Interview with Master Hirokazu Kanazawa

Whilst living in Japan in the early ’90’s, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Kancho Hirokazu Kanazawa, founder and head of Shotokan Karate International. I initially met with Kancho Kanazawa at the 5th International Seminar of Budo Culture, and to be able to subsequently interview at his dojo in Tokyo. This interview was later published in the now-defunct Australasian Fighting Arts magazine…..Master Hirokazu Kanazawa is a man who would need little introduction in the martial arts community. The President and Head Instructor of the Shotokan Karate International Federation (SKI), Kanazawa Sensei is one of the pioneers of Shotokan Karate in the West.

Kanazawa Sensei has studied Shotokan style Karate since his youth. After graduating from University, he entered the famous Instructors Course of the Nihon Karate Kyokai (Japan Karate Association). Kanazawa Sensei was fortunate to have had the opportunity to train under the watchful eye of Master Gichin Funakoshi, one of the leading figures responsible for the introduction of Okinawan Karate to Japan, and subsequently to the West.

After graduating from the JKA’s Instructors Course, Sensei Kanazawa resided in Europe for many years, where he was a Senior Instructor with the JKA. In modern times, Kanazawa Sensei has established his own organisation, the SKI, which is dedicated to expanding the teachings of Kanazawa Sensei’s style. While Shotokan Karate is, without doubt, one of the hard styles of Karate, Kanazawa Sensei is enthusiastic about the direction of his own training and research into the softer side of Budo. This, coupled with his gentle and friendly nature, serves to convince all who meet him that he is truly a gentleman. However, all those who have the opportunity to see Kanazawa Sensei in action will be impressed by his ability and the power that his 60-year-young body can generate.

I conducted this interview in 1993 at Kanazawa Sensei’s impressive new Hombu Dojo in the Tokyo suburb of Kugahara. This interview was originally published in the now-defunct magazine, Australasian Fighting Arts, and has been posted on as a good reference article for interested karateka.

Sensei, I would like to start by asking you to describe some of your recollections of Master Gichin Funakoshi.

Yes, when I was a university student, and of course after graduating, wwhen I came to the JKA Instructors Training, Funakoshi Sensei was still alive and visited us and taught. After I graduated (from University), mostly he didn’t change into a gi, but he watched us and guided us and asked questions.

In my University time, sometimes he changed into a karate gi and advised us. I especially remember him, because I always picked up Funakoshi Sensei, along with my classmate, Mr Haru, who is teaching in Malaysia.

Mr Haru and I mostly went to pick up Funakoshi Sensei and bring him to Takushoku University. He came for Shodan Shinsa – grading examinations – and special courses. At these times, all Universities came to one Dojo and trained together. Gradings were the same – all together. Now, each University has independent gradings, but in our time, all were together.

He mostly wore geta (Japanese sandles), and sometimes higher geta. I was always worried about him. I hoped he wouldn’t fall down. He was already 80 years old, or near 80 years. Funakoshi Sensei always said, “Next year I am 80 years old”. He was always polite. When passing Yasukuni Jinja (a famous Shrine in Tokyo) or the Palace in a car he always took off his hat. Like a bow. Very, very correct behaviour. Always a gentleman.

Recently Sensei, you were at the International Seminar of Budo Culture, held at the International Budo University as the Shihan of Karate. What are your thoughts on this seminar and its value to the modern budo world?

articles: kanazawa01.jpgI think it’s very good, because many international Budoka come to one place and live, eat and train together, at the same time experiencing other training, and also their own Budo. That is good.

But it’s mostly the same people (participants) each year. I hope the Budokan (the organisers of the seminar) will make some new lectures and programs. Nearly the same lectures every year. Also I think that some of the Shihan should conduct lectures, even if only for half an hour. And they must give more question time to participants. Definitely. A lot of good questions were left unanswered because of time.

I was very interested in the final lecture at which you and some of the other Budo’s Shihans discussed the meaning of “Shi” (meaning master or teacher). Could you please give a brief overview on your thoughts on the importance of Shi – being a teacher / Sensei.

“Shi” is actually something I cannot say about myself. I can’t say “I am Shi”. ‘Shi’ is something other people can say about you. If I respect my teacher, if I love him, then he might be ‘Shi’. It’s different things to people. Whatever I do, good or not good, is my spirit, my ‘Shi’.

Shi has a very, very wide meaning.

You also reflected about a story about one time when you went to England……

Yes, England. I suppose I can’t forget that. I was surprised. Fourteen or fifteen years ago, I went to Germany to teach. After one week of teaching, I was supposed to fly to London. I went to the airport and thought I still had enough time and ordered some tea. Then I heard the announcement, but the tea hadn’t come. So I had to wait. Afterwards, the plane had gone.

So I went back to Mr Nagai’s home and decided to spend one more week in Germany. I was living in England, and didn’t worry as I had nothing special to do. I was worried about my friend and student who was supposed to meet me. But I couldn’t contact him. I thought that when I didn’t come out of the plane, he would understand and go home.

After one week, the next Friday, I arrived in London, and my friend was waiting. I just said “Oh, thank you”, and he took me home. The next day I asked him how he knew I was coming on that day. He said he didn’t know. Everyday he came to the airport to meet that plane.

I was very surprised.

Sensei, you once comment that Shotokan is a young man’s style. Could you expand on the meaning of that comment?

Yes. Actually ‘ryu’, styles, are for different generations. Styles, kata, looks are only for different generations. Shotokan is more for physical improvement, for young men. Next Gojuryu is good for making a strong body. The next one, Shitoryu, is more artistic. Not hard.

Therefore Funakoshi Sensei didn’t say Karate is styles. He didn’t talk about ‘ryu’.

Many teachers from Okinawa say Shorinjiryu or Shorinryu or Itosuryu or Naha-te or Shuri-te. Funakoshi Sensei never talked about ‘ryu’. Just Karate. Later Karatedo.

Therefore Funakoshi Sensei’s stance and movement was the same as that as Shitoryu. Short stance, higher. But he said to us: “You are young men, so you must have wider, deeper stances.” Because we were students, young men, we wider, deeper stance, faster movement. Strong!

I think in his mind there were many types of teaching. Funakoshi Sensei taught mostly University students, therefore deeper, faster Karate, like the present Shotokan. His style was faster, shorter…

So actually the Karate he taught looked different to the Karate he practised?

Very different.

Therefore I think a part of Funakoshi Sensei’s style is the present Shotokan. In his mind it was much bigger.

You yourself are known for practising Tai Chi, a softer form of Budo. I presume that in this way you are trying to follow Funakoshi Sensei’s example?

Yes. Tai Chi is for older people. More than Shitoryu. Tai Chi is better for older people. Tai Chi helps make a softer, supple body.

So Budo, as a lifelong art, must be adapted for different age groups?

Yes. I demonstrate hard and fast because I have to teach to students. But my own way looks more like Shitoryu. This is better for me.

Is this why you have introduced other kata, such as Seienchin, to SKI?

Yes, I used to emphasise Kyogi Kata (competition kata). It’s harder, and the stop is on the focus point. This is for two reasons. One is for strong body focus and the other is for character improvement.

Now, I think flowing kata is valuable too. Like this. (Sensei demonstrated a flowing kata he is developing). The focus point is on completion. This type of kata is in my mind. Maybe at the end of this year I will teach it to some of the instructors.

Hard kata is hard for me. I am already 60. This type is for me now. My image kata. Maybe I will offer this to the Zen Ku Ren (the JKF – Japan Karate Federation). If the accept, then okay. If not, no problem.

I once heard of an interesting statement made by Master Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) that Shiai (competition) means “to test together” (based on the meanings of the ideograms used in the word ‘Shiai’). Thus, he stated, actual competition is not as important as the process of testing techniques.

Yes, shiai means testing. Testing yourself. Everyday training is important, but it is hard to know how much you are improving. Therefore, shiai is important. Also for the opponent.

Shiai tests yourself and your opponent. We can see his level. We learn to read the opponent – his mind and technique.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of Karate entering the Olympics?

The Karate population is big, so maybe the IOC cannot say no. Its very difficult.

For sports, it must be easy to see who is winning. Clear decision. But now it is mostly the referees decision. Very confusing. Sometimes the winner is not happy, the loser is not happy.

Maybe Karate is not ready for the Olympics. Karate people need to improve the competition. But if we don’t have enough control, its not Karate.

How about the use of protective equipment like Anzen Bogu, and controlled contact?

Maybe this type of equipment, connected to a machine with lights to show good technique. Like fencing. Then maybe it can be fair. But in fencing only a touch is needed.

But in Karate there must different scores for different strength, shown by different coloured lights. Then the fight must go full time without stopping. Two minutes, and referees recognising a technique when it happens.

Good jodan geri (head kicks) should be double points. Then it looks like Karate. Only punching does not look like Karate.

In Europe, I was there six years, I made some rules like that. Therefore, European people kick more to the head. One time I took a Japanese team to Mexico. The Japanese team was punch-punch-punch. The European team was kick-punch-kick. Jodan kicking.

Why? Not only the teaching method, but the rules of competition are important.

Sensei, you are famous for your practise of the Nunchaku. What do you believe is the value of the practice of Buki (weapons) for Karateka?

I like Kobudo (the practice of ancient weapons) because Karate was Kobudo a long time ago. But Karate has improved for modern times.

At last, Karate became an independent Budo, like brothers. Karate and Kobudo are brothers. All of them are brothers – nunchaku, tonfa, sai, jo, bo, kai, kama. Therefore if we do some part of Kobudo, not necessarily all, we can keep the feeling of Karate. How it developed.

For example, now I live in Tokyo, actually Chiba, but if I see a fishing boat I remember my home town, where I was born. Same meaning, therefore I respect Kobudo.

Nunchaku is my favourite. Before nunchaku, sai was my favourite. But now, nunchaku.

Bo or bokuto can be stopped, but nunchaku cannot be stopped. It’s good for learning to understand circular movement. If not correct, then ‘PON!’, you get hit!

Nunchaku is natural, circular movement. Same as Tai Chi or Aikido. Actually its both (circular and linear).

Like a car, the wheels go round, but the pistons go up and down. Same with a punch, the arm is straight, but the hips are circular.

Sensei, could you describe your personal philosophy?

Positive and negative philosophy is important. For example, if you have completely different opinion to me then I automatically try to think of your position. If we understand each other, then we don’t fight. This philosophy is very important.

Sensei, thank you very much.

You’re welcome. Thank you.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank Sensei Danny Hakim, 4th Dan, of SKI Australia, whose help in arranging this interview is greatly appreciated.

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