– Sensei what are your main objectives in teaching Karate?
Asai Sensei: In the past not everybody could do karate in the standard way, particularly after the war, there was a closed off mentality, a physical hardness in karate, aiming primarily to build spirit, rather than effective martial arts technique. Many people in Shotokan had, and still have, closed minds thinking this is the only way to do karate, and this permeates throughout all the aspects of their training. Karate has five aspects, firstly martial arts karate - effective in reality, secondly health karate, thirdly exercise karate, fourthly tournament karate, and lastly, karate to make a strong spirit... All these aspects are included in karate, and depending on the person, karate differs. My karate includes all of the above, not only karate for making a strong spirit. Effective karate is balanced, not just hard, this hardness which came after the war, was a way to make people push themselves to their physical, mental, and spiritual limits. This style of training is very basic and limited for martial arts/self-defense. It was also limited, participation-wise. My main objective is to return karate to its original martial arts origins, karate has no limitations. If karate can only be used by strong people, it is highly limited.
Asai Sensei: Yes, as you know we have many kata, for example if someone's punch is no good, practice this kata, if their hip rotation is no good, do this kata, kicks no good, train this kata... From practicing in this way we can improve martial arts technique. Before, karate was only movement (Asai Sensei demonstrates a few lightning fast strikes in rapid succession from his chair) with not so much meaning. Now there's more meaning, not only basic techniques but the revival of marital arts karate from the distant past. The standard Shotokan kata has emphasis on basic techniques like gedan-barai, mae-geri keage, oi-zuki and so on. These kata are mostly for development of power and speed. They also tire the muscles and breathing. They are good for making spirit and for conditioning the body, this is good in one's youth. However, as one gets older, step-by-step they must change so they can keep improving in karate. More natural movement is essential, in fact the sooner people start this the better, as it results in increased efficiency. The advanced kata I developed are martial arts kata, taking the karateka to the next level; Andre, you are one of my few students who know many of the advanced kata such as Hachimon, Kakuyoku shodan, Kakuyoku nidan and Kakuyoku sandan, Meikyo nidan, Meikyo sandan, Sensho, Shotei, Kashu, Suishu, Roshu, Hushu, Senka, Seiryu and others. As a result you are now executing high level martial arts karate. Others should follow your example. Some are fixated on merely studying the 26 standard Shotokan kata.
– You have said that competition rules should be more martial arts orientated in the Kumite?
Asai Sensei: Absolutely, we must change from the sports kumite kind which is again very limited! Only straight punching, kicking and takedowns, not good for martial arts, creating bad habits. We must also include circular punches, strikes, and other karate techniques. If the distance is close, why not use a controlled empi-uchi or mawashi-zuki to win? This is martial arts karate, far more diverse than just sports.
– When people see your karate they are always amazed. Every year you seem to get better and better?
Asai Sensei: My thinking is wide, many techniques, development of martial arts karate. If the body is tight, one cannot be fast. One must kime properly, go through the target, not stop, this is martial arts. Control is also important, but has its place. 1 have trained this way since the beginning, effective karate. In regards to my karate, everybody doesn't understand that as you get older you can improve by harnessing natural energy. You must learn to use your body like a whip, or nunchaku, utilizing the power of your joints rather than just your muscles, this way you keep improving. People should always think of the string that joins the two bits of stick together to form the nunchaku. In saying that, many older people may wish to train slowly, and this is O.K. too. Only karate in one's youth is no good, karate can and should be lifetime budo.
Asai Sensei: Good point Andre, as you know, it's not Chinese styles, and this should be made known to everyone in the world who reads this interview. I am a Japanese karate teacher and I teach traditional Japanese karate-do. I understand Chinese styles, but my karate is not Chinese. As I said earlier, the human body is the same, it has the same limitations. All martial arts are restricted by human motion. I study and watch the different marital arts, and use the best of all movements and kata. From my experience and daily training I engineer techniques. Karate and the martial arts in general have developed over the years through training, experimentation in combat, and then through further training. It is a cycle and is consistent with history.
– Even though your training is centered on traditional budo karate, the JKS is producing many champions for example Mr. Tsuchiya, Mr. Inada and Mr. Matsuzake. Can you explain this?
Asai Sensei: Yes, these karateka do martial arts not sports karate as that is their focus. For example, many judges in the JKF (Japan Karate Federation) have said to me, Mr. Tsuchiya is doing martial arts in his kata and they are very happy. For 3 years straight Mr. Tsuchiya has won the JKF National Championships in kata with his Sochin kata, also the Asia Championships and the JKS World Championship. His karate is martial arts karate, not sports karate, just like the other JKS instructors around the world, you included. As you know, sports karate is very easy. If people study karate as an effective martial art, it is easy to do anything. Sports karate, this is only a small part of karate, those who follow my way truly understand this. There are no short cuts in traditional karate. Those who train just for sports have a limited life in karate, and will never possess truly effective combat techniques.
– Sensei, everyday when I sit with you at breakfast, before various seminars around the world, I know you have already done your two-hours of morning training. Can you give us an insight into your highly rigorous and disciplined routine?
Asai Sensei: Myself I am always thinking, I am a karate student... Every morning I practice; training, training, and more training. I am always thinking and developing my skills. This has continued day after day, everyday of my life. 1 study karate, this is one point, but on a bigger scale I am thinking and training martial arts, some people cannot comprehend this type of thinking. My life is not just karate. Some people are thinking only karate, they say I am a karateka or I do Shotokan, this is easy! It is O.K. but you must think and train as a martial artist, and constantly learn as a student. That is my motivation for my morning training. Training every morning is very hard as it pushes me mentally, physically and spiritually, particularly when feeling tired, but I keep training. Never give up!
Asai Sensei: For everyone who reads this I have serious advice, you must have a target in your training! For example self-defense, health, make a strong spirit and so forth. Make a target and make a sincere effort to follow the Dojo Kun in your daily life, in and outside of the dojo. This is important, firstly to have a defined goal or goals, and secondly to make a sincere effort to foster a good heart. If people do this, they are true followers of karate-do and the martial arts.
– What is the meaning of the Japan Karate Shotokai 'Mon' (the crest/badge) you created?
Asai Sensei: The gold circle represents the sun. Obviously without the sun everything in nature dies. The green wreaths around the outside of the sun represent the international community in much the same way the Olympic wreaths do. The logo is representative of the JKS as an international traditional karate-do organisation which fosters worldwide peace, collaboration and development of martial arts karate.
– Lastly Sensei, what is the future direction for Budo Karate?
Asai Sensei: For people to be able to do karate throughout their lives and keep improving. Everyone can practice karate-do. In regards to groups around the world, division in karate is not good. It is always because of ego, because everyone wants the top position in national federations and so on. I think if people want the top position in karate they have to train more than the others (laughs). For example if doing a seminar with me the top people should train seven to ten hours per day then perhaps they don't want the top position, they just want to quietly train and improve. This is because they are too busy wanting to be called the chief instructor or something. This is very stupid! Too many people want to be the boss more than they want to train and improve their own karate. My organisation is a martial arts organisation and I am a karate-man not a politician.
– Thank you so much Sensei for doing this interview! We can't wait to get you back to New Zealand for more Technical Seminars and great times, OSU!
Asai: Sensei: My pleasure Andre, OSU!