not sufficient at all. A clear understanding about the traits of Shotokan, a definition ex positivo, is necessary. Only then we will know how to

  • use and to work it out to its full potential,
  • spread its values,
  • create a common identity among practitioners,
  • attract new students,
  • show what is has to offer in comparison to other martial arts,
  • and to develop it further.

Unfortunately, the labels “tradition” and “traditional” do not help to illuminate and to  describe what Shotokan is about. Why is that? If we define the term tradition we see that almost everything can become a tradition. As the people in the Rhineland, which is the region where I life today, use to say: If you do something three times, it has become a tradition. A more precise definition can be found in dictionaries. According to Merriam Webster, a tradition is defined as:

“an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom)”

Olympic Games: Sport as A Tradition

If we take this definition serious it has huge consequences whether we should call Shotokan “traditional”. Because sports can be and is already a “inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior”. For instance, the first ancient Olympic Games were conducted 800 before Christ. Back then, they were religious rituals with strict rules and ceremonial elements. According to the definition, they were traditions.

The Olympic Games are already 2.800 years old. Therefore, they are more a tradition than traditional Shotokan.
The Olympic Games are already 2.800 years old. Therefore, they are more a tradition than traditional Shotokan.

The same goes for the International Olympic Games of the modern age. They date back to 1896. With more than 100 years of history one has to conclude that they have become a worldwide social custom. Even modern Sports Karate is already a tradition. The roots of the World Karate Federation date back to the 1960´s. Thus, it is only 30 years younger than Shotokan itself. In 2020, the WKF will introduce Karate to the Olympic Games. Sports Karate will then become a part of a more than 2.800 year old tradition of organized sports competition.

Traditional Shotokan?

Shotokan Karate, on the other hand, was developed by Gichin Funakoshi in the 1920´s and 1930´s. And he did not develop it from scratch. He recombined Okinawa Karate styles and enriched them with some new ideas. But Karate itself is much older and has its roots in China. If we were consequent we must say that Okinawa Karate is more traditional than “traditional” Shotokan Karate. †

Gichin Funakoshi is the founder of Shotokan. But he did not call it traditional Shotokan.
Gichin Funakoshi is the founder of Shotokan. But he did not call it traditional Shotokan.

To label Shotokan as traditional does not hold water. Because we must also understand that the term tradition is not a good quality indicator. A tradition might be outdated, inefficient, and harmful. Thus, we cannot conclude that every tradition is always good. Sometimes it is better to leave a bad tradition behind and develop something new. From this point of view, it is neither logically meaningful nor practically useful to say Shotokan is a traditional art.

Karate Do is the Better Term

But what is the alternative? We have already a better term at hand. It is Karate Do. Because Karate Do means a way of life and a social philosophy. Principles guide Shotokan Karate Do.  The most famous among them is the Dojo-kun. But there are even more. For instance, the 20 Precepts of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi. The first precepts states:

“Karate begins and ends with courtesy.”

One can easily agree that this precept is timeless. It is neither traditional nor modern. It has been and will always be valid. This orientation on timeless values and guiding principles is the unique feature. At the center of the label of Shotokan should, therefore, stay that it is a paradigm to make the world a better place – it is Karate Do.

Note: I have to thank Michael Ehrenreich and Thomas Prediger for the inspiration to this article.

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Shotokan Karate Philosophy – Diverse and Confusing

Shotokan karate philosophy can be confusing. While the art has a rich diversity of approaches and convictions this also leads to conflicting positions within the community. Where does this diversity come from? And how should we deal with it? An analysis by Dr. Christian Tribowski

Have you ever found yourself in a deep discussion about Shotokan Karate Philosophy? Have you ever felt torn apart between different aspects of Shotokan like bushido on the one hand and the claim to “refrain from hot blooded behavior” (Dojo kun) on the other? Has Shotokan confused you every now and then?

Shotokan Karate Philosophy: The Roots of its Diversity

If you have found yourself in such situations, do not worry. It is not because of you. It is because Shotokan is coined by conflicting claims, purposes, and notions. Since its foundation, several important personalities and groups have attached their ideas about good and right Shotokan to the art. The result is a patchwork of approaches, philosophical orientations, convictions, and practices.

The picture shows Gichin Funakoshi who was the founder of Shotokan Karate Do.
Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of Shotokan Karate Do.

For grand master Funakoshi, for instance, the civilizing and physical-educative aspects of Shotokan were more important than self-defense. His son Gigo, on the other hand, sought to develop Shotokan into an efficient fighting system. Masatoshi Nakayama, who was close to Gigo, brought sports and tournaments into the style. After Nakayama passed away, the differentiation accelerated, and an abundance of Shotokan Karate associations was found. While they all share commonalities, every grand master has left their mark on Shotokan and pushed it to a specific direction.

The Coordinate System of Shotokan Karate Philosophy

To make this confusing situation a little bit more understandable we can develop a simple scheme. This scheme emerges when we reduce the diversity to four distinguishable and ideal typical dimensions of Shotokan. These are:

  • Martial art and self-defense
  • Way of thinking and lifestyle
  • Civilizing means and social philosophy
  • Physical Education and sports
The picture shows Yoshitaka "Gigo" Funakoshi, who developed the style further.
Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi, who developed the style further

Every dimension can be understood as one pole of Shotokan. If these poles are placed in opposite directions, they create a coordinate system in which every approach, notion, and idea of and about Shotokan can be localized. Some Shotokan-Ka understand their Karate, in the first place, as a means to gain and maintain mental balance and tranquility. They are in between the “civilizing/way of thinking”-pole.

For others, self-defense and self-assertion is at the center of their Shotokan. They tend towards the “martial art and self-defense”-pole. Karateka with ambition to become successful competitors will tend towards the “physical education and sports”-pole. While all these groups belong to the field of Shotokan they have different locations within the field.

Quadrilemma of Shotokan Karate Philosophy
Quadrilemma of Shotokan Karate Philosophy

Good Diversity or Bad Confusing?

But is this situation of diversity good or bad? Is there not one specific “Do”? Is it better to have a unified approach and a coherent idea about Shotokan? Or is it better to welcome the diversity of notions and ways to practice Shotokan? Is it a pain or a blessing?

 Two answers to these questions exist. Both have different qualities and consequences.

  1. An orthodox approach, that understands the existence of different notions and approaches of Shotokan as a unsolvable and morally harmful quadrilemma;
  2. A heterodox approach, that values diversity as positive because a competition of ideas leads to new and better solutions.

The quadrilemma-approach judges the diversity as a painful situation. Ideal typically speaking: Shotokan can either be peaceful or a martial art. It can only be a sport or a superior way of life and thinking. Then, the desire to win over an opponent distorts humility and the perfection of character. Both cannot exist at the same time. The different poles will always undermine each other and stand in constant conflict. Thus, all other dimensions must be excluded in order to make one position logical coherent.

The picture shows Masatoshi Nakayama with JKA instructors. On hi left side: Hirokazu Kanazawa.
Masatoshi Nakayama with JKA instructors.

Shotokan Karate Philosophy is not Black and White

But is this a progressive and realistic solution? The quadrilemma-approach reduces the world to categories of black and white. Instead of solving the problem it retreats to one of the poles, usually to its favorite one. Reality, however, is mostly “grey”. Situations are seldom clear and human beings can be driven by several motives at the same time. One approach or dimension can also serve many purposes or have several effects.

Controlled fighting in a tournament, for instance, can be a very effective means to learn mental control and balance. To think about the civilizing aspects of Shotokan and how the martial arts could fit to them, can lead to the insight that fighting is sometimes necessary to protect other human beings and to maintain the public order. To learn how to fight can be justified through this higher purpose. In this specific case, fighting is not excluded by the other dimension. But its application is conditional and depends on the. Such an approach leads to a more realistic approach of Shotokan. But it also requires critical thinking. Because Shotokanka must learn to judge when to fight or to focus on sports, way of living, and social philosophy.

A very young Hirokazu Kanazawa during Kumite training. He coined Shotokan Karate Philosophy again in a very non-competitive and budo oriented direction.
A very young Hirokazu Kanazawa during Kumite training. He coined Shotokan Karate Philosophy again in a very non-competitive and budo oriented direction.

The Advantages of Diversity

Only with exposure to other approaches, claims, and notions Shotokan Karateka develop critical thinking and deeper insights. If there would be only one of the above-mentioned dimensions, Shotokan would be a static art. Diversity, however, can lead to a constant competition of ideas within an open discourse. That will result in a vital evolution of Shotokan. This requires also that we understand grand masters as people who have added pieces to the puzzle instead of geniuses without fail. Like Newton said: Everybody is a dwarf  standing on the shoulders of giants. Our giants are the teachings of the grand masters and the different Shotokan approaches. They help us to see further than we could without them. The diversity of Shotokan is a blessing.

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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