Sensei Dave Hazard 7th Dan.
‘YES I TEACH VIOLENCE, BUT VIOLENCE WITH INTEGRITY’. Interview By Paul Herbert. (Photo’s By Bernard Rose).
With a reputation that precedes him and a Karate career spanning four decades, the superlatives used to describe Dave Hazard were all exhausted a long time ago. Back in 2000, I remember Enoeda Sensei asking me if I was going to train at Orpington SKC with their guest instructor Dave Hazard. When I replied that I was thinking of doing so, Sensei shook his head and declared, “You not think, but I think you MUST train”. That was the only time that Sensei ever did that and personally I don’t think a recommendation comes any higher. Since then I have trained with Dave on countless occasions. I have also had the pleasure of him teaching at my own dojo, staying at my home and without exception, I have been inspired by him on every level. Now in 2008, Dave is not only the man I choose to call Sensei, but also a good friend and I hope that this interview does justice in giving an insight into both the no-nonsense martial artist and the man himself – Paul Herbert.
Paul Herbert: Dave, I know you have been interviewed many times over the years, and with the release of your book ‘Born Fighter’ last year, much has already been documented about you. If possible, I would like to focus on some slightly different aspects of your Karate memories and opinions. Firstly compared to when you first started training, there is obviously a far greater understanding of biomechanics and adhering to correct coaching methods. However, do you feel that the modern approach has taken away the ‘spirit’ and ‘martial attitude’ from back in what many people refer to as ‘the good old days’?
PH: As a self confessed ‘scrapper’ growing up in London’s East-end, having a punch-up obviously came quite natural to you but what about Karate itself, looking back do you think you were a natural to it or did you initially find the template of Shotokan quite restrictive?
DH: I don’t think I was a natural; I have never been very supple, I found kicking very difficult. As for restrictive, not at all, before Karate all I could do was swing my arms about a bit. With Karate I learnt how to not get hit i.e. blocking. This was something I did not think too much about before, then how to hit back with the force to end any confrontation.
PH: You famously commenced your training under Enoeda Sensei at the age of 17. At what point do you think he recognised that you might just ‘have something’ and can you pinpoint where that close bond was formed that would last another 35 years?
DH: I really don’t know, I suppose he must have thought I was ok when he asked me to teach at the Blackfriars Dojo. In my mind and I can only guess his, he must have thought, if this lad is going to keep following me and turning up wherever I teach I may as well help him or knock his block off, thankfully he helped me (laughs).
PH: Much has already been written about your time in Japan spent training under Master Nakayama within the infamous JKA instructors’ class and the Karate-ka you were training alongside reads like a JKA’s who’s who. Yet you actually believe the ‘golden era’ was prior to your own time there?
DH: Before I answer that question I would like to pick up on the reference ‘infamous’ JKA instructors’ class. I have heard that said so many times and thought it was wrong. Infamous in the Oxford English dictionary reads; “well known for a bad quality or act”. Well, I don’t think the JKA is teaching bad quality or acting bad, it has a reputation for being strict on etiquette and shall we say a little violent at times, but I believe no more than any of the armed forces producing an elite group. So perhaps simply, renowned or just famous!
Anyway back to your question, without a doubt, the time in my opinion is when Senseis Enoeda, Kase, Kanazawa, Shirai, Ochi, Miyazaki, Asai, Tsuyama, Ueki, Shoji and others were present. If you think about it the timing was perfect. Japan was recovering and redeveloping after the war. They had the university structure in place and an abundance of young men ready to prove themselves and bring the fighting spirit and pride back after the devastation of defeat. On the back of that, the JKA instructors’ course was put into place and the best of the university’s were taken into it. They were training full-time with the very best instruction and I believe the leap forward at that time was immense. When Master Nakayama sent these man out to promote Karate throughout the world he sent the very best he had. They were breaking new ground and had to be both physically and mentally very strong. Senseis Nishiyama and Okazaki had led the way going to the USA and with the European instructors in place the Karate boom began. When I was there the instructors were of the highest standard and benefited so much from the program put in place beforehand and by these ground breaking Senseis. And I don’t think Karate has seen an improvement or a development like that since.
PH: Of course prior to going to Japan you were training on the KUGB national squad where amongst your peers were the likes of Sherry, O’Neill, Poynton, Higgins, Rhodes and Cattle to name but a few. What were these sessions like and how did they compare or indeed prepare you for what followed at the JKA?
DH: They were great classes, Enoeda Sensei and Sensei Sherry took the sessions. The atmosphere was fantastic, the spirit in the Dojo was as good as any experience I had at the JKA, but there I could have that training three times a day six days a week.
PH:Training at the JKA was obviously gruelling, but you’ve said in the past that this was more from the mental pressure than physical injury. However, when the KUGB squad arrived for the World championships in 1977, is it not true that your team-mates failed to recognise you and almost walked past?
DH: That is true, I had lost a bit of weight, had two black eyes and a fat lip (laughs). Steve Cattle went round all the squad and collected chocolate and sweets to give me. I must have looked like a mugging victim. It was great to see them – Billy Higgins asked if I was ok, Mick Dewey gave me a hug and Bob Rhodes just laughed. Sensei just gave me a sideways glance, smiled and walked off. The pressure was not the punishment you would take; it was the walk to the Dojo three times a day and climbing the stairs that was unnerving. It was the same going to the KUGB squad only daily. Once you were there it was ok.
PH: Just jumping forward then, how did you find the transition back to ‘real life’ in the UK after living on your nerves day in, day out as a ‘kenshusei’? I know you referred to it as ‘a disturbing time’ in an interview you did with Terry O’Neill in the 1980’s. Leaving that intensity behind must have been a relief on one hand but how do you replace that feeling and void on the other?
DH: When I first got back I suppose on reflection I was a bit shot away, a year of that intense training had to take its toll. I can maybe understand how someone in the armed forces can feel after a tour of duty. But as always in my life I have had a great support system with my family and close friends to help keep me together and after a little time I got back in tune with life back home.
PH: Sensei (Enoeda) obviously accompanied the KUGB squad to Tokyo for the world championships, I’d be interested to hear what kind of reception he himself received from his peers on his return to the JKA? Did he teach or train at the honbu on his visit?
DH: Sensei did not teach at the JKA but he did turn up a couple of times at the instructors’ class, and how was he treated? Like a God, if you think he was respected over here then you should have seen the instructors and students at the JKA. They seemed awe struck and ran around like mad to make sure he had everything he wanted. When the Gi was on it was business as usual and we know what that is like. I was so proud; he was my Sensei, I was wearing his belt and I felt invincible, what more can I say.
PH: As a competitor you must have been very proud to have represented your country, and also to have been a KUGB national champion?
DH: Yes I am, the KUGB was and is the most respected Shotokan group in the UK, I was very proud to be part of it. Most of the Shotokan associations around today owe their past parentage to the KUGB and that should never be forgotten.
PH: Coming from such a traditional background where functionality is central to your own training and teachings, how did you approach your time as the English National Kata coach and was there a reluctant compromise to your principles? (N.B – Dave was part of the coaching staff for the official England Squad from 2000 to 2006).
DH: When Sensei Donovan asked me to assist him with the England Squad working with the Kata people I was thrilled. I was teaching the cream of our young athletes and it was a dream. But, after my first International when I saw what was going on, I said to Sensei Donovan he had the wrong man for the job. Now don’t get me wrong the performance of the competitors was amazing, their speed, power and athletic ability was the best I have ever seen. But it was just that, they were athletes, the spirit and martial aspect was secondary to a performance. Sensei Donovan said think about it a day or two and talk to me again, then explained, “I don’t expect you to change what you teach to your students or how you believe the Kata should be done, just give our competitors the best chance to represent their country and get a medal.” He also said, “You can’t change things from the outside Dave, when you get the Gold, then you will have the position from which to comment.” He was right of course and I had six wonderful years working with Jonathan Mottram, Michelle Hay and many other fine Karate-ka. I also learnt so much from Sensei Donovan, Wayne Otto and many other exceptional members of that Squad.
PH: Perhaps tying in with the performance/form versus function argument then, there seems to be much debate recently about turning on the heel of the foot as opposed to the ball. Would you care to share your views and thoughts on this subject?
DH: Well I have read and watched the debate on this for some time, first I think people are making a bit too much of it, secondly I am sure that people in both camps can and will make either way work for them. I personally believe turning on the ball of the foot is preferable, in doing so you are using the muscles during transition and not the skeletal structure which at that time you’re not in control of and are more vulnerable. More than that, over time I think it could be detrimental to the ankle and knee joints. The only athletes I see turning on the heel are the hammer throwers, you know the ones with their knees strapped up!! I have also spoken to two England sports physiotherapists and both thought turning on the heel would be detrimental over time and not to be encouraged.
PH: Something you regularly speak of during your classes is the need for ‘correct basics to increase longevity’ but also for Karate-ka to evolve as they progress. For example, you’ve spoken of Shirai Sensei’s analogy of ‘paying tax’ when practicing basics and I’ve also heard you warn against the mistake of Karate-ka simply repeating the same 3 years cycle over and over again. Would you mind explaining your thoughts on this?
DH: As we know correct fundamentals are the foundation of our Karate, it gives us the platform to produce effective techniques in a way that is healthy and conducive to how the body works, it allows us to connect the breathing, movement and performance as one unit ending in a dynamic force. That said, if we spend our life totally immersed in perfecting our basic form (which I believe is unachievable) you would end up with the foundations to build a tower block on, but with nothing on the top. As Shirai Sensei explained, white belts should pay 100% tax, a brown belt 60%, a 1st Dan 40% and so on. So while always returning to our basics, once we have a reasonable understanding of how to perform them correctly, move on to building the house of your choice on the top. The amount of people who tell me they have been training 10, 20, or 30 years plus and when I watch them, they are still at 1st Dan level, it’s astounding. It’s not the time training that counts – it’s how you train.
PH: So in your opinion should the basic form outwardly change as a karate-ka evolves? I remember Sensei Enoeda many times saying ‘this way ok, but not for your level’ even when referring to kihon-waza. Would I be right in perceiving this as the techniques becoming more subtle and perhaps softer in appearance?
DH: Yes, precisely, to the untrained eye the 1st or 2nd Dan will look much stronger and be working harder than a 4th or 5th Dan. They are more visual, stiff and jerky in their performance as they try to execute the basic form. The senior grade on the other hand has hopefully made the transition from one move to the other very fluently and as such may look less impressive. The skill is in understanding how to get from, and what goes on between A to B, not the end product. As with most things done well the expert makes it look easy.
PH:Something you make look easy and one of the most impressive parts of your Karate is your kicking ability. What would you say is the main ingredient for performing effective ‘keri-waza’? Also you often stress the difference in the breathing between kicking and punching techniques, could you explain this?
DH: Well as I have said, I have never been very supple in the normal sense i.e. box splits ability etc. But I believe that has been to my advantage, I had to learn to perform the technique very correctly or I would damage myself. I think the best way is to learn from the floor up, starting with the support foot, then knee, hip, upper body, arm action, kicking leg knee then contact foot. That way the power generated works from the ground up and not as many seem to perform as the kicking leg dragging the rest of the body into the target. As for the breathing, when punching we lock the body for a fraction of a second with our kime, when kicking we should kime as if striking, I get my students to imagine they are bouncing a ball and breath out on the push down and back in on its return, then when kicking breath that way so the leg does not over lock, jarring the knee on contact, that way more impact power is produced and no damage done to the joint. I hope I have explained that in a way that can be understood.
See Magazine for the rest of the Dave Hazard interview.