'BUJUTSU KARATE IS MY LIFE'.
Ohope, New Zealand
Andre Bertel: Do you believe that there is a technically superior karate organisation in the world?
Tetsuhiko Asai: No, only individuals. Organisations are simply meetings of people. No one is better than anyone else, if the organisation is truthful to the karate way. However, there are inferior groups ... These groups teach poor karate, for example commercial groups only wanting money. You have taught me very good new English word, 'McDojo'. Gimmick karate. Not good!
Andre Bertel: When and where will your next World Karate Championships be held?
Tetsuhiko Asai: This is the golden question, and this will be the first time this is known outside of Japan! It will be held in April of 2007 in Okinawa, for the anniversary of Mr. Funakoshi's passing. Mr. Tatetsu begged me to have it there, and the Okinawa Prefecture Government also asked me, so I finally agreed, as it is very appropriate. All affiliated nations will receive invitations as the time comes closer. Okinawa will be a wonderful place for this grand event in the karate world.
Andre Bertel: A bit of a controversial question Sensei, I hope you don't mind me asking! What is the story in regards to the Takushoku University Old Boys? Many Western karateka have felt disillusioned, that Japanese leaders of the Shotokan world, always preach the dojo-kun to everyone, yet they can't seem to get on together.
Andre Bertel: Sensei what is the source of the majority of karate politics then?
Tetsuhiko Asai: Very easy! Someone like you is the source! People are jealous of karateka like you, and others, because of your superior technical level and knowledge. If they can't beat you in the dojo, they will beat you in the committee room or with biased refereeing at competitions. So the highly skilled and knowledgeable students' instructor is also responsible, especially if they teach the student more techniques, kata and fighting application than the others in their respective nations. I do this on purpose (laughs). My student in Switzerland, Bruno Koller, has the same problem as you. He is the highest level karate man, and has more technical knowledge and understanding than anyone else there, so he has lots of trouble. Everyone, who is a politician in karate, is a jealous person who can't win in the dojo. I have taught you as my personal student because you have the correct attitude, martial spirit, and the ability to pass on what I have to the future generations of karateka. I want Asai style karate to go on in the future, through great karateka like you, Mr. Koller, Mr. Watanabe, and my other very close students. This is the goal of my life now.
Andre Bertel: That is a great compliment and huge responsibility Sensei, thank you very much! So where does Asai style karate sit for the karateka around the world who are in the Non-Profit-Organisation J.K.S and in I.J.K.A?
Tetsuhiko Asai: Sits anywhere! Both do my style because I am chief instructor of both groups. But I.J.K.A. is closer to me,because it is exclusively my style and mentality, its way follows karate as bujutsu, which is how I live karate. Real fight karate is where karate is! Not game karate. Tournament is ok, good goal or target. But bujutsu is everything in karate. You die or I die. This is the samurai spirit and is the base of Zen in Japanese martial arts.
Andre Bertel: Sensei some people are criticising the increasing number of kata you are teaching now. Some Shotokan people claim 15 or 26 kata is more than enough. What do you think about this?
Tetsuhiko Asai: They are right, and I am right, and everyone is right if they are training and improving. It depends on what your target is! 15 or 26? Actually one or two kata is enough for a lifetime. Just think of any number! Martial arts is physical training, not numbers, not theory. We must groove physiological principles into our subconscious mind, via physical repetition, for rapid response to any situation. Not simply memorizing movements. To me, kata is a solo training tool for the perfection of the essential principles of combat. The kata is not the issue, the body action is. The more variation, the less chance I have to think, the more I am grooving these elements into my subconscious mind. Various kata is great for developing specific points. This time here in New Zealand, the basic kata I taught at the open seminars was Kibaken, there are actually five parts of this kata, which is in fact one long koten (ancient /classical) kata. My reason for introducing this form is to simply refine kiba dachi. For example, rather than just sitting in kiba dachi or doing kihon in kiba dachi, practicing Kibaken is highly motivational. This is the other point of introducing kata. Kata is an excellent motivational tool to train more. I always say if a Shito-ryu person punches you in the face, you don't say that was a Shitoryu punch, or that was a boxing punch. More or less kata is not so relevant. Setting the number of kata is a closed minded way. A closed mind for developing your maximum fighting potential to me is foolish. My advice is just train! If people feel they want to stick to 15 kata, that is fine, if that is what they want. Just remember Mr. Funakoshi practiced many kata, and that if Gigo Funakoshi (his son Yoshitaka) had lived to an old age, I think what people now consider as 'orthodox Shotokan-ryu' would have many more kata.
Andre Bertel: So Sensei it is not necessary to do the course for technical superiority. So what about for learning to pass on karate to others? Could you expand on the teaching aspects of the course? Does the course teach people to instruct?
Tetsuhiko Asai: The instructors course as I said before does not teach the participants how to teach, but in other ways it does! The point of the course is to simultaneously instill exact kihon and Japanese budo spirit. In karate terms, with these two elements covered in depth, the course gives the graduates a very exact and orthodox base in Shotokan-ryu karate. That is not to say they will become high-class instructors, but if not, it is because they are simply not interested in instructing others. Kihon is everything in karate, and the perfection of kihon is what best describes the two years on the instructors course. The technically best karateka and the best teachers, come from the inside of each person, course or no course. Not federation, not style, or martial art, but how the individual trains and studies karate themselves.
Andre Bertel: In your 58 years of doing karate (Asai Sensei started after seeing a boxer overcome with a karate kick at 12 years of age) you must have had some funny incidents in your karate life. Maybe in the early days?
Tetsuhiko Asai: OK, OK, very funny story! At Takushoku University I was the craziest in the karate dorm because I had to be to make up for my size. Some days in summer we used to all run to the beach together for extra keiko. One day I ran into the water yelling like a madman "Bonzai" after telling everyone I would swim out to a marker, way out. Everyone was determined to be the strongest due to an upcoming event. As I expected, they followed me with great pride to be back first, including Mr. Enoeda, for the England readers of SKM. I then sneaked back without going in too far, and everyone swam out and back. The entire time I relaxed on the beach with a big Asai smile. But my smile did not last! Everyone was so amazed how I beat everyone, even though I never seemed to do any swimming at all. I was back so fast I was completely dry, and not even slightly tired! So I was drafted onto the Takushoku swimming team, which was unfortunately competing only in a few days time. I was put into the last position for the grand event, the relay. All I can tell you is that Takushoku was winning easily, until is was Asai's turn. I lost the huge lead we had in the very last lap. Actually I can barely swim at all, so here I was pulling myself along the pool lane with the rope to get to the end. Everyone was watching, very funny now but not then!
Andre Bertel: Sensei, thank you so much for this interview here in Ohope. Hopefully you enjoyed your time here in the North Island of New Zealand. Do you have any last comments for the SKM readers?
Tetsuhiko Asai: Yes, I would like to use the situation here in Ohope as an example for the readers about instruction. I have found that the karate of the instructors and dan examinees here, to be very low level. Instructors here need much help with their basic techniques and stances. But everyone must start somewhere, and with the willingness to improve here, coupled with self-training, there is hope. But this comes down to the standard of the instructors, and this means they need to change! I have spent most of my time here correcting bad habits, in saying that, it has been great having you fly here to train with me. Otherwise, my time here would have been very frustrating. Please practice the two new kata I have taught you. Also I hope that the instructors from up here can visit, and train with you in Christchurch, as it will dramatically help them to improve their standards.
Tetsuhiko Asai: My pleasure again Andre, please have a safe flight back to Christchurch and thank you so much for coming. You have again improved a lot. Hope to see you back in Tokyo again soon. My best wishes to all the people who read this interview from all karate groups, and to the editor Mr. John Cheetham. I am very lucky in my life to be an old man and still practice karate everyday, and keep improving step-by-step. It is my hope that others can do this too.
Don't forget INTERNATIONAL ASAI MEMORIAL DAY is on August 15th. This will be the First Anniversary of Asai Sensei's passing. Globally there will be a special practice. Be sure to complete the 1000 gyaku zuki and 1000 mae geri in memory of Sensei.