EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
Scott Middleton 6th Dan is a fairly young but very experienced karateka and a senior instructor with WTKO. Obviously the ‘T’ stands for Traditional and you can see from sensei Middleton’s words that this aspect is very important to his karate. Scott Middleton appears to support the Budo approach to karate-do and does not advocate the idea of karate becoming an Olympic Sport. I think it’s a great interview.
In ‘Blast from the Past’ we have a short but fascinating interview featuring New York sensei, Maynard Miner 9th Dan ISKF who trained at the original JKA dojo (from 1955-58). This is pure Shotokan history!
I’m sure by now readers will know that I have no real passion for WKF Sport karate and the idea of karate as an Olympic sport leaves me cold. I just watched a Japanese girl performing kata Unsu on Youtube. Her technique was flawless, but to me it was superficial, purely cosmetic, it was a great athletic exercise, but meaningless karate!
It seems that there has always been various movements in karate, now there are Traditional, Sport and Practical karate groups without question. The latter being those groups who’s focus is on authentic karate as propagated originally in Okinawa purely for self-defence with no Sporting connection. Traditional Karate to my mind is the karate formed in the 1950’s by senseis Nakayama, Nishiyama, Shoji etc, the original JKA instructors, who it has to be said instigated this whole competition (sport) karate movement. Like it or not, the Sport idea all stems from those formerly mentioned senseis, who went against the wishes of their sensei, Gichin Funakoshi who adamantly opposed competition karate. Only the Shotokai group followed Master Funakoshi’s wishes and refused to go down that path and still do to this day.
Whichever way you follow is up to the individual, and does it really matter as long as you are honest with yourself as to why you practise karate. We all have different views and preferences, there’s a choice in karate now, the Practical, the Traditional, or the Sporting path. Or as some people do, you could follow a mixture of all three!
Some seniors now think that karate as an Olympic sport, might possibly be a good thing and for this reason: because then everyone will know exactly where they belong. At least then the Traditional karate and Practical karate groups can attract students who have no interest in WKF Olympic Sport Karate, if it’s a success of course! I will not be following it’s progress. However, I do appreciate that many young karateka will be excited by the prospect of competing in the Olympics. And why not if Sport karate is their goal? Thankfully, for older karateka, competition karate of any kind is a bit futile! But ask yourself this question; if you were a young karateka (again) and a really keen, fervent competitor, with very good ability, would the Olympic idea appeal to you?
We have had to increase the price of the magazine, (for the first time in 15 years) the cost of production and postage caught up with us some time ago. I sincerely hope you understand and appreciate this.
Good health, good training. Editor.
MAYNARD MINER 8th Dan ISKF. A BLAST FROM THE PAST. Interview By Farid Amin.
Nestled deep in the heart of Brooklyn is the Flatbush Shotokan Karate Dojo, founded and operated by Sensei Maynard Miner 9th Dan ISKF. Mr. Miner, while quiet and extremely reserved, has an impeccable martial arts pedigree, dating back to the early post war JKA era. As an enlisted Army soldier stationed in Japan, Mr. Miner trained in a small movie studio under the watchful eyes of JKA’s finest.
I have observed Mr. Miner over the past 50 years and have been consistently impressed by his humble manner and tranquil continence. While I have seen him in action only on rare occasions, it is patently clear that his technical skills are highly cultivated. In regional and national tournaments, his students were typically strong, creative and incredibly disciplined. His paced ascension up the ranking ladder and nominal national appointments never seemed to match his karate acumen or massive potential. Nonetheless, much like a dedicated soldier, he has remained steadfast as a pillar in the Shotokan karate community over several tumultuous decades.
Few in the US traditional karate circles know much about this quiet giant. As a young teenager, I heard his name mentioned often by an assortment of high-level players. My father, Najib Amin, a senior ranking instructor and contemporary of Mr. Miner, always spoke of him in glowing terms. During a quiet moment, at a recent karate event, my father asked Mr. Miner if he had seen Master Funakoshi while in Japan. The answer he offered speaks volumes about the man and his character. “There was an older gentleman who would attend classes now and then, sitting quietly, watching the students practice”.
I felt compelled to request an interview and get more details about this karate pioneer. Thankfully, he consented and with the help of his senior student, Ron Johnson and my father, I was able to glean a sharper view of this dynamic and dedicated instructor. This un-edited interview was laced with humor and colorful anecdotes.
FA: When did you first hear about karate and what sparked your interest?
I was travelling on a ship overseas as a young army recruit and heard talk of a martial art that made people invincible. It sounded interesting and I decided to check out the training once I was settled in Japan. I arrived in mid 1955.
FA: How were you able to balance the training and your military obligations?
I attended to my military duties during the daytime. Therefore, I had the freedom to travel and explore other interests during the evening and weekends.
FA: How were you received in general (in Japan) and in the dojo?
In general, people were very accommodating and pleasant. They had little direct interaction with African Americans so there seemed to be some curiosity. In the dojo all of the non-Japanese students were treated the same. As I recall there was another American there, a Mr. Fusaro, who trained on a regular basis. It was a long two-hour ride to the dojo from my location, but I was very interested and decided to commit to regular lessons.
FA: Can you describe both the atmosphere and the physical nature of the dojo?
It was a very strict and serious dojo. Remember this period was after the war. Since the instructors knew very little English, much of the early instruction was simply following along and imitating what others were doing. There was a very clear line between the instructors, senior students and the rest of the class. We were to obey their commands and fall in line with dojo etiquette. The dojo was very small and basic, but always clean. It was housed inside a movie studio (as depicted in the photo bottom opposite page). Come time for an exam or demonstration, the class size would swell and we could hardly move. This made training even more difficult but we didn’t seem to mind.
FA: Who were some of the senior instructors in the dojo?
Masters Nakayama, Nishiyama, Mori, Okazaki, Shoji, Kanazawa, Mikami and Yaguchi were often in the dojo. They were imposing figures, strong and fast. Some of the senior students also had their own small dojos, but had teaching responsibilities at the main dojo.
FA: Was there a fee for the training sessions?
Of course, but it was incidental. The uniform that I bought was also very inexpensive. At that time, money wasn’t’ truly a focus. The instructors and students were very enthusiastic. I really enjoyed the training and kept coming back.
FA: Can you describe your practice regimen?
I usually trained 3 days a week and each class was one hour. The classes were grueling and sometimes brutal. We practiced basic techniques over and over again with a strong emphasis on low correct stances. When class was over, my legs often felt like wooden blocks, heavy and sore. Instructors would often stand on your legs to test the strength of your stance. Or they may kick the legs to see if you could withstand the force without collapsing. Nowadays this may seem primitive, but it was commonplace at that time.
FA: Were all of the classes the same?
There were daytime and evening classes. The evening classes that I usually attended were very intense and a lot of the “hot shots” preferred that training. There was less talk and much more action. There were also special sessions by very senior instructors.
FA: Was makiwara training part of your program?
We were not really shown how to properly use the makiwara. But, it became clear, very early, that it was necessary. It was important that other students and instructors respected your punching ability. You had to earn their respect and that meant diligent training on the punching post.
FA: Can you describe your experience with kumite while at the JKA dojo?
We were discouraged from doing any free style sparring and the focus was on basic 5 and 3 step sparring. Sometimes things would get unruly and that’s when diligent makiwara practice came in handy. I was young, but muscular, and my tendency was to grab and wrestle. Of course, this was discouraged, but my main objective in these situations was survival. I was bigger than most of the Japanese students and was determined to hold my own. I tried my best to dish out exactly what I received. That was the only way to gain respect.
FA: Can you provide any details about the first JKA tournament in 1957?
It was a big deal for the JKA. There was lots of activity in the dojo as many of the seniors were trying to sharpen their skills. Some of the Americans wanted to compete.
However, we were only allowed to participate in the demonstrations that were mostly prearranged. The event did a lot for the popularity and growth of the JKA style.
FA: You mentioned that all of the non-Japanese students were treated the same. Can you please elaborate?
We all trained hard, but it seemed the Japanese students would sometimes get additional detailed instruction. This would rarely happen with the American students in the dojo and this may have been attributable to the language barrier. The Japanese students, especially the higher ranks, were often encouraged to practice free style kumite and refine their skills. We didn’t have this opportunity and we had a tough time learning to properly apply our basic techniques. Sometimes it just seemed that something was missing. We were often confused and unclear about technical details. Frustration usually escalated when we were told “just keep training”.
FA: It seems that many senior level players, and instructors, have long-term joint problems, i.e. arthritis. Some have had joint replacements while others endure chronic pain. Do you think any of the early training practices may have contributed to the development of such problems?
Some practices were definitely extreme. I recall that many seniors would jump on student’s hips to “help” them achieve a full box split. This seemed crazy to me so I would simply leave or stop training. I wasn’t about to undergo that kind of pain needlessly.
Training was really harsh and there was much that we didn’t know.
FA: When did you receive your shodan. What was the exam like?
I took my shodan exam after two years of regular training. We had a certain schedule for examinations and I was instructed to take the exam. It was physically challenging and I had to perform kumite with several of the higher-ranking students. Since I had very little true experience, I had to improvise and do my best. I was successful and Sensei Nakayama awarded me shodan.
FA: As your time in Japan was ending, did you make plans to continue your training once at home?
My goal was to continue training of course. Often times, I regret not staying longer to learn more about the art. Training had become a regular part of my life and I really enjoyed the challenge and the discipline. I didn’t know what the karate community was like at home, but hoped that we could continue developing the art in some way.
FA: When did you finally leave Japan?
I departed in the summer of 1958 and once I settled I began searching for others in the region that were seriously practicing traditional karate.
FA: Can you describe the early years after returning from Japan?
There were people that had been overseas and had the opportunity to train in various arts like judo and aikido, but there were no true organizations to speak of.
I met a few of the students who practiced other styles, but their development and skills seemed very limited. Over time, Mr. Orito, a Wado practitioner, relocated to New York. He developed a dojo, but it was much different from the style and traditions of the JKA. I trained with him for a while, but that didn’t last.
Later, I met a Mr. George Coefield and we trained together on occasion. By 1961, we had developed a small but loyal following. We trained at The Saint John’s Recreation Center where the overheads were minimal.
FA: I imagine it was difficult to maintain students in the US since the JKA methodology was so focused on discipline, repetition and basic techniques. Was this a problem in the early era?
Yes, it was a huge challenge. We had to slowly adapt to the American way without changing the essence of the art. We persisted and eventually began to develop a solid core. We even began to compete in some of the early tournaments that were held in our region. That was exciting and gave us a chance to experiment with various strategies and techniques.
FA: Did your students meet with success using the basic, traditional Shotokan style?
The early years were very tough and we didn’t win often. Once again we had to develop a style and adapt to the techniques and strategies of other competitors. We were intent on maintaining our traditional Shotokan fundamentals. We began to use higher stances, focus on speed and develop drills that allowed us to use our kihon effectively. Nobody taught us this style. We simply developed it by studying the art in detail and through experimentation. We had the ingredients, we just needed to develop the application side.
FA: Did you have any assistance in developing your style and organization?
Eventually, Sensei Mori came to the States. He ultimately took over the dojo from Mr. Orito and the focus changed from Wado to Shotokan. This certainly helped to spread the word about our style of karate. In time, Sensei Okazaki also came to the US and this was a great help. I believe he arrived in 1961. Eventually others followed as well. Sensei Nishiyama, Okazaki and others formed the AAKF and that helped to build the brand of JKA Shotokan karate. These seniors encouraged us to develop a natural way of honing our skills and expanding the application of basic techniques.
FA: At present you are still part of the ISKF originally headed by Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki. Is that correct?
Yes that is correct. And to his credit, he has done a lot to develop the Shotokan style in the US, Caribbean and now all across the world. Like any large organization, there are changes, both positive and unfortunate. I have been very fortunate to have studied with great instructors and meet people from several cultures. My focus continues to be the development of traditional karate here in my city and state.
FA: Do you have any suggestions or advice for students, novice or experienced, who are currently studying the Shotokan style?
Probably the most important element is a good instructor that will help build strong basics and emphasize the fundamental stances. Over time students begin to develop coordination, speed and focus. As they mature, their instructors should help them use their tools and exploit their strengths. Each student is different and unique. But, the good instructor will consistently challenge them and help them find THEIR own way.