Saturday 14 July 2007

Half-way between the JKA and the Shoto-kai

It is my belief that the technique of Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei was half-way between the karate of Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei (the Japan Karate Association) and Shigeru Egami Sensei (the Shoto-kai).

This use of natural energy, combined with the refined form of the JKA, was Asai Sensei's 'technical aim'. The weakness of the Shotokai in his opinion, was its lack of decisive body action, whilst the weakness of the Nihon Karate Kyokai was the tendency to produce 'stiff' karateka (particularly outside of Japan). Sensei's attraction to the relaxed style of the Shotokai was so compelling, that in 1999 (prior to losing the name "JKA" at the final legal battle with the Nakahara group), he decided to name his new organisation 'Japan Karate SHOTOKAI'. Within a few years, the organisation already holding this name legally responded, and forced Asai Sensei to change names again, and the organisation was renamed as 'Japan Karate Shotorenmei' or 'Japan Karate Shoto-Federation'.

Regardless of organisation brand labels, the most important thing in karate is two-fold according to Asai Sensei. Firstly, that karateka do not 'misuse their skills' to cause unprovoked physical harm. And secondly, that ones technical development is relentless and never-ending, regardless of age, and rank. Asai Sensei added one more point in jest... "Don't use other groups names and stay away from lawyers".

The technical development in the karate that I'm TRYING to follow is this 'half-way' position that Asai sensei discovered, and engineered. That is, seeking the refined form of the JKA, and following their tradition of further refinement (via advancement in the various feilds of sports science). And also seeking smooth/fluid/relaxed karate, and the maximum transfer of energy, like that advocated by Shigeru Egami. I also vowed to follow Asai Sensei's advice to "avoid lawyers".

I'd like to add here that much of the fluid style Asai Sensei advocated was discovered through his brother-in-law in Taiwan who is a master of Chinese boxing (White Crane style). But interestingly enough, Egami was Asai Sensei's initial springboard for this interest.

The parallels with Egami's Shotokai came around 1960 when Asai Sensei needed to establish a better way to move/generate power, to deal with his physically larger/stronger peers (the likes of Hirokazu Kanazawa, Hiroshi Shirai and Keinosuke Enoeda). During those times, Shigeru Egami was apparently the most revered, and feared, Shotokan master in Japan. My only firsthand knowledge of Egami's karate is from Asai Sensei, however, I know that his 'technical form' was something he did not follow (he sincerely felt the 'outward form' of JKA was unsurpassed), but his use of energy was a mystery, to the then young Asai. This interest was the spark, assisting to open his mind to other methodologies, in particular the Chinese martial arts.

How can we constructively use these points to physically improve our karate? Very easily, take off the blinkers, and really look at your own karate during your self-training. Be brutally honest, train both hard and smart, and 'tick off' improvements as you go (if you love karate, then your self-improvement will always be the greatest motivator).

Like the great masters of karate, establish what works for you! I'd like to end by quoting my later teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko. "Always remember that 'forced-technique' is 'bad technique', regardless of what advancements you desire to make".

Gambatte kudasai,


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