Mike Clarke

  • Learning karate the Japanese way (whether you like it or not)

    Mike Clarke

    In the words of the man all Shotokan karateka, regardless of affiliation, look to as their founding father, there is no mention of (true) karate being competitive. Nor do his words point to the need to be better than anyone else. His words offer advice to the individual, because karate can only exist in the heart and mind of the individual. Irrespective of how large the group, or how legendary the leader, karate itself remains unconstrained by group ego and tribal thinking. Regardless of the cognitive duality some are happy to accommodate, you simply can’t have ‘alternative’ truths. Why? Because a variety of truths lead to friction, and eventually to hell. Here’s a basic truth that’s often ignored, Funakoshi Gichin sensei never practiced, or taught, Shotokan, his karate was Okinawan Shorin-ryu.

  • Mike Clarke

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  • Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 132

    Issue 132




    SENSEI KOJI ARIMOTO 3rd Dan JKS. Interview By Alan Campbell.
    WHAT’S IN A TITLE? By John Cheetham.
    SENSEI MIKE CLARKE 8th Dan Goju Ryu. Interview By Barbara Langley.

    EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.

    I think it was admirable that JKS England invited Koji Arimoto to teach on their Technical seminar. There were no preconceptions regarding his Dan status: at sandan grade he was teaching people with far higher Dan rankings, but they happily accepted his superior technical ability, it being a Technical seminar.

    A while ago we practised a drill at our dojo which got me re-thinking about the idea behind the Philosophy of Traditional Karate-do and how it ties in with the technique and the science behind the technique. The drill was as follows....One person holds a pad/shield against their torso, covering their chest and stomach. The other person punches gyaku zuki in two different ways. We purposely used gyaku zuki as this is one of Shotokan’s and indeed karate’s signature techniques. We practised two separate ideas, one: where the pad holder remains still and the puncher lunges forward in an ‘attacking action’ utilizing all the bodyweight and forward momentum etc, behind the punch. Secondly: this time the pad holder rushes forward aggressively and the puncher adopting a ‘defensive action’, punches to stop the on-coming attack with gyaku zuki, which ‘must’ be described as a defensive manoeuvre, (technically outlined here by the late Hidetaka Nishiyama)....

    “The rear leg is pressed hard against the floor, and the resulting reaction-force is passed through the body and arm to the striking hand, adding force to the punch. In even more complex fashion, when the hand strikes the target, the shock of the blow is passed through the body to the legs and floor and then is reversed back to the punching hand, adding further force to the blow.”

    This is definitely NOT about what is best, no, this is about the ‘philosophy’ and original technique. I feel we are losing sight of this ‘philosophy’ and mostly because of the importance placed on Sport Karate. Show me a pre-war photo from Okinawa or from Gichin Funakoshi where there is a lunging, all out attack, competition style punch? The original technique idea, described by Nishiyama has solid scientific back-up, which was linked directly with the self-defence philosophy. Remember, our Art was originally created by men of peace, Buddhist Monks, as a system of ‘Self-defence’ and not as a ‘Fighting’ system. And here lies the important philosophical difference. Gichin Funakoshi’s philosophy was that karate-ka were decent, moral people and karate was a way to protect themselves, to defend themselves in case they were ever attacked. It was not meant to be used by people who wanted to fight, to use violence. Hence the Funakoshi tenet, “There is no first attack in Karate.” To my mind this philosophy and very often this ‘original’ technique has been lost. I stress once more that there is a massive connection in ‘original karate’ between philosophy and technique. Modern WKF Sport Karate does not have this philosophy and certainly does not utilize the original defensive technique described by Nishiyama! Not that I’ve ever witnessed.

    Good health, good training. Editor.

    SENSEI MIKE CLARKE 8th Dan. Interview By Barbara Langley.

    Mike Clarke 8th Dan Goju Ryu
    Mike Clarke 8th Dan Goju Ryu. A regular contributor to SKM for over 25 years.

    Born in Dublin, Ireland, in May 1955, from the age of three Mike Clarke grew up in Manchester, England. He began practising karate in January 1974, and continues to do so. For the past 30 years, he has lived in Australia. From there he has continued to visit Okinawa regularly, and practise and teach karate and kobudo in his private dojo attached to his home.

    His latest book, Redemption, was released by YMAA Publishing in May last year to critical acclaim. Although known internationally for his magazine work, Mike’s books have also proven popular and are found in public libraries, as well as the private libraries of many budoka around the world.

    How did you get to that title?

    The book is autobiographical. A memoir exploring my troubled teenage years prior to discovering karate and the ten years that followed. First published in the UK in 1987 under the title Roaring Silence, this is a completely re-written and much expanded telling of the story. The sub-title, ‘a street fighter’s path to peace’ points to the direction my life has taken since walking into a dojo for the first time. The title came about through discussion with my publisher in America; they felt it was a more direct pointer to the story within the book.

    How many books, magazines articles, have you written?

    In 1984, a request from Terry O’Neill, publisher of Fighting Arts International Magazine, (now out of circulation) to write about my experiences studying karate in Okinawa, began my writing career. Since then I’ve had over five-hundred magazine articles published in several languages other than English, including Japanese, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian. And of course contributing articles to Shotokan Karate Magazine for over 25 years.

    To date I’ve had six books published, although I consider ‘Redemption’ a completely different book from its previous incarnation, as readers will have a totally different experience when reading it.

    What has been your most successful piece of writing?

    Although I consider everything I write that goes on to be published a success, perhaps the most popular piece of work to date has been my fourth book, ‘The Art of Hojo-Undo’. For some reason it really caught the imagination of karate’s ‘reading’ public, and continues to inspire a great many people to invest more of themselves into their training, rather than simply wait to be told what to do all the time. The book has been translated into Italian, and has attracted many awards when it was published, including a Silver Winner 2010, Independent Publisher’s (IP) Living Now Award, first runner up Eric Hoffer Award, Endorsements in IP’s Highlighted Title Award; it was also a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards, as well as the USA Best Book Awards.

    These things may not mean much to people outside the book publishing industry, but they reflect a level of peer recognition for the skill of writing that ‘self-published’ books relating to karate evade.

    My fifth book, ‘Shin Gi Tai’, has also attracted several awards, and although I try to avoid feeling ‘pride’ relating to anything I do in life, I am pleased that I seem to have managed a level of skill in my writing that is reflected by such awards. Just like karate, it’s one thing to ‘think’ you’re doing okay, and quite another to have your seniors and peers feel the same way and let you know.

    Actually, my favourite piece of writing is not related to karate at all, it’s a series of children’s stories I wrote some years ago. They were on the verge of being published by a London publishing house when the deal fell through. Since then, my life has been too busy to pursue another publishing contract for that work, but I would like to at some point.

    Mike Clarke 8th Dan Goju Ryu
    “My most popular book has been, Hojo-Undo.” (Training with traditional equipment).

    My fifth book, ‘Shin Gi Tai’, has also attracted several awards, and although I try to avoid feeling ‘pride’ relating to anything I do in life, I am pleased that I seem to have managed a level of skill in my writing that is reflected by such awards. Just like karate, it’s one thing to ‘think’ you’re doing okay, and quite another to have your seniors and peers feel the same way and let you know.

    Actually, my favourite piece of writing is not related to karate at all, it’s a series of children’s stories I wrote some years ago. They were on the verge of being published by a London publishing house when the deal fell through. Since then, my life has been too busy to pursue another publishing contract for that work, but I would like to at some point.

    How long have you been studying martial arts and which particular art?

    I began training in karate at the beginning of 1974. For the first ten years, I studied the Japanese system of Tani-ha Shito-ryu, more commonly known as ‘Shukokai’. I represented England within the Shukokai World Karate Union, at home and abroad, throughout 1976 and 1977, taking part in both kumite and kata tournaments.

    Although I considered sport karate exciting and fun as a young man, I began to dislike the ‘human nature’ stuff that went on behind the scenes, the corruption I guess you could call it. So I looked for something more meaningful within karate, that’s when I discovered the Okinawan training methods. In early 1984, I travelled to Okinawa and entered the dojo of Morio Higaonna sensei, a well-respected teacher of Goju-ryu karate: I’ve studied Goju-ryu ever since.

    Sorry to be blunt, but what is your rank within karate?

    I was promoted to 2nd dan during my ten years practising Shito-ryu, by Yasuhiro Suzuki sensei who was then the Chief instructor for the Shukokai in Europe. When I began studying Goju-ryu in Okinawa 1984 I started over, and didn’t take another promotion test for several years. I had no problem starting over, or accepting another 1st and 2nd Dan rank when they came along. Far too much is made of ranks and titles. When I was awarded 7th dan in August 2004, I was given an additional title ‘Kyoshi’, which loosely translated means ‘Expert Teacher’. My current grade is 8th Dan Okinawan Goju-ryu. But what I’m most pleased about as far as rank is concerned, is the fact I have been training in Okinawan kobudo for ten years and, so far, I’ve managed to avoid obtaining any rank at all.

    Do you have a dojo?

    I had a small private dojo that formed a part of my home, (in Tasmania). I practise karate and kobudo most mornings. A small number of students stopped by the dojo throughout the week, and at that time I focused my attention on helping them to discover the essence of karate for themselves. (Mike has now relocated to Western Australia from Tasmania and has constructed an Okinawan style dojo in his new home (see photo below, Editor).

    What inspired you to write this book?

    Originally, back in 1985, it was an attempt to document the early years of my struggle to grow up, and to stop blaming others for the shortfalls in my life. Also the difficulties I had understanding the concept of ‘budo’.

    But more than that, I hoped to inspire others to step out of their comfort zone and take a leap of faith in their ability to achieve great things by developing the courage to accept ownership of their life.

    Dr Dave Hooper 4th Dan JKA
    When Mike Clarke recently moved from Tasmania to Western Australia, one of the first things he did was to convert his garage into an Okinawan style dojo for his own personal daily practise.

    How long did it take?

    As with all my work, the initial writing never takes that long; it’s the polishing over and over of the text that requires the really hard work. It’s no easy task to read the same words over and over again while paying close attention to what you’re reading. In that regard it’s a lot like coming to grips with karate, you have to apply yourself diligently; otherwise nothing worthwhile will come of it.

    Anybody can string a whole lot of words together, and these days they can self-publish what they write and in that way become ‘authors’. Having a book published by a reputable publishing house is a different matter altogether. Again, the parallels between karate and writing are easily seen here; you can either develop yourself and your skills so that you might achieve something worthwhile; or you can take the easy route by doing your own thing and calling it by the same name.

    What is the most outstanding feature about this book?

    The last page … it comes as such a relief! Seriously though, that’s a difficult question to answer. However, if pressed, I would have to say the standout feature of the book for me is the honesty with which it was written. I have no axes to grind, no heroes to worship, so the story is authentic—as authentic as I could have made it.

    Although this is my story, I am by no means unique with regards to how budo can provided an avenue to a better life. Many people have improved their lives through their involvement with budo and karate in particular. This book will both endorse and challenge the reader in many ways they may not expect. My hope is that my story will prove useful; exactly how that usefulness transpires will be up to the reader.

    Why would anyone want to read it?

    Insomnia…this book will fix it! As you can see, I have a problem taking myself too seriously. I take my training seriously, I have taken being a writer and a karateka seriously…but a world without humour is a very dull place indeed, and I wouldn’t want to live there.

    Mike Clarke 8th Dan Goju Ryu
    “My karate and kobudo training continue to be a valuable part of my daily life.”

    Is there anything in this book that relates to national or world topics?

    Oh, yes! Karate is a living, growing, entity so as the world moves on so too does the story of karate. I think a good number of my observations around human nature will strike a chord with many readers; I include references to the behaviour of Lance Armstrong, for example, and the corruption uncovered within the world of Sumo, and it’s more recent counterpart in the world of soccer. All of these things reflect the nature of power, money, and ‘perceived’ authority.

    To suggest that the hundred million plus karateka that are said to be in the world today are not subject to similar levels of corruption is naive in the extreme. It may not be something many people want to hear, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saying. I have no doubt that I cannot change the ‘karate’ world, but I can, and have, changed my karate world. It’s a place free of the corruption and pettiness that has such an insidious grip upon the overwhelming majority of karateka today.

    After this book, what’s next?

    My karate and kobudo training continues to be a valuable part of my daily life. As I move ever closer to old age I plan to practise karate and kobudo until I can no longer manage to continue. When I turned sixty years old in 2015 I had a complete medical check-up. My doctor told me that even though my chronological age was sixty, my biological age was only fifty-three…he didn’t comment on my mental age … but I’m taking that as a good sign!

    Mike, thank you for expressing your thoughts here.

    You’re very welcome, thanks for your interest.

    (As you may know from the last edition, Mike Clarke has now retired from his writing career, therefore I have featured this interview as a tribute to Mike and his brilliant work for SKM over the past 25 years. We received dozens of letters from SKM readers expressing their sadness at hearing this news. Mike’s philosophical writing has had a profound effect on many karateka of all ages over the years. He leaves a huge gap regarding such contributions. He will be sadly missed by many SKM readers and myself included).EDITOR.

  • Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 75





    Letters to the Editor.
    THE 'MYTH' OF HIP POWER. By Gary Purdue.

    Only Available on cd

    EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.

    I really like Mike Clarke's article and we will all have our own views regarding his question. For me personally, the 'scientific' approach/method is most advantageous from the 'injury free' perspective. Not regarding 'technique' as such. If one stays 'injury free' then this must surely have an affect on longevity in training (and in life generally)? So, if sports science can tell us, 'what not to do', then I'll have some of that, thank you! However, if a technique 'works', then that's good enough for me. 'Why' it works scientifically, is not 'the' priority. Although, it's still fascinating from the knowledge aspect i.e. learning about body dynamics.

    I honestly think that Scott Langley's article will 'shock' many people! The level of brutality he endured on the JKS Instructors course in Japan, considering this is 'now' and not the 1960's or 70's, is quite unbelievable, and there will no doubt be some varying views on this subject? You might think he was extremely brave and courageous and showed amazing 'bottle' (spirit) to endure such an intense training regime, or you may think that anyone who would put up with shit like that must be absolutely stupid or outright mad? It will be interesting to see what readers make of it, I look forward to that!

    Another story features a man well known and highly respected on the USA Shotokan scene. A former US national and international competitor and someone who has dedicated his life to the art, sensei James Field 7th Dan ISKF. Thanks to Dr Farid Amin who visited and trained with sensei Field at the JKA of Santa Monica dojo and kindly supplied SKM with the profile and account of his experience.

    We get many letters from beginner students who often ask the 'impossible' (to answer) question... "Which techniques should I practice to be most effective in a self-defence situation?" There's really no answer to that one, which seems strange to a new practitioner of the art. It's all relative to each individual's ability, mental attitude and experience. With 'mental attitude' being the operative phrase here! But I've tried to point out in the 'Empi Waza' article, a few things that virtually all experienced karateka have come to understand and more than likely could put into practice. These are techniques which don't require a great deal of finesse or complex motor skills to be able to apply!

    Talking about mental strength, I recently watched a great T.V. show, 'Celebrity Boxing' where two 'celebs' trained for six weeks to fight each other for money (for charity). The professional boxing trainers pushed these guys far, far 'beyond' their physical and mental limits, so make of that what you will? But once the pressure, fear and exhaustion set in, (during the actual fight) then all the technique training and coaching they previously had, went 'completely' out of the window, and they were only left with whatever 'mental strength' they had!

    I think Gary Purdue's article will cause a bit of a stir, it's quite controversial and even non-traditional? Shotokan senseis 'generally' state that power is generated from the HIPS or hip region. Gary Purdue contradicts this theory and says that power in karate is generated, like in all other sports, from the LEGS. It's a point!? Good Health and good training. Editor.

  • SKM 132

    June 2017