Here is one of the many interviews I did with Asai Sensei. Over time I plan to re-publish all of them on here, as I believe they offer so many insights into Sensei's karate-way. I thought I would start with the 2004 Interview, in my home town, Christchurch, New Zealand. Please note, to avoid any confusion, I resigned from JKS in 2006. I started the JKS organisation in New Zealand, and was still national chief instructor at the time of this interview.
Asai Shuseki-Shihan New Zealand Interview 2004
By André Bertel (JKS New Zealand Founder and Chief Instructor)
Sensei, on this topic, can you give an explanation about your extensive use of nakadaka-ippon ken in your kamae and throughout your karate? It is my habit (Laughs). We were talking about this the other night at your house, do you think people really want to know (Laughs)?
Sensei, you mention 27th standard Shotokan kata, is the 27th kata Hyakuhachiho or Taikyoku shodan?
Kumite training must involve no friendship. There is no friendship in fighting someone, so if you want to learn karate as true bujutsu (martial arts) you must train with a serious spirit, right from the onset of your training. For example, when doing yakusoku-kumite, the attacker must aim to hit the defender. They must attack from the correct ma’ai, not too far away, and not too close. This is the most basic point in kumite training, if people do not follow this precisely, they will be completely wasting their practise time. Obviously one must use commonsense when training with someone much less experienced, or physically weaker, but at a high-level, there is no excuse if you cannot handle someone stronger. When defending and counterattacking you must not be afraid, you must foster a spirit of `no fear’. Enter into range without pre-conceived thought, this was my way when I used to compete. I didn’t care, I just reacted. This is essential and needs to be fostered in all karateka. This why I am always teaching that running away is more dangerous, go inside. Everything is step-by-step, but for instructors, there is a responsibility to be strong both physically and mentally. Fortunately most are strong, but some are using age, or high rank, as an excuse, and this is not acceptable. Higher level karateka must rely on superior technique, regardless of age, to overcome strength, size and youthfulness. This is karate, and this is the purpose of all technical skill. Instructors must self-train everyday!
Muchiken came from my study of various martial arts weapons, namely the Chinese seven jointed whip, the three sectional staff, the nunchaku, and others. Basically I discovered, even though I am getting older, that I could increase my speed and power if I utilised a whipping action in my waza. This was something I was doing for many years before, but later on, I began to innovate more effective training methods. This allowed me to further improve my speed and power, whilst the others, even younger instructors at JKA, began to slow down considerably. Mr. Nakayama was very pleased with my innovations, and was the only one who really knew what I was doing. I think everyone else thought I was crazy like you André (laughs). By training in muchiken you can apply all the weapons of the body freely and with great effectiveness. Many karateka neglect such weapons as seiryuto, kakuto, kumade, keito, washide, and so forth. These weapons, and many others, are all standard karate and must be developed.
Natural and relaxed karate is the key to lifelong karate. I always tell everyone to be natural-natural-natural, but most people do not listen! Or they listen, but do not change their way. So then I return to take another seminar a year or two later, and I say, be natural-natural-natural again. If people are natural, then they can become soft, and then they can transfer their power smoothly. This will result in more effective karate. In regards to becoming soft, I recommend stretching everyday of your life, not just your upper legs and hips, but your ankles, arms, shoulders, and neck. Everything! Also train exercises and kata to address your weaknesses. For example, your ashiwaza is no good, and you want to develop leg snap, train Rantai or Kyakusen. If you want shoulder and elbow snap, train Shinken and Seiryu. For overall softness and kokyu (breathing) train all three parts of Kihoken daily. Once you feel you have peaked, and want to become softer, practise holding your breath when training softness exercises. When your breath is held, your muscles will naturally become more tense, so if you can train to be soft when your breath is held, you will increase your softness when breathing normally. This is a basic method I have personally used for years, and it is extremely effective for becoming soft.
Sensei, in contrary to your soft body, and use of your joints for power, the weapons of your body are like steel. This seems like a contradiction for most people who don’t know your way of karate.
Makiwara is the base conditioning practise in karate. Imagine a sharp piece of steel attached to a rope. This is my karate. The body is soft, the weapon is hard. (At this point Asai Sensei whacks his shin bone solidly with his knuckles and it sounds like wood. He then thumps his shihon nukite into the lobby table with force that would most certainly severely break my fingers). André, as you know I train on the makiwara every morning. When I am here in New Zealand, and in other countries, I bring my pocket makiwara. Very convenient!
Interviewers note: After this interview at dinner, Asai Shihan told me his standard daily makiwara routine. 300 gyaku zuki, 100 uraken yokomawashi uchi, 100 shuto sotomawashi uchi, 100 shuto uchimawashi uchi, 100 teisho yokomawashi uchi, 100 haito sotomawashi uchi and 100 ganken uchi. He also said he often, but not every day uses a very heavy sand bag for the following: The conditioning of his elbows (hiji), the forearms (naiwan, haiwan & gaiwan), the shins (sune), the knees (hiza), the shoulders (he refers to as `kataken’) and the various weapons on the feet. Asai Shihan kindly gave me permission, to add this into this interview, so people can follow his example in their own daily training routine. It is also worth noting that Asai Shihan does not take his time when he hits the makiwara, he hits it fast and continuously.
Sensei what’s your opinion of kyusho-jutsu (pressure point techniques)? I know you practise them, but where do they stand in relation to basic Shotokan karate?
I have many old documents and study kyusho-jutsu very closely, this is high class karate. However, it is much more important to develop techniques, which can finish your opponent, regardless of hitting a vital point or not. Kyusho-jutsu is secondary to this, and simply gives the edge. If you miss the point, your blow must still be devastating, if you hit, it is better still. Kyusho-jutsu also greatly depends on the human bio-rhythm. Depending on the time, the more dangerous blows, if executed lightly, can be fatal, or merely lead to unconsciousness. Sometimes people die mysteriously from striking vital points at the wrong time. It is important to remember that too much focus on kyusho is pointless if you have not developed strong, fast, and spontaneous kihon.
Left: Asai Shihan superbly demonstrates the kata Joko-nisei for the interviewer during the infamous morning training. According to Asai Shihan, the five Joko kata build up from Junro series and develop greater precision (and junansei/softness) in ones karate.
For those who have not attended the advanced seminars can you explain kiho-yuragiso for the readers?
Kiho-yuragiso (way of breathing and vibration of the body) is like seaweed floating in the ocean. The purpose of this exercise is to soften the body combined with breathing of the upper, middle and lower lungs. I often practise this in my office. This is a very good method for developing the flexibility of your body, which is also related to breathing, as I said before. I don’t think this exercise is so interesting for younger karateka, however it can greatly benefit their snapping techniques. Practise of kiho-yuragiso combined with all three parts of Kihoken kata will offer complete kokyu (breathing) training for karateka. So far, most people only know of Kihoken-issei, however, I hope more will request to learn Kihoken-nisei and Kihoken-sansei. Young people can do these with snap and low tachikata. Older people can perform them more like Taikyoku-ken and in a higher stance. Kihoken actually has very effective applications for fighting, and it trains the correct state of muscles when under stress, for optimum speed and power. In regards to explaining kiho-yuragiso on here precisely, it is rather difficult! André, I am really pleased that you are seriously practising everything I teach you.