Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 93

Featuring Kenjiro Kawanabe Interview
Changes in Japanese Karate and Karateka
Walking in Funakoshi's Footsteps
The Grading Experience

October 2007

Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 93

October 2007

Shotokan Karate Magazine Issue 150

December 2021

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SENSEI KENJIRO KAWANABE. Interview By Carlos Varon.








EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.

We had a huge response to Hamid Abassalty's article, 'Karate In Modern Japan ñ The Real Picture', in the last issue. And I have to say that the response was 100% positive. I don't recall receiving any critical letters or emails, in fact virtually everyone agreed with his bold statement that ... "The future of Traditional Karate lies in the hands of foreigners." Meaning that the majority of modern Japanese instructors are solely obsessed with the sport side of karate and success in competition! This aspect being the main focus in their teaching and training. There are of course MANY exceptions but generally what Hamid wrote is fact! I know many people loved the article and will be pleased to see that we have a follow-up in this edition.

Mike Clarke, a regular SKM contributor, has a quite different article this time. Mike, who lives in Tasmania, often visits Okinawa to train at the Jundokan (Goju-ryu) dojo where he has been a member for many years. On his last trip in March 2007, Mike visited many of the places which Gichin Funakoshi talked about in his book, 'Karate-Do My Way of Life'. It's like a journey into the past, 'Walking in Funakoshi's Footsteps'.

My article basically deals with training or rather maintaining training whilst carrying an injury. Many students stop training completely when injured which in serious cases in totally necessary. However, many times it is possible to carry on training whilst injured as long as it is done correctly by changing things to suit the type of injury you are carrying. There is often no need to have a lay-off and a good, knowledgeable instructor will advise and help you.

Whether you agree with the grading process in karate or not there's no argument that many students make massive improvement and progress by the extra training and focus they put in whilst preparing to take a grading examination. Ty Aponte's article addresses this very topic.

We have all heard of the older masters from Waseda university in Japan (the core of the Shotokai movement), e.g. senseis Egami, Okuyama, Ohshima, Harada, etc, who all studied karate at some point under Gichin Funakoshi in the latter part of the 1940's and early 1950's. However, one person not many of us know about is sensei Kenjiro Kawanabe who was also part of that same era, who trained alongside Ohshima and Harada (in the same class) and who was a personal friend of Okuyama (who was Kawanabe's benefactor). Kenjiro Kawanabe is still active teaching and training at the age of 76 at his dojo in Hon Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. This year his dojo celebrated it's 50th anniversary. This is a fascinating interview (from a historical viewpoint). The interviewer, and student of Kawanabe sensei, New York karateka Carlos Varon and myself decided not to change Kawanabe sensei's English in case we lost the essence of what he is trying to tell us. This way the story maintains its charm and innocence from someone who was actually there at a pivotal point in Japanese karate history.

Good Health, Good Training. Editor.

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Hirokazu Kanazawa sensei in sanchin dachi, teaching a Goju-ryu kata on a training course in Scotland in ‘90. (Photo By Jim Palmer).

Like many, many karateka I'd been carrying a knee injury (left leg) for a long time. Foolishly I ignored it hoping it would clear up and go away. Eventually it got to the stage where it was totally impossible to kneel down, as in the seiza posture. Strangely enough I could still train O.K. and still move quite fast, so I was relatively happy and just tolerated the occasional pain which occurred if I ran even a very short distance or when asleep when the leg had been in one position for a time. Otherwise life was normal. This went on for about three years until one stupid (on my part) incident happened.

I went to Amsterdam to train with Tom Kompier, who I rate very highly. On the first session I did with his class, which this particular night was an all Black-belt lesson, Tom warned us that it was going to be a gruelling night. He wasn't wrong there! We went through the 26 standard Shotokan kata plus Meikyo Nidan. We did each kata 3 times at full speed and power. After a while you just go on automatic pilot and pure 'spirit' and whatever stamina you possess keeps you going and gets you through.

At the end of the class which lasted about 1 hour and 20 minutes, we were all completely wrecked. The senior student shouted .... "SEIZA" (the kneeling position for mokuso). Now, I am a mature man and an experienced western karateka, not a 17 year old Japanese student from Takushoku university who will put up with any old shit which is thrown their way. So, what I should have done was politely say.... "Sensei, I'm very sorry but I have a knee injury and I can't kneel." And I know Tom would have understood completely. However, because I was in a foreign country and a guest at their dojo, I foolishly (out of politeness, respect for Tom and his dojo and maintaining tradition) knelt down in the seiza posture.... BAD MISTAKE!

After mokuso, which seemed to last a veritable lifetime (I was in so much pain and distress), Tom decided (bless him) to explain in detail why he had done such a lesson and this type of training on this particular night. It was a lengthy speech but basically the jist was that sometimes it's necessary to train outside of one's own comfort zone. This speech was all conducted of course whilst we were still in the seiza kneeling position. The pain was so bad that I actually thought I was going to pass out. How I managed to stand up after we had finished is still a mystery. Now, if there is a lesson to be learned from this so far, hopefully it's this.... DON'T DO WHAT I DID! You could live to regret it. If you have an injury problem, say so.

Thankfully I was O.K and later we had a great night out in a bar in Amsterdam. Forget cod liver oil, I always find that a few beers loosens up the joints, and also works as a wonderful anaesthetic.

Back home I carried on training as normal for the next two years (but never kneeling) until finally I realised that I needed serious treatment. I eventually organised to have an operation and had the surgery in January 2007. It was a very badly torn cartilage and a lot of wear and tear (God! Where have we heard that a million times before?). Now, nine months down the line and my knee is much better now and in fact actually functions just like it used to do, which brings me to the title of this article .... 'Re-Discovering Sanchin Dachi'.

The first time we (my club) really discovered sanchin dachi, was in our old dojo several years ago. It was a very old building. When Kagawa sensei did a course there in 1990 he commented on first seeing the place by saying, "Oh! Is it a Church?" At certain times depending on the weather conditions, the wooden floor would become like an ice-rink. It was so slippery and wet you could barely stand up. Using normal Shotokan stances was impossible. e.g. A long zenkutsu dachi, kokutsu or kiba dachi, and you would be on your arse quicker than you could say, Bruce Lee! So, on the odd occasion (depending on weather conditions) the only realistic stance you could use was sanchin dachi, sometimes for almost the whole lesson.

That was a great and new 'discovery' simply through conditions of the elements. You could also use hangetsu-dachi, but sanchin-dachi was better because it is a shorter version of hangetsu-dachi.

I have heard it said that sanchin dachi was originally developed (probably in Okinawa) for exactly this reason; fighting on wet, slippery surfaces. It certainly makes sense.

I think it's fair to say that Shotokan is noted and known for its deep, and sometimes long stances, especially in kihon (basic training) and kata. Most Shotokan dojo's (there will be exceptions) rarely use or practice sanchin dachi (hour glass stance) to any great degree. In fact the only time this stance, sanchin dachi appears in Shotokan kata, is in Nijushiho and Unsu. It's more commonly used in other styles, such as Goju-ryu.

I remember seeing a fight outside a night-club many years ago (I'd only just started karate at the time) and it was raining cats and dogs. Four young dudes were having a go with the one doorman. The pavement resembled one of those iced over lakes you see people skating on. They were slipping and sliding (and falling down) all over the place. There was quite an audience, it was like a comedy sketch. The doorman never moved (apart from his arms), he was stood there like a rock. I remember thinking at the time, "How's he staying on his feet, when these other guys are slipping and sliding all over the place?" He knocked two of them out-cold, the others gave up. I later learned that the doorman was a Goju-ryu instructor. Then I realised he was using, sanchin-dachi.

Because of my knee injury even after the surgery, doing a half decent basic stance, zenkutsu, fudo-dachi, kokutsu, or kiba dachi, all the stances we normally use, was totally out of the question. I could not bend my knee enough to make those stances even in han-dachi (half stance). However, if you love karate you just cannot stop doing it, it's as simple as that. You somehow have to find a way around your problem to enable you to continue practising. This is when I really re-discovered or maybe understood the importance of, and practical use of sanchin dachi, other than it being some strange stance that happened to occur in two Shotokan kata.

Technically, what I discovered about sanchin dachi is, that in fact you can actually move very fast from one stance to another (from A to B) when using only this little, narrow inside-tension stance. For example, when practicing kata. Let's take kata Heian shodan which is easy for everyone to relate to. What I found for me was this: from Yoi you step to the left with gedan barai as normal (but now you're solely working in sanchin dachi not zenkutsu dachi), but now how do I get to the second move (oi-zuki) as fast as possible without causing pain and more importantly more damage to my injured left knee? There was only one way .... to get the front-foot and knee quickly pointing in the direction I wanted to go. Remember in sanchin dachi stance, the lead foot is pointing inwards on about a 45 degree angle (see Kanazawa photo). So stepping quickly without changing the left foot direction could rip your knee to pieces. (Like the common injury to football/soccer players when they twist on the grass and their foot doesn't move, causing cruciate ligament and possible cartilage damage to the knee). So, moving/stepping to the oi-zuki from gedan barai in the second movement in Heian shodan using sanchin dachi, you have to firstly move your front (left) foot position/direction (which is pointing inwards 45 degrees) by twisting on the heel, about the same 45 degrees to point directly forwards, where it becomes the back foot (meaning you move your left foot about 45 degrees before you set off). Exactly what we are told not to do when moving in zenkutsu dachi. e.g. "Don't move your front foot first!" But if you don't do this in sanchin-dachi (when carrying a knee injury) you will be in big trouble. (see photo examples below).


The speed of movement from A to B in the Heian shodan example, (gedan barai to oi-zuki) is created by releasing the tension/contraction of the leg muscles in sanchin dachi, to enable you to spring forward into the oi-zuki. And spring is a good word to use because your legs in this inside-tension stance (sanchin dachi) should feel like a compressed spring which is about to be explosively released at any time, (from strong contraction in the stance, to expansion/relaxation throughout the movement from A to B, and back to contraction on completion of the stance). It's possible to get from A to B in sanchin dachi, very, very quickly, with practice.

Of course, like everyone else, I'd done sanchin-dachi thousands of times whilst practicing Nijushiho and Unsu and the odd time as a stance training exercise. But other than that, in truth, it was not a priority. However, with my injury, it was now literally the one and only stance whereby I could manage to continue practicing karate. It became a necessity. I'd always thought sanchin-dachi was a strong posture but not very mobile or practical. I don't think that now.

When it's all you have at your disposal and all you can physically use, (when injured) you just have to get on with it and find a way to use it effectively in your own training.

I now believe that sanchin-dachi is probably the best stance there is in the Shotokan style for the average karateka to capture a feeling that is beyond the scope of most karateka when performing long, deep stances. It's a way of strongly and dynamically connecting the upper-body (torso/arms/head) with the legs/hips and importantly, the floor. And it's also a way of capturing another feeling which we have heard about so many times, and that is, using the body like a whip. The discovery I found is that when in this short stance (sanchin dachi) with your inner-thigh muscles tightly contracted and squeezed-in, and your tailbone tucked right under making the spine completely straight, and your feet gripping and pushing down with maximum pressure to the floor, you can free your upper-body from the hips upwards. All that shoulder and neck tension can disappear and from the floor up, the legs become the strong but flexible 'handle' of the whip, and the upper-body working solely from the hips becomes the very relaxed but hugely powerful and speedy deliverer of the whip itself. You can't really teach a feeling, you can explain what needs to be physically done but a feeling is something you have to discover for yourself. It's definitely worth the effort.


Of course, when using sanchin dachi, you can't bounce around doing fancy combinations or sport type kumite, but you can generate a lot of destructive power and from a very close range. In fact that is the sole purpose of this stance, to fight from a very close distance with little room to manoeuvre. And let's not forget the fact that most real fights start from a distance of no more than 18 inches. It's also the only realistic stance you can use on a slippery, wet surface. So you can't say that sanchin dachi is not practical.

Another massive bonus to practicing this stance, especially whilst carrying a serious knee injury, is that all the physiotherapists will advise you to try and strengthen the thigh muscles as much as possible (especially the vastus medialis) to protect the injured knee. Usually by doing leg-extensions with weights or similar weight resistance exercises. Sanchin dachi enables you to squeeze all the leg muscles; calf, thigh, inner-thigh, hamstrings and buttocks, in an isometric contraction, all in one go. It's a leg-strengthening exercise in its own right. I showed it to my physiotherapist and he was very, very impressed, even though he thought the posture looked incredibly strange. He thinks karate is just a combat sport, just like judo.

Re-Discovering sanchin dachi, was for me, not through choice but rather through total necessity because of an injury, and this can happen to any of us. Thankfully, I'm now back to normal training but I've learned a lesson or two .... you don't have to stop training ... just change it to suit your situation. I have even enjoyed doing kata just using sanchin dachi and doing makiwara and bag-work has been a revelation because you can only rely on the power being generated from the hips with maximum relaxation of the upper body. Kumite practice can only be done from close range but, hey! What's wrong with that? The biggest criticism of Shotokan karate is that we can only operate from long range. I personally don't agree with that, but that's the way many other martial arts see us, and view what we do.

Well, I hope there's something in this article that can help with your training when injured and equally importantly, what to do and what not to do. Keep discovering and re-discovering, keep searching .... it's an endless journey. However, don't ignore your injuries, take good care of them or they will come back and bite you. As my friend Dr Bill Laich said to me .... "Always listen to Dr PAIN, he's telling you something's wrong."

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The magazine has been published since November 1984. Because it is a very specialised and Traditional magazine we only publish each quarter (March - June - September - December) . We do pride ourselves on featuring the most senior and famous Shotokan Senseis in the world in the magazine and it is totally non-political, we feature everyone from all the various organisations.