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Okazaki on Shotokan


DT: Okazaki Sensei, when did you begin your training?

Okazaki Sensei: I started at the age of 16 years, just as I entered the Takushoku University.

DT: At 16? That's very young for college.

Okazaki: Well, you see, that was just after the Second World War. Japan had an old system for universities; at that time I entered under the old system and graduated under the new system, so that's how I was able to get in at 16.

DT: Your first instructors were who?

Okazaki: I am really glad that Master Funakoshi has always been my instructor.

DT: So, mainly you were taught by Funakoshi Sensei? Can you give us some impressions or memories of Funakoshi Sensei?

Okazaki: Well, I practiced for ten years under him-of course, Master Nakayama was Master Funakoshi's assistant-then, he was for us just like a god for Karate. He was a wonderful human being, but still. I had that experience for ten years. He was just like. if anybody saw him on the street no one could predict that he was a Grand Karate Master. That is to say, he was like a normal happy human being. During the training or when he was teaching us or outside of the Dojo, he never changed-he was always the same calm, kind person. Of course, in the Dojo when he taught us, he gave us a lot of pressure to make us better, but otherwise. we call that heijo shin, that's the essence of Martial Arts.

DT: Your memories of Nakayama Sensei?

Okazaki: Yes, he was the second successor for Chief Instructor of the Japan Karate Association and until he passed away he taught us. Of course being Chief Instructor meant that he embraced all of Master Funakoshi's techniques and philosophies, but he was very aggressive. That's why he took his Karate to introduce it throughout the world, and that was a really big task. He was a pioneer. He was exactly the same as Master Funakoshi, just like a copy. I never saw him angry, he was always calm. The difference was that he had a more international outlook. You know that Master Funakoshi brought Karate from Okinawa to Japan. Master Nakayama introduced it from Japan through out the world. Of course, he was in China during the war, so that's why he had some international knowledge.

DT: You were among the first at the JKA Instructor's School?

Okazaki: Yes, Master Nakayama had plans to have official instructors, and I was like a test case or guinea pig. He gave me many projects to study, practice and report on. He analyzed everything and then started the official instructor trainees. He contracted me to be like coach, to assist him and to coach the instructor trainees. The first graduate was Mr. Mikami, and then Mr. Kanazawa, and Mr. Takakura. Those were the first three graduates.

DT: So basically, you helped to formulate the instructors curriculum?

Okazaki: Yes, I assisted Master Nakayama.

DT: What was the curriculum like, both physically and mentally?

Okazaki: Yes, when you wanted to become an instructor it was like studying the curriculum in an university to become a teacher. There were special courses to teach in grammar school or high school, so that's how we started Those were based on how to be a teacher/instructor. Then we had 43 written reports and 34 practical training courses in how to practice by yourself, and how to teach techniques. The 43 reports were on subjects concerning Martial Arts, like physics; the scientific aspects...

DT: Like Bio-mechanics?

Okazaki: Yes. Every week they had to report on that, and it took two years. One of the pre-requisites was a degree from a 4 year college. So, the instructor course was like graduate study, like a Master's degree.

DT: After you formed the curriculum, you got it initiated with Mikami Sensei, Kanazawa Sensei, and Takakura Sensei - were you asked to go overseas or did you ask to go overseas?

Okazaki: You see, everything was under Master Naka-yama's control-if he said you go to such and such a place, there was no question that you were going to go. So first Mr. Nakayama appointed Mr. Kanazawa to go to Hawaii, and second he appointed me to go to the U.S.A. I went to the East coast, and after me, Mr. Nishiyama was appointed to the West coast. So that was the first step. Then afterwards, Mr. Mikami, Mr. Yaguchi, Mr. Koyama, and Mr. Takashina were sent here.

DT: Can you tell us a little about your first experiences in the U.S.?

Okazaki: I would say that unfortunately we didn't study English too much! Communications was a big problem. But we bought a lot of books on oriental culture-especially on zen. You know that's very close to budo. Then I got hundreds of questions, and that was a problem. My friend said "Zen, how can you explain about zen?" So, I'm very pleased about coming to this country to study. I made a lot friends. Still I'm studying, as a human being, the difference between East and West.

DT: Can you compare the training method you came up under, with the way you teach now and the differences?

Okazaki: Yes, some of my experience that I brought from Japan wouldn't work because of the difference in cultures and thinking. So we changed it. We have technical committees, the majority of which is made up of senior Japanese instructors, that meet a minimum of twice a year to discuss how to teach and communicate in the different cultures. We discuss many things, exchange ideas and then make changes. We never change the principles of Martial Arts, only the technical instruction. We also have medical science committees that review subjects for us and make recommendations. The Oriental body is different from the Western body, especially in the structure of the knee joint. So, if you push and teach the way we do in Japan, the Western knee can't take it. So that needs a balance, the movement is the same, but it requires a different strengthening.

For example, in Japan they are still doing the strengthening of legs and hips with the "rabbit hop." We cannot do that with Westerners. We have to do a different type of instruction. Many of them use machines to strengthen the legs and knees. I've never been against that. Those are things that we have to take into consideration for changes in instruction. We never change the philosophical aspects, good discipline, how and why to bow. We have the dojo kun, the five guidelines-our final goal. Other sports don't have that, they emphasize how to win a gold medal or be champions. We never do that, we are practicing Martial Arts or Karate-Do to develop ourselves to be better human beings. So that once we are better human beings we can contribute to society. So that we can make a better society. So we can extend that and make better countries, and a better world. Always we teach that. At first they don't understand. How can you do that practicing in a Karate Gi? We have to explain that. We have a newsletter where we can discuss things like Master Funakoshi's Twenty Precepts on how to develop yourself.

DT: Can you tell us a little about the new organization we are hearing about?

Okazaki: The Japan Karate Assoc-iation now has over 70 member countries, because Master Nakayama developed instructors to send throughout the world. In the past there has been an International Department in the Japan Karate Association Headquarters located in Japan, and they communicated throughout the world. It was very difficult for just one department to carry out this communication. All of the senior instructors got together, especially those located outside of Japan, and decided that now was the time to form the World Federation to communicate with each other. Shotokan or JKA Karate has been out of the country for over thirty years; that means that outside of Japan there are high ranking foreigners- 6th Dan or 7th Dan. They became high ranking because they understand about Martial Arts.

Taking my experiences with communicating in different countries as a small example of the larger problem, once the World Federation is in place, all of those native instructors will be able to communicate more easily than the Japanese instructors in their own respective countries. So one of the reasons to form the JKA World Federation was communications. That's why we hosted in Philadelphia the World Shoto-Cup this year.

You know that the Shoto-Cup is held every two years, this one was the 5th World Shoto-Cup. At that time, the JKA president Mr. Nakahara announced the establishment of the Japan Karate Association World Federation with its general headquarters in Japan. Since the majority of the members are English speaking countries, the IKA asked the International Shotokan Karate Federation- United States to be the administration office. So technical matters will be handled in Japan, and the administrative matters will be handled in the United States, specifically Philadelphia. Now the two wheels will move together to make closer communications throughout the world.

DT: And the name is Japan Karate Association World Federation?

Okazaki: Yes.

DT: And for administrative matters they can contact ISKF in Philadelphia?

Okazaki: Right.

DT: As Funakoshi Sensei did, and as Nakayama Sensei did, when you came to this country you wanted to introduce Karate to colleges. Why did you want to do that, and do you teach them differently than you would your club members?

Okazaki: Essentially, the college students are very young - between 18 and 21 years of age, a time when you can push as hard as you can. The regular club members are all ages. I have a student who is 80 years old. You can't teach them the same way. Technically you can teach the same thing, you just have to use different methods. We have now a lot of colleges where Karate is a physical education course, and that's what we've been trying for. We have the National Collegiate Karate Association and Mr. Koyama is the chairman.

We have over 200 colleges as members. There are fourteen regions in the United States. Hawaii and Alaska are in the same region. Some of the other regions are made up of two states also. Each region has a Collegiate Karate Union. That's one of the reasons we're having the tournament today Each region selected the best College to represent them today at UCLA. Colleges are very important for the future of Karate. That's why we've put some much work into developing Collegiate Karate. I've had a lot of meetings with the heads of athletic departments. They don't actually have any sort of knowledge about Martial Arts. I think many of them are only interested in how to win-to beat the other colleges.

I understand that, and there's nothing wrong with it. I try to explain what the Martial Arts are really about. They say that they understand, but they are only interested in how to win. It's OK for a first step, and we'll accept that. We're trying to get into the NCAA now, but we are told that there is no budget for a Karate department. We'll keep trying, because I think that will make it more popular and help motivate the public to understand.

DT: In that same vein Sensei, what are your views on the potentials of Olympic Karate?

Okazaki: I've never been against it. Once Karate is accepted as an Olympic sport more of the public can see it. One of the things that the senior instructors are worried about is that we don't want the same thing to happen to Karate that happened to Judo. I don't have anything against Olympic Judo-a 100% sport. But as a Martial Art, Judo didn't used to have a weight system for World Champion-ships. A small person might have to go against a bigger person; that's a real Martial Art. They changed it.

Judo' s popularity, although at first it went up because of the Olympic games, ultimately diminished. Outside of Japan, people were studying "Do": Kendo, Judo, Karate-do. They liked to study oriental or especially Japanese culture to understand. Once it became a sport I heard people saying, "Why do I want to study Judo, it's the same as wrestling. I'd rather go learn wrestling." I've been teaching at Temple University for almost twenty years. Judo used to be a popular physical education course. They've abandoned it because people would rather take wrestling. People say that there's not much difference. So, that's why the senior instructors are saying, "We don't want to go that way." We don't have anything against Olympic Judo, but there is still that same danger.

We are teaching now the same way as Master Funakoshi taught and that's how we would like to see Olympic Karate. We would be glad to see Karate as an Olympic event, and we would support it I00% if there are no changes.

DT: On a personal note, do you have a preference for Ippon shobu or Sanbon shobu with weight divisions?

Okazaki: We would like to see Olympic Karate to introduce the public to Karate and increase its popularity. Budo and Sports, for instance a tournament itself is already a sport. In real Budo, shobu, they say, means to kill each other. They'll never fight that way; nobody wants to die. So tournaments are really sports, we don't have any contact. We've had to compromise; but the traditions never change. So there's nothing really wrong with Ippon or Sanbon. We are basically doing Ippon shobu, you have one chance to protect yourself. For final matches, Sanbon shobu is more popular so we do that. So its a compromise between sports and Martial Arts, but the principle is budo.

DT: As an instructor who owns a business obviously, how do you explain to a parent who comes into you and expresses a concern over their son or daughter learning Karate-"Oh, it's too violent," or, "I don't know about this."?

Okazaki: We always get questions. We explain that we are teaching the five principles outlined in the dojo kun, that this is our final goal. At first the parents don't understand, but after watching how we train they get the idea.

The simplest way to explain it is that any Karate movement begins with a block, it never begins with an attack. That's the best principle-we never fight, we stop the fight. If you analyze the characters in budo, it's stop the fight, the aim is peace, that's what we teach. We give them very strict discipline. The kids change their attitudes, they have respect for their parents and their seniors. The parents love it. Sometimes the kids get tired and their parents have to tell them to "go to the Dojo, go to the Dojo." That's my greatest pleasure.

I can say that American kids are sometimes spoiled; but once they've come to the Dojo for at least three months and practiced there is a big change. The parents are really surprised. We have a large number of kids. It's not like daycare center, we try really hard not physically so much, but in things like manners and respect.

DT: Have you found that teaching has become more difficult over the last thirty years? I know that when my brother and I began our training we didn't think twice about an instructor walking by with a Shinai and giving quick taps on the. We didn't view it as abuse. Sometimes in California we have liability issues. Is that a concern for the ISKF?

Okazaki: I'll tell you this much, it's not a joke. When I first came to this country the Japan Karate Association president was Mr. Kosaka. At that time he was the Foreign Minister. One night before I came to this country, he hosted a farewell party for all the senior instructors. He just told me: "Okazaki, if you go to the United States the first thing you'll have to do is have some friends who are doctors and lawyers." That's what he told me, right? At first I didn't understand. That was like 30 or 35 years ago, I thought, "What is he talking about?" I just said, "Yes sir, yes sir." Then I thought about what he had said after I came to this country, and he was right.

During our training we try our best to make people understand what is real Karate-do, we have to be strict-but you have to have control. You cannot physically abuse. Of course injuries are possible if you do that. I have a Shinai, it depends on how it is used. If you hit hard it's no good, but if you make a good sound they wake up. Think about it as an instructional method; 30 or 40 years ago in society, both in this country and Japan, things were different. The young people were educated differently.

Thirty or 40 years ago they didn't have computers or calculators like today. Now even in grammar school the kids can get a push-button answer, and that's where they are mentally. A long time ago you had to use a paper and pencil to think your way to the answer. It's the same way with human beings. Now, the basics are the same: they are human beings, but the mental attitude is different. For instance, they feel that if you pay this much, you get something. That's what they believe. We can't blame them. They are like part of a machine. There's so much crime-why? Because they spend so much time thinking about crime.

They don't practice how to think. So they need physical exercise, like Karate-do or other sports to remind them that if you don't sweat and work hard you can't accomplish anything. That's why it is very important to practice, but the teaching methods have to change; if you tried to do it like 40 years ago you wouldn't have any members. That's why when our instructors get together we emphasize patience. To understand. From a ranking perspective, when they reach brown belt they are about 60% there as far as understanding about Martial Art-now you can push a little harder to make them better. Once they reach Black Belt usually they don't quit, unless something happens in their lives. That's the future. To make a better society.