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“There will be changes”: Stephane Castriques about Future of SKIF

The picture shows Stephane Castrique SKIF Belgium.

Stephane Castrique, Chief-Instructor of SKIF-Belgium, sent us a detailed answer about the analysis our managing director and chief editor, Dr. Christian Tribowski, published on Monday. You can find Christian´s analysis here: Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately Needed. Following we have published Stephane´s full answer. Feel free to engage in the discussion in the comments.

Dear Christian, dear readers of The Shotokan Times, this is my reaction to the article “Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately needed”, The Shotokan Times published last Monday. It is important that this is my personal view and not in any way the official point of view of the SKIF HQ.

In the following answer I am going to address some of your questions, clarify some issues you have raised, and show where your arguments become misleading. Again, I only express my own and private opinion and knowledge.

Clarification of some Facts about SKIF

In your article you posted the following statement, in which you referred to the SKIF website:

“according to SKIF, 130 country organisations are affiliated combining several million members”

SKIF is indeed represented in 130 different countries. However not every branch has the same size. Like in any worldwide karate organization, some branches are big and have a big following and some branches are very small, representing just a few dojo or members.

So I agree that SKIF has the biggest worldwide representation compared to any other “single style organization” but does this automatically mean that the total combining members results in several million members? I don’t think so.

We all know that all karate organizations like to boast about their total membership (and so does SKIF), but I don’t think there is any “single style organization” that has several million members.

The WKF is not a style organization; it is a sporting organization that brings together many national federations. This is maybe (and I emphasize “maybe”) the only organization that can claim several million members through national federations in many countries around the world.

The picture shows Stephane Castrique the chief instructor of SKIF Belgium.
Stephane Castrique, Chief Instructor of SKIF Belgium

Hierarchy in the JKA

You also referred to the JKA and stressed:

“today, the JKA has a much flatter hierarchy, integrates more characters, and does not focus solely on one supreme leader.”

Yes, indeed JKA integrates more characters, because the number of HQ instructors is much bigger. This is because JKA is domestically (JKA japan) bigger than SKIF. Why? Well the reason is because JKA has longer history than SKIF, therefore it is much better represented in the many high school karate clubs, university karate clubs, and has more local branches. Anybody who knows the Japanese karate world is aware of this. So, while JKA is still big in Japan it has become smaller over the years due to the big split in the 1990’s.

Obviously I’m not a JKA member but from my info, it is not correct to say that JKA in its management has a flatter hierarchy. I think like most karate organizations it is organized with a strong vertical hierarchy.

SKIF succession secured

“A dispute of succession, would lead to a collapse of the federation and seems very unlikely”.

This statement is very true; a dispute seems very unlikely. Nobody can say that the current leadership is against Kanazawa Soke’s will. It is this new generation that has the responsibility to keep SKIF going.

The field of Shotokan and why we need a strong SKIF

“The loss of the figurehead has damaged the aura of SKIF. Many members came for Hirokazu Kanazawa. But will they stay for Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami?”

My feeling is that almost everybody will stay. Because in any karate organization the number of members that practice karate as a lifelong discipline is not usually a large number.

I use SKIF-Belgium as an example. While still many of our dojo leaders have had frequent exposure to Kanazawa Soke, many of our most motivated young members, dojo leaders and national team members have had much more exposure and actual training time with Murakami Shuseki Shihan and other SKIF HQ instructors. So their loyalty is much more towards this generation.

When dojos or members leave SKIF (or any other organization) the reasons are seldom because there is a problem at World leadership level. When people leave it is mostly because they have issues with domestic policy.

Do we need a strong SKIF? As representative of SKIF in Belgium I think it is important. When there are strong and big SKIF groups in other countries it gives more credibility to my own group and what we do. It also gives more opportunities for international exchange (courses, competitions, etc.).

You, however, derive at the following conclusion:

“However, SKIF has now considerably been weakened”

I don’t think so. Anybody who has attended the last SKIF World Championship in the Czech Republic will testify that the opposite is true. After April 5, 2014, the date of the succession of Kanazawa Soke, the size nor the activities of the federation have changed.

An international technical seminar has been created and held yearly in Tokyo since 2014. This year’s seminar and Kanazawa Soke’s memorial have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak, but over 500 representatives from many different countries had already registered.

The five challenges for SKIF

Changing global Karate environment and need for strategy

Budo and values play a minor role in the WKF system”

Like I said before, WKF is a sporting organization. Their purpose is to create a platform to allow karate athletes to compete under a certain set of rules. For some the side effects of this “sportification” is indeed public recognition and fame, as well as income and a career. But still more people make an income or extra money by “teaching” karate than “competing.” There will always be people interested in learning “karate-do.” WKF can do nothing for these people, but organizations like SKIF (and others) are still relevant for this big majority.

“attentive observers have already noticed that some national SKIF teams already compete at WKF events”

I don’t see the problem. First of all, each country has organized karate in its own specific way. In some countries SKIF is a part of the national style federation/governing body. In some countries like my own, SKIF is totally outside of the national governing body. In some countries SKIF representatives hold important positions within the national governing body.

Stephane Castrique demonstraton his skills

Let’s not forget that Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho was himself a member of the JKF national team in the past. (JKF= governing body for karate in Japan). All I can say that all competitors in a major SKIF tournaments must register with their SKIF dan diploma number. This has been done so that a major SKIF tournament is really a 100% SKIF event.

“We wrote an e-mail to Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho and Manabu Murakami about the official strategy of the organization in October 2019. We never received and answer.”

First, it is up to them to answer to your request or not. But if they answer they should find the time to formulate an answer together, since the questions were asked to both of them. As it happens I can confirm that at that specific time both were not together in Japan for several weeks. Soke was hospitalized from mid-November and passed away on December 8. I think they had a lot on their mind at the moment so it is a little difficult to sit together and discuss a common answer to your question. Once more if they felt it was important to answer you.

With my limited knowledge of Japanese culture, all I can say that after the passing away of the figurehead of the organization it is custom in Japan to have a one year of silence. For example, there were no big changes in the management and/or positions of the JKS, after Asai sensei’s passing for over one year.  And the same can be seen in many organizations that have their HQ in Japan.

From my conversations with Murakami Shuseki Shihan, Nobuaki Kancho and several other HQ instructors there will be changes in the future. But now it is too early, out of respect for the huge work Kanazawa Soke has done over the years.

My guess is that there will be changes in the future (i.e. examination program, organizational structure, instructor accreditation, etc.). But it will always be centered around Kanazawa Soke’s specific brand of karate and the syllabus he designed.

“The Takudai seminars”

From my understanding, these seminars were organized by the impulse of Nagai Shihan, SKIF representative in Germany. Many Takudai Karate club old boys have a big pride in the fact that they were members of this great Uni karate club. The incredible amount of karate masters and leaders that came via this lineage is recognized by everybody in the Shotokan Karate world. Some people even go as far to say that Shotokan Karate as we know it is “Takudai karate.” All I can see is that there was a lot of JKA activity in Germany the week before the last Takudai seminar and even on the same weekend. So if this initiative has stopped maybe we should look more towards the JKA than SKIF.

“But the problem is: Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho did not attend Takushoku University”

That Nobuaki Kanazawa Kancho has not attended Takushoku University is not a problem in my view. Anyway, when he reached the age of going to university, the Takudai karate club was closed, so it was impossible for him to join. Kancho joined the Taisho University Karate club. As an old boy from this also famous karate club he now has his own connections within the Karate world. Many famous karate instructors graduated from Taisho: Iida Norihiko, Sawada Kazuhiro, Ogura Yasunori, Hanzaki, Koh Iwamoto, and also some very good female karateka like Baba and Takahashi Yuko.

Founding instructors of SKIF about to retire

“The loss of the founding fathers of SKIF will considerably weaken the federation overseas”

First of all, I think that SKIF is a strong federation overseas. It is 100% true that Asano Shihan, Nagai Shihan, Miura Shihan, Koga Shihan and Kawasoe Shihan (deceased) have built SKIF in Europe. They are a special generation of pioneers that have faced many adversities when they first arrived in Europe. It takes a special kind of man come to Europe, without knowing the language, the customs and survive here just by teaching karate. When they faced problems within the JKA, Kanazawa Soke stood up for them. This got him into trouble in Japan, and the rest is history as they say.

For about eight years now there is also a board of directors of SKIF in Europe. The founding instructors of SKIF have their voice in this board trough their senior students that are part of this board. So slowly but gently some changes have taken place.

Let us not forget that in their own countries a lot of students became members of SKIF because of their charisma and karate skill. The loyalty towards SKIF and Kanazawa Soke was thought to these students by following the example of their Japanese instructors.

But we must also face the truth. As I said before, it takes a special kind of man to come to  Europe, without knowing the language, the customs and survive here just by teaching karate. The founding fathers were successful because of their hard character. With all respect, but I would not describe them as “normal” Japanese men. This has also over the years created some fall out. There are also people who have left SKIF with pain in their hearts. But cooperating with founding fathers became impossible for them. Therefore, a generation change might well be a window of opportunity for future growth and old members returning to SKIF.

The need for an instructors Program

We cannot compare JKA to SKIF too much. It is a fact that JKA employs 25 instructors at their HQ in Tokyo. But as I said before the domestic workload inside Japan is bigger for them. JKA is a government recognized institution. Therefore, I would not be surprised that there is also some government funding for the JKA. SKIF is a non-profit organization. The structure is very different.

JKA has a constant influx of university graduates because a lot of university karate clubs are JKA style and use JKA instructors. The pool of young people that are crazy enough to pursue a career in karate is much bigger. Same for JKS, because Kagawa Shihan is the main shihan at Teikyo University. To my knowledge only two or three university karate clubs have a connection to SKIF. Also, these Karate clubs are part of universities with a higher academic status. The members of these clubs practice karate mostly as a hobby and these clubs do not attract young Japanese karateka that look for a hard training environment to improve their karate and of course their tournament skills.

I am almost sure that SKIF management is aware that it should have an influx of new young instructors but the pool to find them is smaller. A career as a SKIF HQ instructor is not all roses. For many young Japanese people a job as a karate instructor is not attractive, neither financially nor status wise. Even Murakami Shuseki Shihan’s own mother asked him until 2006 when he would quit and get a “real” job.

There is an instructor’s program also at SKIF HQ. At this very moment, my own student, Mr. Huglo Paul, will probably graduate from this course beginning of April. Hiyori Kanazawa will probably also graduate, but I’m not sure whether she will be a “full” instructor or a “junior” instructor as their training program and training volume was not the same. From my conversations with Murakami Shihan and Kanazawa Kancho the course is basically 2 years. Until now it was modeled after the JKA course. Of course, I cannot speak for SKIF HQ, but my thinking is that they will try to make a different system or way to get this accreditation more in harmony with the reality of today’s world. I don’t know about specific details at this moment.

Media visibility and presence

I agree with the analysis made in this article. But we must not forget that the instructors have to be first of all: “karate professionals”.

Meaning that their core activity is teaching karate. Like a skilled craftsman, who is also able to teach his craft. On top of this they need to do administration and sometimes even do politics. That is already 3 skills for one and the same person. To ask them to also be an internet influencer or a Youtuber is maybe asking a little too much.

Let’s not forget that the Kuroobi World Media is Mr. Nishi’s fulltime job. He’s not a karate instructor. Of course, JKA has the beneficial effects of being in the public spotlight via Naka Shihan and Kuroobi World. But Kuroobi World is not an official communication channel of the JKA.

It is a fact that SKIF has to make a bigger effort when it comes to internet visibility and social media.

What distinguishes SKIF?

I think this question would best be answered in a completely different article. If I find the time in the future I will try to give an answer.

Just two important points:

  1. As far as technical matters are concerned it is characterized by Kanazawa Soke’s “unique” development and ideas of the Shotokan style. But this does not mean that everything is rigid. Future generation of SKIF instructors and various members will naturally influence the art.
  2. Organizationally, I think the name sums it all up: “JAPAN” karate association vs. Shotokan Karate-Do “INTERNATIONAL” Federation.

These are my personal comments on the article “Quo Vadis SKIF?” It is important that readers understand that my comment on the article should not in any way be interpreted as the “official SKIF HQ” reaction.

Oss!!!

Stephane Castrique Chief-Instructor of SKIF-Belgium

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Quo Vadis, SKIF? Strategy Desperately Needed

The picture shows the emblem of the SKIF with the word future and a question mark.

How will the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (SKIF) evolve after the sad passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa in December 2019? Will SKIF maintain its position as the second biggest Shotokan association in the world? In which direction will and should Kancho Nobuaki Kanazawa and Shuseki Shihan Manabu Murakami lead the organization? An analysis by Dr. Christian Tribowski

The unexpected passing of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa on December 8 was one of the saddest events in the Shotokan year 2019. It shocked the whole karate world. Even beyond that, practitioners of other martial arts expressed their condolences. The Shotokan community fell into deep sorrow and mourning. It lost one of its greatest mentors, instructors, minds, spirits, and charismatic leaders. Without a doubt Hirokazu Kanazawa belonged to the most influential figures in Shotokan karate in the 20th Century.

SKIF after the death of Hirokazu Kanazawa

While the Shotokan world mourns, SKIF has been hit by the passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa. It lost its founder and figurehead. His loss has torn a huge whole into the aura of the organization. Since its establishment in 1978, SKIF has become one of the largest Shotokan organizations in the world. According to SKIF, 130 country organizations are affiliated combining several million members. But its leadership centered on Hirokazu Kanazawa.

Such a system also dominated the JKA under Masatoshi Nakayama. However, JKA learned its lesson in the aftermath of the passing of the supreme leader. Several groups of high-level instructors claimed the leadership over the organization. They all saw themselves as the rightful heirs of Nakayama, and they were ready to fight for it.

The turmoil erupted because Masatoshi Nakayama did not declare an official successor. Thus, a legal dispute broke lose that took almost ten years until it finally got settled. Several renegade associations emerged and the JKA lost a huge portion of their best instructors and branches.

Today, the JKA has a much flatter hierarchy, integrates many more characters, and does not focus solely on one supreme leader. Masaaki Ueki is surrounded by a huge group of capable instructors that all play a valid role in the success of the association.

SKIF: Succession Secured

Hirokazu Kanazawa, on the other hand, observed the self-destruction of the JKA in the 1990’s. He established his own organization ten years earlier. But he learned from the JKA experience.

On April 5, 2014, SKIF held a special ceremony in Tokyo where Hirokazu Kanazawa officially passed the leadership of the association to his son Nobuaki and Manabu Murakami, his longest disciple. Both belong to the most talented and successful karateka of their generations. Since then, Nobuaki Kanazawa holds the title of Kancho (director). Manabu Murakami has become Shuseki Shihan (chief instructor). Together they manage the organization. Both have known each other for several decades, and have even fought against each other during world championships.

A legal dispute about the succession of Hirokazu Kanazawa, which could damage and lead to a collapse of the association, seems more than unlikely.

The Field of Shotokan and why we need a strong SKIF

Yet, the future of SKIF and its position as the second biggest Shotokan association worldwide is not secured. The loss of the figurehead has damaged the aura of SKIF. Many members came for Hirokazu Kanazawa. But will they stay for Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami?

This question is open. But both must find some valid answers. Because currently SKIF builds together with the JKA the center of the traditional/budo karate field. This center helps to stabilize Shotokan especially against the powerful and growing faction of sports karate represented by the WKF. But it also keeps Shotokan dynamic. Because both associations wrestle and distinguish from each other like in a market oligopoly.

The competition increases due to the abundance of smaller associations, which surround and challenge them in the periphery. Some of them offer slightly different approaches to Shotokan, other organizational structures, or charismatic and highly skillful chief instructors. This leads to a healthy competition within the field of Shotkan karate and members can choose which association suits them best.

The picture shows the currently karate/Shotokan landscape. The SKIF builds together with the JKA the center of the traditional/budo Shotokan field. They are opposed to the WKF, but are surrounded by several other Shotokan associations in their periphery.
The picture shows the current karate/Shotokan field. Note: Due to the high amount of smaller Shotokan associations we could not all accommodate, if you think that your association should be in the picture, please write us an email.

However, SKIF has now considerably been weakened. And in the upcoming years it will face some serious external and internal challenges. If the leadership of the association will not manage to deal with these challenges, SKIF might migrate from the center to the periphery. The consequence for the Shotokan community would be not desirable. Because the JKA would then become – like the WKF – a monopolist. Its position would be weaker than its sports karate counterpart, but it would still could highly influence and dominate the field of traditional/budo karate. Therefore, a strong SKIF works as a corrective and is hence highly desirable. But the future of the association is open and it will depend on the management how they cope with the future challenges.

The Five Challenges for SKIF

What are these challenges? SKIF has to face five internal and external trends and drivers in the upcoming years:

  1. Changing Global Karate Environment and Need of Strategy
  2. Founding Instructors of SKIF About to Retire
  3. The Need for an Instructors Program
  4. Media Visibility and Presence
  5. USP: What Distinguishes SKIF?

1. Changing Global Karate Environment and Need for a Strategy

The global karate environment has changed considerably since the 1980s. Sports karate dominates the public perception and attention. It is going to debut at the Olympics – at least for one event. However, due to the attention and money the WKF will generate through this event, it will put the traditional/budo field of Shotokan under pressure. The WKF will define the future of karate, mainly driven by fun, entertainment, competitions, media needs, and customers/viewer interest. Budo and values play a minor role in the WKF system. Thus, it will also attract plenty of young karateka and offer them something traditional/budo associations have not managed to deliver: public recognition and fame as well as income and a career.

JKA already positions itself as keeper of the traditions

Under such circumstances traditional/budo karate organizations must develop strategies how to position themselves. The JKA markets itself as the keeper of the tradition and as the “only independent karate entity legally and officially recognized by the Japanese government as an association of members (Shadan Hojin) for the promotion of karate.” Through its large group of instructors, who constantly travel the globe, it manages to be present in all their member countries on a regular basis. Through this the JKA manages to maintain strong ties into the countries. Instructors like Tatsuya Naka have also created a high media visibility and popularity to promote the JKA.

Many Karateka came for Hirokazu Kanazawa

The popularity of SKIF in the past stemmed from the popularity of its figurehead, Hirokazu Kanazawa. Many karateka entered the association to learn from him, because of his charisma, wisdom, and personality. But now after his death the question arises: What will they stay for?

Attentive observers have already noticed that some national SKIF teams already compete at WKF events. So, for some young SKIF karateka the WKF does not seem to be off-limits. As mentioned: It offers them many attractive and lucrative opportunities. Hence, the erosion of the member base has already started within the younger generations.

SKIF strategy desperately needed

Thus, SKIF needs a strategy to cope with the changing global karate environment and how to react to the popularity of sports karate. However, the leadership of SKIF has not presented such a strategy since it entered office in 2014.

That is the reason why we want to know from SKIF directly what their strategy will be. In October 2019, The Shotokan Times inquired at SKIF. We wrote an email to Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami about the official strategy of the organization. We posed several thoughts. However, we never received an answer neither from the management nor from the SKIF HQ. We can only speculate what that means.

However, high-level SKIF instructors and Manabu Murakami have organized the Takudai seminar series in Germany in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Here they brought together Takushoku University Karate Club alumni from different associations to teach an open seminar. That initiative might indicate that SKIF is about to join forces and to collaborate with other associations stronger in the future in order to strengthen the traditional/budo Shotokan community. The Takudai Club seems to be a good vehicle for such exchange because it links instructors from the whole spectrum of Shotokan. But the problem: Nobuaki Kanazawa did not attend Takushoku University. That raises the question which role he will play within this collaboration? In addition, SKIF is not going to organize a fourth Takudai seminar in 2020. Has this initiative stopped?

The silence of SKIF and the lack of a visible new orientation of the association forces us to make the conclusion that a strategy is needed. Without a strategy SKIF might migrate to the periphery, which weaken the traditional/budo Shotokan community as a whole.

2. Founding Instructors of SKIF About to Retire

The need for a strategy becomes even more relevant because of the upcoming generational change in the leadership of national SKIF branches. Important, charismatic, powerful, and well-connected instructors in Europe, the stronghold of SKIF, like Shiro Asano (England), Akio Nagai (Germany), Masaru Miura (Italy), and Rikuta Koga (Switzerland) are about to retire. All of them are in their 70s and 80s.

As “founding fathers” they built and established the association alongside Soke Kanazawa. Thus, SKIF will lose these important pillars when they retire. Together with them, many resources, knowledge, and connections will leave.

Therefore, the question arises: Who will follow them? Fortunately, SKIF has very talented and engaged national chief instructors and presidents like Stephane Castriques from Belgium and Tony Racca from Switzerland. However, the karate background and connections of an instructor, who has been educated at a Japanese University karate club and later attended an instructors program, is hard to match.

At the same time, JKA and JKS flood the globe with weekend seminars by Japanese instructors. Associations like KWF, WSKF, FSKA, JSKA etc. also compete with their Japanese instructors for the attention of the Shotokan karate public. The loss of the “founding fathers” of SKIF will considerably weaken the association oversees.

3. The Need of an Instructors Program

The void, which will emerge in the upcoming years in Europe, could be filled with young instructors from Japan. But that requires a prerequisite: young instructors. Unlike the JKA or JKS, SKIF has not set up an instructors program. Currently, only six instructors including Nobuaki Kanazawa, Manabu Murakami, Ryusho Suzuki, Shinji Tanaka, Fumitoshi Kanazawa, and Daizo Kanazawa are listed on the website. Occasionally, Hiyori Kanazawa teaches Shotokan karate oversees.

The JKA, on the other hand, employs 25 instructors in the honbu dojo in Tokyo. Through their instructors program the organization has a constant influx of highly qualified karateka that it can send abroad.

Why SKIF has never established a similar program is beyond my knowledge. An organization with “several million members” could (and should) create such an educative infrastructure.

The negligence of the past might block future developments. According to insights from SKIF officials, the travel volume of Manabu Murakami exceeded 300 days per year. As chief instructor he must maintain a high technical standard among the members within the global federation. Therefore, his position requires traveling and constant education of its members.

However, such a high amount of travel-time comes with costs. His absence makes it impossible to set up an instructors program and to educate young instructors in the honbu dojo. As a consequence this leads to a dilemma that a German proverb captures nicely: “I have no time to build a fence, because I have to catch chickens.”

To strengthen the association in the upcoming years an advancement of the instructors group and the implementation of an instructors program is recommended.

4. Media Visibility and Presence

Another way to resolve this dilemma would be a higher media visibility and presence. Hirokazu Kanazawa understood the power and necessity of media like books and films to spread karate and to convey his style of Shotokan. He wrote at least eight books, which all became breakthroughs in the teaching of karate. In addition, he produced several educational video series about Shotokan. His sense of the visual dimension and presentation of Shotokan was splendid. In this regard he followed Masatoshi Nakayama, who also understood the importance and opportunities of media for the spread of Shotokan karate.

Today, Tatsuya Naka follows the in footsteps of Masatoshi Nakayama and Hirokazu Kanazawa. He gained a huge audience through his performances in several popular karate movies like Kuro Obi (2007) and High-Kick Girl (2011). Together with Fuyuhiko Nishi, the owner of Kuroobi World Media, he has produced a myriad of educational and entertaining Shotokan videos. Therefore, Tatsuya Naka has become the public face of Shotokan karate.

Unfortunately, neither Nobuaki Kanazawa nor Manabu Murakami show significant engagement with media. Neither of them has a considerable social media channel. The official SKIF facebook channel seems to be abandoned. Most media promotion of SKIF comes from the national branches. They are active in social media and beyond.

Luckily, SKIF has Hiyori Kanazawa. She has shown considerable activity and interest in media visibility. She runs a solid Instagram channel and seems to have a sense for the necessity of promotion. For instance, she produced a video, which shows from a female perspective her understanding of Shotokan Karate. She also gave The Shotokan Times a comprehensive interview about her life and vision of Shotokan.

Today, however, social media and an excellent internet presence must become a high priority for every organization – it is mandatory. Both determine the visibility and hence the success of an association in the competition of attention and public perception.

5. USP: What Distinguishes SKIF?

The final challenge SKIF has to face, is its “Unique Selling Point” (USP). What distinguishes SKIF from other associations? Why should somebody join or stay in SKIF?

Every company, every club, every party, every association, and every rock star must find an answer to this question. Some members might stay because of pure loyalty. But others need legitimate reasons and arguments in order not to leave. The passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa could have created a reason to reconsider the membership in SKIF. Other reasons like the lack of strategy, the upcoming retirements of other founding fathers, the low visibility and engagement in media by the leadership could cause some to reconsider, too.

Therefore, SKIF has to position itself and distinguish its portfolio from the other associations. One proven way to do that would be a joint book publication by Nobuaki Kanazawa and Manabu Murakami about their understanding and vision of SKIF Shotokan. A video serious could support such activities.

In comparison to the JKA, for example, SKIF offers a different concept of Shotokan that can be observed in their approach to kihon. While the JKA has deliberately streamlined its technical repertoire and focuses on combinations with maximum 3 to 4 techniques. SKIF still offers the whole versatility of Shotokan. That means long combinations with several changes of direction and the whole set of techniques Shotokan. The same can be observed during a comparison of SKIF and JKA kihon and jiyu ippon kumite.

For both approaches one can find valid arguments. And the practitioners should decide which path they want to follow. But before they can decide, the associations have to make clear what kind of path they offer.

A Strong SKIF Needed

This analysis has shown that the unfortunate passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa has created several challenges for SKIF in order to hold its position in the center of the field of Shotokan. From a systemic perspective and for the individual Shotokan practitioner it would be beneficial if SKIF recognizes this challenges and starts to find appropriate strategical solutions. A strong SKIF offers more advantages for the global Shotokan karate community than a weak one.

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Makiwara Monday: A Variety of Techniques from Kazakhstan

We have featured Adios Underbayev in the Makiwara Monday section several times before. Aidos has a passion for the Makiwara and his splendid technique shows who familiar he is with the tool.

In this video series he presents us several makiwara techniques. His routine thereby goes far beyond Gyaku-zukis.

Which techniques do you train on the Makiwara? And which of Adios suggestions do you like the most?

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Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke: A personal Obituary

The year 2019 ended with a tragic event for the global Shotokan community: the passing of Hirokazu Kanazawa. The Karate world mourns since then. In this personal obituary Prof. Dr. Wolf Herbert reminisces the extraordinary life and personality of Soke Kanazawa.

On December the 8th 2019 Kanazawa Hirokazu passed away “peacefully”, according to the official announcement. I had the honor and pleasure to translate his autobiography into German. For this edition I conducted an interview with Soke. I talked with him about death and dying. He stated:

“If one engages in downright normal training and has a downright normal lifestyle, the opportunities of development will also be downright normal. If, however, one trains in the way of going beyond, of transcending one’s natural powers, this in my opinion means to be present with deadly seriousness in everything, even the smallest kind of things!

To exaggerate a bit, you do everything as though it were a matter of life and death. To be involved with deadly seriousness, indeed as if it were a matter of life and death, is, I think, the true and final meaning of bushido (the ethical code of the warrior). If one does everything as though one’s life depended on it, there will be nothing to look back on with regret. When the time to die comes, one can die with utter peace of mind. I think the manner of dying is a barometer of how one has lead his life. This also constitutes the way of the warrior (bushido).”

Kanazawa Hirokazu

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke: Life of a Warrior

Kanazawa-soke undoubtedly has lived and departed this life like a warrior. Kanazawa Hirokazu was born in 1931 in the Northeast of Japan, in the prefecture Iwate at a rough seashore with rocky cliffs and pine groves. He was the sixth child and had an older sister, four older and two younger brothers. The extended family, the fishery and trading company of his father and the care of his mother were the social context in which he absorbed consideration, cooperation and mutual benevolence as manners and a way to treat people. “Harmony” should later become one of the central pillars of his Karate philosophy.

Besides playing in nature and on the beach, Hirokazu practiced sumo, judo, rugby and boxing in his youth. His body was thus aptly prepared when aged 18, he seriously started with Karate in the Karate department of the Takushoku University. After graduation he and Mikami Takayuki became the first graduates of the instructor course of the the JKA (Japan Karate Association). 1957 he won the first JKA All Japan Championship. Subsequently, he twice repeated this triumph. 1960 he was sent to Hawaii as a JKA Karate instructor. His unprecedented journey into the world had begun.

The picture shows Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert at the 35th SKIF All Japan Championship/Tokyo.
Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert at the 35th SKIF All Japan Championship/Tokyo in 2015.

A Global Instructor

Presumably no other Japanese Karate teacher has traveled as much and often around the globe as Kanazawa Hirokazu. Most of the instructors who were delegated to foreign countries by the JKA settled down and built up their national organizations. Soke stayed for a while in England and Germany, but he was the JKA International Section Chief and was often on the road. Particularly after the foundation of his own organization (1978) he was virtually permanently visiting different countries all over the world. This made him one of the best known Karateka on the globe.

The break-up with the JKA was neither initiated by Soke nor wanted.  In the end it can be seen as a blessing in disguise, since it gave him the chance to develop and promulgate his very own Karate-do unencumbered. He placed the “International” (jap. kokusai) in the name of his organization (Shotokan Karate-do International Federation SKIF) intentionally on top in the Japanese version (Kokusai Shôtôkan Karatedo renmei). This was to demonstrate that Karate-dô has become a global movement and cultural world heritage.

Technical Brilliance and Charisma

Soke’s reputation was not solely based on his internationalism, but his extraordinary abilities, his technical brilliance and in particular his personality, charisma and charm. What also distinguished him was his capability to stage perfect and breathtaking demonstrations in Kumite and Kata on the spot at big events or clinics. Notable was not only his technical refinement and engaged and warm-hearted teaching style, but that he and his Karate-do was there for everyone.  That really meant no distinction in regard to sex, age, race, nationality, religious affiliation, social or economic status etc.

Before Soke went to Hawaii he stated in an interview, that he wanted to help to develop and promote Karate in its three aspects: physical education, martial art and competitive sports. This also illustrates his broad approach to Karate-do: it is meant for everybody, young and old, hobbyist and top athlete, even for those with special needs.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke Studied other Styles of Karate

The width of his horizon was also obvious in his openness and lifelong willingness to learn from other Karate-styles and martial arts.  He included old Kata (e.g. Koryu Gankaku, Niju hachi ho), which enrich the spectrum of movements beyond orthodox Shotokan, into his syllabus.  He was also known for his masterly command of the weapons staff (bo) and nunchaku. He integrated them into his tutoring. Soke also cherished lifelong friendships and exchanges with teachers of other styles and also from the JKA.

Karate and Health

In one of his English publications Kanazawa-soke proposed an intriguing perspective. He postulates that Karate historically evolved as a hygienic program to boost physical fitness and was only later used as a means of self-defense:

“Without going into the history of Karate I would like to explain a facet which is usually overlooked. Karate history starts some four thousand years ago as a series of movements for health. Later it was discovered that these could be applied for fighting. In the last few years it has been developed into a sport. All other combative sports started their life as fighting techniques. Therefore, Karate is the only one which started from natural movements to promote health.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa

Breathing and Ki

There originates one of the characteristics of Soke’s Karate-do: how he emphasized the importance of correct breathing. Via breathing the circulation of ki (chin. Qi, “universal energy”) is regulated. He also deemed the mental and physical concentration on the center of the body in the lower abdomen (seika tanden) as essential. There ki can be accumulated and from there ki can also be transmitted elsewhere. Ki is a central concept in Chinese cosmology and medicine. It is often translated as “inner energy” or “vital force”.

In the West, energy is primarily seen as something physical and as a quantum. Ki is also a kind of quality (qualia) and linked to consciousness. It has material and immaterial aspects. In the human body ki is mobilized by willpower. If one concentrates ki will flow into the object being focussed on. If you thrust a punch with a sharp intention ki will surge and shoot into the fist and beyond. Soke was able to split the very board that was indicated to him in a stack of boards without breaking the rest. His explanation was that he could consciously control and direct his ki. Although not many will ever reach this level, the regulation of ki was a central element of his Karate. And the positive health effects of Karate are based on it.

Ki and Taijiquan

According to the Chinese view, health means an unblocked and balanced flow of ki. From time immemorial diverse methods have been developed in order to gain an unobstructed flow of ki: meditation, visualization, breathing techniques, therapeutic interventions (acupuncture, massages, moxibustion a.o.) and physical exercises (e.g. Quigong).

Soke has practiced Taijiquan all his life and understood the respective concepts very profoundly. A crucial  goal of Taijiquan is to equilibrate and balance the ki-flow. This brings about harmony and well-being, worded slightly dramatically, a feeling of being at one with the universe. This was exactly what Soke was aiming at. I know that from numerous conversations and interviews with him. It has become a guiding principle for my personal Karate practice. Soke’s Karate-do was rooted in and based on Chinese philosophy and physiological conceptions, which made it one of a kind for me.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke and his Spirit of Karate-do

To me Soke and his Karate-do had a spiritual dimension, though it was totally unassuming. If you tuned your antennae into this direction you had ample reception. If you were not interested you were not bothered. Soke always understood Karate as moving Zen. His ideal was to reach an egoless state of all-encompassing alertness and inner calm. To point this out, he used terms from Zen-Buddhism and the art of sword fighting which was influenced by it, such as mushin (no mind) or muga (non-self).

If one witnessed Soke, one had the impression that time and again he embodied these states of mind. He had an aura which enveloped everybody with peace and serenity. Again, I fear I sound dramatic, but being in his mere presence filled me with happiness. I have never noticed any negative emotions like anger or irritation. Many will remember his infinite patience when he signed books, t-shirts and the like with his mountain Fuji-emblem after training courses – sometimes in hour-long sessions.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke was Here for Everyone

By no way I want to give the impression that I had any kind of “special” relationship to Soke. Everybody had his/her special connection to him and shared unique experiences with him. Soke did not show particular preferences. He was here for everyone: the veteran black belt as well as for the beginner and the children. I met Kanazawa-soke on many scattered, but pivotal occasions. His view of Karate and the world had an indelible impact on me. In this sense he was and is a constant mentor and guiding star for me. Let me therefore add some personal footnotes and anecdotes.

Some Personal Anecdotes about Hirokazu Kanazawa Soke

Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!”

At one of his many sojourns in the 1980’s in my home town Bregenz in the West of Austria we talked about the winter. He was amazed, when he heard that in this cold alpine region a haramaki (“bellyband”, a kind of woollen kidney belt) was not customary.  In Japan, haramaki are well-liked by workers, who toil in the open or artisans in chilly workshops. Soke commented: “If the stomach (hara) is kept warm, the whole body will get warm!” For a martial artist like Soke hara of course had a much broader meaning. It is the pivot of every technique and the locus of ki-concentration. “Hara warm/well, all’s warm/well!” one could venture to say.

The picture shows Soke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert in Bregenz, Austria. Wolf is translats the explanations of Hirokazu Kanazawa fo the audience.
Sôke Kanazawa and Wolf Herbert in Bregenz, Austria. Wolf translates the explanations of Hirokazu Kanazawa in 1984.

Anyway, I had two haramaki sent from Japan, which I still wear, particularly during winter in the unheated Dojo. I owe the discovery of the haramaki to Soke. Everytime I put one on I think of him and his teachings concerning the hara and seika tanden! As a sidenote, haramaki which were seen as hopelessly old-fashioned and proletarian now enjoy a renaissance in Japan as a fashion item and protection against the cold.

The Right Diet

As a young athlete I was very health conscious. Therefore I wanted to know from Soke what he deemed to be a wholesome and balanced diet. The gist of what he said was:

“I am traveling a lot and I am confronted with a lot of different national cuisines. Most of the time I am treated by the host, thus I can not refuse the dishes coming to the table. It is like that: while I eat the dishes, I inwardly tell myself, ‘This is good for my body, it supplies me with subtle energy and makes me strong!’ Then every food is well absorbed and purposefully utilized. With this positive attitude even fast food can be ingested with salubrious results. Generally speaking, it is best to consume local products and whatever is seasonal.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa

This again revealed to me that for Soke it was mind over matter, the spirit which reigns the body! As an aside: with regard to beverages, Soke in Austria professed a marked fondness of Pilsener.

He also had seriously considered to quit

Since there was a hiatus in my Karate practice I had the chutzpah to ask Soke if he had ever thought to desist from doing Karate. Without hesitation he replied that there were several critical periods in his life in which he had seriously considered to quit. However, every time he retreated to contemplate the possibility, inevitably some Kata sequences appeared before his mind’s eye. He saw himself performing e.g. Kankû dai and indubitably he knew with every fibre of his being that this was his “destiny”, his mission and his life task. Soke has always paid close attention to “imagery training”. Lately it seems to come into vogue. For Soke it obviously had positive effects. He pursued his path unperturbed by ups and downs.

The Little Gestures Matter

When I started with training again after my break from Karate I went to the Honbu dojo in Tokyo for instruction several times on Wednesdays. On this day Soke taught in person and all the instructors who were not abroad also assembled. While greeting formally, I moved the wrong foot into the closed V stance. Soke pointed out my “misstep” in his benevolent way. For a second I was irritated and thought, “why insist on such a trifle!” In a sudden intuition I understood the message. It was exactly these little gestures which should manifest the intent behind them.

The alert Mind

Soke was a keen observer. I had participated in the national championships (Kata Individual Masters II 50-59 yrs.) for the umpteenth time. Soke was already rather fragile at the time. After the championship there was a party in the evening with a stand-up buffet and drinks. The SKIF All-Japan Championship is a yearly event with over more than 600 participants. It is split up into school years for children and age classes for the adults. There are also several disciplines and the competition lasts for two whole days.

On the evening in question Soke went back home early due to his frail condition. All the party guests formed a lane and made a deep bow when Soke passed by. He walked with his cane and when he came close to me he stopped, looked at me, smiled and said: “Today you won a medal. Congratulations!” I was moved. Among all the bustle of the contest he did not miss to notice this – or, very likely, anything else for that matter.

He Cared about People

Soke cared deeply for people and had an extraordinary memory for them. In the 1980’s (my most active time in Karate) the first thing he invariably asked me when we met, was, if Fujinaga Yasuyuki (1944-1995) was doing well. I found that very considerate and acted as a messenger between the two. Fujinaga-sensei headed a JKA-Dojo in Vienna, where I was allowed to train twice a week. When Kanazawa-sôke was still in the JKA, Fujinaga-sensei had studied under him in Japan for an extended period. Even after Fujinaga-sensei’s demise, he repeatedly told me how sorry he felt about his passing on in the prime of his life. Soke knew well, how much I had adored and appreciated Fujinaga-sensei.

When he Visited Austria

In 1982, the first SKI-organisation in Austria was established. I had become one of its first members and was in the managing committee until the end of the 1980’s. I also ran a SKI-Dojo in Vienna. We intentionally put the name of the founder first in the name of the federation: Kanazawa Shotokan Kokusai Karate-do Österreich (KSKKÖ). Thanks to the selfless commitment and efforts of the pedagogue Rosemarie Osirnigg, Soke came to Vorarlberg/West Austria on a yearly basis to hold training courses lasting a couple of days. We also shot videos, which were meant to become instructional material. They show Soke at the height of his powers. The then national trainer Norio Kawasoe (1951-2013) can also be seen demonstrating his excellent techniques.  The videos are now sold and distributed by VP-Masberg.

I frequently served as an interpreter for Soke. This offered me superb insights into his didactic ingenuity and systematic approach to Karate. At the beginning of the 1990’s the KSKKÖ was dissolved due to various disputes. The majority of its members joined the organization of Hidetaka Nishiyama. Although invited, I did not follow suit. Barely anything  connected me with Nishiyama-sensei and everything that was Karate to me connected me with Soke. I stayed loyal to him, but due to their rampant political narrow-mindedness, I stayed away from Karate organizations for a long time.

His Encouragement

It was almost two decades later when I visited and met Soke again in the Honbu-dojo. There was an instant rapport and bond. It was as if no time had passed since our last meeting. He could recall amazing details of the moments we had spent together. Soke encouraged me to open a Dojo for him in Tokushima. There was no SKI-Dojo at the time on the island Shikoku, where Tokushima is located and where I teach at university. Without this encouragement, I would never have been as presumptuous as to teach Karate to the Japanese.

When I was in my twenties I learned some Taijiquan from Soke. I recollected this and began to take lessons again. Now Yang-style Taijiquan is part of my daily exercises. When I related that to Soke he was overjoyed: “Taijiquan and Karate are like Yin and Yang, soft and hard, fluid and rapid, circular and straight! They are complementary and synergetic. It is good to practice both. Especially when one grows old it is commendable to move to the softer side. It is not about muscular strength anymore, but the cultivation of the ki that should become central. Carry on!”

A Personality and Karate Master Full of Dignity

Soke said this at a time, when he was no longer able to practice himself. Now I have to address something that filled me with outright admiration: his dignity in being able to let go of everything! Soke loved to ski and even had a licence as an instructor from a skiing school in Davos. When he was in his late-seventies he had an accident while skiing in Northern Italy. He broke several vertebrae and required an extended period of rehabilitation. But he returned to the Dojo nevertheless. However, his physical condition deteriorated thereafter.

A Beautiful Mind and Spirit

When he got into his eighties an illness broke out, which was medicinally subdued until his passing on: Parkinson. This incomparable grand master of the martial arts, who could control every single cell of his body had to watch how he lost command over it. And here again Soke’s spiritual greatness revealed itself: no struggle, no bitterness, no lament. He endured his advancing frailty with stoic composure. Without clinging to anything, he just let things go. To be able to observe the process of ageing and the way of the world with such calmness and non-attachment will forever be etched into my memory as an ideal. It was daoist unity with the cosmos personified.

The Light of the Buddha

Sôke once remarked, that with getting older he became convinced, that he was protected by some higher power. December the 8th is Bodhi-day, the day on which the awakening of the historic Buddha Shakyamuni is commemorated and celebrated. It is the last day and climax of an eight-day-long intensive period of meditation (rôhatsu) in Zen monasteries. Kanazawa Hirokazu crossed to the other shore in the light of the Buddha. He ist now united with the higher powers and as a guardian and protector of Karate-dô, his lifework will continue to have effects and radiate forever. Eternal thanks, Sôke! Ossu

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Hirokazu Kanazawa has passed away – An Overview

Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa passed away on December 8, 2019. And the karate world mourns.

For everybody, who wants to express their sympathies, we have set up a condolence board.

The facebook page of the SKIF-GB facebook page reported first about Soke Kanazawa´s passing. However, rumors spread that the announcement could have been a hoax very fast. While the post disappeared a few hours later, we received information from a high ranking source within the inner circle of the SKIF. The source confirmed that the information about the passing of Soke Kanazawa is true.

Official Confirmation of the Passing of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa

Around 1 pm central European time, the board of the SKIF published an official statement about the passing of Soke Kanazawa. The document states that he passed away peacefully.

It also states that he passed away at the “blessed ripe old” age of 88 years old. This refers to the Japanese tradition of “beiju“. Because the Chinese character of 88 looks similar to the character for rice. Rice, on the other hand, is considered to be a happy and sacred food in East Asia. That is why the age 88 is considered sacred.

Official statement by the SKIF Global Headquarter about the death of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa.
Official statement by the SKIF Global Headquarter about the death of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa.

Further, the announcement by the SKIF asked to abstain from attending the funeral. It will take part in the inner circle of the Kanazawa family. An official farewell takes place at the next SKIF international seminar in Tokyo in 2020.

The Karate World Mourns

A wave of condolences have been expressed by the karate world about the passing of Soke Kanazawa in the last days. Several thousand karate commented on facebook and other social media how deeply shocked and shattered they were. Many more sent blessings and best wishes to the family of Hirokazu Kanazawa.

The sympathies go thereby far beyond the community of Shotokan karateka. Also practitioners from other styles of karate expressed their mourning and grief. For instance, the Kyokushinkai channel The Martial Way published a R.I.P. post about the passing of Soke Kanazawa. Such acts display the tremendous respect Hirokazu Kanazawa enjoyed in the karate world.

The Shotokan Times also expressed its condolences by sending an email to Kancho Nobuaki Kanazawa, Shuseki Shihan Manabu Murakami, and the SKIF HQ. Thomas Prediger, Chair of the advisory board of The Shotokan Times, commented: “He was a living legend. Soke Kanazawa will be dearly missed. His guidance and character are invaluable. However, his legacy will continue in Shotokan. Because a worldwide community of students will now carry his torch.”

Dr. Christian Tribowski, Managing director and chief editor of The Shotokan Times, stated: “I had the chance to meet Soke Kanazawa last year during the 40th anniversary festivities of SKIF in Tokyo. His health had deteriorated already. But I did not imagine to see him for the last time. His death has left a huge void in the karate world. He was Mr. Shotokan, a splendid and charismatic personalty. Generations after generations have learnt from him the true meaning of karate do.”

Deteriorated Health of Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa

In January 2009, Kanazawa suffered a skiing accident. Trough a badly fall he crushed three vertebra. Although already in his 70´s he recovered and taught Shotokan until 2012. Then he retired and spend most of his time in Japan.

Beside the skiing accident rumors spread that Soke Kanazawa also suffered two strokes in the last decade. Last year on the 40th anniversary of SKIF in Tokyo, he had difficulties to walk and could barely speak. Yet, he was the charismatic karate master who had a room filling presents.

The Legend Hirokazu Kanazawa

Soke Kanazawa was an outstanding Karate master. Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski concluded in a recent portrait about him in The Shotokan Times:

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

Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

Like no other, Hirokazu Kanazawa coined Shotokan karate in the 20´s century. He studied directly under Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama. His technical elegance as well as his philosophy made him an unprecedented karate master. After leaving the JKA he founded the Shotokan Karate International Federation in the late 1970´s, which chief instructor and later soke he became.

Hirokazu Kanazawa About Life and Death

Soke Kanazawa´s karate do was highly influenced by Zen Buddhism. In an interview he stated about life and death:

” My philosophy is that I try always to be true to myself and to others … I can say that I fear nothing – not even death, and this I do not say in a big-headed or conceited way. My meaning is that I always try my best in everything I do, so I will be satisfied when I do die – I think the reason that people fear death is because they want to do and accomplish so many other things that are still undone . . . they always want to do more. Also, I truly believe that life continues after physical death – all life continues … life is a circle “.

AJJIF GLOBAL ALL JAPAN JU-JITSU INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION WORLD JU-JITSU GOVERNING BODY

Oss!

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Women of Shotokan: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes

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

Portrait: Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes

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

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

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

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

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

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

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

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during training

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

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

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

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

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

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

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

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

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

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

Sandra Hoogerdijk Joannes during training

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

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

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

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

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

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

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

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

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

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Gojushiho Dai and Sho: The Solution of the Confusion

The naming of the Gojushiho Kata differs between associations. Some call the longer Gojushiho Kata “Dai” and the shorter “Sho”. Myths emerged about the reason for this confusion. Some revolved around JKA Chief Instructor Ueki Masaaki. Today, Peter Crawford is going to shed light on the history of this paradox and he is going to give us an answer that seems to solve the Gojushiho Riddle. By Peter Crawford

The Ueki Masaaki Legend

The first time I encountered the legend about Ueki Masaaki mixing up the names of the Gojushiho kata he was performing and the JKA subsequently changing the names to spare his blushes was back at the end of the last century. Rob Redmond, on his sadly long-gone website “24fightingchickens” wrote:

“It is rumored that in a JKA tournament some years ago, a now very high-ranking Ueki performed the Dai kata while accidentally calling out the name “Gojushiho-Sho!” in the last round of competition on National Television in Japan. 

According to this story, the judges were befuddled, since the performance was perfect, about what to do with Ueki and his misnamed kata. Their solution: give Ueki first place, and switch the names of the two kata. So, today the karateka who outrank Ueki generally call the more basic kata Dai. However, most people in the JKA, and the Best Karate series of books refer to the more difficult kata as Dai and the easier kata as Sho. Is the story about Ueki true? Maybe not.”

Despite the obvious caveat, this story gained traction, more often than not masquerading as “the truth”, as people copied and pasted bits of this article into their own websites. Until last year, the Wikipedia article on Gojushiho also presented this story as fact.

The Truth about the Different Naming of Gojushiho

However, the truth about the naming disparity between SKI and the other Shotokan organisations is quite easily discovered. When Kanazawa Hirokazu formed his own SKI organisation after being expelled from the JKA, he decided to change the names around as he felt that the smaller, more subtle kata deserved the “sho” designation so that the Gojushiho pair would align better with Bassai and Kanku. Since then, Kanazawa sensei has been asked many times at seminars and dinners why the SKI kata names are different to everyone else’s. I have heard him recount his decision on a number of occasions, and way back in 2003 Traditional Karate Magazine published an article by David Lewin, a senior with SKKIF in the UK, where he writes the following account of a weekend course he attended:

“One particularly interesting explanation Shihan gave was the reason why on founding S.K.I.F. he swapped the names of the two katas (Gojushiho Dai and Sho around). He explained that as with the Bassai and Kanku katas, the first one studied was usually the Dai form a kata. The Dai form is usually the longer but less complicated of the two forms. The instructors at the JKA were already practicing the JKA Gojushiho Dai form (i.e. the one with the ippon nukite techniques) before the JKA Sho form (the one with the shihon nukite techniques) had even been introduced into the JKA. Once the new form had been introduced, it was clear that the old kata was the more complicated and so should have been the Sho form, and so Shihan swapped the names over.”

Why is the JKA naming “wrong”?

This hopefully clears up the issue of the difference between the SKI kata names and everyone else, but really brings up a larger question. Why is the JKA naming “wrong”? Why is the smaller kata “dai”, and the larger one “sho”?

Kanazawa provides some pointers here too. In his 2009 book “Karate: The Complete Kata”, he provides the following information about Gojushiho:

 “Through Master Kanken Toyama, the kata ‘Koryu Gojushiho’ […] was introduced into the Shotokan style…”

“The author believes that the ‘Sho’ and ‘Dai’ designations […] became reversed at the time of their introduction…”

I find this explanation very plausible. We know for example, that in his 1935 book “Karate do Kyohan” Funakoshi Gichin describes the fifteen core kata of the Shotokan system. Yet, by 1943, we also know that more kata had been added. In 1943’s “Karate Nyumon”, on pages 58 and 59, Funakoshi lists a number of kata that were being studied at the Shotokan, including one “Hotaku” (Hotaku, or “phoenix-peck”, was the name Funakoshi gave to Gojushiho). Both Kanku and Bassai are listed separately as dai and sho, but there is only one Hotaku listed.

Masatoshi Nakayama Introduced Gojushiho Sho to JKA

According to Nakayama Masatoshi, he was asked by Funakoshi to travel to Osaka and learn kata from Mabuni Kenwa. In addition, in Randall Hassell’s book “Conversations with the Master”, Nakayama is quoted as saying:

“Some of the kata have come into the JKA system because Master Funakoshi took me around Japan to visit and pay courtesy calls on some of the other old masters in Osaka, Kyoto, Okuyama and Hiroshima”

and

“…when we visited Master Mabuni, Master Funakoshi told me to learn Gojushiho and Nijushiho so we could study them more carefully. So Master Mabuni taught me these kata.”

We know that the JKA syllabus already contained one Gojushiho kata at the time Nakayama was asked to learn from Mabuni. According to what Kanazawa said, this second kata should be the JKA “sho”. Fortunately, we are able to compare the two Shotokan kata with the versions that Kanazawa claims are the originals.

The Original Gojushiho Names are reverse

Toyama Kanken published details and photographs of his “Koryu Gojushiho” in his 1956 book “Okugi Hijutsu Karate Do”. His kata is clearly the smaller kata which, according to Kanazawa, was introduced first.

The current Shito-ryu Gojushiho can, therefore, be viewed on YouTube and is obviously the larger kata that was introduced to the JKA second and given the “sho” designation as a result.

Hopefully this information clears up the mystery of the inconsistent naming, and will kill off the somewhat bizarre “competition myth” once-and-for-all!

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Hirokazu Kanazawa: The Life of A Shotokan Legend

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

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

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Early Years and First Encounter with Karate

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

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

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

Takushoku University Karate Club

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

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

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa Trained 5-6 Hours a Day

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

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa in a video about karate self-defense.

How Hirokazu Kanazawa Became a JKA Instructor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Deployement of Hirokazu Kanazawa Abroad

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

Our partner website Finding Karate

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa: Very old fighting scenes.

Visit of Okinawa, the Birthplace of Karate

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa and The First JKA Promotion Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Japan and Moving Up in the JKA-Hierarchy

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

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

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

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

Legend I

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

Legend II

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa found the Shotokan Karate International Federation

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

International Tournaments

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

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

Dan Promotions of Hirokazu Kanazawa

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa during a seminar in Germany in 1999.

Later Years and Retirement

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

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

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

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Life Beside Karate

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

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

Hirokazu Kanazawa with his grand daugther Hiyori.

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

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

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

Opener picture by Jim Palmer

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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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Hiyori Kanazawa – Women of Shotokan

The picture shows Hiyori Kanazawa.

Last weekend, Hiyori Kanazawa achieved what she had dreamed of: She became grand champion (1th place in kumite and 2nd in Kata) at the SKIF world championship in Czech Republic. We think it is time to read the full interview again, we did with her in March. It shows how far determination and an the will to break through boundaries can lead. Hiyori has shown that she is an inspiring woman of Shotokan. Congratulations, Hiyori. Oss!!!

Portrait of Hiyori Kanazawa

  • Citizenship: Japan
  • Age: 21
  • Karate since: I began when I was 3 years old. But between age 15 to 19 I did not practice Karate because I was abroad for studies.
  • Rank: 3rd Dan
  • Dojo: SKIF Honbu Dojo in Japan

Additional information:

  • Manager and instructor of Akasaka Dojo in Tokyo,
  • Instructor of Narashino Dojo in Chiba,
  • SKIF World Champion in individual Kata girls between 12 and 13 years of age division in Greece in 2009,
  • member of SKIF national team Japan
  • Grand champion 1th place in kumite and 2nd in Kata SKIF World Championships 2019

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

My grandfather was President of the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation at that time. My father and my uncles also practiced and taught Karate back then for a long time. So it was natural for me to begin with Karate training.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

Hiyori Kanazawa: The simple answer is: It matches my body in terms of movements and distance (dynamic movements and long distances).

In addition, I like the philosophy behind Karate in general (respect others and so on).

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

Hiyori Kanazawa: When I was younger, I did not like hard training. But I am really passionate about Karate now. So I enjoy training hard everyday!

The picture shows a part of Hiyori Kanazawas latest video (see below).
Part of Hiyori Kanazawas latest video (see below).

One thing, I think could improve, is the number of women practicing Karate. I hope that especially women in my age will become more in the future.

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

Hiyori Kanazawa: About three years ago, I competed in The SKIF World Championships in Indonesia. At that time, I was in the UK for college and I didn’t have time to train much. So my level was not good enough and my focus was directed towards other things than Karate. I lost in this championship. This was maybe one of the lowest point I had in my Karate practice. But after losing, I realized that I wanted to become better and my motivation went up again.

I started practicing very hard. In the following year, I opened my own Dojo. To see my students improve week after week and to work very hard together with them, has probably being the best experience I have had with Karate so far.

The picture shows Hiyori Kanazawa in her dojo.
Hiyori Kanazawa in her dojo.

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

Hiyori Kanazawa: First of all, I push myself to go and train every day. But when it becomes too difficult I look at the people around me, my training partners, my students and I see them training hard. That gives me strength to train hard also. In addition, my teachers can be quite tough sometime. But the fact that they are always training with us and always give their best although they are all older than me (but still in very good shape) I think to myself, that I have no excuse to not train hard.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Hiyori Kanazawa: Through training, I have improved my body and have become physically stronger. This is important because being physically stronger makes me also mentally stronger and I am not scared to be alone, for instance.

And pushing myself in training every day, helps me face other problems in my life with more confidence.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life?

Hiyori Kanazawa: To give an example: When I lived in Australia I was very shy and did not interact much with other people. But one day, I gave a demonstration of Karate at my school and by showing this side of myself to other people and also the fact, that everybody was impressed, gave me a lot of confidence and made the rest of my stay there much easier.

From the time I started until I was about 19 years old, I was scared of doing Kumite. I was, of course, practicing both Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. But I did Kumite halfheartedly. At some point, I started training more with men, in particular with my teachers, and slowly my Kumite improved. I was practicing mostly with taller and physically stronger men than me (and sometimes getting injured ). So it made me stronger. Then, when I was practicing with women again, for instance in competitions, I was not scared at all anymore.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

Hiyori Kanazawa: Today, I like practicing both Kata and Kumite equally.

Since I started, I have been told that a genuine Karateka has to do both Kata and Kumite. Now, many people choose one or the other in competition. But I am very happy and proud that I do both.

The pictures shows Hiyori Kanazawa with students during an international seminar.
Hiyori Kanazawa with students during an international seminar.

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

Hiyori Kanazawa: My short term goal is to participate and win the next SKIF World Championship that will take place this summer in Europe. This is, of course, a selfish goal.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

Hiyori Kanazawa: First of all, however, Karate evolves I think preserving Budō is very important.

Talking about competition: we see a lot more women than before, which is very good. But when I look at people practicing traditional karate, for example in seminars or abroad, I see maybe 90 percent men in classes. I wish more women would take interest in traditional Karate and I want to work to improve this aspect and get more women involved in traditional Karate.

The picture shows Hiyori Kanazawa during a tournament
Hiyori Kanazawa during a tournament

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

Hiyori Kanazawa: Of course, I would recommend Shotokan Karate to female friends. Because Karate has so many positive aspects and it is a fulfilling art. I believe people can become mentally stronger which would be especially good for many women. Because women, more often than men, can feel weak sometimes. Karate can bring out the inner strength of people. I know it is true because it happened to me.