EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
There are many karateka within the Shotokan world who are doing, and have done excellent work in promoting, contributing and supporting our style of Karate-do. And not only the famous Instructors or Heads of organisations.
One such karateka is featured in this edition. Namely, the German author and karateka known only by his pen name as Schlatt. Schlatt is a very experienced karateka, instructor and superb technician.
He is a very colourful character who I first met when he attended a seminar here in Manchester, England that I organised in 2002 which featured sensei Masao Kagawa 8th Dan the Chief Instructor of JKS. The course was open to all karateka from various Shotokan Associations. Schlatt also, apart from training on the course, did all the translating for Kagawa sensei from Japanese to English.
In fact, Schlatt has worked tirelessly over the years and still does to this day as a translator for many senior Japanese sensei on various seminars throughout Europe, due to his fluent knowledge of the Japanese language. Every Shotokan karateka who has any interest in the Traditions, Kanji and meanings, understandings of Japanese terminology and kanji should have a copy of Schlatt’s incredible book, ‘The Shotokan Dictionary’. For me personally through my work with SKM, this book has been totally invaluable over the years in order to check correct spelling and terminology which we use in Traditional Shotokan Karate-do. This type of karateka deserve recognition I feel and hopefully through this interview kindly conducted in Germany by Dr Anton Sàlat, a close friend of Schlatt and fellow karateka, we will see what makes this particular karateka tick. I certainly congratulate Schlatt on the wonderful work he has done for Shotokan karate-do through his brilliant books.
Our second interview (conducted in South Africa by Seamus O’Dowd 5th Dan SKIF) with sensei Dave Friend 7th Dan JKA, is a very interesting read. Sensei Friend is certainly not afraid to say how SA karate has been affected by the politics in that country and also after visiting Japan to train at the JKA Honbu dojo over 30 times throughout the years, he is in a great position to tell us his thoughts and opinions on the old school instructors and the more modern JKA instructors who travel around the world teaching as did the original group in the early 1960’s e.g. senseis Kase, Kanazawa, Enoeda, Asai and Shirai, who were the main one’s at that time. Although of course Nishiyama sensei and Okazaki sensei went to America. This original group more or less formed the basis of what most of us in Shotokan are still practising today. We have had several interviews with karateka from South Africa which was and still is, a stronghold for Shotokan karate-do. This is such a good interview I simply had to include it even though it is a very lengthy piece.
My article is definitely a bit tongue in cheek, however, it’s an interesting point: check out your own mae geri and your students’, if you are an instructor!
Good health, good training. Editor.
Has Funakoshi Sensei Been Forgotten? By Francisco Estévez.
Today, Sunday April 23, 2017, is just 3 days away from another quite-significant date for many budoka around the world, and for Shotokan Karate adepts in particular, since it will mark the 60th Anniversary of sensei Gichin Funakoshi’s death. So my wife and I, both Shotokan Karate students, have decided to visit Funakoshi sensei’s grave which – contrary to the beliefs of many people outside Japan and as Shotokai Karate sensei Harada makes clear in Dr. Clive Layton’s wonderful “Reminiscences by Master Mitsusuke Harada” – is not located in the same place as his famous memorial monument at Engakuji Temple in Kamakura, but in a Zen temple some 30kms west of Tokyo.
It is a glorious morning and after a particularly cold winter, spring with its mild weather has finally settled in Japan. The cherry blossom that up until just two weeks covered the whole country with its unique pink shade, has gone now and all parks and open areas of the city and its outskirts shine with a bright green canopy of fresh leaves. While on the train that takes us from central Tokyo to our destination I cannot help but reflect on what Funakoshi sensei would think of the karate situation nowadays and realize how difficult it would be to provide a simple and objective answer to that question. For instance, as to the technical aspect, I think he would be positively surprised. A look into old films of karate tournaments and exhibitions of his time is more than sufficient to appreciate the refinement in some conventional karate techniques as well as the vast increase in repertoire. However, on another level, I think that Funakoshi sensei would have a hard time trying to recognize the art to which he dedicated his entire life, according to his conception of it.
In a very interesting interview given to Black Belt Magazine in 1972 by Funakoshi’s contemporary and JKA co-founder, Isao Obata sensei, he stated: “Karate is dying now, it cannot last longer than a few decades, it may pass on before I do”.
Well, as we all know, karate has not died but, on the contrary, it is very alive today so, was Obata sensei that wrong when he predicted the above? I don’t think so and I believe that he was referring not so much to the technical aspects of karate as such. I believe that Obata sensei, who lived for a further 19 years after the death of Funakoshi, saw with his own eyes the way karate was heading and in particular the beginning of the “karate business” era, unfortunately still thriving today. For karate business I do not only mean the huge source of revenue that karate has provided in the last decades to people who have never set a foot in a dojo or couldn’t care less about the spirit of Karate but also to the degradation of the art, the ever increasing number of swindlers and fake sensei of all kind taking advantage of the general public’s ingenuousness, the shameful strategy undertaken by many high ranking instructors who, in order to promote their organizations, travel around the globe giving Dan grades like hamburgers, etc., etc.
While Funakoshi sensei was alive the possibility that karate could one day become an Olympic discipline was not even contemplated since it was hardly known outside Japan at that time. Now that one of Funakoshi’s main ambitions has been completely fulfilled in that karate has spread to all corners of the world, although there are some that refuse to acknowledge this fact and still say that karate needs to be made “more popular” things are quite different. Preparations in this city for the 2020 Olympic Games are well on their way. Karate will make its debut and will be recognized as an Olympic “sport”. After years and years of endless political discussions and lengthy negotiations, and no shortage of bitter and ruthless arguments, karate will finally become part of the Olympics and with that, many of us believe, a big part of its essence as Budo will continue to fade away. No doubt that an event such as the Olympic Games will inspire the most noble ideals and aspirations in karateka throughout the world but their hard work and sacrifice will also become part of a machine which meshes genuine values with the darker side of show business. New rules on scoring have been designed by high ranking karate Officials. Some of them, curiously, cannot remember when was the last time they sweated in a karategi. They have become what could be called “executive karateka”. I cannot generalize here since I don’t know all WKF Officials but the ones I do know… I don’t recognize. They have grown beer-bellies now and claim not to have time to train any longer. It seems that they feel much more comfortable inside their offices and engaging in petty politics than training inside a dojo. Some of the rules have been devised with the purpose of turning Karate matches into something more appealing to the general public, although whether this will prevent Olympic Karate bouts from becoming as boring to watch as Judo and Taekwondo contests are today, is yet to be seen.
The world event, so much awaited by so many, will host a kata division too and one wonders whether kata will also undergo yet another degradation of their essence and meaning in favour of flashiness and choreographic beauty, with the ridiculous over long pauses and altered tempos – strongly encouraged by many instructors and which seem to impress so much judges and uninformed spectators alike. Wouldn’t it have been better, and wiser, to give this new Olympic version another name? A different name from the one to which Funakoshi renamed the art when he changed one of its two original characters so that it could be read “empty hand” with all the philosophical meaning behind that change?
Just last March, during the “29th International Seminar of Budo Culture” held at the International University of Martial Arts in Katsuura, here in Japan, participants were treated to World Karate Federation General Secretary Mr. Nagura Toshihisa sensei’s lecture “Karatedo: as Budo and an Olympic Sport”. In his dissertation he went on to state that the responsibility of keeping Karate as a pure form of Budo rests entirely with instructors, who should take good care to see that in their dojos both facets: Budo Karate and “Olympic Karate” were equally taught. A very utopic and naive thought by Mr. Toshihisa, in my opinion, more easily said than done. But, in any case, the mere fact that this kind of separation is being considered is a solid sign that yet another division within Karate is on its way. It will be interesting to observe what direction karate takes after 2020.
After 40 minutes we reach the small town of our destination. We get off the train and make the short 10 minutes walk from the station to the temple, adjacent to which is the cemetery with Funakoshi sensei’s grave and the mortal remains of most of his direct family. Being aware of how difficult it is for the Japanese to get days off work, I know that they take the opportunity to organize most of their religious rituals on Sundays or National Holidays, so I am anticipating finding a large gathering of Japanese Karate instructors and students from all over the country. However, when we arrive to the cemetery we find out that the reality is quite different. Opposite Funakoshi’s grave only nine gentlemen formally dressed for the occasion are seated while a monk facing the grave gets ready to perform a service. Nine people… that is all! I can well understand the absence of foreign karateka, but where are all the Japanese Shotokan instructors…? the same ones who have a picture of Funakoshi sensei hanging in their dojos. And what about their students…?, the ones who solemnly recite the dojo kun after class in front of those same pictures. In the previously mentioned book by Dr. Layton, Harada sensei who, as Isao Obata, learned karate directly from Funakoshi, expressed his anger and bitterness when back on April 26th 1998, in the same spot where I stand right now, not a single other person was present. He also stated his belief that Funakoshi seemed to have been forgotten already and his conviction that today’s karate is only about sports and making money.
Once the religious service has ended and the men have gone, it is our turn to burn some incense over sensei’s grave while offering some prayers of gratitude. The monk who performed the service approaches us and introduces himself as Choko Mochizuki, of the Nichiren branch of Buddhism, caretaker of the temple and cemetery. He kindly invites us to sit at the temple’s entrance while he prepares Japanese green tea that minutes later he offers to us, accompanied by traditional sembe (Japanese crackers). From him, we learn that the gentlemen who had requested a religious service in Funakoshi’s memory were representatives of the Japan Karate Do Shotokai Association. We enjoy a pleasant conversation with Mr. Mochizuki, but during the more than an hour that we stay there, nobody else comes to pay their respects and the only two bunches of flowers on sensei’s grave are the ones brought by the Shotokai representatives. When we leave the cemetery its already noon, and we wonder whether there will be an influx of Japanese karateka during what remains of the day. We doubt it.
It does seem that, as Harada sensei expressed back in 1998, Funakoshi sensei has been forgotten. In my opinion, whether this is true or not is not that important since the memory of him is, I believe, of a rather personal nature and something that has more to do with how each one of us feels towards him and to what the task he accomplished brought to our lives.
What he would think of today’s karate, I am convinced too, does not bother in the slightest a big majority of Shotokan Karate Officials in positions of power within the most relevant karate governing bodies worldwide. What really matters is that along with Funakoshi sensei, most of his ideas and ideals have been or are being forgotten too. I am not referring here to some idealistic or romantic Budo concepts, but to the same noble ideas and ethical fundamentals he believed in and that were an essential part of the karate he conceived and taught. And that, I believe, is the real shame and, at the same time, a fact that should act as a red flashing light to all Shotokan instructors and students throughout the world. Unless a huge effort with a big dose of analysis, self criticism and willingness to amend past mistakes is made by all, and very particularly by those who could promote changes, the current situation will never revert. The noble Path of the Empty Hand divulged by Gichin Funakoshi and many other karate masters of the past will continue to mutate and move away from its original goals, regardless of how many portraits of him hang in dojos. For many, it has already turned into the “path of the full hand”…(of money).
On a final note, just to mention that last week, when I phoned Mr. Mochizuki to ask his permission to include his photo in this article, I took the opportunity to ask him whether attendance on April 26th, had been different to that of the day of our visit. Sadly, he confirmed to me what I had anticipated: only a small delegation of karateka from Southern Japan visited sensei’s tomb.
Francisco Estévez, Author of “Through the Eyes of the Master: a Conversation with Funakoshi Sensei on the Other Side.”